List of “bests ofs” are bullshit. They’re either obvious, random or self-serving (I’m looking at you Letterman), but people like ’em and I like people. Especially the people that are good enough to show up at this site and spend a little time here. I’ve put together what I think is the cream of the crop and with some to spare.
First off the thread that runs through this list is the same as runs through everything else on this site. Call it Alt.Country, roots, freak folk, ya’llternative, twang-core…whatever. It’s great music from people that care enough to do for people that know the difference. You know, stuff that would give Carrie Underwood a the night sweats and Keith Urban a nice case of substance abuse (doh!). So let’s get to it:
10. Ray Wylie Hubbard: Snake Farm – This is a gritty, nasty, boozy release in the same vein as the Rolling Stone’s “Sticky Fingers” and early ZZ Top. Hubbard and his great band – Gurf Morlix on guitar, Rick Richards on drums and George Reiff on bass comes off as laid-back and dangerous simultaneously. The songs are rich in narrative with spare but choice lyrics sung with Hubbard’s wry, weary growl.
9. Solomon Burke: Nashville – When I was in Nashville in October listening to a compilation and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” came up and sent chills across my skin. Here was the voice of pain and accusation. The voice of bomming, baritone judgement. Like Ray Charles before him, Salomna Burke takes the skills he’s broight to R&B all those years and makes these songs his own and this follow up to the 2002’s Grammy winning “Don’t Give Up On Me” is a slow burning slice of country.
8. The Bottle Rockets: Zoysia – Deep-fried rock with hooks and passion galore makes this one of the best releases ever from the greatest bar band in America.
7. Scott H. Biram: Graveyard Shift – The one guy that can make Ray Wylie Hubbard seem safe would be another Texan, Scott H. Biram. No frills, just Rio Grande muddy guitar and hell raising vocals and metal attitude. Biram’s songs can also showcase the occasional straight ahead country weeper fit for the like of Hag.
6. Drive By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse – Truth be told it took a while for this to grow on me. I loved the moonshine and blood drenched mythos of Decoration Day and Dirty South so the more grand stories unifying the release. The Skynyrd triple-threat guitars are there in force but the songs seem more tighter and the stories are more contained within each of the excellent songs.
5. Willie Nelson: You Don’t Know Me – Songs Of Cindy Walker Willie Nelson: You Don’t Know Me – Songs Of Cindy Walker – The Texas Yoda sings a Texas legendary songwriter (“Bubbles in My Beer,” “Take Me in Your Arms,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Sugar Moon,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Miss Molly,” and “It’s All Your Fault.”) Willie could cover this classic material in his sleep but he plays it with passion and respect each of the songs deserves.
4. Gob Iron: Death Songs for the Living – Tweedy who? Jay Farrar was the soul and heart of Uncle Tupelo and this passionate and soulful collaboration with Varnaline’s Anders Parker brings new life to these somewhat remodeled traditional folk songs glued together my spacey, spare instrumentals.
3. Hank III: Straight to Hell – Not many people are doing the what Hank III is doing by fusing traditional framework of honky-tonk with punk, metal and large doses of controlled substances and making something old sound new and , well, dangerous. Name dropping legends (George Jones and David Allen Coe) and talking trash (Kid Rock) he sounds more like a hip-hop performer than a hillbilly. By breathing new life into the outlaw spirit that has always existed outside of the Nashville factory Hank III is doing his namesake proud.
2. Bob Dylan: Modern Times – Dylan has always been a conduit for American music and on “Modern Times” he does a great job of reflecting the spirit of Willie Dixon and Hank Williams through his singular prism of storytelling and takes what’s old and familiar and applies current events of war, mortality, devotion, the profound and the profane and all things human.
1. Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways – By the 90s Nashville, in their infinite wisdom, had turned their back on Cash. But producer Rick Rubin had the vision and intelligence to allow master and simply do what had come naturally for him for over five decades. His delivery weak and rasped gives truth to the traditional “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and the song Cash last wrote “Like the 309,” about a train taking his casket away.
Fittingly released on the fourth of July and recorded in 2002-2003, with overdubs added by Rubin after his death on September 12, 2003, at age 71, American V: A Hundred Highways is the last musical document of a dying man and is an honorable finale to a great career.
Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror
Ray LaMontagne – Till the Sun Turns Black
Willie Nelson – Songbird
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Vince Gill – These Days
Lonesome Spurs – Lonesome Spurs
Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat
Joey Alcorn – 50 Years Too Late
Chatham County Line – Speed Of The Whippoorwill
Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World
Lucero – Rebels, Rouges, and Sworn Brothers
Scott Miller – Citation
Chris Knight – Enough Rope
Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac
Juilie Roberts – Men and Mascara
Todd Snider – The Devil You Know
Shooter Jennings – Electric Rodeo