Top 10 Albums of 1954

The top 10 albums of 1954, which includes four of the most influential artists of the decade securing the top four spots.


10. The Tin Angel 

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Artist: Odetta & Larry

Genre: Country Blues

Combining influences of folk, country and Gospel spirituals, this underrated classic of salt-of-the-earth blues finds now-famous Odetta partnering with who-the-hell-is-Larry? for raw lo-fi editions of timeless Lead Belly, enduring Blind Blake and a few classic Woody Guthrie’s. The rest are all traditionals ranging in origin from the mid-19th century to the early 1940s. More of an artifact than a timeless masterpiece, but an enlightening listen nonetheless.


9. Grand Jacques

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Artist: Jacques Brel

Genre: Chanson

“Jacques Brel is probably Belgium’s finest musical export, if you’re into that sort of thing. Full of humorous candor, Grand Jacques is a debut wise beyond its years.” (<<<LINK>>>)


8. After Hours with Miss D 

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Artist: Dinah Washington

Genre: Vocal Jazz

Washington’s voice is extremely powerful, blending blues, pop and jazz instincts into a singular expression of mass appeal. The music that backs her up often matches her intensity, most notably on the extended version of “Blue Skies.” But I think it is the organ performance on “Am I Blue” that really steals the show. Wish it was given more prominence in the final mixdown.


7. Al Haig Trio (Esoteric)

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Artist: Al Haig

Genre: Bebop

“The usual suspects steal the show: an effervescent rendition of “Moonlight in Vermont,” the serene melancholic phrasings of “Autumn in New York,” a dreamily upbeat “Body and Soul” (of which the final two minutes reach sublime levels of pianissimo).” (<<<LINK>>>)


6. Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy

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Artist: Louis Armstrong

Genre: Dixieland

Out of all LPs released in 1954, Satchmo’s tribute to the influential blues pioneer is by far the most fun. In fact, this may be the most amusing and lighthearted album of the entire decade.


5. A Night at Birdland

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Artist: Art Blakey

Genre: Hard Bop

For all my Max Roach praise, Art Blakey’s performance on his first Night at Birdland LP may rank equal to the best that Roach ever recorded. Clifford Brown, too, delivers passionate solos that are among the trumpeter’s signature works. But the proceedings are anchored by Horace Silver, the pianist who pens the concert’s two best tracks — “Split Kick” and “Quicksilver.” Like Jazz at Massey Hall or Ellington at Newport, Art Blakey’s Night at Birdland captures a rarified live atmosphere that translates perfectly to record.


4. Songs for Young Lovers

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Artist: Frank Sinatra

Genre: Swing

Songs for Young Lovers finds Sinatra giving one of the greatest and most tender vocal performances of his career, kickstarting a sustained run of greatness that launched him into the stratosphere of 20th century icons.” (<<<LINK>>>)


3. Thelonious Monk Trio

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Artist: Thelonious Monk

Genre: Bebop

Monk’s dissonant, slightly off-kilter chord progressions are warm and welcoming despite their occasional harsh atonality.” (<<<LINK>>>)


2. Clifford Brown & Max Roach 

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Artist: Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Genre: Hard Bop

“Brown stakes his claim as the greatest trumpeter alive, but Roach is even more impressive…It is only because of alphabetical aesthetics that he doesn’t receive top billing.” (<<<LINK>>>)


1. Birth of the Cool

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Artist: Miles Davis

Genre: Cool Jazz

“Recorded in three separate sessions from 1949 to 1950 (and released as a 10” LP in 1954), Birth of the Cool laid the foundations for all major jazz developments in the decade that followed. From the proto-Mingus post-bop of “Israel” to the modal “Venus de Milo” at the album’s center, Davis rewrites the rulebook of what is and isn’t possible.” (<<<LINK>>>)

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