On the whole, 2005 was a pretty good year for alt country music. Considering that, as a genre, it had been previously declared dead or dying, there was an awful lot of great alt country music to be had last year. A lot of what came across the radar screen never made it to the review pages of SlackerCountry. We would like to take this opportunity to address that particular oversight with this top 5 unreviewed releases list:
The Modern Sounds of The Knitters
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the LA punk band X teamed up with Dave Alvin, then of the Blasters, and Johnny Ray Bartel and introduced a new generation to country music. While their first release, “Poor Little Critter in the Road” leaned to more traditional, acoustic arrangements, “The Modern Sounds of The Knitters” is a bit more raucous, with driving, crunchy guitar riffs heavy on the bass strings. There’s a re-worked version of X’s “In This House That I Call Home,” “Burning House Of Love” and Dave Alvin’s “Dry River” along with an interesting take on Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.” They got great reviews on the tour and put up a fun website. And it’s great to hear those patented John Doe/Excene Cervenka slightly dissonant harmonies again.
At The Women’s Club
Cedar Creek Music
Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, Daddy put out one of the most surprising records last year. Rumor has it that after this live session at the Frankfort, Kentucky Women’s Club, they were banned from ever playing that venue again. Couldn’t have been the music. It’s hard to imagine a better show had ever been booked in there. Daddy’s "At The Women’s Club” breathes new vibrancy into the tired old “southern rock” subgenre, alternating between thoughtful countrified ballads, foot-stomping, gospel tinged rockers, and scorching slow-burn blues. Front men Will Kimbrough (of Todd Snider’s Nervous Wrecks) and Nashville songwriter Tommy Womack (also with the Nervous Wrecks) trade lead vocals and guitar riffs. Highlights include “Slide It In,” “Happy in Your Skin,” “Nighmares,” and an allegedly totally improvised insertion of The Faces’ classic “Ooh La La” into “The Powers That Be.” Without a doubt, “At The Women’s Club” is one of the most under-appreciated and best records of the year.
South Austin Jug Band
Dark And Weary World
Blue Corn Music
I’ve always liked my bluegrass best in small doses. While it’s great to lose yourself in a great banjo, mandolin, and fiddle jam, it can get repetitious after a while. The South Austin Jug Band, with their diverse musical backgrounds incorporating jazz, blues, country, and folk, brings a fresh approach to an old formula with their second release “Dark and Weary World”. Singer James Hyland’s voice brings to mind a young Steve Earle with his gritty twang. The arrangements are fresh and melodic without growing tedious. Check out “There Aint No Liquor In This Town,” a stomping throw-down if there ever was one. These guys are young, all under 30, and have been playing together in various lineups for the last 4 years. They play 200 plus shows a year and all that practice has made for a great record that’s easy on the ears without the sterile sounding production of their more famous contemporaries like Alison Krauss or Nickel Creek.
Alive And Wired
New West Records
There are not many bands I’ve seen play as often as I’ve seen the Old 97s. Having caught them at one of their first shows when Rhett Miller and Murray Hammond joined forces after the breakup of legendary punk bluegrass band Killbilly; I’ve watched these guys progress from alt country poster boys to major label pop idols and back again. Alive and Wired manages to showcase the best of all their phases, from the hard driving opener, “Melt Show” to the hard driving closer “Timebomb,” both from 1995’s “Too far To Care.” In between you’ll find 31 songs on 2 discs, everything from their cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” to Rhett’s teenage pop anthems “Rollerskate Skinny” and “The New Kid”. If you’re not familiar with the band, this is a pretty good place to start and if you are, then it’s great to hear the way they tie it all together in a consistently listenable fashion.
That Was Me – The Best of Todd Snider 1994-1998
This “best of,” released in 2005, is a compendium of Todd Snider’s first three releases – all great songs. If you are looking to build your Todd collection, this is a good place to start. The novelty song “Talkin’ Seattle Blues,” which spoofs the popularity of grunge rock, or really, any rock out of Seattle in the nineties is probably the most well known of his songs. The compilation also includes “Alright Guy” which represents the quintessential Todd Snider to me – great tune and a tongue-in-cheek style that makes me laugh every time I hear the song, even after a decade or so of hearing it. Here’s where I should admit to being a big Todd Snider fan. I own all of his discs except this here one that I’m writing about and a bunch of live recordings. And we play him a lot. Here’s the thing: I didn’t buy this disc because, although it’s a good place to get to know early Todd Snider, for my money, it doesn’t include some of his best work, even from those first three discs. It’s missing “My Generation” and “This Land is Our Land” from 1994’s “Songs for the Daily Planet” and somehow managed to leave off “Rocket Fuel” and the cover of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” from “Viva Satellite,” for example. I can’t fathom it. But it’s still good music, and one of the best of the year.