three albums

This entry was posted by on Monday, 29 December, 2014 at

I haven’t done a good job this year of keeping any kind of record of my listening, watching or reading over the year. So I’m not even going to pretend these will be definitive “best of 2014” lists, even if we agree that means “the best of the random and tiny selection of stuff that has crossed my path.” I’m inevitably going to forget something amazing I listened to in February.

A more modest goal this year: simply to make a note of three records, three movies and three books that have stayed with me and followed me around, that made some kind of lasting impact, that have lingered in my memory and my thoughts. You might like them too.

Southeastern (Jason Isbell): OK so if I was attempting a “best of” list this would undoubtedly top it. This has been far and away my favourite musical discovery of 2014. Musically, it reminds me of Whiskeytown’s Stranger’s Almanac (which is a very, very good thing) with the laid-back and world-weary vocals, the lovely touches of fiddle, the wonderfully crafted songs. It gets better every time I listen. And the lyrics get under your skin too – this is a man who has lived a rough life, and just about survived, and the songs are full of honest self-examination:

In a room
By myself
Looks like I’m here with a guy that I judge worse than anyone else
So I pace
And I pray
And I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day

But they are also full of (dark) humour, delightful word-play, and a kind of bruised and unsentimental hope. Essential listening for anyone with a soul.

Borderland (John Mark McMillan): I’ve always been a little thrown when I see this guy’s name written down. It’s so similar to my own name, there’s a tiny moment where I almost wonder if maybe I wrote a song or recorded an album and forgot about it. I’ve also probably hesitated to explore his music because it’s categorised as some kind of (alternative) Christian worship, which is something I have an uneasy relationship with. But trustworthy friends encouraged me, and I’m glad. This is a wonderful album, musically inventive and full of great songs, with a kind of textured, atmospheric quality that makes it great late-night listening. The lyrics can be direct and full-blooded in their expression of faith, but at other times they “tell it slant” with surprising images and suggestive phrases: “we are fragile creatures on collision with our judgement days.” The guy can’t help his name – give him a chance. (You can read a great review of the album here).

Kiss the World Beautiful (Martyn Joseph): If I’m being honest I’m not really including this because of the record itself, but because of the live gig it will always remind me of. Going to see MJ has become a kind of annual pilgrimage for us, gathering with a familiar crowd in the Errigle Inn to hear familiar songs and few new ones. We’ve never been disappointed – this is a man who tears up his heart on stage every night, veins popping and sweat and spit flying as he tries to tell the truth about the world from where he’s standing, in songs full of anger and sadness and beauty and hope. But this year’s gig was something else. He was a man inspired. He sang about all the most ugly and broken and shameful things in our world, but still urged us to hang on to hope in a bigger love,  a possibility of healing, a coming dawn when things might just be made new and whole and well. ” We do not have the luxury of despair.” By the end of the gig I wanted to put my arms round my friends and hold them close, sing loud and proud that “there’s still a lot of love round here,” reach a hand out to those who are hurting or lonely or lost or afraid, raise a fist in the air in defiant hope.  Every now and then, music can do that. (Every penny from sales of this record go to MJ’s “Let Yourself Trust” which raises funds for small, local projects that are making a difference for good in different parts of the world.)

I’d love to hear about the music that has followed you around and reached the deepest parts of you this year.


4 Responses to “three albums”

  1. Thanks for this. You can read mine here, John Mark:

  2. jaybercrow

    Thanks Rhodri. I’ll look forward to reading the rest of your reflections. I’m 40 pages from the end of Lila and hesitating to go on because I don’t want it to end. Amazing.

  3. PJ

    Nice list, all stuff (aside from the MJ) that I had not come across before reading this.

    One of my favourites during 2014 was John Murry’s ‘The Graceless Age’. Dovetails a bit with the Jason Isbell, similar vibe I think. Murry’s is a great album. Another one of these singer-songwriters who was taken by Irish hearts before the Americans really cottoned on. His video for the Balad of the Pyjama Kid is a brave (foolish?) bit of cathartic flag burning in Kilkenny. Worth a look:

    Though I suppose it’s a couple years old now, I listened to Willy Mason’s ‘Carry On’. But he pushes albums with the same urgency of his vocal drawl; that is, not much. Though I think it was a 2012 release, it only really got mention in 2013/14. Even championed by Zane Lowe on Radio 1, rather unexpectedly. It’s brilliant. I find his lyrics particularly resonant, like a fellow wearily hopefully voice in a struggle of faith. I’m aware my love of his stuff is probably personal. As for the music, some acoustic purists really hated Dan Carey’s production. But I love the deceptive simplicity that rewards repeated listens.

    Nick Mulvey’s ‘First Mind’ is lovely for the layers and textures. I also respect that he got DH Lawrence into the main Radio 1 and 6 playlists, as well as a clever sampling of Olive for us 90s kids. All of this excuses that the album gets a bit samey by the end.

    Other things I liked: Peter Matthew Bauer, ‘I Was Born in an Ashram’ // Damon Albarn, ‘Everyday Robots’ // Paulo Nutini, ‘Caustic Love’

    Guilty Pleasure? Pearl Jam, ‘Lightening Bolt’. A proper rock album, as if Vedder and co just remembered that they could combine their anger, politics, and general angst with some hooks and melody, which a lot of the post-2000 stuff couldn’t sustain for a whole album. There’s unabashed power balladry, big production, and some unexpectedly tender lyrical moments about grace and love. As if ‘Ten’ had a sensible older brother.


  1. Bookworm | Wee Frizz

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