I realize it’s a little late into 2014 to be writing this, but I didn’t get the idea until mid-way through January & it took me a while to compile this list, so I’m going ahead with it anyway even if the post seems a bit belated. A few of these albums were actually released in 2012 but didn’t become truly popular until 2013, or at the very least I didn’t discover them until 2013 so I’ve included them anyway. I’ll be upfront & tell you that 90% of these albums are rock albums, so if you don’t like rock music I guess this post isn’t for you. But I challenge you to read it anyway because you never know what might trigger your interest.
Aside from #1, these are in no particular order.
I’ve included links to at least one of my favorite songs from each album because I’m awesome like that. 🙂 At the end I’ve also included some of my most anticipated album releases for 2014.
1. The House of Gold & Bones, Volumes 1 & 2 by Stone Sour
It’s nigh impossible for me to pick a favorite album of all time but if I had to do it, I think this dual-album would be my choice. There are a lot of reasons I say that, not the least of which is that I find myself subconsciously judging other albums based on this one. I don’t mean to do that because consciously I realize that a concept album such as this is not THE standard for all albums ever made & yet this one is just so breathtaking that it’s become my point of comparison for just about everything. I didn’t know a lot of Stone Sour music before this dual-album debuted, but when I started hearing Absolute Zero on the radio I fell in love immediately. I was at Best Buy purchasing another album one day & just happened to see Volume 1 of The House of Gold & Bones & decided to take a chance on it. Best decision ever. Within a few weeks of purchasing Volume 1, I was completely entranced. Every single song is just so perfect & they all flow together like a rock symphony so that often it is difficult to tell where one song ends & another begins. Volume 2 is exactly the same way. Between the two Volume 1 is my favorite but honestly they are both phenomenal. From ballads to harder songs that are more Slipknot in feel, the vocals, the lyrics, the music itself, everything is in top form. Just about every emotion human beings can experience is touched on in these songs. There is so much more I could say about this dual-album but I’ll stop now for fear of boring you. Just buy the albums. You won’t regret it.
Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7dHBjXnbtk
Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwkGatmflbw
2. Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves
May I just say that I am really proud of myself for having this album months before Kacey Musgraves started garnering national attention & winning a very well-deserved Grammy? I used to be so behind the times when it came to music & popular culture & I still am in a lot of ways, but with music I am often quite ahead of my time nowadays, at least in certain genres. It’s often been said that Kacey Musgraves sings country music for people who don’t like country music. I think the reason for that is that Kacey’s lyrics are so profound while also being extremely witty. She also isn’t afraid to write about the nastier side of small town life. While most popular country stars are singing about pick-up trucks, fishing, & drinking beer, Kacey is penning such scathing & controversial but inspiring songs as Merry Go Round & Follow Your Arrow. Every single song on this album is a real winner & it’s rare for me to say that, especially about a country album. If you don’t want to buy the album or don’t typically like country music, just look her up on YouTube. You might end up buying the album after hearing some more of her songs, just like I did. (Also of note, Kacey has written many popular songs sung by other country artists including the recent Miranda Lambert hit Mama’s Broken Heart. No offense to Miranda, but I like Kacey’s version of it even better. Again, look it up on YouTube.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo212zOUKxI
3. The Wrong Side of Heaven & the Righteous Side of Hell, Volumes 1 & 2 by Five Finger Death Punch
FFDP is one of those rare bands whose songs I almost always fall in love with immediately upon hearing them. They are just that good. From ballads to thrashing rock & roll anthems, Ivan Moody’s voice is mesmerizing & the band behind him is top-notch in every way. When you hear a FFDP song, there’s never any question about whose song it is. You just know. Like Stone Sour, FFDP released a dual-album in 2013. These are not concept albums but they are fantastic nonetheless. There are plenty of the traditional “angry” songs for which FFDP is famous, but there are also plenty of powerful ballads. The titular song on the first album is one of my favorites along with Battle Born & Cradle to the Grave on Volume 2. Volume 1 contains several compilations with other artists including Rob Halford from Judas Priest & Maria Brink from In This Moment. There is also a remake of the LL Cool J song Mama Said Knock You Out featuring the rapper Tech N9ne. A hard rock/metal band remaking a rap song? Yes, that’s right. And it’s amazing. There’s a reason FFDP is the number one band I listen to on the way to work: their music is just so energizing. Is it ironic that what most people would consider to be “angry” music energizes me to provide compassionate care to sick people? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a lot more to this kind of music if you just take the time to listen a little deeper. Bottom line: whether you are already familiar with FFDP or not, check out these albums today.
Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxVQX95GtgU
Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyA1GL1touw
4. Amaryllis by Shinedown
This is definitely a 2012 album but I love it so much that I decided to include it anyway. I know a certain segment of rock/metal fans think Shinedown isn’t “hard-core” enough for their taste, but I’ve always found that to be a rather superficial & undeserving judgment. Shinedown is one of those rare rock bands who have somehow found that “sweet spot” of writing songs that are “tame” enough to be played on mainstream radio (sometimes even on stations that aren’t pure rock stations) while not becoming a pop band. I’ve seen Shinedown in concert twice & each time my respect for them has only increased. Amaryllis is an album that covers a vast amount of subject matter as well as an impressive range of musical styles. There isn’t even one song on this album that I would give less than 4 stars. If you don’t usually like rock music, I’d recommend Shinedown as a great place to start. It’s not necessarily that their music is “softer;” they just seem to have a way of reaching out to people across all genres of music. Even in their more angry/cynical songs, Shinedown has a way of inspiring hope. Perhaps that is what makes them so powerful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGhJKiMR4XY
5. The Strange Case Of… by Halestorm
I had the privilege of seeing Halestorm live in 2013 & the best way to sum up that experience is this: I can’t wait to see them again, preferably on a head-lining tour. A hard rock band with touches of metal here & there with a seriously bad-ass female lead singer? I mean, what is not to like here? The Strange Case Of… is a great follow-up to Halestorm’s first album. From the fast-paced Grammy award-winning Love Bites to powerful ballads like Break In & Here’s to Us, Halestorm is in top form in every way on this album. In the traditionally male-dominated world of rock & roll Lzzy Hale makes female rock fans like me feel right at home. At the same time, her music is far from “feminine” & many of her top fans are actually guys. And it’s not just because she’s sexy. She, & her band which includes her brother Arejay on drums, is seriously talented too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmkHqUwa4zg
6. Blood by In This Moment
I had never heard of In This Moment until 2013. As soon as I heard the titular song Blood, I knew I had to have the whole album. Maria Brink & her band are just that talented. This isn’t music for the faint of heart; it’s raw & sometimes a little raunchy. But, wow, it is powerful! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulgE1v1eyRk
7. Onyx by Pop Evil
I am proud to say I owned all three of Pop Evil’s albums before they became more mainstream this past year with the success of their hit singles Trenches & Deal With the Devil off of their 2013 album Onyx. I first started listening to Pop Evil after the moderate success of Monster You Made in 2011. It was that song that prompted me to buy their first two albums & I was thoroughly impressed with both of them. Then came Onyx. Each album Pop Evil has released gets better & better so I can only imagine what their next album will be like. Pop Evil is definitely on my list of bands that I most want to see live in the next year or two. (P.S. Ladies, the lead singer Leigh Kakaty is a sight for sore eyes. Do a quick Google image search & I promise you’ll thank me.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWdtN7pCZug
8. Fortress by Alter Bridge
Alter Bridge is one of those American bands who have actually had greater success in Europe than here in their own country. But I’ve been a fan since high school, thanks originally to my husband. In any case Fortress has made it on many lists of top albums for 2013 & rightfully so. This isn’t an album that you’ll fall in love with at first listen. Or at least you might not. Alter Bridge isn’t known for writing songs with super catchy tunes; in other words they don’t always get stuck in your head immediately. But what marks them as a truly great band is that their music gets better & better the more you listen to it. Their music is like an onion; there are so many layers & each time you listen you hear a little more & a little more. To me that is the mark of great musicianship & these guys have it. I think Alter Bridge has always resonated with me because they aren’t a flashy band & their music somehow walks the fine line of facing the harsh darkness of life while always retaining a bit of hope. To me they are a band that will stand the test of time, & I won’t be surprised if fifty years from now they are more respected & popular than they are now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M9QxzpTjec
9. Brave, Bold, & Broken by Mindset Evolution
I first heard ME at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in Sept 2012. At that point they only had a 5-song “album” out but I bought & loved every song on it. So when their first full-length album debuted in 2013 I purchased it the very day it came out. And I’ve been nothing short of pleased. Why these guys don’t get more radio-play I’ll never understand. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fFHCXscp3k
10. Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies by Volbeat
Ok, here’s a rock album that evokes the feeling of the American Wild West. As if that isn’t a great enough feat on its own, consider that Volbeat isn’t even an American rock band. They are actually a Danish band! I’m not sure that this album really qualifies as a concept album, but all of the songs are about characters from the Wild West. Volbeat is another of those bands whom you can never mistake for anyone else, yet somehow they manage to really evoke the sound of the Wild West in these songs while still remaining true to their own unique sound. It’s seriously impressive stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj1sVQ2qdnI
And lastly, my most anticipated albums of 2014:
The Outsiders by Eric Church (debuting tomorrow, February 11!) I have a soft spot in my heart for this NC native because he is passionately devoted to his MUSIC above all else. He comes across as kind of rough around the edges, but in reality he’s a family man who travels with his wife & infant son on his tour bus. I admire his willingness to speak whatever’s on his mind even when it’s not always popular & his refusal to bend to the whims of popular opinion. I’m also partial to his music because of its rock & roll feel. Going to one of his concerts felt like being at a redneck rock concert. Needless to say, I loved it & would love to see him live again someday. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_P-YNJIdNc
Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (coming May 6) BSC is a band I discovered in 2013 after seeing a picture of an Alter Bridge member wearing a BSC sweatshirt. I figured if Alter Bridge liked them, they had to be good. And they are! The 2011 album Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea by these small-town Kentucky rockers is fabulous & has me eagerly anticipating their new album this year. I love the fact that BSC’s music has a very Southern rock feel while still being very hard-core. I also must point out that the current Florida-Georgia Line hit Stay is actually a BSC song from their 2011 album mentioned above. It really grinds my gears that BSC isn’t getting credit for that song. (Sorry FGL fans, but their version sucks anyway.)