OPENING GIBBERISH

My biggest highlights for 2014 don't actually appear in the list (but maybe I'll see something in the 2015 list).

I went to a personal "bucket list" show when Paul Weller did a US tour with dates near me. Been wanting to see him live since I first heard The Jam in the early 80's. Took over 30 years for me to see a show, and Weller and his band were stellar. Really hoping for some kind of live album or video from the tour in 2015.

Another big highlight was "Jeff Lynne's ELO" from Hyde Park (just the video, would have LOVED to have been there). In 2013, Jeff Lynne played two songs at a televised Christmas benefit in London. He had long-time ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy on board, along with a backing band, choir and string section. The results were fantastic. This time, Jeff was convinced to do a full-length show at Hyde Park. Billed as "Jeff Lynne's ELO", Jeff and Richard used the same backing band and the BBC Concert Orchestra and played a terrific 90-minute set. Jeff's hinted at doing a US tour as well as a new ELO album. I really hope that pans out.

I made a point this year of starting on this list much earlier than normal, so there's a lot more albums on this list than usual. My charming wife Noreen also convinced me to do a Top 100 Of All Time list of my personal favorites. If I haven't already annoyed you about that, check it out. It was a lot of fun to do.

As always, there are YouTube links for each entry so you can listen to a song or two to get a sample of the album. Enjoy the list.


REISSUES

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Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

Back in 2003 I wrote:

Elton's best work, the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, gets a fancy deluxe reissue for it's 30th birthday. The 30th Anniversary Edition splits the album back into two CDs to allow for some bonus tracks, and adds a DVD of the "Classic Albums" show about the album (note: This is an edited version of the show - the full episode is already available as a separate DVD).
The album is definitely Elton's best, along with the big hits "Bennie And The Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", there's also the later-day hit "Candle In The Wind" and the 11-minute FM staple "Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding" (my personal favorite of Elton's work). On top of that, several other tracks (notably "Harmony", "Grey Seal", "I've Seen That Movie Too" and "This Song Has No Title") could have easily been singles as well. If all you've heard are the "greatest hits" type albums, give this one a shot ... it's well worth it.

The 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition includes all the music from the 30th Anniversary Edition, plus way more. The big addition is a 1973 concert in which Elton and band sound fantastic. It's a great set, focusing on the then-new album plus a few older songs. That concert alone is the reason to grab this set.

The new box also adds in some studio material as well. Some makes total sense - like the original 1970 single version of "Grey Seal", some rare b-sides from the album's singles and the 1973 Christmas single. Some feel like padding - there's about half a CD's worth of covers of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road songs recorded by contemporary artists. Maybe this is my "grumpy old man" moment, but all of the covers are totally forgettable. Really a waste of space.

And then there's two really odd choices. "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Pinball Wizard" are two of Elton's all-time best, but neither has anything to do with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. "Philadelphia Freedom" came out on a 1975 single, after Elton had released Caribou (the followup to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road). "Pinball Wizard" is from the soundtrack to the film verson of The Who's Tommy, which came out after Caribou. So why are they here?

The 40th Anniversary version includes a video, but it's a different one this time out. Instead of the Classic Albums episode about the album, the new one has a rare documentary instead, Elton John & Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things, a 1973 film that mixes interviews with Elton and Bernie with a little live footage and "making of the album" footage. A nice addition. Overall, while the guest recordings add a little filler, this is still a great set. It's been a favorite of mine for ages - that's why it showed up highly ranked in my "Top 100 Albums Of All Time" list.

tracks (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road): "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding", "Candle In The Wind", "Bennie And The Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "This Song Has No Title", "Grey Seal", "Jamaica Jerk-Off", "I've Seen That Movie Too", "Sweet Painted Lady", "The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)", "Dirty Little Girl", "All The Girls Love Alice", "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll)", "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", "Roy Rogers", "Social Disease", "Harmony"

tracks (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Revisited & Beyond): "Candle In The Wind" - Ed Sheeran, "Bennie And The Jets" - Miguel featuring Wale, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - Hunter Hayes, "Grey Seal" - The Band Perry, "Sweet Painted Lady" - John Grant, "All The Girls Love Alice" - Emeli Sandé, "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll)" - Imelda May, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" - Fall Out Boy, "Harmony" - Zac Brown Band, "Grey Seal" [Piano demo], "Grey Seal" [Original 1970 version], "Jack Rabbit", "Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)", "Screw You (Young Man's Blues)", "Candle in the Wind" [2003 Acoustic Remix], "Step Into Christmas", "Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd Be A Turkey At Christmas)", "Philadelphia Freedom", "Pinball Wizard"

tracks (Live At Hammersmith Odeon 1973): "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding", "Candle In The Wind", "Hercules", "Rocket Man", "Bennie And The Jets", "Daniel", "This Song Has No Title", "Honky Cat", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)", "Elderberry Wine", "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "I've Seen That Movie Too", "All The Girls Love Alice", "Crocodile Rock", "Your Song", "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"

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Bob Mould
Workbook 25

Back in 1989 I wrote:

With Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould wrote terrific pop/rock songs and encased them in a buzz-saw guitar blitz that was often difficult to listen through. On his first solo album, the guitar overload is gone, but the songs are still there. The album opens with a classical guitar piece ("Sunspots"), and segues directly into "Wishing Well", a hybrid of acoustic folk and near punk power. Throughout the album, Workbook varies from near-Hüskers power (without the muddle) to more delicate tracks that show off Mould's songwriting. The sound is more accessible than Hüsker Dü's, but the album is hardly top-forty fodder. Mould, on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and keyboards is backed nicely by bassist, drummer, and, believe it or not, a cellist. On the whole, I don't know if the core Hüsker Dü fans are going to like Workbook, but Bob Mould has a solid future ahead of him. This is a brilliant album. Workbook may have laid the groundwork for a 90's sound.

OK, so maybe the 90's didn't all sound like Workbook (although R.E.M.'s Automatic For The People certainly has a little of the same vibe). However, listening to the album again 25 years later it's still a brilliant album and I stand by my rating of Workbook as the best album of 1989. Everything on the album holds up amazingly well.

Workbook 25 is a two-disc set. The first disc is the original album, plus the terrific non-album b-side "All Those People Know". The second disc is the complete 1989 Cabaret Metro show with Mould backed by the album rhythm section of Tony Maimone and Anton Fier, plus dB Chris Stamey on guitar. Bob and band run through all of Workbook (in a rearranged order), throw in a couple of non-album originals, and a terrific cover of Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out The Lights". Bob closes out the show with three solo acoustic Hüsker Dü classics to close out the show. The band absolutely tears through the material. It's a fantastic show. If you were a collector in 1989, you've probably heard a few of these live versions: "If You're True", "Poison Years", "Brasilia Crossed With Trenton" and "Shoot Out The Lights" were used as single b-sides.

"If You're True" opens with the lines "People tell me / this is the best I've ever sounded". That's absolutely correct. Workbook is Mould's best. The album in some form is a must, and this is an excellent reissue.

Watch the video for "See A Little Light" or listen to "Poison Years".

tracks (Workbook): "Sunspots", "Wishing Well", "Heartbreak A Stranger", "See A Little Light", "Poison Years", "Sinners And Their Repentances", "Brasilia Crossed With Trenton", "Compositions For The Young And Old", "Lonely Afternoon", "Dreaming, I Am", "Whichever Way The Wind Blows", "All Those People Know"

tracks (Live At The Cabaret Metro, 1989): "Sunspots", "Wishing Well", "Compositions For The Young And Old", "Heartbreak A Stranger", "Dreaming, I Am", "If You're True", "Poison Years", "Sinners And Their Repentances", "Lonely Afternoon", "Brasilia Crossed With Trenton", "See A Little Light", "Whichever Way The Wind Blows", "All Those People Know", "Shoot Out The Lights", "Hardly Getting Over It", "Celebrated Summer", "Makes No Sense At All"


LIVE ALBUMS

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Big Star
Live In Memphis

Live In Memphis catches Big Star on their first reunion tour in 1994. What makes this show particularly special is that it's the only known complete show that was professionally filmed (yes, there's a DVD as well). The track list is similar to Columbia: Live At Missouri University 4/25/93, and the performance is a similarly ragged and wonderful. The sound quality could be a bit better, but it's still a very listenable show and a must for Big Star fanatics.

tracks: "In The Street", "Don't Lie To Me", "When My Baby's Beside Me", "I Am The Cosmos", "Way Out West", "Till The End Of The Day", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "Back Of A Car", "Fire", "Daisy Glaze", "Jesus Christ", "For You", "Baby Strange", "Feel", "September Gurls", "Big Black Car", "Thank You Friends", "The Girl From Ipanema", "Patty Girl", "Slut"

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Neil Innes & Fatso
Farewell To Posterity

After Monty Python's Flying Circus ended its run, Eric Idle teamed up with ex-Bonzo Dog Band singer/songwriter Neil Innes (who'd also been the "seventh Python") for a TV series called Rutland Weekend Television which mixed sketches with comedy songs. The band for the songs was Fatso, which included Innes, future Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner, future Rutles drummer John Halsey, Brian Hodgson, who, amongst other things, created the voice of the Daleks for Doctor Who, and pedal steel guitar legend Roger Rettig. As The Rutles started off as a sketch on RWT, these guys are essentially the original Rutles (as Neil points out).

In 2008, Neil Innes & Fatso played a brief reunion tour, captured on Farewell To Posterity. The band mixes songs from RWT, some Rutles songs, a bunch of Neil Innes' solo songs (including his "Protest Song" and "Brave Sir Robin" from Monty Python And The Holy Grail), and a handful of covers. The best of the covers is an including an excellent version of George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness", played in memory of George and his support of The Rutles. The band has occasionally flashes country flair which works great on "Crystal Balls", but not as well on the Bonzos classic "I'm The Urban Spaceman". Overall, a ton of fun.

Watch some audience video of "Rut-A-Lot" and "Beware Of Darkness" from a show on the same tour.

tracks: "Testing", "I Must Be In Love", "Ouch!", "Living In Hope", "Eye Candy", "Elvis And The Disagreeable Backing Singers", "You Better Think Twice", "Dreams Shine Through", "Crystal Balls", "Fortune Teller", "Ego Warriors", "Philosopher's Song", "Protest Song", "Brave Sir Robin", "Charlie Big Potatoes", "I'm Walking", "Reet Petite", "Rut-A-Lot", "Beware Of Darkness", "One Of Those People", "Hero Of The Motorway", "I'm The Urban Spaceman", "Get Up And Go"

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Live 2013

A download-only album for fan club members, Live 2013 is pretty much exactly what it appears to be. The nice twist here is that the songs are more esoteric choices than the usual live album. You get Petty standards like "Love Is A Long Road", "Rebels" and "A Woman In Love", but you also get an excellent cover of Little Feat's "Willin'", a version of "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star" without the 80's horn section, and a cool take on the Wilbury's "Tweeter & The Monkey Man". Excellent.

Watch "Willin'" and "Tweeter & The Monkey Man" from the 2013 tour.

tracks: "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star", "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone", "Love Is A Long Road", "Two Gunslingers", "When A Kid Goes Bad", "Willin'", "The Best Of Everything", "Tweeter & The Monkey Man", "Baby, Please Don't Go", "Rebels", "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)"

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R.E.M.
Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions

After the release of the quiet Out Of Time, R.E.M.'s few live dates were done as smaller, acoustic shows instead of the arena shows from the Green tour. As a result, they were a natural for MTV Unplugged and the show was terrific. They were invited back ten years later for a second show, and Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions captures both of R.E.M.'s appearances along with songs not in the original broadcast. The only overlap is "Losing My Religion" (which shouldn't be a surprise). If you're a fan of R.E.M.'s acoustic sound, this CD is an absolute must.

Oh, and the video of the performances was released on a DVD set called REMTV.

tracks (1991 Unplugged): "Half A World Away", "Disturbance At The Heron House", "Radio Song", "Low", "Perfect Circle", "Fall On Me", "Belong", "Love Is All Around", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", "Losing My Religion", "Pop Song 89", "Endgame", "Fretless", "Swan Swan H", "Rotary Eleven", "Get Up", "World Leader Pretend"

tracks (1991 Unplugged): "All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)", "Electrolite", "At My Most Beautiful", "Daysleeper", "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", "Losing My Religion", "Country Feedback", "Cuyahoga", "Imitation Of Life", "Find The River", "The One I Love", "Disappear", "Beat A Drum", "I've Been High", "I'll Take The Rain", "Sad Professor"

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The Rutles
Live + Raw

Neil Innes' recent touring version of The Rutles (including original drummer John Halsey) did a tour in 2013 and this is from that tour. Overall, an excellent album mixing songs from both Rutles albums and Neil's download-only "Imitation Song". A must for Rutle fans. The only cruel part of the album: After "Easy Listening" you hear the band start to play "Get Up And Go" (a personal favorite), but the recording fades out.

Watch some audience video of excerpts from a show on the same tour.

"Hold My Hand", "Good Times Roll", "Questionnaire", "I Must Be In Love", "Another Day", "Living In Hope", "Piggy In The Middle", "Love Life", "Cheese And Onions", "Doubleback Alley", "Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik", "Hey Mister!", "Easy Listening", "Imitation Song"

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The Who
Quadrophenia: Live In London

If you've read my reviews over the years, you know Quadrophenia is a Big Favorite of mine. The Who have done three Quadrophenia tours, and this is my favorite of the three. The original tour, in 1973, was when The Who tried to replace Tommy as the centerpiece of their live set, but problems with the new material pushed them into dropping most of the album from the shows. In 1996, the band launched a multimedia tour with actors and film clips intended to move the plot along. The shows were great, but the 2013 tour was the best yet. The Who played Quadrophenia the way it was originally intended: front to back with no explanations, letting the music stand on it's own.

Quadrophenia: Live In London captures the last show from the 2013 tour and it's a stunner. The band sounds great (an includes some real horns where needed), Roger Daltrey's voice is strong, and Pete Townshend's guitar work is superb.

There's a DVD/BluRay of the show as well, and the Deluxe Edition includes a 5.1 mix of the original Quadrophenia album (complete this time, instead of the highlights version included in Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut).

"I Am The Sea", "The Real Me", "Quadrophenia", "Cut My Hair", "The Punk And The Godfather", "I'm One", "The Dirty Jobs", "Helpless Dancer", "Is It In My Head?", "I've Had Enough", "5:15", "Sea And Sand", "Drowned", "Bell Boy", "Doctor Jimmy", "The Rock", "Love, Reign O'er Me", "Who Are You", "You Better You Bet", "Pinball Wizard", "Baba O'Riley", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Tea & Theatre"

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Zappa / Mothers
Roxy By Proxy

Roxy By Proxy is an album with a bit of a back story.

In 1974, Frank Zappa released one of his landmark albums, Roxy & Elsewhere. Most of the album was recorded live at three shows at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles in late 1973. As it turns out, those shows were also filmed. Fast-forward to 2003 and the DVD release of Frank's 1979 concert film Baby Snakes. One of the bonus features on the DVD was a trailer for an upcoming DVD called The Roxy Performances. The same trailer showed up on the 2008 Zappa Plays Zappa DVD. Apart from that trailer, there was no other info. Fast-forward again to November, 2012. Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust announce a new project that will let the fans get into the record business. The deal was this: You pay $1,000 for a CD master of a new live album called Roxy By Proxy taken from the same shows that produced Roxy & Elsewhere. You pay to have copies made and you sell the CD yourself, while sending the appropriate royalty to the Zappa Family Trust. You can't sell it digitally, so no uploading. Oh, and you can't sell it to a retailer, you have to sell it directly.

In June of 2013, zappa.com announced the pre-order for Roxy by Proxy. To be honest, I figured the ZFT had given up on the $1,000 program and just started taking orders for the album. In the meantime, three new (and unrelated) albums were released: Road Tapes - Venue #2, A Token Of His Extreme Soundtrack, and Joe's Camouflage. Finally, nine months after the initial pre-orders and after several "coming soon!" announcements, Roxy By Proxy finally shipped. Learned after the fact that some of the $1,000 versions were indeed sold, and reading some posts raised a concern that hadn't dawned on me. How do you convince a CD plant to make copies of the new official Frank Zappa CD when the master is a CD-R brought in by some random person? Granted, it has that random person's name printed on the disc, but I would think that would still look a little iffy. Based on the liner notes in the album, it looks like Gail and the ZFT were trying to use Roxy By Proxy as a way to raise funds to self-finance a DVD of The Roxy Performances. A noble idea, but why not go with something like Kickstarter or Pledge Music? The liner notes mention that financing has been secured, so hopefully The Roxy Performances will see the light of day.

The album itself? Despite being taken from the same shows, none of the songs are the same versions as on Roxy & Elsewhere (although they're very similar). The "new" stuff: "Inca Roads" opens the show with an interesting twist. Instead of the arragement from One Size Fits All, you get a version with a lounge jazz feel that totally changes the song. A couple of knotty Zappa instrumentals ("T'Mershi Duween" and "RDNZL") are terrific additions to the set, and the "Dog / Meat" medley is stellar as always. An interesting surprise is the percussion solo at the end of "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" morphs into a complete performance of "Cheepnis" by the percussion section only. It's pretty amazing. Percussionist Ruth Underwood wrote the liner notes, and in there she says she wasn't sure the album would have been up to Frank's standards. I've got to disagree - this is dazzling. And the notes also mention that The Roxy Performances are still coming, so there may even be more to come. Despite the long and twisted history of this album, it was totally worth the wait. Grab it. And if you know someone who did the $1,000 thing, throw 'em a bone and buy it from them. And if you want to read more about this, check out this article on idiotbastard.com.

tracks: "Inca Roads", "Penguin In Bondage", "T'Mershi Duween", "The Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat: Main Theme", "RDNZL", "Village Of The Sun", "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?", "Cheepnis - Percussion", "Cheepnis", "Dupree's Paradise", "King Kong / Chunga's Revenge / Mr. Green Genes"


COMPILATIONS

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Paul Weller
More Modern Classics

More Modern Classics picks up where Modern Classics left off, covering Paul Weller's career from 1998 until now. It makes for fascinating listening as Weller continues to evolve as an artist and not always sticking with the blend of classic rock and soul he usually favors. I like some of the albums much better than others, but More Modern Classics does a good job of picking out the best of the lot. The Deluxe Edition adds both a second disc of deeper cuts and a disc of live material from the same era. If you're not familiar with Paul's work, the single disc is a nice introduction. For a fan, the live disc is well worth picking up.

Watch Paul's "track by track" videos (which has bits of all the songs), or the video for "Brand New Toy".

tracks: "He's The Keeper", "Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea", "It's Written In The Stars", "Wishing On A Star", "From The Floorboards Up", "Come On / Let's Go", "Wild Blue Yonder", "Have You Made Up Your Mind", "Echoes Round The Sun", "All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)", "Push It Along", "22 Dreams", "No Tears To Cry", "Wake Up The Nation", "Fast Car / Slow Traffic", "Starlite", "That Dangerous Age", "When Your Garden's Overgrown", "The Attic", "Flame-Out!", "Brand New Toy"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Frightened", "With Time & Temperance", "A Bullet For Everyone", "One × One", "Don't Make Promises", "One Way Road", "Birds", "Blink And You'll Miss It", "Roll Along Summer", "The Pebble And The Boy", "Empty Ring", "Why Walk When You Can Run", "Night Lights", "7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name", "Trees", "Up The Dosage", "Green", "Paperchase", "Be Happy Children", "The Olde Original"

bonus live tracks (Deluxe Edition): "All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)" [The Sun Biz Sessions], "From The Floorboards Up" [XFM Session], "The Attic" [BBC 6 Music Session], "Around The Lake" [BBC 6 Music Session], "Andromeda" [Absolute Radio Abbey Road Session], "That Dangerous Age" [BBC 6 Music Session], "When Your Garden's Overgrown" [BBC 6 Music Session], "Wake Up The Nation" [BBC 6 Music Session], "Savages" [Capital Gold Session], "Time Of The Season" [BBC Radio 2 Session], "Aim High" [Black Barn Session], "Daydream" [XFM Session]

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The Who
The Who Hits 50!

There's good news and bad news. Bad news first.

Sigh. Another year, another Who "best of". Recently, there's been 2004's Then And Now! 1964-2004 (which nicely included two new songs, both excellent). 2009 brought Geffen's Greatest Hits compilation which included the usual suspects along with one of the two new songs from Then And Now! and one song from the 2006 studio album Endless Wire. This time around, it's a double-CD, which has left room for some deep cuts like "Dogs", "The Last Time" and "Postcard" (all three odd choices for an album aimed at a casual fan). Oh, and there's also the "Won't Get Fooled Again" single edit. It's an interesting (and infuriating) listen for collectors, but what casual fan buying a Who best-of wants a three-minute edit of one of the band's signature songs?

Now the good parts - the token new song, "Be Lucky", is terrific. It's got big Townshend power chords and Daltrey's in fine voice. "The Kids Are Alright" is the full version, which includes the guitar solo usually clipped out of US releases. "Magic Bus" is the long version from Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy. Apart from this album, it only appears on one older UK collection and a bonus track on a couple of Japanese reissues.

If you're looking for a Who compilation, this one isn't bad (except for the silly single edits), but almost any recent compilation will do. They generally have most of the same songs. Get the "Be Lucky" single (or just download that one track). That's totally worth it. It's also nice to have the long "Magic Bus" back available again.

Because though the record label still refuses to call me to personally set up the "correct" track list, I'll do it myself, but on a separate page so I don't clog up this page.

Watch the video for "Be Lucky".

tracks: "Zoot Suit" [as The High Numbers], "I Can't Explain", "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", "My Generation", "Substitute", "The Kids Are Alright" [unedited - includes guitar solo], "I'm A Boy", "Happy Jack", "Pictures Of Lily", "Boris The Spider" [new remix], "The Last Time", "I Can See For Miles", "Call Me Lightning", "Dogs", "Magic Bus" [long version], "Pinball Wizard", "I'm Free", "The Seeker", "Summertime Blues" [live], "See Me, Feel Me", "Won't Get Fooled Again" [the 3-minute abomination], "Let's See Action", "Bargain", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Baba O'Riley", "Join Together", "Relay", "5:15" [single version], "Love Reign O'er Me", "Postcard", "Squeeze Box", "Slip Kid", "Who Are You" [edited version], "Trick Of The Light", "You Better You Bet", "Don't Let Go The Coat", "Athena", "Eminence Front", "It's Hard", "Real Good Looking Boy", "It's Not Enough", "Be Lucky"


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Asia
Gravitas

The reunited original Asia lineup has come full circle. After the band's original two albums in the early 80's, guitarist Steve Howe left the band, reportedly due to tensions within the band. Asia replaced him with Mandy Meyer from Krokus and recorded one more album, Astra, before splitting. Astra wasn't bad, but Meyer's hard rock/heavy metal guitar was quite a change from Howe's work and in general the album wasn't as good as the first two.

In 2006, the original quartet reunited and released three more albums from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, Steve Howe left again (although under better terms) and again Asia's replaced him with a guitarist with a hard rock feel. Sam Coulson (who was born after the original lineup split the first time) is clearly a talented player, but apart from the solos, he seems to play the same chug-chug-chug-chug riff on almost every song which is a shame because John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes all sound terrific. And at 64, Wetton's voice is still stunning. Like Astra, Gravitas isn't a bad album, but it's not as good as the three reuinion albums that preceded it.

Watch the video for "Valkyrie"

tracks: "Valkyrie", "Gravitas", "The Closer I Get To You", "Nyctophobia", "Russian Dolls", "Heaven Help Me Now", "I Would Die For You", "Joe DiMaggio's Glove", "Till We Meet Again"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "The Closer I Get To You" [acoustic], "Joe DiMaggio's Glove" [acoustic]

bonus DVD (Deluxe Edition): "Valkyrie" [video], Electronic Press Kit, "Heat of the Moment" [live], "An Extraordinary Life" [live], "Only Time Will Tell" [live]

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Coldplay
Ghost Stories

Coldplay's latest (ostensibly a concept album about lead singer Chris Martin's failing relationship with his now ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow) is a claustrophobic, brooding, dour album. Albums based around depressing subject matter don't have to sound like this (see Lou Reed's classic Berlin for a counter example). Easily the weakest album in Coldplay's catalog.

Watch the video for "Magic" or listen to "A Sky Full Of Stars".

tracks: "Always In My Head", "Magic", "Ink", "True Love", "Midnight", "Another's Arms", "Oceans", "A Sky Full of Stars", "O"

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Jimi Goodwin
Odludek

The first solo album from Doves' lead singer Jimi Goodwin is a quite a departure from his band's style. His powerful voice is still the centerpiece, but Odludek (Polish for "loner") is a seriously electic collection. While the opener, "Terracotta Warrior", could have worked with Doves, the rest of the album mixes in folk, electronica, and pop and the result is an album that has a lot of different feels, but still seems like one album. The highlight are the folky "Oh! Whiskey" and the old-timey pop of "Panic Tree". Overall, it's a bit hit-and-miss, but it's still worth checking out - the good stuff is really, really good.

Watch the video for "Oh! Whiskey"

tracks: "Terracotta Warrior", "Didsbury Girl", "Live Like A River", "Hope", "Man V Dingo", "Keep My Soul In Song", "Oh! Whiskey", "The Ghost Of The Empties", "Lonely At The Drop", "Panic Tree"

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The Hold Steady
RAGS

Recorded as a way to raise money for the family of a Hold Steady fansite lead who passed away suddenly, RAGS is a covers EP that ends up being a proper preview of the new lineup that debuted on Teeth Dreams (the Record Store Day single of a song for Game Of Thrones really didn't do the band justice).

The Hold Steady cover Dr. Feelgood ("All Around The City"), Soul Asylum ("Closer To The Stars"), Kiss ("Hard Luck Woman"), Willie Nelson ("I Gotta Get Drunk") and Those Bastard Souls ("The Last Thing I Ever Wanted Was To Show Up And Blow Your Mind"). The first three totally fit The Hold Steady's style and work masterfully. The last two are good, but not quite up to the first three. As a bonus for people who pre-ordered on Pledge Music, the band also recorded a cover of Billy Squier's "Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You", which is also terrific.

tracks: "All Through The City", "Closer To The Stars", "Hard Luck Woman", "I Gotta Get Drunk", "The Last Thing I Ever Wanted Was To Show Up And Blow Your Mind"

pre-release download bonus track: "Christmas Is the Time To Say I Love You"

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Manic Street Preachers
Futurology

When last year's largely acoustic Rewind The Film, the Manics talked about recording a second album at the same time. Futurology is definitely a left turn from Rewind The Film - instead of acoustic, this time out there's a synthy, Krautrock influence on a lot of the album. The album is a bit of a mixed bag. "The Next Jet To Leave Moscow" is terrific, and the martial "Europa Geht Durch Mich" ("Europe Passes Through Me") is the best of the Krautrock-style tracks. Unfortunately, there are more subpar tracks than I'd expect on a Manics album. The best songs on here are very good, but I don't think it's as consistent as Rewind The Film. The Deluxe Edition adds a disc of all the album demos plus a few outtakes (which are better than some of the songs that made the album).

Watch the video for "Walk Me To The Bridge", "Futurology", or the lyric video for "Europa Geht Durch Mich".

tracks: "Futurology", "Walk Me To The Bridge", "Let's Go To War", "The Next Jet To Leave Moscow", "Europa Geht Durch Mich", "Divine Youth", "Sex, Power, Love And Money", "Dreaming A City (Hughesovka)", "Black Square", "Between The Clock And The Bed", "Misguided Missile", "The View From Stow Hill", "Mayakovsky"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Futurology" [demo], "Walk Me To The Bridge" [demo], "Let's Go To War" [demo], "The Next Jet To Leave Moscow" [demo], "Europa Geht Durch Mich" [demo], "Divine Youth" [demo], "Sex, Power, Love And Money" [demo], "Dreaming A City (Hughesovka)" [demo], "Black Square" [demo], "Between The Clock And The Bed" [demo], "Misguided Missile" [demo], "The View From Stow Hill" [demo], "Mayakovsky" [demo], "Blistered Mirrors", "Empty Motorcade", "The Last Time I Saw Paris"

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Pink Floyd
The Endless River

In an interview about The Final Cut, David Gilmour asked "If these songs weren't good enough for The Wall, why are they good enough now?" Well, the shoe is on the other foot now. The Endless River is taken from sessions for The Division Bell back in 1994 along with a little new recording by Gilmour and Nick Mason. Except for "Louder Than Words" and some Stephen Hawking dialog on "Talkin' Hawkin'", the album is basically instrumental. Other Floyd albums have long instrumental sections, but they're usually just a section of a larger piece or a self-contained instrumental. The Endless River has bits that will remind you of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" or "Welcome To The Machine" or even "Run Like Hell", but most don't seem to resolve - they just meander on to the next piece. The result is more along the lines of background music for a film. It's enjoyable enough to listen to (you get lots of Gilmour famous guitar sound as well as lot of Rick Wright's keyboards), but it sounds like the work in progress that it is. "Anisina" is the highlight of the instrumentals - it's the one that sounds the most complete.

The lone new vocal song, "Louder Than Words", is very good - up there with most of the post-Roger Pink Floyd (but not in a class with "High Hopes"). The sentiment of the lyrics fits the Gilmour/Waters falling out, but lines like "We bitch and we fight / Diss each other on sight" really don't sound that "Floydian" ("Diss"? Seriously?!).

Roger Waters famously described A Momentary Lapse Of Reason as "a pretty fair forgery of Pink Floyd". The Endless River fits the same mold. It sounds great and it sure sounds like the Floyd, but it's ultimately unfulfilling.

Watch the Electronic Press Kit, the video for "Louder Than Words" or listen to three short audio clips from the album ("Audio 1", "Audio 2", "Audio 3").

tracks: "Things Left Unsaid", "It's What We Do", "Ebb And Flow", "Sum", "Skins", "Unsung", "Anisina", "The Lost Art Of Conversation", "On Noodle Street", "Night Light", "Allons-y (1)", "Autumn '68", "Allons-y (2)", "Talkin' Hawkin'", "Calling", "Eyes To Pearls", "Surfacing", "Louder Than Words"

bonus tracks (deluxe edition): "TBS9", "TBS14", "Nervana"

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Benmont Tench
You Should Be So Lucky

Benmont Tench, who has been the keyboard player in Tom Petty's bands since his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, finally released a debut solo album. You Should Be So Lucky is a fine collection of jazzy pop that has quite a different feel from his day job. Tench's voice isn't great, but it does the job. "Like The Sun (Michoacan)" and "Blonde Girl, Blue Dress" are the big highlights, but the rest of the album is quite good. Worth a listen.

tracks: "Today I Took Your Picture Down", "Veronica Said", "Ecor Rouge", "Hannah", "Blonde Girl, Blue Dress", "You Should Be So Lucky", "Corrina, Corrina", "Dogwood", "Like The Sun (Michoacan)", "Wobbles", "Why Don't You Quit Leavin' Me Alone", "Duquesne Whistle"

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Thompson
Family

"My father is one of the greats to ever step on a stage / My mother has the most beautiful voice in the world / And I am betwixt and between, Sean Lennon you know what I mean / Born to The Manor and never quite clamouring free"

Teddy Thompson sings those lines to open "Family", the first song on a uniquely collaborative album. Another back story for you. When singer/songwriter Richard Thompson left British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention, he recorded one solo album then married singer Linda Peters and the duo recorded six albums as "Richard & Linda Thompson". Their debut, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and their swansong (recorded after the couple's bitter split), Shoot Out The Lights, are rightly considered classics. Two of Richard and Linda's three children (Teddy and Kami) have become singer/songwriters as well. Kami also records with The Rails, along with her husband James Walbourne. Richard and Linda's grandson Zak Hobbs and Richard's son Jack (from his second marriage) are also musicians. Got all that?

Family is basically Teddy Thompson's project. The concept is that he would contribute two songs, as would Richard, Linda and Kami. Jack and Zak contributed one song each. The major players all live in different cities, so the songs were recorded a bit sparsely and sent to Teddy. He then got other members of the extended family to play on the songs so that they would be more collaborative. As you might expect, the styles of the different songs varies a bit, but it's not a bad thing. Teddy's pair are the title track (a charming, folky waltz with terrific lyrics) and the alt-country rocker "Right". Richard's two songs are great - they sound like they could have been on his recent albums, especially "One Life At A Time". For me, the big surprise on he album was Kami's "Careful" - it's a catchy bit of folk-pop with killer lead guitar work from her dad and the best song on the album. Linda's songs are very pretty, but her voice isn't quite the stunner it was in the Seventies.

Overall, Family is a very impressive album and I hope they try this idea again in the future.

Watch the Extended Trailer for the album.

tracks: "Family" [Teddy Thompson], "One Life At A Time" [Richard Thompson], "Careful" [Kami Thompson], "Bonny Boys" [Linda Thompson], "Root So Bitter" [Zak Hobbs], "At The Feet Of The Emperor" [Jack Thompson], "Right" [Teddy Thompson], "Perhaps We Can Sleep" [Linda Thompson], "That's Enough" [Richard Thompson], "I Long For Lonely" [James Walbourne & Kami Thompson]

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Richard Thompson
Acoustic Classics

Like Randy Newman's Songbook albums, Acoustic Classics has new solo acoustic recordings of 14 of Richard Thompson's best songs. The song selection is terrific and Thompson's playing and singing are on top form. Songs like "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and "Beeswing" (two of Thompson's all-time best) are tailor made for this format and really shine. Although, the highlight overall may be a breathtaking version of a lesser known Thompson song, "Persuasion". Electric songs like "Shoot Out The Lights" and "I Misunderstood" also translate wonderfully. Thompson commonly performs songs he recorded with a band at his solo acoustic concerts, so it's not a surprise to hear them work this well. A superb album and decent introduction to his work as a whole.

Watch a different (but equally dazzling) performance of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning".

tracks: "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight", "Walking On A Wire", "Wall Of Death", "Down Where The Drunkards Roll", "One Door Opens", "Persuasion", "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", "I Misunderstood", "From Galway To Graceland", "Valerie", "Shoot Out The Lights", "Beeswing", "When The Spell Is Broken", "Dimming Of The Day"

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Trans
Green

Trans is a new band led by Suede founder Bernard Butler that so far is dedicated to releasing EPs of largely improvised music. The results are a little more song-focused that you might expect, and the overall sound is very reminiscent of Television's twin guitar sound. Both Green and their 2013 debut, Red, are highly recommended, especially to fans of the Verlaine/Lloyd interplay in Television. I hope they keep making these EPs. They're great.

Trans made "videos" for each song, so you can watch "Thinking About A Friend", "The Prince", "Lights" or "Tangerine". The videos are just shots of each of the band members, but at least it will let you hear the songs.

tracks: "Thinking About A Friend", "The Prince", "Lights", "Tangerine"

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Neil Young
A Letter Home

As far as the concept goes, A Letter Home is a brilliant idea. Jack White restored a 1947 Voice-O-Graph machine. It's like those old photo booths, but instead you site inside, record yourself and a record is made on the spot. A pretty innovative idea for the time. On A Letter Home, Neil has recorded an album of covers entirely in the machine. The album opens with what the Voice-O-Graph was probably used for a lot - an audio letter. The rest of the album is Neil solo on acoustic guitar with occasional piano from White (who must have propped the door open). The recordings are all one-takes and the performances themselves are pretty cool. The trouble is that the sound really is authentic. It sounds like a scratchy 78 RPM record from the 40's. It seems charming at first, but wears out its welcome extremely quickly. Clever concept, interesting song choices, but a really, really tough listen.

tracks: "A Letter Home Intro", "Changes" (original by Phil Ochs), "Girl From The North Country" (Bob Dylan), "Needle Of Death" (Bert Jansch), "Early Morning Rain" (Gordon Lightfoot), "Crazy" (Willie Nelson), "Reason To Believe" (Tim Hardin), "On The Road Again" (Willie Nelson), "If You Could Read My Mind" (Gordon Lightfoot), "Since I Met You Baby" (Ivory Joe Hunter), "My Hometown" (Bruce Springsteen), "I Wonder If I Care As Much" (The Everly Brothers)

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Neil Young
Storytone

Neil Young's second album of 2014 also went high concept. This time, instead of a claustrophobic sound booth, Young did a 180° turn: Seven of the new songs are simply Neil singing backed by an orchestra. The standout of these is the environmental anthem "Who's Gonna Stand Up?" which still rocks despite the setting. The rest of the orchestral songs are ballads. They're pretty melodies, but unremarkable. And Young's voice really doesn't fit 'em all that well. The other three have a band backing. Not a rock band, a 40's style big band (something like a cousin to Neil's Bluenotes). "Say Hello To Chicago" has a serious 40's feel, and "I Want To Drive My Car" and "Like You Used To Do" are bluesy rock that really take advantage of the horn section. Overall, a much more listenable than A Letter Home. And like A Letter Home, clever concept, but not a very good album.

There's also a deluxe edition which adds a second disc with the same ten songs (in the same running order), but all as solo performances by Young (either on piano or guitar).

Watch Neil record "Who's Gonna Stand Up?".

tracks: "Plastic Flowers", "Who's Gonna Stand Up?", "I Want to Drive My Car", "Glimmer", "Say Hello to Chicago", "Tumbleweed", "Like You Used to Do", "I'm Glad I Found You", "When I Watch You Sleeping", "All Those Dreams"

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Frank Zappa
Joe's Camouflage

Joe's Camouflage was a real surprise. The album documents recording sessions for an edition of Zappa's band that never recorded an album or went out on tour. The big highlights are a new instrumental "Phyniox" (apparently an intentional misspelling of "Phoenix") with a masterful Zappa guitar solo, a very bluesy take on "The Illinois Enema Bandit", an interesting "Black Napkins" with the addition of violinist Novi Novog, a reggae version of "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance", and a slow, sinister take on "Any Downers?". The Zappa Family Trust has issued quite a few of these rarities/outtakes/behind-the-scenes albums. They're all generally pretty interesting but not essential - except for this one. The sound could be better in spots, but the performances are amazing. I have absolutely NO idea why Zappa didn't do more with this band. He really should have.

tracks: "Phyniox" [Take 1], "T'mershi Duween", "Reeny Ra", "Who Do You Think You Are?", "Slack 'Em All Down", "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?", "The Illinois Enema Bandit", "Sleep Dirt" [Rehearsal], "Black Napkins", "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance", "Danny & Froggy Relate", "Choose Your Foot", "Any Downers?", "Phyniox" [Take 2], "I Heard A Note"


THE TOP TEN FOR 2014

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#10
U2
Songs Of Innocence

Let's get the awkward stuff out of the way first, shall we?

When Apple announced the iPhone 6, they also announced that U2's first new album in five years was finally complete, and that Apple had paid for a copy for each of their iTunes users. And if you had your phone set to auto-download new purchases, the new album was already on your phone waiting for you. Really, really cool ... IF you're a U2 fan. And that's where the problem hit. If you're not a U2 fan, all of a sudden you've got an album you don't want on your phone and seemingly no way to get rid of it. If the freebie had been from [insert name of act you don't like - Nickelback being the clichéd response], I would've been bugged too. So now, hating the new U2 album (and U2 as well) becomes a meme and kinda overshadows the album itself. The idea of buying everyone a copy is still a cool idea, they should've just made it a free download on iTunes so you could get it if you want it (and skip it if you don't).

OK, now to the album. Songs Of Innocence is a solid U2 album, light years better than No Line On The Horizon. Yes, the opener, "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" is overplayed from the Apple TV adds, but it's a terrific opener. "California" and "Cedarwood Road" are two of the other highlights, but overall, the album is very consistent (which is surprising giving the long, drawn-out recording). There isn't an instant classic like "Beautiful Day", but it sounds more like a U2 album than No Line On The Horizon did.

If you're not an Apple user, be aware there's also a deluxe package with a couple of good new songs, some acoustic and alternate versions of songs on the album, and the year's first free U2 song (the excellent "Invisible") is included as a hidden track. The bonus tracks are also available separately on iTunes as Songs Of Innocence+.

Watch the video for "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)".

tracks: "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)", "Every Breaking Wave", "California (There Is No End To Love)", "Song for Someone", "Iris (Hold Me Close)", "Volcano", "Raised By Wolves", "Cedarwood Road", "Sleep Like A Baby Tonight", "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now", "The Troubles"

tracks (Songs Of Innocence+): "Lucifer's Hands", "The Crystal Ballroom", "Every Breaking Wave" [acoustic], "California (There Is No End to Love)" [acoustic], "Raised By Wolves" [acoustic], "Cedarwood Road" [acoustic], "Song For Someone" [acoustic], "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" [busker version], "The Troubles" [alternative version], "Sleep Like A Baby Tonight" [alternative perspective mix], "Invisible" [hidden track]

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#9
Foo Fighters
Sonic Highways

Another cool concept. Sonic Highways was recorded in eight different cities. Each song has a special guest performer from that city (like Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen on "Something From Nothing" or the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on "In The Clear"). The album overall is more on the poppy end of the Foos' work (as opposed to their last album, Wasting Light. For my tastes, that's a win. I liked Wasting Light, but I really prefer Dave Grohl's more melodic songs, and this one's packed with them. "Congregation" is catchy rock in the mode of "Learning To Fly". "In The Clear" (with its horn section) is my personal favorite on the album, although the dramatic "Subterranean" and the surprisingly funky "Something From Nothing" are close. I'm a more casual Foo Fighters fan, and these are exactly the type of songs that hooked me in the first place.

Watch the videos for Something From Nothing or "In The Clear".

tracks: "Something From Nothing", "The Feast And The Famine", "Congregation", "What Did I Do? / God As My Witness", "Outside", "In The Clear", "Subterranean", "I Am A River"

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#8
Broken Bells
After The Disco

James Mercer (from The Shins) and Danger Mouse have teamed up again and After The Disco picks up where their first album left off. The album is full of catchy alternative pop with electronic touches that give it a futuristic feel. The opening track, "A Perfect World", is a stunning opener and the best song they've come up with yet. The rest of the album is superb as well.

tracks: "A Perfect World", "After The Disco", "Holding On For Life", "Leave It Alone", "The Changing Lights", "Control", "Lazy Wonderland", "Medicine", "No Matter What You'Re Told", "The Angel And The Fool", "The Remains Of Rock And Roll"

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#7
Temples
Sun Structures

Do you miss the sound of 1967? If so, you definitely want to check out Sun Structures. Temples' debut is a modern take on the psychedelic sound of the late 60's - poppy songs with distorted guitars and dreamy vocals. The songs themselves are very good, especially "Mesmerise" and "Colours To Life". I've read that both Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher have been talking up Temples quite a bit, and it's easy to see why.

Watch the videos for "Keep In The Dark", "Mesmerise", or "Colours To Life".

tracks: "Shelter Song", "Sun Structures", "The Golden Throne", "Keep In The Dark", "Mermerise", "Move With The Season", "Colours To Life", "A Question Isn't Answered", "The Guesser", "Test Of Time", "Sand Dance", "Fragment's Light"

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#6
Eels
The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett

After two "feel good" albums (well, as "feel good" as Eels get), The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett is more reminiscent of the very personal Electro-Shock Blues and Blinking Lights And Other Revelations. This time around, E (Mark Oliver Everett) examines the failings in his own life, talking about failed relationships and trying to get better. The album has some of the tone of Electro-Shock Blues, but the songs aren't quite as consistent as those two albums. "Parallels", "Where I Come From", "Mistakes Of My Youth", and "Where I'm Going" are absolutely stunning and among Eels' best. On the other hand, while songs like "Agatha Chang", "Gentlemen's Choice", "Dead Reckoning" and "Answers" have powerful lyrics, the music drags a bit. Overall, the pros heavily outweigh the cons and the album is still a must hear. The deluxe edition adds a collection of excellent extra songs (some better than the main album tracks) and some great live material from last year - especially the killer cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well".

Listen to "Parallels" or watch the video for "Mistakes Of My Youth"

tracks: "Where I'm At", "Parallels", "Lockdown Hurricane", "Agatha Chang", "A Swallow In The Sun", "Where I'm From", "Series Of Misunderstandings", "Kindred Spirit", "Gentleman's Choice", "Dead Reckoning", "Answers", "Mistakes Of My Youth", "Where I'm Going"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "To Dig It", "Lonesome Lockdown Hurricane", "Bow Out", "A Good Deal", "Good Morning Bright Eyes", "Millicent Don't Blame Yourself", "Thanks I Guess", "On The Ropes" [Live WNYC], "Accident Prone" [Live WNYC], "I'm Your Brave Little Soldier" [Live WNYC], "Fresh Feeling" [Live KCRW], "Trouble With Dreams" [Live KCRW], "Oh Well" [Live KCRW]

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#5
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Hypnotic Eye

Petty's last release, 2010's Mojo had the band moving away from their usual sound into bluesier, jammier territory. Hypnotic Eye is a return to the core band sound - a lot of it reminds me of Hard Promises and Long After Dark. "Burnt Out Town" keeps the Mojo blues feel, and "Full Grown Boy" is a laid-back shuffle that I don't think I've heard Petty do before. The rest of the album is Petty and The Heartbreakers doing what they do best - no frills rock. There really isn't a weak song on there, just a solid album top to bottom.

tracks: "American Dream Plan B", "Fault Lines", "Red River", "Full Grown Boy", "All You Can Carry", "Power Drunk", "Forgotten Man", "Sins Of My Youth", "U Get Me High", "Burnt Out Town", "Shadow Town"

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#4
Bob Mould
Beauty & Ruin

Beauty & Ruin picks up where 2012's Silver Age left off. He's got the same rhythm section, and the band continues to blast out killer punk-pop songs. The first single, "I Don't Know You Anymore" is a typical Mould classic - the song is both loud and irresistably catchy. On "Hey Mr. Grey", Mould has a little fun at his own expense ("Hey Mr. Grey / That's what the children say / Life used to be so hard / Get off my yard"). There's a few changes of pace on the album - "Forgiveness" and "Let The Beauty Be" use acoustic guitar for a little break, and the songs fit the album perfectly. You could knock Mould for having a bit of a formula at this point, but you sure can't argue with the results.

Watch the video (from Funny or Die) for "I Don't Know You Anymore".

tracks: "Low Season", "Little Glass Pill", "I Don't Know You Anymore", "Kid With Crooked Face", "Nemeses Are Laughing", "The War", "Forgiveness", "Hey Mr. Grey", "Fire In The City", "Tomorrow Morning", "Let The Beauty Be", "Fix It"

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#3
Johnny Marr
Playland

Playland continues the sound of The Messenger with more catchy guitar rock. The Messenger was excellent, and Playland is even better. "Easy Money" is great, "Dynamo" is a classic, and the rest of the album is phenominal as well. Still amazed it took Marr this long to launch a proper solo career. Should have done this ages ago!

tracks: "Back In The Box", "Easy Money", "Dynamo", "Candidate", "25 Hours", "The Trap", "Playland", "Speak Out Reach Out", "Boys Get Straight", "This Tension", "Little King"

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#2
The Hold Steady
Teeth Dreams

The formal debut of the now-keyless Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams starts out firing on all cylinders. I always really liked Franz Nicolay's keyboards (and they're missed at live shows), but the addition of Steve Selvidge on guitar hasn't changed much of the band's sound, it's just added more power, and Craig Finn's lyrics are brilliant as usual. "Spinners" is a Hold Steady classic, an anthemic rocker about a girl who deals with life through music ("Heartbreak hurts, but you can dance it off"). "The Only Thing" and "Wait A While" are just as good, and the epic closer "Oaks" (the longest song in the band's catalog) ends the album with dramatic guitar from Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge. Don't know why it took four years to get another album done, but I'm glad they did. The Hold Steady sounds as great as ever.

Watch the video for "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" or a live version of "Spinners" from Late Night With David Letterman.

tracks: "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You", "Spinners", "The Only Thing", "The Ambassador", "On With The Business", "Big Cig", "Wait A While", "Runner's High", "Almost Everything", "Oaks"

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#1
Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey
Going Back Home

Yep. Another album with a back story.

Wilko Johnson was the guitarist and songwriter in pub rock legends Dr. Feelgood. Pub rock is widely considered a precursor to punk, mainly for shedding 70's excesses and just playing simple, back-to-basics rock and roll. Wilko left the band in 1977 and launched a long-running solo career. In 2010, Wilko and Who singer Roger Daltrey bonded at a Teenage Cancer Trust benefit over a mutual love of no-nonsense rock bands like Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (whose "Shakin' All Over" was covered by The Who on Live At Leeds and many others) and agreed they really should make an album together some day. In January of 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given less than a year to live. He reacted to the news by launching a "farewell tour" of the UK. In November of 2013, that "some day" became "now", and Johnson and Daltrey bashed out covers of ten old Wilko/Feelgood songs and a Dylan song that Wilko had covered on one of his solo albums.

So how's the album? Superb. Daltrey's voice sounds better than it has in years, and Wilko and his band tear through the material. Roger's voice is a perfect fit for the songs, and the songs are great. "Going Back Home" and "Ice On The Motorway" roar open the album, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" is a great cover, "Keep It Out Of Sight" shows off a power in Roger's voice I haven't heard in years, and "All The Through The City" ends the album with a rousing finish.

The album was originally released on March of 2014, and in November of 2014, a "Deluxe Edition" double-CD version was released. The Deluxe Edition adds a new Roger/Wilko track, "Muskrat", that's as good as anything on the album. You also get some of the songs done by just Wilko, and while the band sounds great, Wilko's voice is no match for Daltrey's. They've also added some live tracks with a mix of Wilko solo and Wilko with Roger. The live set is fantastic, and as on the album, Daltrey's voice sounds great and the band is terrific. Go for the deluxe edition.

This is a bit of an odd choice for a #1 album for me. Strictly speaking, this is kind of a "greatest hits" album, picking some of the best songs out of Wilko's solo and Dr. Feelgood catalogs. However, Daltrey and the band sound so good, this ended up being a real "play it to death" album for me and an easy #1 pick. And the story has a happy ending after all: In April of 2014, Wilko had radical surgery performed and announced in October that he was cancer free. Now that Wilko's recovering, I really hope they get to make a 2nd album. This one's fantastic.

... and can you believe they resisted crediting the album to "Roger-Wilko" or "Dr. Who"?

Watch the videos for "Going Back Home" and "I Keep It To Myself".

tracks: "Going Back Home", "Ice On The Motorway", "I Keep It To Myself", "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window", "Turned 21", "Keep On Loving You", "Some Kind Of Hero", "Sneaking Suspicion", "Keep It Out Of Sight", "Everybody's Carrying A Gun", "All Through The City"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition) - studio: "Muskrat", "Some Kind of Hero" [Wilko Version], "Keep On Loving You" [Wilko Version], "Turned 21" [Wilko Version], "Going Back Home" [Radio Edit]

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition) - Wilko Johnson Band live: "All Right", "Barbed Wire Blues", "The More I Give", "Dr. Dupree", "When I'm Gone", "Roxette"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition) - Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey live: "Going Back Home", "I Keep It To Myself", "Keep On Loving You", "Sneaking Suspicion", "All Through the City", "Everybody's Carrying A Gun", "Some Kind Of Hero"