The Key's Year-End Mania: Julian Booker's Standout Singer-Songwriter albums of 2014
Album Art for Dawn Landes’ Bluebird

Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, XPN’s Sleepy Hollow host Julian Booker shares singer-songwriter records that impressed him this year.

5. Diane Cluck – Boneset (Important Records)

Anti-folk, freak-folk..these terms seem to come up constantly when discussing the work of Diane Cluck, finding comparisons with the early work of fellow singer/songwriters like Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane. But in a year that saw excellent new releases from folk-tinged pioneers Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan, it is best to consider Cluck in company with this class of artists who can’t be categorized–a solitary songwriter completely in control of her artistic destiny. Don’t miss her “Why Feel Alone?”

4. Mirel Wagner – When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (Sub Pop)

This is a horror story wrapped-up in thirty minutes of Wagner’s reverb and delay-affected vocals atop a single, simply played acoustic guitar. The sophomore release from this Finnish (but Ethiopian-born) artist tackles infanticide, mariticide, devilish possession, and all things macabre, in tones warmth in sound, but cold in nature. Like the best horror narratives, even when you want to, you simply can’t turn away.

3. Leyla McCalla – Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes (Fat Possum)

Though this New Orleans based singer/songwriter/cellist (and Carolina Chocolate Drops collaborator) may be using the words of Langston Hughes as source material, Vari-Colored Songs is the product of her singular artistry and vision. Endlessly inventive and exciting (even when…at most when…she is only accompanied by her graceful cello), McCalla makes an undeniable case as to why Hughes’ words still need to be heard, and why her voice is the right vehicle for the task.

2. Marissa Nadler – July (Sacred Bones)

The hushed tones that accompany a melancholy finger-picked acoustic guitar on album opener “Drive” set the scene for this Massachusetts singer/songwriter’s Sacred Bones debut. Using only the occasional orchestration or a tasteful full-band behind her, Marissa Nadler allows her hypnotic voice and excellent songwriting tell this poignant, albums-length story of lost love.

1. Dawn Landes – Bluebird (Western Vinyl)

On the Kentucky-raised, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/guitarist/audio engineer’s first release since 2009, Dawn Landes offers ten impeccably crafted compositions, at once beautiful, heart-wrenching, and indelible. There is nothing out of place on this record that, by the way, features Puss ‘n Boots’ Norah Jones & Catherine Popper.

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