In Holiday Guide Commentary

Elvis Costello's solo show at the Riverside in June was one of my favorite performances of the year. (PHOTO: Benjamin Wick)

2014 picks: Bobby Tanzilo

Another year has come and gone and, as always, it's left a trail of great music, books and concerts in its wake...

Music: This is always hardest for me, because I tend to remember the most recent stuff and forget to include records that came out earlier in the year. But right now, I'm listening a lot to Kate Rusby's new "Ghost," which, if you're a fan of English folk music, is not to be missed. I've also unexpectedly been enjoying Jamaican singer Duane Stephenson's wide-ranging "Dangerously Roots." The delayed U.S. release of Justin Currie's "Lower Reaches" had me revisiting the 2013 release and rediscovering its charms, especially "Little Stars," "Into a Pearl," "Bend to My Will" and "Every Song's the Same." The Compass Records edition, for the record, includes two tracks not on the original U.K. release.

I've also been listening to the reissues of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Venus and Mars" and "Wings at the Speed of Sound," which both conjure memories of my youth whenever I hear them. The version of "Beware My Love" with John Bonham on drums is pretty fun.

Concerts: Four of the year's shows stand out most for me. Long an Elvis Costello fan I'd seen him in many settings, but never performing solo. So, his one-man show at the Riverside in spring was a joy from start to finish, in part because he played a lot of unexpected material. That's always a plus.

About a week later, I saw Nick Cave for the first time since 1981 and this time -- at the Milwaukee Theatre -- was a much different experience. Cave's set was dark and sophisticated at the same time and what made it best for me was sharing it with my kid, who was in attendance. I can't wait until he's older and I get to hear him tell his friends that his first concert was Nick Cave. There's no way that won't be cool.

Earlier in spring, I really enjoyed seeing Nathaniel Rateliff at Shank Hall. It was quiet and intimate and Rateliff played all the best stuff off his latest record.

Finally, meeting up with an old friend, Justin Currie, when he played in Chicago in September was great, as much for the great set in Evanston as for the catching up part.

Books: As always, 2014 dished up more books than it did time to read them. In local history, there were a few notables, especially Dennis Pajot's "Building Milwaukee's City Hall," Gerard Helferich's "Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin," Martha Berglund and Paul Hayes' "Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham," and "The History, Art and Imagery of The Pfister Hotel," by Thomas Jordan and photography Jay Filter. The book of "Perimeter" photos of Lake Michigan by Kevin Miyazaki is pretty stellar, too.

In the world of education, teacher quality was the discussion of the day and two books on that subject were quite notable: "Building a Better Teacher" by Elizabeth Green and, especially, Dana Goldstein's "The Teacher Wars." Also unbeatable are three slim titles from Teachers College Press: Sam Chaltain's "Our Schools," John Kuhn's "Fear and Learning in America" and "50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America's Public Schools." They oughta be required reading for anyone that wants to understand education in America.

I also give myself major props for reading every page of Mark Lewisohn's first of three project volumes on the story of the Beatles, "All These Years." I picked it up expecting to check out a chapter or two, thinking I'd never be able to find time to read 1,000 pages on any subject. But I did and it was worth every moment. In addition to collecting sometimes arguably insignificant facts, Lewisohn challenged my perception of the Beatles' rise, pointing out a number of very real moments when the band seemed to be on the verge of breaking up in the face of industry disinterest.

Sports: As always, sports for me means Mets and Brewers. One started out strong and tanked, the other started out slowly and ended up finishing in second place, despite some significant injuries. That both had sparks of brilliance makes my boundless hope spring eternal once more. When do pitchers and catchers report?

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