Now that the dust has settled on 2014, and I’ve gotten a chance to sift through all the rubble I’ve uncovered the absolute best albums of the year, Soul Donuts style. Now for those of you that don’t know, we look for albums with just the right amount of hot sauce poured all over them. Albums that make you cry and cringe from the soulfulness, all the while seeming effortless. This type of music isn’t always easily categorized, but it is easy to understand when you hear it and feel it . These are the types of stand-out moments hovering around the world of soul and funk that we here at Soul Donuts look for.
This year was exceptionally difficult to choose favorites for two reasons. I tried to listen to as many releases as I could from this past year in order to really dive deep into the murky swamp of material. This took a lot of time. The further I swam the more treasures I uncovered from the deep, it seemed that this year’s quality of soul music was turned up as well. Higher quality and more of it, meant that I finished my post in February. Apropos I guess since this is the month that the Grammy’s and the Oscars look back on the last year. I’m already very excited about 2015 and am already finding albums for next years list. For example our good friend Willis Earl Beal has another new release to trump 2014’s slower more ethereal effort on the horizon for 2015, and Betty LaVette has done the same. The Monophonics are dropping a new one, as well as Body Language, and my new boy Benjamin Clementine. More on all dat to come.
I hope this list can enlighten and spark your interest into something new, just like my meandering trip down the river of 2014 soul/funk, or rekindle your love with an old friend you didn’t even know was still doing it. There were some real surprises last year…follow us down the rabbit hole. Number 25…
25. St Paul and the Broken Bones-Half The City
This album is that straight up gut wrenching Southern super soul, where the broken hearted young man cries out and bares his true inner self for all to hear. A truly amazing effort.
24. Lena and Deep Soul-Burn
Many many groups try to do soul revival but somehow miss the mark. It’s the littlest, undefinable things that can define a sound and make it successful. If success in the soul revival field is achieving that authentic vintage sound it can be very difficult to achieve. While not completely perfect or polished yet, Lena and the Deep Soul have certainly laid down concrete inroads into smoothing out their version of dropping that authentic deep soul.
23. Emma Donovan and the Putbacks
Melbourne record label HopeStreet has previously been on our radar over here at Soul Donuts with their releases from Cactus Channel and the Bombay Royale (who by the way had an amazing release this year called ‘The Island of Dr. Electrico’ a mind blowing album of vintage sounding Asian disco that almost made this list). This year they came back hard with Australian indigenous singer Emma Donovan and her backing band the Putbacks. An album that showcases her amazing vocal range, and passion, right alongside a band at the top of their game right now in the funk scene.
22. Silk Rhodes-Silk Rhodes
Its hard to describe this album without conjuring up images of a juvenile Prince or a risque young Rick James, but so be it since I’m sure that this is the exact type of image they wish to construe. Coming onto the scene strong in 2014, this is a fitting blend of beats, crooning, rapping, and acting tailor made for the ambitious retro fashionistes.
File this album under funky 90’s revival…sure to entertain.
21. Tommy Guerrero-No Man’s Land
Although it was released overseas in 2012, it got its official American send off in 2014…and us Yanks are happy to have him. This album is intriguing and mysterious sounding enough for a Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack. The tracks are funky, dusty and grimy and I can’t help but imagine the dirt embedded in the underside of his fingernails, the sweat that it takes to create an album reminiscent of a cowhand sauntering home after toiling in the western soil.
20. The Impellers-My Certainty
The Impellers have quietly been making their version of funk/soul for years now. With this latest release we find the British group on particular fine form adding the soulful vocals of Clair Witcher, which is a top notch addition. Expect lots of brass and hammond organ to guide you through your journey.
19. The Funk Ark-Man Is A Monster
The Funk Ark is fronted and founded by Will Rast one of the men behind Ocote Soul Sounds, Antibalas, and Thievery Corporation. This musical world tour was recorded over a 2 year period of creativity that translates into an inspiring an addictive album full of funk that captures the essence of his time traveling around the world.
18. The New Mastersounds-Therapy
Long known for their exciting brand of hammond driven jazz, this newest release has the gusto to break through their earlier style and into new realms of danceable soul and funk. You can tell that The New Mastersounds are upping their game with the smart addition of multiple talented guest vocalists to accent their instrumental brilliance.
17. Cookin on 3 Burners-Blind Bet
A smart collection of jazz, Meters inspired funk and soulful songs, this album also delivers on a fantastically diverse range of guest vocalists that add their own flavor to each different song.
16. Karl Hector and the Malcouns- Unstraight Ahead
The new outfit from producer/guitarist JJ Whitefield, the man who brought us the Whitefield Brothers, and the heavy weight project Poets of Rhythm. This album is the second release by Hector and the Malcouns and has continued to push the boundaries of kraut rock, psychedelic, middle eastern funk fusion…or something like that.
15. The Grits-Make a Sound
After a few years off the Grits come back with a predictably gritty, funky album. Another British group doing funk, this particular group has clearly been hard at work redefining themselves since their first release. This album takes it back to the sound pioneered by the JB’s, also working with a massive Southern Stax soul sound. The reason I loved this album so much is not just the funk, but also because the Grits are clearly not afraid to play some fuzzed out rock n roll inspired tracks too. Like a cover of the Sonics.
14. Mr. President-Hips Shaking
Mr. President is back with an album that has the perfect sound for right now. Using the influence of 70s groups like the Blackbyrds to sculpt his sound into funky fusion, the ‘leader of the free world’ has created an album that delivers on its message. Sure to get you dancing in a completely free and uninhibited way all the way through the city.
13. Nostalgia 77-A Journey Too Far
It was another busy year for Nostalgia 77. Not only did they release this beautiful showstopper seen above, they also had time to record and release another jazz record with The Monster to follow up their 2012 release together The Taxidermist. On ‘A Journey Too Far,’ we find Nostalgia 77 at their very best, blending soulful country, laid back grooves, and island tropidelica. A must for all laid back folks.
12. Orlando Julius and Heliocentrics- Jaiyede Afro
It was also a very busy year for the Heliocentrics. They hooked up with Melvin Van Peebles the godfather of blaxploitation for a crazy album of black beat poet meets space transmissions. Then they found time to record with legendary African musician Orlando Julius, leaving us with one of the years best releases.
11. Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens- Cold World
That authentic gospel sound has to be very difficult to fake. Clearly nothing is fake about Naomi Shelton and her Gospel Queens. What is equally difficult about making gospel music is making it sound fresh and interesting. This music is not only fresh and interesting, it is amazing and inspirational. The very definition of soul music, whether it is gospel or not.
10. Sinkane-Mean Love
Former Yeasayer contributor, Caribou drummer, festival attendee and current music director to William Onyeabor’s atomic rise to fame on Luaka Bop, Mr. Ahmed Gallab blends Afropop rhythms with bluesy soulful tunes. Employing a distinctly satisfying high vocal register helps the singing float above the songs and creates such an impressive and cohesive work that it can’t help but turn heads. Adept at weaving together many different styles I’m sure we’ll see and hear Sinkane do it again in a very unique way in the future. So keep a close eye.
The ever prolific Mr. Quantic is always hard at work redefining the world music scene, and injecting it firmly with soul and funk enthusiasm. This album offers us a perfect blend of polyrhythms and funky breaks that transcends cumbia and all other genres as well.
8. Budos Band-Burnt Offering
Somehow capable of transcending not only the genre constraints of Afrobeat, but often times time and space itself, the Budos Band have been toying with reality for years. Equal parts emotion and atmosphere this music creates a tornado of sound impossible to avoid being swept up into. Only outdone by their live show.
7. Curtis Harding-Soul Power
Fresh sounding blues music is hard to find. Discovering the key combination of contemporaneity with keen old school sensibilities even more rare. Packaging together all of those qualities with the correct energy and ambition to get it done inside of one musician, almost impossible. When all of these elements do get forged together the outcome must be strong and that is exactly what coalesced into the powerhouse album Soul Power by Curtis Harding.
In the ever changing, ever evolving world of music, genres can easily be blurred from one album to another. Placing the sound and style of an artist into a classification seems more and more pointless the more successful the sound on an album is. Perhaps Kindness leaned more towards indie pop music in their previous efforts, but I have no problem praising this new effort for its funky hooks, and fresh soulful take on contemporary music.
5. Swamp Dogg-The White Man Made Me Do It
Jerry Williams aka Swamp Dogg has been on the scene freekin’ out squares and tellin’ off the man since the 60s. The fact that this man is still out there making new music is impressive. Once you hear that new music you will be blown away at the timeless quality of his songs. They sound as though they could’ve been made in the 60s, right down to the strong sense of activism, pride, and politics. This album is so refreshing in its forthrightness that it does seem out of place for this era, but its influence could start a wave of consciousness that ripples through the minds of a younger generation of thinkers. Perhaps even sparking some action…, at least it will provoke discussion. The original Mr. D-O-double G always has.
4. Nick Waterhouse-Holly
First off I could look at this album cover all day. The nostalgia of it is breathtaking. It evokes the classic album covers of the 60s better than any album cover I’ve seen in recent memory, and the music itself speaks to that same type of nostalgia. An absolute love of all things old and antique.
3. Funkadelic-First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate
As diverse musically as the musicians that have graced the stage under the banner of the P-Funk Nation’s flag, their new album is 3 discs loaded full of bangers, ballads, boozers, blunters, and breaks. If P-funk is still doing it, I’m still listening, and this album achieves a number 3 rank because they have not only reawakened the intergalactic funk beast inside of all of us, but they also threw down some new sounds I’ve never heard before, effortlessly redefining and updating what funk sounds like yet again. And on and on and on we go…
2. Lee Fields-Emma Jean
What do I need to say really? This man is a soul god who is still out there doing it since the 80’s with the same raw energy. A must see live event when he comes anywhere near your town, and a must have album from last year. In fact one of the years best, hands down.
1. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings-Give The People What They Want
Released early in the year after Sharon’s triumphant return from sickness, this album has the power to eclipse other soul/funk releases all year long. The tenured masters of soul revival have the extreme knack for crafting greatness. A sound so subtle and sharp that it lies in a class of its own, with their dynamic front woman miss Jones leading the lecture. Completely unique yet perfectly vintage, they have only gotten better with age evident on Give the People What They Want.
SO as we see this thing known as soul and funk has gone global in a major way…on to the next thing.
Things I considered and of note: I got my eye on Gedeon Luke and His People living free over in the UK, Prince came back with a banger, Goat released another great album, Kelis went and messed with a soul revival sound on her album ‘Food,’ you gotta check out the Post Modern Jukebox for some real interesting covers swing style, Brownout made a Black Sabbath cover album called Brown Sabbath, Bobby Rush threw down a few great blues albums, Georgia Anne Muldrow came back with another album, I really enjoyed Hiss Golden Messenger’s new joint and if you haven’t checked out William Onyeabor you are too late, jk, check out Hot Chip doing Atomic Bomb…phew.
a close call tie at number 26…
Aj and the Jiggawatts