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THE FESTIVE 50; You've got a new tablet or phone for Christmas, so what d'you download first? Brit Awards judge PAUL COLE and ELO legend BEV BEVAN suggest the 50 best albums of the year...

ROCK 1. ROYAL BLOOD: Royal Blood Okay, so how the hell do they do that? Bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher out-muscle mighty Metallica. 2. FOO FIGHTERS: Sonic Highways Dave Grohl & Co hit the road to record at a string of famous studios but the band's strength is consistent as ever.

3. ANTI-MORTEM: New Southern Oklahoma rockers give Metallica a run for their megabucks with relentless riffola that takes no prisoners.

4. PROSPERINA: Harness-Minus Gethin Woolcock's Welsh wonders barnstorm a sophomore set of densely layered guitar prog-rock and roll.

5. BLACK STONE CHERRY: Magic Mountain Business as usual for the Kentucky festival favourites, who crank up the amps for a heavier set than last time.

6. THE ORWELLS: Disgraceland Pop hooks meet swaggering sloppy rock and roll with more than a hint of The Raconteurs and The Faces.

7. BUSH: Man On The Run They were bigger than Oasis in the US, and now Gavin Rossdale's Brit grungerockers return to top form.

8. CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX: White Light Generator Think Pink Floyd on steroids, soaring widescreen melody with prog-rock muscle. Do not miss them live.

9. PINK FLOYD: The Endless River Rejigged Richard Wright rejects represent reclusive rockers' reflective return. A fitting tribute and last hurrah. 10. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: High Hopes Rage Against The Machine axeman Tom Morello adds musical muscle to The Boss's E Street shenanigans.

POP 1. LEWIS WATSON: The Morning Debut album by the Youtube sensation from Bicester includes Stones Around The Sun, one of the year's best songs.

2. A GREAT BIG WORLD: Is There Anybody Out There? Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write witty pop, but Say Something, featuring one Christina Aguilera, is heartbreaking.

3. JENNY LEWIS: The Voyager Former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis revels in skewed story-telling pop and rock with a subversive edge 4. RON POPE: Calling Off The Dogs Great setlist highlighted by show-stealers Explain and Nothing will surely be coveted by all X-Factor wannabes.

5. PASSENGER: Whispers Brighton's Michael Rosenberg's quirky voice stole hearts this year - but standout Bullets is deliciously disturbing.

6. TWIN ATLANTIC: Great Divide The Glaswegian festival favourites give The Killers a run for their megabucks with irresistible pop hooks and rock riffs.

7. ED SHEERAN: X There's no stopping the carrot-topped troubadour, who builds on his debut with the most streamed album in the world.

8. GEORGE EZRA: Wanted On Voyage Where on earth does that amazing, old beyond his years, voice come from? Well, actually it's from Hertfordshire.

9. NINA PERSSON: Animal Heart The only Cardigan you'll ever want to find under the Christmas tree, Nina's warm pop vocal gives you a huge hug.

10. RUBY TURNER: All That I Am Birmingham soul queen Ruby returns with an eclectic genre-striding set, including a delightful duet with Passenger.

SONGWRITERS 1. JOHN FULLBRIGHT: Songs Proving that less is often more, the Oklahoma troubadour delivers a masterclass in simply sung Americana.

2. RYAN ADAMS: Ryan Adams After all those years of sublime singer-songwriter subtlety, Ryan Adams finally plugs in and rocks like Tom Petty.

3. ANDY WHITE: How Things Are Belfast boy charts his marriage break-up heartache in sublime songs ranging from fragile folk to dark rock and roll.

4. ROBERT PLANT: Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar Plant says this is "a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, trance meets Led Zeppelin" - and he's so right.

5. JACKSON BROWNE: Standing In The Breach His first album in six years wants to set the world to rights but don't let that put you off such superb songwriting 6. SION RUSSELL JONES: Lost No More You've heard the Cardiff singer-songwriter's songs in the soaps, but this set smacks strongly of classic Paul Simon.

7. NEIL YOUNG: Storytone The ornery ol' cuss still loves to bowl curveballs, this time bringing in a concert orchestra and a sassy, swinging big band.

8. SUZANNE VEGA: Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles Loved her when she started out in Tom's Diner but soon got bored. Thankfully, Vega's back big-time and even rocks out.

9. MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES: California Star Upfront and upbeat, Stephen's no longer as delicately Daintee as he used to be, and it's a gold star success. 10. MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER: Songs From The Movie Mary Chapin Carpenter's warm vocal is caressed by the sweeping strings of a full orchestra for the first time.

ReTRO 1. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: The Complete Albums Collection Magnificent 10-CD boxset is the most comprehensive Simon and Garfunkel collection ever assembled. 2. NILSSON: The RCA Albums Collection (RCA) Simply stunning 14-album boxset from the brilliantly original Harry Nilsson. 3. JOE BONAMASSA & BETH HART: Live In Amsterdam Best live album of the year from the hottest new blues-rock duo around. 4. LINDA RONSTADT: Hand Sown Home Grown / Silk Purse / Linda Ronstadt Linda's first three solo albums in one double-CD package, backed by the original Eagles line-up.

5. CSNY: 1974 Lovely boxset collection chronicling all-star supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's megatour of 1974.

6. THORNBJORN RISAGER & THE BLACK TORNADO: Too Many Roads Classic rock from a fine Danish rock band among the best newcomers of the year. 7. DIONNE WARWICK: Presenting / Anyone Who Had A Heart / Make Way For / Sensitive Sound Of These four albums on a double-CD collection represent Dionne Warwick at her very finest.

8. SUZI QUATRO: The Girl From Detroit City Beautifull 4-CD boxset featuring the best of the most successful female artist of the glam rock era.

9. VARIOUS ARTISTS: Dusty Heard Them Here First Original versions of songs made famous by the late, oh so great Dusty Springfield. 10. ZZ TOP: The Very Baddest Of ZZ Top Forty tracks from Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard - Bev Bevan's all-time favourite rock trio.

BLUes 1. MATT BACKER: Get Backer Session man who's supplied guitar licks to a who's who of A-listers raucously rocks out on his own.

2. NO SINNER: Boo Hoo Hoo Canada's Colleen Rennison surely gargles with rusty nails to nail the perfect blues-rock vocal.

3. JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR: The Dirty Truth Black Country blonde bombshell playing down and dirty blues-rock guitar. What's not to like? 4. WALTER TROUT: The Blues Came Callin' A liver transplant recently saved his life but his guitar's still just what the doctor ordered. 5. JOE BONAMASSA: Different Shades Of Blue Business as usual for the prolific Stateside guitar giant - the album does what it says on the tin.

ROOTS & COUNTRY 1. THE BLACK FEATHERS: Strangers We Meet Missing your Civil Wars fix? Gloucestershire duo Sian Chandler and Ray Hughes' Americana harmonises seamlessly.

2. LUCINDA WILLIAMS: Where The Spirit Meets The Bone Lucinda's Louisiana drawl and Tony Joe White's swamp guitar is a musical marriage made in heated heaven.

3. ROSEANNE CASH: The River And The Thread Gorgeous rootsy rock songs from the Man in Black's daughter are shot through with country and gospel. 4. SARAH JAROSZ: Build Me Up From Bones Texan troubadour Jarosz warmy embraces you with sublime songs, including the Americana masterclass title track.

5. BLACKBERRY SMOKE: Leave A Scar Live Atlanta's finest serve up credible country rock and roll six ways to Sunday with a double shot of bourbon.

CAPTION(S):

THE BLACK FEATHERS

MATT BACKER

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL

ROYAL BLOOD

JOHN FULLBRIGHT

LEWIS WATSON
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 28, 2014
Words:1207
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