Please let me make this clear: These are my favorites from the past year. It's not a "Best of" compilation. If it were and I went along with all of the "experts," I'd have to lavish praise on a movie called "Boyhood" (which I have no desire to see) and a new album by Lana Del Ray, who is probably my least-favorite singer of all time.
FAVORITE SONG: While Sam Smith's "Stay With Me," with its soaring vocals and gospel feel, is probably the song of the year and destined to be a classic, I prefer Smith's heartbreaking tale of mutual infidelity, "(You Know) I'm Not The Only One" off his "In The Lonely Hour" album. After a simple piano intro, it settles into a slow burning groove reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt. I'm not sure if Smith deserves the title of "the male Adele," but in a year of wall-to-wall plastic pop princesses, his unpretentious soulful music has a most-welcome, timeless feel to it.
SOON-TO-BE-MY-NEW FAVORITE SONG: "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. If this thing doesn't get you moving, then...I guess you listen to Coldplay.
FAVORITE ALBUM: It's probably not surprising, given my long-standing and oft-stated love of soul music, that my favorite album would be one made by a pasty-faced guy from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. However, my favorite album is not "In The Lonely Hour" by Sam Smith. ("Hour" was the second-biggest-selling album of the year, trailing only Taylor Swift's juggernaut, "1989.")
My favorite this year, by a mile, is "Islander" by Norwegian soul singer Bern/hoft. (Yes, I said, "Norwegian soul singer.") It's stunningly good and is the first album ever by a non-American to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Album category.
I've always been amazed at the reverence that Europeans show for the classic American art forms of the blues and R&B. It's been that way since The Beatles covered The Isley Brothers and the Stones did Muddy Waters. It has gone from Ireland's Van Morrison to Scotland's Average White Band to England's Simply Red, from Dusty Springfield to Lisa Stansfield to Annie Lennox to Adele.
Along the lines of "How the hell does that voice come out of that human being?!" there is a certain measure of bemusement here. Bern/hoft (real name Jarle Bernhoft) looks like the über-nerd kid that Sheldon and Leonard could have felt safe picking on. But when he opens his mouth to sing...Sweet Jesus!
He does this killer duet with Jill Scott, "No Us, No Them," with an accompaniment that sounds like Steely Dan at their jazziest. His voice is reminiscent of Donny Hathaway and even Marvin Gaye (highest possible praise), but then he effortlessly slips into falsetto to channel early, funky Prince.
FAVORITE BOOK(S): It wasn't a great year for books, but I did enjoy a few. My favorite was "what if?" by Randall Munroe. It's subtitled "Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" and is mostly a compilation of stuff from the xkcd website. It has questions like: "If you suddenly started rising at a steady rate of one foot per second, would you freeze (to death) or suffocate first?" and "From what height above the Earth would you have to drop a steak to have it be cooked (from friction) when it hits the ground?" (Answers: Suffocate, and it wouldn't actually cook from any height.)
I also liked "Fierce Patriot," about the life of William Tecumseh Sherman, published on the sesquicentennial of the burning of Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea. He was a baaaad man. It's understandable why the loser racist rednecks down South threw a week-long celebration when Sherman finally died in 1891.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: "Sherlock" on the BBC is among the best TV I've ever seen. Unfortunately, lead actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman ("The Hobbit") have become big movie stars, so we have to wait years between installments of "Sherlock." Even the brilliant Andrew Scott, who plays arch-villain Jim Moriarty, is moving on to features with a role in the next James Bond film.
"Justified" had a flat season, but I'm really looking forward to the upcoming final season in which U.S. Marshal Raylen Givens has his final showdown with friend/nemesis/alter ego Boyd Crowder (the spectacular Walton Goggins). I recommend the mini-series "Fargo," which starred Billy Bob Thornton, the aforementioned Martin Freeman, and Key & Peele(!). And new series "Gotham" and "Jane The Virgin" are both fun, but I don't know if either will be able to maintain the initial, frenetic pace.
FAVORITE MOVIES: I had to go out of state to see "The Imitation Game," which, a month after its release date, still isn't being shown in Tucson. I feel as though it was a movie made just for me. I've always been fascinated with Alan Turing, the genius who cracked the Nazi Enigma code. I love Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who portrays Turing, and I can tolerate Keira Knightley. That makes it just about perfect.
I also really liked "Snowpiercer," a wild sci-fi film about a dystopian future--in the movies, is there really any other kind of future?—in which class warfare breaks out among the last survivors of humanity aboard a constantly moving train. Trippy, but fun.
May we all have a great New Year in 2015.