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The top albums, concerts of 2014

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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It's the end of another long, and tuneful, year.

For music, 2014 will go down as a big year for women -- Taylor Swift's massive success, Katy Perry's and Miley Cyrus' touring heroics, new arrivals such as Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Idina Menzel, Meghan Trainor and Charli XCX. Even at the very end of the year Madonna and Nicki Minaj were busy making headlines. There was also Justin Bieber's meltdown, Garth Brooks' return and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' first No. 1 album ever.

But quantity, whether we're talking about sales, downloads or social media hits, doesn't always equal quality. The best of 2014 is a whole other matter, and measure, and some of the year's best artistic work didn't even make the charts. So here's saying farewell to another eventful year with our pick of its dozen best albums...

Beck, "Morning Phase" (Capitol): Calling the idiosyncratic auteur's first new album in six years a sequel to 2002's "Sea Change" is too easy, but it does tap into the same bleak kind of beauty, bolstered by an all-star core band and string arrangements by Beck's father David Campbell. A down-tempo immersion that makes us glad when he's a little bit sad.

The Black Keys, "Turn Blue" (Nonesuch): At a time it could easily tread in tried-and-true musical waters, the Ohio (now Nashville) duo and its indispensable collaborator Danger Mouse dip deeper into mood this time out. The vibey, soulful atmospheres that both challenge and complement the raucous garage blues at the core of the Keys' sound, a mix that's as hypnotic as the set's spiral cover.

David Broza, "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem" (S-Curve): The Israeli singer-songwriter's one-man unification mission brings together Israeli and Palestinian musicians under the auspices of co-producer Steve Earle -- with covers of songs by Earle, Nick Lowe, and, pointedly, harsh Israel critics Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens. An ambitious effort whose results are as interesting as its circumstances.

Rosanne Cash, "The River & the Thread" (Blue Note): An exploration into Cash's family roots and heritage in the American South inspired this song cycle, an evocative travelogue rich in detail and instrumental nuance that was well worth the five-year wait between albums.

Jessica Hernandez, "Secret Evil" (Instant): The Detroit songstress' national debut finally came out after two years and plenty of behind the scenes drama and launched her in a big way with an eclectic set of songs that made her hard to pin down but easy to love.

The New Basement Tapes, "Lost on the River" (Electromagnetic/Harvest); Take a batch of unrecorded Bob Dylan lyrics and putting them in the hands of Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket's Jim James and other sympathetic characters, with T Bone Burnett in charge? The good news is it sounds as good as it looks on paper.

Robert Plant, "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar" (Nonesuch/Warner Bros.): Any rock fan would love to see him finally get back into the Led Zeppelin fold, but left to his own devices Plant has no trouble building stairways to musical heaven. His latest is another expansive, genre-splicing excursion, this time stirring EDM and industrial approaches into the mix. It's easy to have a whole lotta love for this kind of vision.

Royal Blood, "Royal Blood" (Warner Bros.): The British bass and drums (as opposed to bass-n-drums) duo had us at hello, in a way, with its "Out of the Black" single and EP earlier in the year. The roaring debut album shows there's more where that came from -- and that rock is decidedly NOT dead, at least not in the hands of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher.

Run The Jewels, "Run The Jewels 2" (Mass Appeal/Sony RED): You never known when hip-hop "supergroups" are going to have staying power, but Killer Mike and El-P demonstrate they're playing for keeps on this 11-song set, a sharply executed and intense rhymefest featuring guest appearances by Boots, blink-182's Travis Barker and the too-seldom heard Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine.

U2, "Songs of Innocence" (Island): The controversy over this album's delivery -- free to 500 million iTunes users -- took the focus well of the music and another ace effort from the Irish quartet. New collaborators such as Danger Mouse, Ryan Tedder an Paul Epworth bring welcome fresh flavors to U2's anthemic charisma, while the set's personal tone gives it the emotional weight that we expect from, and love about, Bono and company.

Jack White, "Lazaretto" (Third Man/Columbia): It's getting to sound like some kind of tape loop but, yeah, the Detroit-born White has done it again. His second solo album is a characteristically dizzying romp through everything from garagey psychedelia to earthy Americana, a stylistic thrill ride that, unsurprisingly, never ceases to surprise.

Lucinda Williams, "Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone" (Highway 20): A two-disc, 20-song delight that lets the Louisiana-born singer-songwriter stretch out and explore a broader musical and emotional palette than ever before. "Compassion," adapted from a poem by her father, Miller Williams, and a nearly 10-minute version of the late JJ Cale's "Magnolia" are exceptional bookends, but most everything in between hits the same high mark.

The runner-ups -- another dozen that shouldn't be missed from the year: Ryan Adams (Pax AM); Alt-J, "This is All Yours" (Infectious); Aloe Blacc, "Lift Your Spirit" (Interscope); Hozier (Rubyworks/Columbia); Old Crow Medicine Show, "Remedy" (ATO); Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Hypnotic Eye" (Repirse); Pink Floyd, "The Endless River" (Columbia); Bob Seger, "Ride Out" (Capitol); Spoon, "They Want My Soul" (Loma Vista); St. Vincent, "St. Vincent" (Loma Vista/Republic); Temples, "Sun Structures" (Heavenly); Tweedy, "Sukirae" (dBpm).

The Top 15 Detroit Area Concerts of 2014

Billy Joel, Feb. 15, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Paul Simon and Sting, Feb. 26, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Emmylou Harris, April 8, Royal Oak Music Theatre

Peter Wolf, May 4, The Ark

Bruno Mars, June 18, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Beck, June 28, Fox Theatre

Queen + Adam Lambert, July 12, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Jack White, July 28, Fox Theatre and July 30, Masonic Temple

Eminem and Rihanna, Aug. 22-23, Comerica Park

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers & Steve Winwood, Aug. 24, DTE Energy Music Theatre

Ed Sheeran, Sept. 17, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Pearl Jam, Oct. 15, Joe Louis Arena

Ryan Adams, Nov. 9, The Fillmore Detroit

Stevie Wonder, Nov. 20, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Lucinda Williams, Nov. 22, Royal Oak Music Theatre

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