Category Archives: words

Forget Thanksgetting … give Thanksgiving its due

In one of the most awful campaigns in modern memory, Verizon converts the holiday to “Thanksgetting.” Walmart talks about being open early and late on Thanksgiving and implying that “everybody wins” (except for the employees who don’t get more time with loved ones). And my inbox has already seen dozens of emails from retailers about using today to get a jump on Black Friday.


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t consider it Black Friday Eve.

My memories are of my late grandparents wrangling the extended family for sumptuous meals, laughter and love. We were relegated to the kids’ table, but that was part of the entertainment. If somebody had brought the idea of shopping at a big-box store on Thanksgiving up to my grandfather, he would have ridiculed it, with good reason.

Canadians do their Thanksgiving far away from Christmas, and I’m sure it’s pleasant to just get together with family and delve into food without the clatter of the commercialized version of Christmas nibbling at the edges.

America being America, you can’t bring up the ludicrous nature of retailers opening on Thanksgiving without an argument, since that’s what Americans do. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FIREFIGHTS AND POLICE WHO WORK ON THANKSGIVING YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T CARE ABOUT THEM SHARE THIS IF YOU AGREE 93% OF YOU WON’T BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT GOOD AMERICANS, etc.

It’s a disingenuous argument. We all appreciate that police, firefighters, hospital workers and many others work on Thanksgiving and other holidays. It’s required for society to function. I seem to recall society functioning pretty well long before Walmart and its ilk found it necessary to put profits over family by making Thanksgiving about gorging in the aisles too.


OK, I’m out and back to gratitude. Instead of thinking about getting, let’s be thankful for what we have, and who we have in our lives. Go read Dave Cameron’s excellent Thanks-living blog entry to get back to what’s good. And may any arguments today instead be over whether stuffing or mashed potatoes are the better side dish. And the answer is stuffing, of course.


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6 Qs with Kristina Halvorson, author of ‘Content Strategy for the Web’

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, published in 2009, is simply one of the most important, influential and inspiring books for anybody writing for the web or running a social media account. I’ve loaned out my highlighted copy so many times I need to put a tracking device on it (though many people decided to get their own copy anyway) and it’s the kind of reference that merits rereading from time to time to get back to foundations. Halvorson’s impact extends beyond the book as the firm she founded and leads, Brain Traffic, organizes a wonderful series of Confab conferences, with the next being Confab Higher Ed in New Orleans this November (where I’m speaking).

I recently had the opportunity to ask Halvorson six questions, where she discusses why she wrote the book, offers advice for those implementing content strategy and gives a marvelous turnaround example worth seeing.

TN: You’ve probably heard this question before so I apologize, but for the sake of those reading the blog: What’s your working definition of content strategy?


Image courtesy of

Kristina Halvorson: For seven years, I’ve been saying, “Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” That definition still holds, I think, but Brain Traffic’s “quad” (which includes substance, structure, workflow, and governance) provides a larger, more flexible framework for talking about content strategy.

To be honest, this question actually makes me want to go hide under my bed. There are so many smart, experienced people who answer it in several different ways. For what it’s worth, I still use my short and sweet definition simply because it helps people find a way into the conversation. It’s not overwhelmingly technical or … big.

TN: I think many of us consider your book and tips crucial to content strategy, but clearly it took a while for anybody to articulate it. What drew you to the concept of content strategy and led you to writing the book?

KH: In 2007, Brain Traffic was a healthy little web copywriting agency. I’d been writing for the web for 10 years by that point, and I was getting sick of getting called in at the 11th hour to fill in the lorem ipsum in the wireframes. We never seemed to have the time, budget, or information required to do content right. I decided to start approaching projects more as a consultant than a project manager. In fact, I started using the title “interactive content strategist” … and here I thought I’d made it up! At some point, I figured out content strategy was A THING that existed long before I started using the title. Unfortunately, I could only find a few people out there talking about the topic (Rachel Lovinger, Colleen Jones, and Jeff MacIntyre, for example). So, I felt like there was a real opportunity to get a larger conversation going. That’s why I wrote the book.

TN: Introducing content strategies into organizations is important, but are there any mistakes people should avoid when beginning the process?

KH: Yes, two in particular.

First, you are going to have one hell of a time helping people understand the difference between content strategy and content marketing. “Content marketing strategy” starts with the assumption that content marketing is the right thing to do—that sort of is the antithesis of good content strategy. It’s important to help people understand that, look, content isn’t something we just decide to crank out on an assembly line; it needs strategic consideration that has to start with business outcomes, user needs, and a diagnosis of our current-state content challenges and opportunities. Only then can we make an informed decision about where we are going to focus our content efforts. So don’t make the mistake of starting out with any assumptions about what needs to happen with your content—in marketing, websites, support, corporate communications, social media channels. You simply don’t know until you have a clear understanding of where you are now, and where you need to be.

Second, don’t go in there acting like you know what’s best for everyone. No one cares if content strategy is “the right thing to do.” Most of the time, they care about their own job performance and whatever audience they’re trying to serve. Listen, listen, listen, listen. Tailor your content strategy “sales pitch” to whatever pain people are suffering, or whatever hot topic they’re all fired up about. It’s not about your ideas. It’s about creating and sustaining excellent content that satisfies business and customer needs. That’s it.

TN: Non-writers in general receive often the idea of content strategy well, but after a while they may stray from the path. What tips do you have to keep the content strategy fire burning across the organization?

KH: Again: keep people focused on how content strategy activities—whether in UX, the CMS, or the enterprise as a whole—are solving pain points and opening up new opportunities. It’s crucial that you advertise your activities and successes—even small ones—every step of your content strategy journey. The best success stories I know are the ones where people made time to “roadshow” what they were doing in content strategy and how it was making a difference.

TN: Do you have a favorite turnaround/success story (or stories) on an institution(s) whose content went from a mess to one of the best?

KH: The website is every content strategist’s dream success story. They took very complex content nobody could find or understand, and made it clear, accessible, and useful for an entire country. They got an entire GOVERNMENT on board to make government content—which is notoriously structured based on internal org structures—to be based entirely on user needs.

TN: Does the success of Content Strategy for the Web and of related things like the Confab conferences surprise you at all?

KH: Honestly? No. This conversation was way, way overdue. We all needed something to rally around—a simple, straightforward story for why content is hard and what we can do about it. I am proud to have helped tell that story early on, along with of a lot of people who openly shared their ideas and experiences. (This continues to be something so fantastic about the content strategy community!)

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‘Am I the only one …’: On college, isolation and social media

Active Minds'

Active Minds’ “Send Silence Packing” display visited SUNY Oswego.

At first I thought it perhaps a rhetorical quirk. But as I saw it more and more in posts by incoming students in our Facebook group, it emerged as a pattern. And one that causes a bit of concern.

  • “Am I the only one who doesn’t have a roommate yet?”
  • “Am I the only one without a housing assignment?”
  • “So I’m the only person without a full schedule.”
  • “Looks like I’m the only person who doesn’t have a roommate yet.”

Beyond the fact that, no, they were never “the only one” in that situation — in fact, most of their peers were in the same boat — the wording is intriguing. Not “does anybody else have …” or “who else doesn’t have …” but about being the “only” person missing out on the fun. There’s a fear of exclusion pattern among these posts — sure, it’s partly concern that others have something they don’t, but the phrase speaks to isolation.

But then reading an outstanding, troubling New York Times piece, Campus suicide and the pressure of perfection, drove home the point that thinking you’re an outsider, isolated and lonely when entering college can make an already-stressful situation worse. Couple that with a social media where everybody seems to having more fun and fabulous lives than you, and it’s an issue that needs more attention.

Stranger in a strange land

I can identify with how students can feel isolated all too well. After finishing my associate’s degree at home, I went away to a college where I did not know a single soul (one place social media certainly helps). My roommate was a nice guy, but we didn’t click. Within a couple days, it seemed my suitemates were already making plans where I wasn’t invited. The dorm had an ice cream social in the lounge where I had ice cream but was too shy to be social.

The loneliest I’ve ever been and on the edge of despondency, I’d wander out to stare at the nearby canal. “College was supposed to be awesome, but am I the only one not having any fun?” I thought to myself. “Everybody else is enjoying themselves way more than me.” I felt homesick, isolated, unsure why what was supposed to be the best time of my life suddenly felt like one of the worst. But I was determined to make college work — I’d be the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree — and after two weeks of loneliness despite being surrounded by friendly people, I made my way to the college newspaper, quickly found a tribe and soon found college the enjoyable experience I expected.

Even in this supposedly more interconnected society, many students entering colleges across the country will feel the same way I did — wondering if they’re “the only one” who feels so lonely — but perhaps do not find their lifeline. Some may drop out, some may turn to drugs or alcohol … and some may decide they can’t go on at all.

The Internet is an illusion

The most famous poem from his engrossing “Spoon River Anthology,” Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory” tells the story of a man who was “a gentleman from sole to crown” and “richer than a king,” a man everybody in town envied. But for whatever reason, he also was unspeakably unhappy, as the poem ends:

So on we worked, and waited for the light
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Yet that jarring conclusion pales in comparison with tales of real life, such as Penn State student Madison Holleran. Talented, pretty, a successful student-athlete and with seemingly plenty of friends, Madison’s Instagram feed showed a life many a lonely student would envy. But according to an excellent ESPN feature by Kate Fagan, Split Image, Madison was a perfectionist who could not deal with failure or disappointment — or her perception of falling short. A 19-year-old with seemingly everything to live for, Madison Holleran committed suicide in January 2014.

According to Active Minds, a group that attempts to empower students, change the stigma of mental illness on campuses and steer students toward healthier choices, some 1,100 students take their own lives every year. The New York Times piece references helicopter parenting — where students aren’t given the opportunity to solve their own problems — as a contributing factor. But it’s not the only evolution that has raised the stakes.

Is it a competition?

College once was for elites, then in the ’50s/’60s the Baby Boom, GI Bill and many other socioeconomic factors led to college systems offering greater accessibility. Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the cold war politics led to the U.S. government pouring money into higher education to produce scientists who could win the technological race. Suddenly college was more widely available, a rite of passage depicted in popular culture. When I went to college, probably about half of my graduating class did not, which was not necessarily uncommon.

Now, for most, college is an expectation of getting ahead. Private courses and consultants show high school students how to excel at standardized tests and make themselves more attractive to institutions. Cottage industries have emerged for both those choosing colleges and the colleges courting them, setting it up as a high-pressure matchmaking exercise. Parents and students make it not only about going to college but more critically about getting into the right school offering the right experiences. And not just any experiences, but experiences where students need to succeed and feel fulfilled. Getting one bad grade in a class can be a big blow; failing a class is devastating.

Put all that into a crucible that is young people coming of age and coming to terms with feelings and coming into a world where they feel they must do everything perfectly — and then project their way of seeing the world, social media, as a place where everybody is happy and successful and winning this perceived competition. So the student asking “am I the only one …” can start believing that they are the outsider, the freak, the failure because of how well everybody else appears to be doing.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. But here is the one thing I’d like everybody to take away from it: Social media is not real life. Don’t compare your daily struggles to the highlight reel you see online. We are all dealing with problems, but there are so many people also willing to help.

Be kind, the old saying goes, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. The start of college could be an important intersection with the future, but it’s just the start (we hope!) of a long journey that may have twists and turns and tribulations and triumphs. But it’s a road we travel together. You are never “the only one,” ever.


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SUNYCUAD focuses on the power of play

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug.

The recent SUNYCUAD conference hit one out of the park with its theme on the importance of the power of play. Even though we work in higher education, we too often overlook the importance of curiosity, exploration and wonder in the creative process.

Bob Hambley, designer and partner in Hambly and Woolley, set the tone in the opening plenary by saying that we need to play and be curious to succeed in creative work. He cited the work of Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, who posited that curiosity leads to a circle of creativity: 

  • Curiosity leads to exploration
  • Which leads to discovery
  • Which leads to pleasure
  • Which leads to repetition
  • Which leads to mastery
  • Which leads to confidence
  • Which leads to more curiosity

The challenge, Hambley said, is that curiosity peaks in humans at about age 5. Is it a coincidence that this is when formal education also tends to begin? Along the way, curiosity is discouraged by disapproval, by fear, by a lack of time, and by craving of certainty. The process of what we call “growing up” tamps our creativity down.

But Hambley thinks we can reverse the process by activity letting our curiosity come out of play. He encourages us to work five things into our regular routine to keep our curiosity strong:

  1. Observe
  2. Inquire
  3. Challenge
  4. Explore
  5. Take risks

The risk-taking part is important. Higher ed focuses so much (too much) on best practices, sometimes to the exclusivity of innovation and new ideas. But we can never evolve without risk. If we fail or if we succeed, the most important thing is that either road leads to learning, Hambley said.

After watching Hambley’s inspiring talk, I emphasized taking risks more in my presentation with (excellent) Oswego student blogger and intern Lizzy Marks, 6 Suggestions for Successful Student Storytelling. To invite student storytelling into your narratives, you have to take risks and trust people. But somebody had to take a risk to create the colleges and universities that make up the SUNY system — and making the system was a big risk in itself. Compared to the risk people like Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon took in the 19th century, hiring a student blogger seems like a fairly small deal.

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the trip to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, where we explored exhibits on Sesame Street and other children’s programs, rekindled our younger years with classic arcade games and enjoyed the natural wonder of an amazing butterfly garden.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

What was your favorite toy?

A wonderful question that cropped up from time to time was “What was your favorite toy?” For me, it involved trips to the dentist: While becoming creative didn’t require pulling teeth, getting my favorite toys sometimes did.

We went to a dentist named Dr. Betts in Auburn. The most memorable part was that at the end, our reward was selecting a little rubber animal. Which seems small, perhaps, except that our collection of rubber animals turned into a big community. My brothers Joel and Colin assembled their little communities and the Little Animals, as we came to call them, all interacted with each other and had many adventures, from football games to missions of international espionage to battling Star Wars characters.

From the power of playing with the Little Animals, my brothers and I learned three important things that followed us into our creative endeavors:

1. Storytelling. Without leaving the house, those animals went on adventures far and wide, to Soviet Russia, to the moon, to distant planets. We learned to tell a story — generally flights of fancy, yes — but to create characters and motivations and cohesive narratives. I honestly look back with a sense of awe at how sophisticated we were as kids when it came to crafting the adventures of the Little Animals.

2. Collaboration. As noted, all three of us had our own sets of animals, but they all interacted with each other in larger narratives. They generally began with a concept from one of us, often taking from TV or a movie but sometimes just dreamed up, with the others adding to it to keep the action going. In retrospect, I am so grateful for such an awesome preparation for collaborative creative work.

3. Community. Every adventure depended on the Little Animals working together and bringing their own strengths to the table to solve whatever challenge they faced. I still remember my characters like Jerry Cat, Sammy Squirrel, Singo Seal, Danny Dolphin, among others, and how they were all pieces of our larger Little Animal community that showed that togetherness conquered all.

Wow. That’s so much more than I realized. We grow up — or so we think — but how we played as kids continue to influence us. We also need to make sure that childlike curiosity and our willingness to play stay with us too.

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Celebrate your unsung heroes! They are campus treasures.

loisThey don’t appear in admissions materials. They aren’t generally the subject of news releases. They’re not mentioned at orientation. Yet they may be the people your students remember most and love the best.

Your unsung heroes are a huge part of your culture, even if you don’t see them in committee meetings and special luncheons. We recently learned, quite pleasantly really, that one of the biggest “stars” to our students and alumni is Lois Terminella, who has brightened the day — in ways large and small — for decades of students at Lakeside Dining Center.

My colleague Jeff Rea recently interviewed Lois for our Spotlight feature in our Campus Update newsletter. Posting to social media was a no-brainer, but we never imagined the explosion of love that followed … 81 comments, almost all of them adoring, with 674 likes and 168 shares.

Posting a link on Twitter yielded an immense (for us, anyway) 54 retweets and 56 favorites. Click the link in the second paragraph above and you’ll find more wonderful comments on the Campus Update story.

Lois, quite simply, is a gem and the love via social media shows how special she is to the SUNY Oswego family.

A gentleman by the name of Peter Fland added this lovely comment on Facebook about another unsung hero beloved by alumni:

Every generation has their Lois. At Waterbury and Scales in the early 60s Louise the cleaning lady was one of ours. Everyone loved her to the point that she was featured on our float in one of the parades. She did many things, but the funniest of all was when she would push into the bathrooms and say “Good Morning Darlins – Are ya decent” – after she was in. One day I was late for a presentation and struggling to iron a shirt. She pushed me away, told me to get my shower, and finished my shirt. I do not know how she knew I was pressed for time, but she did. 50 years later I remember her fondly. Three cheers and a toast to all the of these wonderful people. Congratulations to Lois and all like her. They will always have a piece of our hearts.

Lois and Louise are exceptional, to be sure, but every campus has its unsung heroes that may fly under the radar of many but present some of the fondest memories to your generations of students.

Find those unsung heroes. Celebrate them. Share their stories. You might be amazed by the impact they’ve had … and your students and alumni will have a chance to show their love to those who very much deserve it.

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Leadership, shoveling snow and great communities

If somebody said that leaders getting out and shoveling snow was a hallmark of a great community, you’d say that’s crazy, right?

Think again.

A delightful story came through Twitter the other day about Michael Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, showing up to shovel a student’s driveway in response to a tweet. It’s not a new service EKU offers, just a good-natured good deed from Benson, who regularly interacts with students via Twitter and responds to challenges for things like ping-pong games and dodgeball. But this little act of kindness was so on target that it inspired others to take up shovels to help their neighbors and it rightfully earned plenty of media attention.

ekuAfter I shared it, friends at other colleges helped put it into the context of a larger narrative and trend. A friend at Cornell noted that Berea, Kentucky, is considered one of the 20 coolest towns in U.S. Then another colleague from Cornell, Mark Anbinder, recalled how Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick once went around the city with a shovel and some friends to help those who needed it. Ithaca also happens to be considered the Best College Town in America by Business Insider, among many other awards for being an awesome community that occupy a long list on

Coincidence? Maybe less than it seems.

The best communities and campuses are powered by a spirit where everybody is involved. When the person on top rolls up their sleeves — or tucks them into a coat to take up a shovel — how powerful a message is that? If the college president or the mayor take up shovels and take time to look out for the community, what possible reason could you have for not helping others when you have the opportunity?

I’m not saying your president or mayor needs to go out and shovel — it’s not a very enjoyable opportunity unless you it’s something you like doing — but the act is more metaphorical. It is not the specific actions but the attitudes that are significant.

I still remember so many years later when I was unemployed and unhappy and fresh out of college, visiting my alma mater of Brockport. A dean had a brief exchange with me that suddenly made me feel human again, lifted my spirits and bolstered my beyond-sagging confidence. It wasn’t anything in particular she did or said, nor anything she would ever remember, but just a brief moment where her message to me was simply: You matter.


We all matter. And just the reminder of this means a lot. Our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, of “Alyssa Explains It All” fame, has always wanted to meet our college president, Deborah F. Stanley. After a hockey game, seeing President Stanley there but not feeling like she could just walk up and say “hi,” Alyssa tweeted that she’d like to meet the president. A meeting was arranged, and President Stanley told Alyssa she was a fan of her videos and they talked and Alyssa came out more than impressed. “She really shows why @sunyoswego is awesome,” Alyssa tweeted after the meeting.

But you know what, let’s take this one step further. You always have the ability to make yours a better community. You always have the ability to show others that they matter. Say a kind word. Go do something good. Make somebody happy.

When it comes from the top, the message is strong. But it doesn’t mean that anybody, everybody can’t step up and become a leader of making their community, their world a better place.

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Year in music: Top 20 albums for 2014

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Every year, I’m part of a collaborative effort across higher ed to list the best music of that span. Every year, I struggle. For 2014, I kept shuffling most of the top 10 right down to the deadline … although my #1 was pretty much set the first time I heard.

And now, as the late great Casey Kasem once said, on with the countdown …

20. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager. The two things this album has going for it are Lewis’ voice and Ryan Adams producing. Overall the material is decidedly less interesting than her recordings with Rilo Kiley.

19. Bad Suns, Bad Suns. With a little more verve, variety and exploration, Bad Suns could have been this year’s Imagine Dragons or Bastille, but instead they’re a pretty decent act that produced a very catchy single in “Cardiac Arrest.”

18. Beck, Morning Phase. When you’re in the right mood, this is a great album. When you’re not in the right mood, it’s kind of a downer. Sorry, Beck fans.

17. Gemma Hayes, Bones and Longing. The Irish songstress creates albums that are very good in the moment yet largely forgettable once you’re done. Which is unfortunate, since she has a gorgeous voice.

16. Afghan Whigs, Do The Beast. File this under mildly disappointing. Greg Dulli and the boys can still put together some interesting songs but it’s nowhere near the power of their older material since it’s missing the angular guitar riffs of Rick McCollum that so perfectly complemented Dulli’s alternately lovable and loathsome characters.

15. Dex Romweber Duo, Images 13. The former frontman of pscyhosurfabilly duo Flat Duo Jets has successfully reinvented himself in a duo with his sister Sara on drums. It’s mostly rockabilly, blues and jazz with the occasional shreiks and howls and guitar flourishes that remind you of Dex’s mercurial talent.

14. David Gray, Mutineers. Gray’s music is like an old friend — comfortable and reliable. Bursts of impressive songwriting notwithstanding, many of his latest records are somewhat interchangeable yet always charming.

13. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker. Set-opener “Violent Shiver” starts with a rockabilly guitar riffs, trudges through swamp blues and a taste of grunge before even completing a verse. It’s that kind of unpredictability that makes this album remarkable and surprisingly fun.

12. U2, Songs of Innocence. Once you get past the army of hipsters whining that — gasp! — an album by a legacy band had defiled their iTunes playlist, you find a pretty decent album. Probably their best since 2001’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” it yields plenty of catchy moments yet the band didn’t stay embarrassingly away from what it does best.

11. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Talent has never been the question with Fleck, perhaps the greatest banjo virtuoso on the planet, but instead how accessible his material might be. But the sweet vocals and additional banjo work of Washburn — who also happens to be Fleck’s wife — makes this one of the most engaging effort in Fleck’s impressive canon.

10. Shovels & Rope, Swimmin’ Time. Married duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst continue to get better and better playing foreboding folk that casts a dark atmosphere dotted with glimmering and shimmering riffs and harmonies.

9. Bob Mould, Beauty & Ruin. Bob Mould can do no wrong. He just plain knows how to rock out or present a steady slow burn, lift you up or break your heart. Like his previous record, “Silver Age,” he does wax reflective on growing older but it’s Bob Freaking Mould so anybody can enjoy it.

8. Twin Forks, Twin Forks. Best known for his work with Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba ventured into folk and Americana with his new band. Call it what you will, but few vocalists have the effortless ability to craft vocal hooks Carrabba does — emo, folk or polka, it just plain works.

7. Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge, Avalon. A seemingly odd couple — “Critter” Eldridge better known for bluegrass and the Punch Brothers, Lage for modern jazz — blends sensationally through interpretations of the Great American Songbook and some improvised originals. Their collaboration, especially live, crackles with talent and chemistry.

6. Big Wreck, Ghosts, After the colossal disappointment of Big Wreck’s second album “The Pleasure and the Greed” in 2001, I’d never think a baker’s dozen years later to have a new record in my top ten. But “Ghosts,” like 2012’s “Albatross,” is a pleasant return to form. Once known as Canada’s answer to Soundgarden, Big Wreck’s comeback material easily eclipses any of Chris Cornell’s recent output.

5. Little Hurricane, Gold Fever. With a White Stripes formula — frontman Anthony Catalano and drummer Celeste Spina — playing a kind of retro rocking blues, they first made a splash with “Homewrecker” (notable largely in providing a soundtrack for Taco Bell ads). Their latest shows an even tauter, tighter take on love and loss and lust.

4. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Half the City. “Close your eyes and listen, and you might imagine someone who looks a bit like Otis Redding. Open them, and you’re likely to see someone who looks more like your neighborhood bank teller,” said Bob Boilen of NPR. Can’t say it any better, other than that the whole excellent band and the material make this an outstanding listen.

3. Rural Alberta Advantage, Mended with Gold. When RAA first showed up, they seemed a bit of a novelty — perhaps a cross between Neutral Milk Hotel and fellow Canadians The Tragically Hip. But “Mended with Gold” is such a solid, compelling disc that it’s time to re-evaluate their skills and staying power.

2. Blondfire, Young Heart. This is simply a relentlessly catchy record. The highest of five male-female duos in my top 20, siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll have shown flashes with their previous recordings, but “Young Heart” is really a stellar non-stop parade of hypnotic pop/rock gems.

1. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams. Adams’ prolific nature (including three full-length albums in 2005 alone) overshadowed the fact that as catchy and engaging as his material was, his songs always felt a bit more sloppy and incomplete than you’d hope. Then he slowed down, mellowed out (a little) and the results are stunning. “Ryan Adams,” his first disc in three years, features the kind of thorough songcraft and loving arrangement that shows just how much talent he has in full flower. In my opinion, nothing even came close to this for best album of 2014.

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