The Best Albums of 2014

Last year I was a little slow to post my hall of fame choices for best albums of 2013, but if any of you remember that post, you might recall that at the end of it I mentioned my two most anticipated releases for 2014.  Well, not too surprisingly both of those albums are at the top of my list for this year’s album hall of fame.  I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to click on at least a few of the links I’ve provided in this post & discover some new music to enjoy in the coming year.  eric church the outsiders

  1. The Outsiders by Eric Church (Country . . . with rock influences)

I already have an entire blog post about why Eric Church is such a musical genius which was largely inspired by this album, so I won’t spend too long describing the individual songs on this one (you can read that post here:  I’ve seen Eric Church in concert twice in the past three months which makes for a total of three times in the past two years.  And I’d still go see him again tomorrow, no questions asked.  Eric Church just has such a raw, inspiring energy that his music, especially live, never gets old.  If you don’t normally like country music, I sincerely implore you to check out this album anywayThis is clearly the most rock-influenced album Church has ever produced (listen to the title track here: or to “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” here:, yet there are several pieces with some serious blues influence that bring to mind old-fashioned swamp music from the deep South (see “Cold One”:  But true to form, it’s the sometimes witty, sometimes heart-wrenching lyrics that are the greatest strength of all of Church’s music.  Church has stated in an interview “One thing I miss is turning on the radio & just having a song punch me in the gut, &, as a songwriter, knock me on my ass.  And I think we could use more of that” (see: Eric Church Misses More Substance on ‘Feel-Good’ Country Radio).  I miss that too, but I’m happy to say that every track on The Outsiders is one that has punched me in the gut, in one way or another.  Also, do yourself a favor & listen to the whole album from start to finish.  Church has stated that’s the way it’s meant to be heard, & he’s 100% right when he says that each song becomes more powerful when listened to in order.BSC Magic Mountain

  1. Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (Rock/Southern Rock)

This was my second most anticipated release of 2014, & happily it did NOT disappoint.  If you’re not familiar with BSC, they are a four-piece rock band based out of a small town in Kentucky whose music has notable Southern rock influences.  There are plenty of upbeat “partying” type songs on this album, including the notable title track (, but there are several more serious pieces as well.  The ballad “Sometimes” is easily one of the most well-written songs BSC have ever recorded (  The emotion in Chris’s voice in that song is just so palpable that it’s impossible not to be touched.  Additionally, check out “Remember Me” which was written the day the lead singer’s grandfather died (you can see the video & read about the inspiration for the song here:  For a great motivational “pick-me-up,” check out “Never Surrender” (  BSC is one of those bands who clearly deserves more radio play than they get, so do yourself a favor & check out this album because there isn’t a single bad song on it.blood for blood

  1. Blood for Blood by Hellyeah (Hard Rock/Metal)

I had actually never heard of Hellyeah until I started seeing their song “Sangre Por Sangre” on a hard rock blog that I follow (  Intrigued by the Spanish title of the song I decided to check it out on YouTube one day.  Rarely have I ever been so immediately blown away by a song as I was by this one (  The words, the music itself, the message behind the song, all of it is just undeniably powerful.  I ended up buying the album & quickly fell in love with it.  With songs that touch on the horrors of war, child abuse, & violence in general, this album definitely isn’t for the faint of heart & probably shouldn’t be played around young children (though you ought to be able to guess that just by the band’s name), but please don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the year’s best albums.  Be sure to check out “Moth” (, “Cross to Bier” (, & “Hush” ( widow ITM

  1. Black Widow by In This Moment (Metal)

I just bought this album a few weeks or maybe a month ago, & it’s been on almost constant replay in my car ever since.  ITM’s 2013 album Blood caught my attention & made my hall of fame for last year, but Black Widow is even more impressive than Blood.  Maria Brink wasn’t kidding when she said the lyrics to this album are largely based on her own personal experiences.  “Sex Metal Barbie” is Maria’s devilishly witty response to all those who trash her & her music (–bhD1uItK8) while “The Fighter” is a piano-driven ballad about survival that is easily one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life (  Even if you don’t traditionally like metal or ITM, I beg you to at least listen to “The Fighter;” it’s just that good.  I could go on & on about this album, but be sure to check out the title track with its infectious melody (, “Big Bad Wolf” (, & “Sexual Hallucination,” the haunting duet with Brent Smith, the lead singer of Shinedown (  Both lyrically & musically I have no doubt this is ITM’s best album to date, & you will be greatly remiss if you don’t give it a good listen.Godsmack-1000hp-album-cover

  1. 1000 HP by Godsmack (Hard Rock)

When 1000 HP debuted this year, it had been four years since the last Godsmack album & many of us weren’t quite sure what to expect.  While the title track describes the band’s rise to fame & is wildly fun (, it’s some of the other pieces that I believe truly make this album one for the record books.  The current single “Something Different” ( showcases a lot of the Alice in Chains influence for which Godsmack is famous.  Sully’s growling voice is perfectly in place in this brooding piece, just as it is in “Turning to Stone” (, which is very reminiscent of “Serenity” & some of the other more melodic/acoustic pieces from earlier albums.  Being Godsmack, of course there are plenty of upbeat/angry pieces too including one of my favorites, “Locked and Loaded” (  While staying true to their signature sound, this album truly showcases the various different sides of Godsmack & a real maturity that is nothing short of scintillating.nikki lane all or nothin

  1. All or Nothin’ by Nikki Lane (Alternative Country)

Some of you may remember reading about Nikki Lane in one of my blog posts from November (, but if not let me introduce you to one of the most fascinating voices in alternative country today.  I discovered Nikki Lane sometime this year & was immediately intrigued by her unique voice & her cleverly crafted lyrics.  This album was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys & actually includes a duet with him, “Love’s on Fire” (  Check out Nikki’s rock & roll spirit in “Right Time” (, & then check out her more jazzy/bluesy side in “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That” ( adelitas way

  1. Stuck by Adelita’s Way (Hard Rock)

I’ll be the first to admit that this album actually disappointed me a bit the first couple times I listened to it.  Before I purchased it I had already fallen in love with the lead single “Dog on a Leash” ( so I was expecting a lot more songs like that.  As it turns out the album is a conglomeration of some more traditional harder songs like that one as well as quite a few softer, more ballad-like pieces.  With time though, I’ve come to really appreciate the entire album.  There is no question that this band is very talented both musically & lyrically, & if you read any of his interviews, you’ll quickly understand why I have so much respect for lead singer Rick DeJesus.  Be sure to listen to “Save the World” (, “Something More” (, & “Blur” ( gallery band

  1. Restless by The Gallery (Soft Rock/Pop)

This is actually a 2013 album but I discovered it this year so I’m including it in my list for 2014.  (It’s my blog so I can do whatever I want anyway, ha!)  In any case, The Gallery is a four-piece soft rock band based out of Massachusetts who opened for Honor By August at the Pourhouse in downtown Raleigh this summer.  I was there to see Honor By August, but I was very impressed with The Gallery as well.  Being the music junkie I am, I of course purchased their album.  Being a hard rock fan, it took me a little while to warm up to the mellower sound of this band, but once I did I realized how truly ingenius their song-writing is, both musically & lyrically.  This band really knows how to write songs that pierce to the heart of 20-somethings today (probably because they are 20-somethings!).  Check out the infectious melody of “Fast Friends,” a tribute to the oh-so-popular “friends with benefits” arrangement & how it’s never as uncomplicated as it’s “supposed” to be (  “The Catalyst” was the song that really caught my attention at the concert because the lyrics “You lit me up like a cigarette/Then you burned me down & now there’s nothing left/You were the one who put the spark to this/You were the gasoline, you were the catalyst” just struck me as so fascinating (  Also check out “The Runaround” (

As I did last year, I’ll end this year’s post with my most anticipated releases of the coming year.  I for one cannot wait to hear Halestorm’s third album which is scheduled to debut sometime in early 2015 (the sooner, the better!).  I’m also sincerely hoping Gemini Syndrome will come out with another album this year.  (If you don’t know them but you like FFDP or Tool, check them out NOW.  Their 2013 debut album Lux is amazing & has become a favorite of mine as well as my husband.)

Happy listening & happy 2015, everyone!

The 6 Best Bands You’ve Never Heard About

One of my favorite activities in life is discovering new music.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I grew up in a conservative family in a small town in Virginia, & thus it’s not too surprising that I was very sheltered for the first 18 years of my life.  However, once I got to college & had unlimited access to the Internet, including that fascinating place called YouTube, as well as dozens of new friends to broaden my horizons a bit, I began to explore all kinds of new (to me) music.  The biggest discovery I made was that I actually loved rock & metal, which I had previously shunned for most of my life as “devil music.”  In any case, over the past 8 years or so I’ve become a real music junkie.  Indeed, I have to be one of the only people under 30 who still buys actual physical CDs on a regular basis (because I am just weird like that).  I’m also proud to say that I’ve started to become that person who introduces other people to new bands & artists.  Furthermore, one of the best compliments I can receive is being told I have great taste in music (or books).

music speaks

Anyhow, today I thought I would share some of my favorite bands from various genres who are a bit out of the mainstream music scene but whose music deserves to be played on every radio station in this country.  I’ve provided links to at least 2 songs on YouTube for each artist so that you can easily locate some of their best pieces.  I sincerely hope you’ll click at least a few of these links because you never know when you might discover a new favorite band.

  1. Honor By August (Soft Rock)

I first heard Honor By August at a street concert in downtown Raleigh this past Spring.  They were one of the opening acts for Third Eye Blind, & let me just tell you that they blew 3EB way out of the water.  I was so impressed with them that I almost immediately bought their most recent album online & purchased tickets to see them again in August at the Pourhouse in downtown Raleigh.  I was even more impressed with them the second time around.  Honor By August is a 4-piece rock band based out of Washington DC (although their bassist is from right here in Raleigh).  Their music is substantially “softer” than my usual taste in rock, but their lyrics & delivery are absolutely stellar.  The emotion that comes through in Michael Pearsall’s voice is just undeniable.  By turns uplifting & by turns heart-wrenching, the lyrics to their songs are well-crafted & strike straight to the heart.  For a more upbeat song, check out Already Yours (  For a mid-tempo piece, check out We Were Young (  And lastly for a real tear-jerker about lost love, check out Johnny (

honor by august

  1. Brandi Carlile (Alternative Country/Folk Rock)

Brandi Carlile’s name has certainly started to gain more recognition, as several of her songs have been featured in TV commercials/shows & major Hollywood films.  However, such features hardly do justice to the power of this woman’s amazing voice.  I started to get interested in her when I read Eric Church’s praise for Brandi’s talent.  (After all, anyone Eric Church recognizes as talented is worth at least a cursory listen.)  Well, it just so happened that I came across one of Brandi’s CDs in Boston a few weeks ago, so naturally I jumped on it.  Not only is her music stellar, but I admire her courage in being open about her sexuality.  A married lesbian country singer/songwriter (who is NOT from the South) is clearly far from the standard country music paradigm, & I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s part of the reason she is not played on the radio as she should be.  It’s hard for me to pick favorites, but I’d highly recommend checking out 100 (, The Story (, & A Promise to Keep (

brandi carlile

  1. Nikki Lane (Alternative Country)

I first read about Nikki Lane a few months ago & was immediately intrigued by this alternative country singer who embodies a real rock & roll spirit.  Just this week I received both of her albums in the mail, & I’m thoroughly enjoying diving into both of them.  While maintaining a country style, it’s easy to pick up on jazz & rock influences in her albums.  As someone who loves music that crosses genre lines, Nikki’s music is instantly appealing.  For a slower-paced piece that superbly features Nikki’s sultry voice, check out You Can’t Talk to Me Like That (  Then check out her rock & roll spirit in Right Time (  You won’t find a Wikipedia page about Nikki (yet), but you can read a good interview with her here:

nikki lane

  1. Gemini Syndrome (Hard Rock/Metal)

I first discovered Gemini Syndrome last summer when I saw that they were on tour with Five Finger Death Punch.  As FFDP is one of my favorite bands of all time, naturally that was enough to intrigue me.  As I started looking up their songs on YouTube I was thoroughly impressed with what I found.  Here is a hard rock band, with some definite metal influences, whose music is sensational AND whose lyrics are philosophical & deep.  It wasn’t long before I purchased their album Lux & fell in love.  Introducing others to new music is one of my greatest joys in life, & I’m happy to say that my husband also fell in love with this fantastic album, which sounds much more mature than a debut album.  For an inspirational piece, check out Pleasure & Pain (  Another stellar piece is Basement which was written by the lead singer in relation to his albinism.  I think we can all relate to Aaron Nordstrom when he sings “I never wanted this/I never asked for it/But this is what you gave me/I never wanted this/I never asked for it/But this is what you gave me/Why would you forsake me?”  Haven’t we all felt that way at some point in our lives for one reason or another?  Check out Basement here:  (And just in case anyone’s wondering because of the symbolism in the videos, no, this is NOT a Satanist or pagan band.)

gemini syndrome

  1. Mindset Evolution (Hard Rock)

My husband & I discovered Mindset Evolution at Uproar Festival in Raleigh two years ago.  Their live performance was very impressive so we bought the five-song disc that they had for sale at the show.  Over the next year I stayed up to date with the band on their Facebook page, & naturally I purchased their first full-length album on the very day it debuted last summer.  This is yet another debut album that sounds very mature.  These five guys from Illinois are clearly dedicated to writing & performing their music & that dedication shows through in their songs.  Check out heavy-hitter Burn It Down ( & the inspirational The Change (  How these guys are not on the radio more is absolutely beyond comprehension.  Additionally to anyone who thinks rock music is all anger & negativity, I beg you to give this band a listen & let them prove you wrong.

mindset evolution

  1. Redlight King (Rock- with rap influences)

Redlight King is yet another band my husband & I discovered at Uproar Festival two years ago.  This band features Canadian singer/songwriter Mark Kasprzyk.  After the festival I started looking up their music on YouTube & was surprised at the great variety of styles in the band’s music (some more traditional rock, some with heavy rap influences).  Two years later I now own both of their albums . . . Check out Bullet in My Hand which was the song that really caught my attention at Uproar Festival:  Also don’t miss Kaz’s tribute to his dad in the rap-rock song Old Man:  Lastly, be sure to check out the inspirational song Times are Hard:

redlight king

I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to check out at least a few of these bands who are truly worthy of your attention.  And if you like what you hear, I hope you’ll take the next step in supporting these great artists by purchasing their albums &/or tickets to a live show.  As you may have noticed I discovered three of these bands at live shows . . . And all three of them were NOT the artist I had gone to those shows to see . . . As I said at the beginning, you just never know when or where you might discover your newest favorite band.  Happy listening!