1. GILLIAN WELCH – Time (The Revelator)
Gilly continues her less-is-more musical philosophy. Sometimes haunting, sometimes jubilant, always exquisite. For God’s sake, give David Rawlings his due credit. This is the last time I’m going to tell you, Gilly! (See Gillian Welch bootleg below.)
2. RYAN ADAMS – Gold
He may be the only guy in America who may have benefited from 9/11 but that really can’t be held against him. The fact that as a person he can be something of an asshole can be. Luckily he sure knows how to tap into that American thang.
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Shoe Fetish: A Tribute To Shoes
(The) Shoes were always about high-end harmony power pop but always somewhat lo-fi. Hear the hi-fi versions by bands that know what to do with great melodic pop.
4. LUCINDA WILLIAMS – Essence
Lucinda’s voice cracks with loneliness and despair. Hell, she even moans with a drawl.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack
This collection of “ole-timey music” (see the movie) goes down like a sweet ice cream coen. (Honorable Mention: Down From The Mountain:: the CD and the video)
6. KIRSTY MacCOLL – Tropical Brainstorm
What a shame. Que verguenza. What a shame.
7. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – Mass Romantic
Multi-layered power-pop opuses (powerpopopi?) that are somehow catchy and impenetrable at the same time.
8. PATTY LOVELESS – Mountain Soul
Patty goes high and lonesome as she revisits her Harlan, Tennessee past. Talk about “constant sorrow”!
9. BOB DYLAN – Love and Theft
Dylan can’t sing for shit anymore. The American Cancer Society could use his voice in their radio ads. But his beleaguered voice captures a beleaguered US landscape with optimism and humor.
10. LIQUOR GIANTS – Up With People (Australian import)
They should be giants. A group that is completely original even as it wears all its 60’s influences on its sleeve (not the record sleeve). Think Brian Wilson meets The Move at a UK flowerpop festival.
11. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – Poses
My token sensitive singer-songwriter for the year, who sings with wonderfully lush arrangements and a gorgeous voice. Tim Buckley meets Jacques Brel, and, like each of these, not for everyone.
12. WHISKEYTOWN – Pneumonia
13. SAM PHILLIPS – Fan Dance
Moody and minimal, intimate and darkly beautiful; don’t let the gentleness of it all deceive you.
14. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Avalon Blues: A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt
This collection is held together by Hurt’s distinctive finger-picking style. Check out Hurt’s own Avalon Blues reissue of a few years back.
15. CHITLIN FOOKS – Chitlin Fooks
Bettie Serveert’s Carol Van Dijk and some guy from Belgium deliver an album that sounds almost American. It’s the almost that is the charm of this CD.
16. DAVE EDMUNDS – Hand Picked: Musical Fantasies (Internet only)
Retro isn’t a strong enough word. In his effort to pay homage to great music, Edmunds inadvertently creates his own as he chets, merles, philandons and even wolfgangs his way through musical history.
17. DOLLY PARTON – Little Sparrow
Dolly was on this mountain roots thing long before George Clooney set off on his odyssey. Here Dolly displays her darker side; sort of bluegoth.
18. CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS – Listen Listen (German import)
Their 2001 full-length was a bit of a disappointment but this 8 song tribute to Fairport and Richard Thompson is as cool as it is reverent. And check out the very clever Liege and Lief artwork.
19. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney
Coming Up: Independent Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney
First of all I never liked Wings and don’t own anything by them. What’s interesting about these tributes is that these bands give the Wussy Beatle’s songs cajones, and in the process they take some not-so-sad songs and make them better.
20. BLUE MOUNTAIN – Roots
After their previous release of pure crapola, Blue Mountain returns to form on this collection of traditional American songs. The import has 4 bonus songs.
21. THE COAL PORTERS – The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts
A spirited tribute to the other guy in the Byrds and Burritos. What songs!
22. THE OLD 97’s – Satellite Rides
Not nearly as good as their previous but still packed with catchy, well-written city-twang.
23. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songcatcher soundtrack
Unlike O Brother, this was a movie about the music.
24. THE STROKES – Is This It
After all the hype, the title is appropriate. A very good, not great, album, but Lou and Iggy did it better.
25. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Forever Dusty: A Tribute To Dusty Springfield
As this collection of mostly lesbian artists makes abundantly clear, when I was 13 and Dusty was singing “I Only Want To Be With You”, she was wishin’ and hopin’ she could be with the girl who sat next to me, not me.
Exceptional Bootlegs of Note
GILLIAN WELCH – Tonight I’ll Slip Off – a concert of cover songs; probably my #1 album of the year
RYAN ADAMS – Country Punk – acoustic concert for No Depression
JOE MAPHIS – Fire On The Strings – I can’t believe this was recorded in 1958. I just don’t believe it. Couldn’t be.
THE PIXIES – Complete ‘B’ Sides – This posthumous release is every bit as good as their humous ones.
V.A. – “NUGGETS II: ORIGINAL ARTIFACTS FROM THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND BEYOND” – A sweeping, beautifully documented survey of the UK invasion that did not invade the US.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD – The Golden Road (1965-1973) – That’s right. You heard me.The first American group to play what would later be labelled Americana. This expansive (and expensive) box traces them from their folk-rock roots through their transformation into transcendental cowboys. And it stops just where I stopped listening to them.
V.A. – “PARK AVENUE HILLBILLIES AND WEST END COWBOYS” – Distinctive, offbeat and hysterical, this is a collection of mostly 40’s songs that deal with the culture clash between backwoods country folk and their more urbane urban contemps. Every song is a surprise.
V.A. – “TRUCK DRIVER’S BOOGIE: BIG RIG HITS 1939-1969” – Songs from a time when a roadside cup of coffee was “the best in the land” and the jukebox cost a nickel.
V.A. – “DARKER THAN BLUE: Soul From Jamdown 1973-1980” – 70’s reggae revitalizes Al Green/Curtis Mayfield-style 70’s soul (never my favorite kind of music)
THE EVERLY BROTHERS – The Complete Cadence Recordings – All they have to do is sing.
Gabba Gabba Hey – Joey Ramone
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – George Harrison