It seems I just can't help myself when it comes to making these mixes. Part of it is because I constantly listen to CDs in the car, and am always looking for ways to shuffle up my music collection. And, as I've said before, I enjoy sharing music with people and having them point me toward new bands or artists I haven't discovered yet. But I suppose the biggest part of it is just that I love this music. My buddy Collins and I use this music as a litmus test of human emotion and relational compatibility: He recently said of a girl, "She likes our kind of music," an excited stamp of approval the Rob Gordons of the world will surely understand. I even made an alt-country primer CD for my dad a couple Christmases ago because it's one of the surest ways I know to communicate with someone when words just won't do. If you want to understand me, then watch Rushmore, read some Chabon, and give these songs a listen. This mix is brand spanking new, as well, which I think adds to the nicely spread out nature of the alt-country mixes I've been making. The first one took shape when I was in college, the second in early 2005, the third in summer 2006, and now this one for the dog days of 2007. It also comes in at 23 tracks, the longest mix yet; I just can't help myself, I guess. As always, I've provided iTunes links where available, but you might have to keep an eye on the clearance rack of your local used CD store if you want to snag some of the tracks. Without further ado: Alt 5.0 1. "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," The Jayhawks — If I ever made a playlist called Shimmery Guitar Pop That Restores My Faith In Humanity And Belief In Love When All The Evidence Would Persuade Me Otherwise, this song would be at the top. Further proof that Gary Louis needed Mark Olson like Jeff Tweedy needed Jay Farrar, which is to say quite a bit at the beginning but then later, not so much. Also, the terrible thing about iTunes is that The Jawhawks' Smile isn't available, so this song is only offered on their "Dawson's Creek" soundtrack. Please don't let that ruin the song for you. 2. "Medicine," Bob Schneider — This guy needs to be getting more attention. 3. "Pecan Pie," Golden Smog — Speaking of Tweedy and Louris, you pretty much can't go wrong with an alt-country supergroup like this one. Incidentally, my Golden Smog name is Weldon Briarcroft, which sounds either gay or British or both. 4. "16 Days," Whiskeytown — I'm pretty sure Strangers Almanac was the first real alt-country album I ever owned, and you could do a damn sight worse as an introduction to the field. This was the first Whiskeytown song I full-on loved. 5. "The Stranger's Lament," King Straggler — A great band fronted by John Hawkes, of "Deadwood" and Me and You and Everyone We Know fame. I saw them perform at Crane's on El Centro one night, or anyway I wanted to, but it was midnight and they still hadn't gone on and I had work the next day, so I just went home, happy to be rid of the cramped porch full of smoking hipsters who were probably wondering how it was physically possible for me to sweat that much without being hospitalized. This is a good album, though. 6. "Return of the Grievous Angel," Gram Parsons — The creator of cosmic American music and the forefather to pretty much every alt-country band working today, even if they don't know it. I wish my life were as epic as this song. 7. "A Break in the Clouds," The Jayhawks — Another pop masterpiece. "Every time that I see your face, it's like cool, cool water running down my back." Who doesn't love a line like that? That's one of my favorite lyrics ever, along with the one from "Oppenheimer," by Old 97's, that goes, "Tar on the roof, there were stars in her hair, beneath the quarter moon, beneath the quarter moon." Anyway, back to the point: Good song. 8. "Heaven or the Highway Out of Town," The Refreshments — I haven't given a lot of love to Roger Clyne's old band (or his new one, later on this mix) on any of these CDs, which is in part because his music isn't quite up to snuff in some ways, and his latest album is so atrocious it's as if he's given up on being even a remotely competent songwriter. Still, he put out some good music with The Refreshments, and this track, from their second album, The Bottle & Fresh Horses, is great country-rock. 9. "Now She's Gone," Steve Earle — I Feel Alright is one of those albums I loved from the moment I heard the first notes, and this song is one of the strongest on there. Earle is hardcore; this guy went to prison, kicked his heroin habit while he was behind bars, and released a pair of comeback albums upon his release, one of which was I Feel Alright. I will never screw with Steve Earle. 10. "Truth No. 2," Dixie Chicks — A woman who can play the banjo is pretty much tops in my book. 11. "Christine's Tune," The Flying Burrito Brothers — Parsons and Hillman doing their thing, and it's amazing, as always. 12. "A Little Bit Lonesome," Kasey Chambers — A wonderful, old-school sound. Her Australian accent makes her Southern country numbers unique. 13. "San Antonio Girl," Lyle Lovett — I'm admittedly predisposed to love any song that name-checks Mi Tierra and Highway 16 and generally makes me ache a little for home, but this is also an awesome country-swing number from My Baby Don't Tolerate, which you should all go purchase immediately. 14. "Coahuila," Old 97's — The only song with lead guitarist Ken Bethea handling the lead vocals, and it does what the genre does best: It mixes great music with lyrics of surprising pain and honesty. Great song for driving, or drinking. 15. "A Little Hung Over You," Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers — The closest Clyne will ever come to the genuine honky-tonk rock he was only moderately skilled at appropriating. But it's a good one. 16. "I'm Leavin' Now," Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard — Why aren't more of Cash's American recordings available on iTunes? Anyway. A friend of mine put this on a mix tape for me when I graduated college, and I mean like an actual tape, not CD. I wore that thing down from listening to it so much, and I doubt it would be good for too many more runs through a tape player, if I even had access to one. But this is a fantastic song, and the screw-you-I'm-doing-my-own-thing mentality is a helpful one to adopt if moving across the country. Best line of the song: "Wouldn't trade a nickel for another buck, livin' on muscle, guts, and luck." Amen. 17. "Foot of the Bed," Tres Chicas — Beautiful, sad, and sweet. I loves me some Caitlin Cary. 18. "In My Hour of Darkness," Gram Parsons — I think G.P./Grievous Angel should be issued to everyone as a requirement for being a decent person. 19. "City Girls," Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers — Another great Clyne song. 20. "If My Heart Was a Car," Old 97's — Straight-ahead Texas-based country-rock, with Rhett Miller's perfect howl holding it all together. 21. "Live Free," Son Volt — Yet another great lyric: "I wanna see your smile through a pay phone." Either these songwriters have lived some really terrible lives, or they're great at faking it. 22. "Three Days," Thermadore — I first heard this song on the Zero Effect soundtrack, which my buddy Collins and I each owned, having seen the movie together and loved it. (I will always remain disappointed that Bill Pullman's song never made it on the album, which is still a pretty great soundtrack.) We also each at one point picked up Thermadore's only album, Monkey on Rico, on the strength of this song, but after a couple runs through the CD it became clear why they weren't a success. Avoid their album, but pick up this song. 23. "3 Chords," Shurman — A fantastic album closer from Shurman's EP, which is only sporadically in print. If you have a choice between the EP and their debut album, Jubilee, just get the EP. Enjoy.