Gary Flockhart: Oberst gets my vote as year’s best

Singer/songwriter Conor Oberst

Singer/songwriter Conor Oberst

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IT’S been a good – if not quite vintage – year for music, both live and recorded.

My gig highlights from the past 12 months include a visit to picture-postcard Bruges for the Cactus Music Festival – the most civilised music fest I’ve ever encountered – and a trip down south to see Conor Oberst perform in Manchester.

For acoustics and atmosphere, Manchester Cathedral tops many purpose-built music venues, and as sunlight cascaded through the stained-glass windows and onto the stage, it proved an ideal setting for the talented Nebraskan, who gave an exceptional performance, as usual.

My first visit to the Hydro in Glasgow for the Prince concert in May was another high point, the Minneapolis maestro serving up a three-hour masterclass in showmanship and songcraft.

On Capital soil, locally-based Dan Wilson, aka Withered Hand, put on a great show in April playing from his magnificent second album, New Gods, at Liquid Room.

Other notable gigs include Rufus Wainwright at the Usher Hall, Miles Kane’s Liquid Room show and Simon Felice at Electric Circus.

Last week’s Manic Street Preachers’ gig at Corn Exchange, where they played seminal 1994 album The Holy Bible, was another unforgettable show.

Albums-wise, Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain is hands-down my album of the year.

I’m a huge fan of this prolific artist and his latest offering is an assured and accomplished collection that rewards repeat listens.

It probably won’t find itself atop any ‘Best of the Year’ lists, but it is, in my opinion, outstanding.

A close second for my album of the year is Stay Gold, from Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit, whose winning blend of indie and country is extremely easy on the ear, with sibling harmony that sounds otherworldly at times.

The girls visit the Usher Hall in January, and I can’t wait for that.