Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year End Favorite Albums: 2014

2014 really brought the conversation of cultural appropriation to the forefront in music with the breakout year for Iggy Azalea and Sam Smith, who have both found tremendous success with Black sounds on the charts. While Iggy commanded the single's chart and Sam broke ground on both the Hot 100 and Top 200 Album charts, D'Angelo made a much welcomed return with arguably the best album of the year, if not the past few while K. Michelle continued to grow her fanbase with a sublime sophomore effort and Ledisi continues to pump out solid and thoughtful material.

While a lot of great records were released within 2014, these 5, ok 6, as well as the honorable mentions stood out to me as some of the best vocal, sonic, and lyrical work to debut this year. The list is not numerical in order of "most favorite" as the field this year was so tight and definitely offered a variety of great albums depending on your mood. Some artists had strong comebacks this year (D'Angelo; Mary J. Blige), others were brought more into the mainstream with solid efforts (Ledisi; K. Michelle), and two superstar were overlooked with stunning sets that is some of their best work in years in my opinion (Mariah Carey; Whitney Houston). Peep the list below and in addition to several honorable mentions.

1. Black Messiah - D'Angelo & The Vanguard

Released in a similar fashion to how Beyoncé released her groundbreaking fifth album BÉYONCE, D'Angelo's return to music after a nearly fifteen year absence from his landmark sophomore album Voodoo arrived just in time and when we were truly ready to accept its message and sonic fusions. While the album is not designed for the "Shake It Off" crowd, D'Angelo's music came just when the nation needed some music to match the frustrations and echo a lot of our concerns. Standouts include "The Charade," powerful ballad "Really Love," "Sugah Daddy," as well as my personal favorite jam at the moment "Another Life." I swear with every listen, Black Messiah gets better and better and if it doesn't receive GRAMMY nominations next year for at least Album of the Year, I will be surprised as this is one of the best albums of the past decade hands down.

2.  Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? - K. Michelle

K. Michelle's debut album Rebellious Soul was one of my Top 5 favorite albums last year and I dare say that she upped the ante with her sophomore album Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? which incorporates and even more diverse sonic sampling including a rock bent on the set's lead single "Love 'Em All" as well as expanding on her country roots with "God I Get It." K. Michelle's songwriting has even gotten tighter in the time she took to make her sophomore album with "Maybe I Should Call," "Cry" and "Build a Man" being some of the lyrical standouts. K. Michelle's vocals are of course on point, if not even stronger than on Rebellious Soul and Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? will further cement her as a career artist in my opinion.

3. The London Sessions - Mary J. Blige

After suffering some commercial disappointment with her last two albums for Geffen/Interscope, Mary J. Blige completed her contract and moved to Capital Records where she reinvented her sound with her sublime new album The London Sessions. Recorded this past summer in London, Mary J. Blige, already an icon in her own right decided to refresh her sound and take a risk that someone of her legendary heights doesn't have to do. With that said, her risk paid off in my book offering some of her most inspiring material in years. My personal favorite joint from the album has to be "Doubt," which is single worthy in my book in addition to "Not Loving You," "My Loving," "Long Hard Look," as well as "Whole Damn Year." While the album has sold modestly so far since its release, hopefully more people will discover it in 2015 and I look forward to a tour of this new material as Mary sounds brilliant on her new album.

4. The Truth - Ledisi

I've called Ledisi's voice the truth for years so it's only fitting that her latest album would be entitled The Truth and while the album hasn't gotten its just dues, the set's second single "Like This" did receive a GRAMMY nomination though the set's stunning lead single "I Blame You" surprisingly didn't. With that said, my personal favorite jam from the album has to be "Anything," quickly followed by the album's title track "The Truth" and "Rock With You."  With an upcoming tour slated for the early winter, hopefully an official third single will be chosen for the set and the uptempo "That Good Good" has my vote. Ledisi of course is vocally on point and her lyrics continue to get tighter and tighter in my opinion. Hopefully one day we will get a live album and her forthcoming The Intimate Truth will have to tide us over for now with her acoustic offering of some of her songs from The Truth.

5. Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse - Mariah Carey

While the album title for Mariah's new album received more press than the sublime body of work she compiled one of her most enthralling bodies of work since The Emancipation of Mimi. With that said, the set is loaded with singles and classic cuts including "Cry," "Meteorite," "Supernatural," "Camouflage," and "Money." While "#Beautiful" with Miguel proved to be a hit back in 2013, other singles seemed to stall for some reason including the infectious "You Don't Know What To Do." With that said, hopefully 2015 finds Mariah touring the States with Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse and offering a few more singles and a real promotional push for an album that has been really slept on in my opinion.

6.  Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances - Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston's Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances may not be an album of new material, but it does offer some of the best live vocal performances from The Voice, Ms. Whitney Houston and has been one of my personal favorite albums of the year. Featuring such classics as "You Give Good Love," "Greatest Love Of All," "All The Man," "I Believe In You And Me" and a powerhouse live rendition of "I Will Always Love You," there is a reason why Whitney Houston is regarded by many, including me, as the best female vocalist of all time. This set only offers a glimmer of what she could do and what you hear is just aw-inspiring, even as we continue to mourn the loss of the woman, the talent and the spirit of Ms. Whitney Houston. Hopefully a followup to this collection is slated for release soon because there are just so many other performances that warrant to be included within her discography.

Honorable Mentions:

My Everything - Ariana Grande
Aquarius - Tinashe
Fall For You - Leela James
JHUD - Jennifer Hudson
Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley at Abbey Road Studios - Laura Mvula
Souled Out - Jhené Aiko
Promise Love - Kem
DK3 - Danity Kane

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