We continue on with our multi-part series examining Connecticut music and highlighting some of my favorite albums. This time around we crack open 2014.
2014 was a huge year for me personally. I left the Courant to take a job at the then Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce and later that October I booked my first Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival. 40 bands on three stages, over three days for the festival’s 40th Anniversary. Six Apple Fests later and it’s still my favorite weekend of the year. It would also be the last year that we had an actual CT Music Awards. (For that I will say either I’m sorry or you’re welcome, depending on how you felt about them.)
In the CT music scene there was once again an inordinate amount of great albums released by an eclectic bunch of artists. 2014 was a time when I truly felt lucky to be part of this scene and these albums were several reasons why.
Canyon – Half
The first time I heard Canyon it was not under the best circumstances. I was attending a festival (which will remain unnamed here) and she was stuck in a little side room that the “main” stage was bleeding into. Every time the door to that side bar opened the other band playing would momentarily blast out everything else. I can’t imagine how annoying that must have been for the performers because I wanted to punch so many things just as an attendee. But there stood this beautiful artist with a voice like some sort of godly elixir that just dripped aural honey into your ears and melted your brain. I was hooked from note one. This is still one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite artists. Canyon, like myself, is a CT transplant and frankly we are so lucky to have her. The consummate songwriter and I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the last five years for the follow-up record. (She better hurry up. I’m pretty out of shape.) Fun Fact: Canyon may be my 15 year old’s favorite artist. In fact, both of my oldest children have this album committed to memory.
Daphne Lee Martin – Frost
If you read the 2013 post you noticed my inclusion of the previous Daphne Lee Martin record and mentioning how Martin took a proverbial left turn with her sound. Frost is the record where she doubled-down, hit the accelerator and barrelled full-steam into indie rock territory. Tracks like “Night We Fell In Love” still grasped tight to her Americana roots, but the experimentation on this record dwarfed anything she had done before. Honestly, it was a little shocking in the best way possible. Always a good thing when an artist can keep you on your toes.
Frank Critelli – Everything Is Everything
I cannot say enough nice things about Frank Critelli. He is honestly one of the greatest gems this statewide scene has at their disposal, not to mention one of the scene’s biggest supporters. (Shameless radio plug alert: You should also listen to Frank co-host The Local Bands Show with the legendary Rick Allison every Sunday night on WPLR 99.1 and co-host The Allison Transmission every Tuesday morning on CygnusRadio.com.) He’s also one of my favorite live musicians. There’s a reason I book Frank to open the Pratt Street Patio season in Hartford every summer. It’s because there are very few musicians who can captivate a whole city street the way Frank can. This is easily my favorite Frank Critelli record out of an exceptional back catalogue. Some of his best work, complete with a backing band hitting all the right notes. The songs weave between catchy rock-infused numbers to more subtle, folksier jams. It also may be the record that best captures the energy of his live performances.
Kerri Powers – Kerri Powers
This album completely blew my mind when I first heard it. In college my senior thesis was on the cultural imperialism of white, predominantly British musicians, stealing blues music written by black, predominantly American artists. It was a 60-page paper I was going to turn into a book until a hard drive crash and a professor on sabbatical killed that dream. The point being I’ve been obsessed with the blues for a long, long time. It’s rare to find an artist today who can successfully channel the feeling and the power of those old blues tunes into their own music. But here was Kerri Powers, an artist that I admittedly wasn’t familiar with who took everything I loved about the blues, old school country, and folk music and made something wholly tangible. Some might find her jumping from genre to genre as distracting but I view it as a history lesson in how all of those genres all grew from the same tree.
No Line North – Farther Out Beyond Today
I have no idea why, but the first time I sat down to listen to this record I was expecting this nice folk rock record. I am happy to report that while steeped in Americana roots, this record rocked me out of my expectations. Closer to the likes of Petty and early Mellencamp than anything I had envisioned, this record had enough driving, rock rhythms to keep things more than interesting. You hear the term ‘folk rock’ thrown around but few artists capture the actual essence of that descriptor as No Line North, and this record in particular.
Ponybird – Modest Quarters
This was possibly my most anticipated album from 2014. I had been given a very small sneak peak of just one song and knew instantly I was going to love this record. The first two Ponybird releases were essential in my mind, but this album was transcendent. Ponybird’s brand of psych-infused Americana is captivating on so many levels. The beauty held within this record has literally brought a tear to my eye on occasion. “In The Threads” is still one of my favorite songs and will quite literally stop me in my tracks when it comes on. I’m still as addicted to this record now as I was five years ago, and probably will still be five years from now.
The Sarah Lemieux Quintet – Moments Musicaux
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a Jazz guy. It takes a truly great performer for me to put down my preconceived notions of the genre as a whole. But when it’s right, it’s so right. Sarah Lemieux takes a genre that I’m lukewarm on and somehow makes it so damn enthralling and she does it better than almost any other artist. Her voice is sonic perfection and the songs on this album remind me of a beautiful night in your favorite city, lights glimmering, magic floating in the air. It has this cinematic quality to it that makes it utterly addictive.
Straight To VHS – Weekend Weekend Weekend
Are they punk, are they garage rock, are they living precariously somewhere in between? Who cares. New London’s Straight To VHS are unapologetic in their desire to smack you around as much as entertain you and this may be their heaviest release to date, and genre descriptors can take a flying leap. There’s obviously a lot of snarl and sneer here, but there’s also a lot of tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery that makes it all so endearing. Possibly my favorite record from a band that’s released some stellar ones over the years.
Wise Old Moon – The Patterns
Debut album from a band that has since established themselves as one of the best Americana-based acts in the state. This is easily the most down-home, folksy album they’ve done to this point. There’s a distinct sort of dark cloud that hangs over this record in a great way, a sort of sorrowful note that runs through it like a raw nerve. It’s possibly what gives this album its beauty, this sort of masterful melancholy. If you like moody Americana that is as thoughtful as it is beautiful you’ll want to get on this record as quickly as possible.
Hanging Hills – The Great Divide
Their social media and Bandcamp page now state they are from Philadelphia, but upon this album’s release Hanging Hills were absolutely a Connecticut band. (They also broke up a couple years after this album was released and their relocation took place. Although, I just looked and the teaser post up on Facebook means they may be back together? One can only hope.) For a debut album this thing was mature beyond its years. Mixing elements of indie folk and alt country with indie pop, blues, and traditional folk it was a smorgasbord of sonic goodness. They could also pull it off live too which made me love them even more. Definitely an album I won’t wait so long again to revisit.
Eurisko – Wild Animal
One of my biggest recent regrets is when Eurisko played a reunion show in New Haven and I was scheduled to be out of town that weekend. This bad killed it in every way imaginable. Memorable songs, a live show that set fire to every stage, you name it these guys had it. (Plus they would almost always do this fantastic, sped up cover of Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel”.) They were a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, and kicked ass like a punk rock band. Hopefully I don’t screw up again and miss the next reunion show.
Oh, Cassius! – On Such A Full Sea Are We Now Afloat
O.k., follow me here. If I’m remembering this correctly these guys technically released this album twice under two different names. In 2014 I did a review on the now defunct Lonesome Noise blog for an EP they were releasing called Ides Of March. After that review came out the album would vanish and they would release those songs under this name with different artwork, and an expanded track listing. I think it had something to with working with a new management team? Whatever the back story, this is the album that’s out there for your listening pleasure, so we’ll roll with it. You hear so many stories about two great artists coming together to form something truly special, but when John Torres (a standout singer/songwriter) started working with Meredith DiMenna (vocalist and powerhouse behind the excellent St. Bernadette) it wasn’t just lightening in a bottle, it was lightening exploding from the heavens. I can remember inviting John Torres to perform at the Aetna Theater in the basement of The Wadsworth art museum in Hartford (Still the most beautiful sounding room in the state in my opinion.) and he invited DiMenna to perform with him. It still stands as one of the singular greatest live performances I’ve ever witnessed. Pretty sure I teared up at one point and I still get goosebumps thinking about it. This is one of the best produced and most lush sounding albums anywhere to be found in this exercise and if you like that sort of cinematic indie rock where every song could find a home in a Wes Anderson film you need to hear this record. DiMenna would move to Nashville, and at some point I lost touch with Torres, but I’m telling you as sure as I’m sitting here writing this that Oh Cassius! was one of the most talented bands Connecticut has ever produced.
Milksop:Unsung – coldfriendlyhell
Let’s be honest here – this band was as goofy as they were talented, and I loved everything about their old-time blues meets punk rock. Don’t get me wrong, I like serious, sorrowful music more than the average person. But I’m also the kind of person to throw on The Dead Milkmen just because music should also be entertaining at its core. Milksop:Unsung knew all of that and perfected a sound that was one of the more unique ones to be found anywhere in the state.
Landing – Landing
I’ll fully admit out loud that I was a late comer to this band, especially having been a CT transplant and missing out on some of their earliest releases. This was the album that finally got me to take a deep dive into their catalogue (which was seven albums deep before this one) and helped cement my admiration for this band. Spacey, trippy, dream pop mixed with psych rock aesthetics, this record is as contemplative and mysterious as they come. It’s the type of album that will appeal to a wide swath of music fans, from indie rock aficionados to your more experimental-leaning metalheads.
Kala Farnham – Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart
Kala Farnham has spent quite a few years now dazzling audiences with her amazing voice and outstanding songwriting. This album represents possibly her least “folk” release in her catalogue. There are elements of pop, jazz, blues, and indie rock all swirling around like Farnham is mixing paints before creating a beautiful portrait. It’s well worth revisiting, especially for fans who view her now as a folk/Americana act.
Amy Gallatin & Stllwaters – Everything I Wanted Love To Be
I’m not even going to mince words here. This is bluegrass. Beautiful, beautiful bluegrass, and if you’re the type of person who fancies a trip to places like the Podunk Bluegrass Festival you better damn well know the name of Amy Gallatin, one of Connecticut’s best bluegrass exports.
Hannah Fair – Open Road
I could have sworn this record came out before 2014 but that’s the date I’m seeing online so that’s what I’m working with. Regardless of when this album came out it was definitely going to make an appearance. Before departing for Vermont (I think) Fair was one of CT’s most promising young singer/songwriters. She had an old soul that shown right through her music. This record perfectly encapsulates her ability to right engrossing, soulful songs.