Acoustic Nation's Ten Top Releases of 2014

What do you like? Something rockin’? Sweet or introspective? Masterful or mournful?

Whatever your preference, 2014 delivered.

We’ve listened to a huge amount of music throughout the year, and picking favorites is hard.

But we owe it to you to steer you toward some that stuck with us.

Wanna hear some good stuff…read, and listen, on!

John Butler Trio - Flesh and Blood

I’m not gonna lie. I am strongly biased when it comes to John Butler. His 2014 release Flesh and Blood maybe just be the perfect album.

Masterfully written, and even more amazingly performed, Flesh and Blood showcases the unlimited potential of this fun-loving guitarist, singer and songwriter.

Flesh & Blood is the John Butler Trio's sixth studio album, and you should listen. Really.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Butler and of seeing him play live. Not only did he and the trio blow me away, they were just so incredibly in the moment, and willing to stick their necks out to go in new directions.

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Beck - Morning Phase

12 years ago Beck released his breakup opus with Sea Change.

A set of heartrending songs written after ending a relationship up with his longtime girlfriend, the album is viewed as a classic in the Beck repertoire, and I wouldn’t be the first to call it the breakup album of the 00’s.

This year, Beck gave us Morning Phase, the 2014 companion piece to Sea Change. Like its predecessor, Morning Phase hits hard emotionally, mixing dusty acoustic guitars with moody orchestral arrangements (contributed by Beck’s father, David Campbell).

Having a bad day? It’s the perfect record to soak in at full volume while sinking into your couch. 12 albums in, and Beck’s output is as creative and honest as ever.

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The Belle Brigade - Just Because

I was first introduced to The Belle Brigade through the track “Losers,” which if you haven’t heard, is a true anthem among anthems.

A Simon & Garfunkel-tinged folk/pop release, the band’s self-titled album was great, but their 2014 offering Just Because shows the breadth of this brother/sister duo’s ability to pen great pop songs and present them in sonically fascinating ways.

A standout on Just Because is “Likely To Use Something,” a track that should be raking in the licensing dough for this band (I can imagine hearing it on pretty much any TV drama or movie these days).

Simply put, Just Because is the sound of a band with intention. Every detail—from a chord change, to a distorted bass line, to a random percussion sound—is placed with the utmost thought and care.

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Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics

Richard Thompson’s studio-recorded Acoustic Classics offers a wholesome compilation of newly recorded songs, which were carefully selected from Thompson’s 40-year repertoire to reflect the intimate nature of his live shows.

  • The album features 14 tracks (all but one written by Thompson), with lilting guitar,
  • a soothing sense of nostalgia, and songwriting that tugs at the heartstrings – all in true Thompson fashion.

Acoustic Classics is laden with gems, but tracks that stand out include “When the Spell Is Broken,” “Beeswing,” and “I Want to See The Bright Lights Tonight.” Plus, how cool is that album cover?

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Rodrigo y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive

Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 9 Dead Alive is a well-thought-out masterpiece with nine tracks that each pay homage to a figure in history who has died, but whose legacy lives on in the 21st century (hence the name 9 Dead Alive).

That concept alone is fantastic, and when you listen to the music it only gets better.

Packed with a punch, the album celebrates the lives of people like Spanish guitarist Antonio de Torres Jurado with track “The Soundmaker;” Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky with “The Russian Messenger;” and even animals and nature with “Torito.”

This album is the perfect convergence of history and music, and certainly deserves a spot in your playlist – especially if you like rock-focused nylon string guitar.

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Ed Sheeran - X

Armed with tender vocals and his trusty Martin Guitar, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran offers nothing but raw talent in his second studio album X (read as multiply).

Throughout the 12 tracks, Sheeran takes listeners through a wide range of styles including heartfelt ballads like “Photograph” and “One;” groovy hip-hop in “Sing” and “The Man;” and straight-out pop in “I’m a Mess” and “Tenerife Sea.”

It’s truly like a box of chocolates because each song brings a pleasant an unexpected surprise and shift in styles.

In X, not only does Sheeran display extreme dexterity on the guitar, but also a refreshing talent as a singer-songwriter - which goes to show he’s extraordinarily versatile and a veritable bad-ass worthy of all the recognition he can get.

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LP - Forever For Now

Okay, so Forever For Now is not technically fully acoustic but since LP’s main instrument is ukulele, I say it counts.

The petite LP is so full of talent and power, so smartly artistic, that you can’t help but be inspired.

Her melodic direction is unique. And truthfully her monster range makes it hard to sing along, but so what! Plus, she throws in a tuneful whistle riff throughout. What can this woman not do?!

Favorite cuts include “Night Like This,” “Into The Wild,” and the grand “Tokyo Sunrise.”

Can’t wait to see where this artist goes next…

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Alex Skolnick - Planetary Coalition

You might have heard of Skolnick from his escapades with the metal band Testament and later with his jazz trio.

Now Skolnick has gone in a new and exciting direction with his acoustic-focused project, Planetary Coalition. The collective’s first release, simply named Planetary Coalition, includes an impressive array of 27 musicians from around the world.

Multi-cultural and incredibly musical, Skolnick has somehow brought together a variety of musical influences, interesting instrumentation and intricate rhythms for a wholly enjoyable experience.

If you have a chance to see the Coalition live, grab it!

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David Gray - Mutineers

Somehow David Gray’s Mutineers made it into the iTunes library on my iPhone. When I plug into my car charger, his “As The Crow Flies” kicks off due to its alphabetical advantage. Masterfully written, this album is packed chock-full of original ideas interpreted in memorable ways.

Gray seems to be comfortable reinventing himself and Mutineers is a worthy fruit of his disruptive methods. Smart and singable, what more could you want?

From the ebullient single “Back in the World Again,” to the esoteric and gritty “Gulls” and far beyond, this well-rounded album is a worthy listen.

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Better Than Ezra - All Together Now

The single, “Crazy Lucky” off of Better Than Ezra’s release All Together Now was one of my favorite songs of the year and maybe of all time! Intelligently written, catchy as hell, and expertly executed.

All Together Now is the band’s eighth studio album that was produced by Grammy nominated mixer/producer Tony Hoffer (Fitz and the Tantrums, M83, Beck, Silversun Pickups).

Themed around chance, the album spins out from the serendipity-marveling “Crazy Lucky” into reflective, if relatable, fare such as the vibratory, folk-inflected “Insane,” the falsetto-kissed “One Heart Beating,” and the more sprawling “The Great Unknown.”

This video was constructed from fan submissions relating to their craziest and luckiest moments. Super cool all around.

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