Monday, June 9, 2008

Alt-Country: The Missing Years

Gibson has a list of the Top 5 Essential Alt-Country albums.

1. Uncle Tupelo, Anodyne (Warner Bros, 1993)
2. Son Volt, Trace (Warner Bros, 1995)
3. Whiskeytown, Strangers Almanac (Outpost, 1997)
4. Wilco, Being There (Reprise, 1996)
5. The Jayhawks, Hollywood Town Hall (Warner Bros, 1992)

I hope it surprises nobody that I own them all. I hope it surprises nobody that I listen to them all fairly regularly.

Can I tell you what surprises me?

Every one of those recordings is over 10 years old. Brilliant, to be sure. I'm not always sure that those are necessarily the albums I'd pick but I'd certainly go with the artists. Specifically, Wilco's best album by my ears is still A.M., and if I was to pick a favorite Uncle Tupelo album ... I'd pick 'em all, but at this moment I'm leaning more toward Still Feel Gone. Not that Anodyne isn't great, because it is.

But what have the alt-twangers done for us lately? This non-traditional music has always tugged my ear far more than mainstream Nashville stuff, and even though my TV is more often tuned to CMT than to MTV, there's a shallowness to it that puts me off. And while I've been keeping those five artists and a few others in fairly regular rotation, I'm finding out about the newer, cooler stuff in drabs at best.

If a thing shows no signs of life in ten years, it must be considered dead. Is there nothing essential in Alt-Country from the last decade? Rather, what would you consider essential, great or even just really darn good Alt-Country released 1998-2008?

7 comments:

Patrick said...

Allmusic.com calls Neko Case alt-country, so I'll point at Fox Confessor Brings the Flood as something interesting. Not necessarily essential, but certainly worth hearing.

Dave Jacoby said...

Thanks, Patrick. I'll look for it.

Patrick said...

Also, the Old 97's released "Won't Be Home" in 2004, and I'd call that essential. Not "No Depression" essential, but at least "Sitting Downtown Crying 'Neath the Statue of Jesus" essential.

Dave Jacoby said...

I've liked some Old 97s in the past. I'm finding some to poke at now.

Pribek said...

Hey Dave, first I want to let you know that I wasn't personally calling you out on the Wilco thing but, I was interested to hear your input.
There are a couple of issues that plague alt. country at the moment. One is the label; alt. country, roots rock, Americana-none of those really get it and, part of the problem has always been a lack of effective marketing. Guys who sell stuff need a good label for what they are selling. Also, there are a number of artists/bands who are laying low. It's always been tough to make a buck playing this kind of music and tougher now. These artists tend to care about quality in the recording process and zero cost recording is a myth. The reality of not being able to cover cost is prevalent.
I would like to point out our local area's contribution to alt. country as a lot of these acts are active, have been overlooked and, many have only driven through Nashville making them truly alt.
No discussion of Ozarks music can take place without mentioning the aforementioned Lou Whitney and, no discussion of Lou can happen without talking about The Morells or The Skeletons. The Morells early '80s disc "Shake and Push" was part of the beginning of the "roots rock scare" as Lou puts it. I know you are looking for new music but, that's a record that the new breed often doesn't know about. The Skeletons are doing gigs and working on new material. Both bands also feature guitar great D. Clinton Thompson.
Other acts with local ties that have been releasing stuff are, Big Smith, The Domino Kings (guitarist Steve Newman has another band The Supros, don't know if they have recorded yet), Kristi Stremel, Hadacol, and Brian Capps. I know I'm leaving a bunch out but, there's a handful.
I don't know if you've heard Robbie Fulks record "Georgia Hard", I like that one. The Yahoos are real neat too.

Dave Jacoby said...

No worries. I just took it as a challenge, one that'd guide me for a day's listening.

And guess what I found in my local library this evening? Sky Blue Sky.

I am looking for old music too. I just re-ripped my Jason & the Scorchers CD and I've found some Mekons and Rank & File stuff recently. So, yeah, I'll look up Lou Whitney and the Skeletons. The Bottle Rockets are from just over the river, right? I've heard the name Robbie Fulks, but I don't know that I've heard a note from the guy.

Pribek said...

Bottle Rockets, yeah there's another one. They're from up around St. Louis I believe. Another act Lou Whitney produced by the way, he did the record of Doug Sahm songs a few years back.
Robbie Fulks started as a folk singer in Chicago, came down here and did a couple of records (Lou and the Skeletons again) then he signed with, I believe Geffen. He sort of hit his stride after that ordeal. Robbie has a keen sense of goofy humor and also loves a good murder ballad.