A continuing look at the albums I bought this year.May 2007 Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather (2007) I've been listening to Fountains of Wayne since I was 14 or 15; I have fond memories of singing along with "Leave the Biker" while staying up late at a friend's house and playing Quake III until unholy hours of the morning. Traffic and Weather isn't the overall success of the band's previous release, Welcome Interstate Managers; that album was a more cohesive work, whereas this one is a collection of great songs mixed with what can only be called filler. That said, it's still a solid pop-rock album with some smart songwriting, wonderful characters, and damn catchy tunes. There's even the requisite country excursion ("Fire in the Canyon") amid the songs about lonely people living lonely lives in search of someone to love (as in the pretty obviously titled "Someone to Love"). Freedy Johnston, This Perfect World (1994) It's weird how the music of your youth — and I mean real youth, not the arrested emotional development that's a hallmark of your 20s — somehow passes you by. For instance, everybody my age discovered bands from the 1980s (or '70s, or '60s) at a certain point, but the stuff that was charting when we were kids is easier to miss, perhaps because it existed as a periphery to our childhoods and we just never thought it worth the attention. This is part of the reason I really love early- to mid-'90s pop, and am always looking for more. (Eytan Mirsky, we barely knew ye.) This album came out the year I turned 12, but I didn't even hear of Freedy Johnston until I graduated from college and a friend made me a mix tape for my cross-country trek that included Johnston's "Bad Reputation" from This Perfect World. I fell in love with the song. The album is equally fine, a collection of rootsy pop so pure you can close your eyes and see the flannel and bad haircuts. It's a great album for anyone who lived through the era but still managed to miss it. Mindy Smith, One Moment More (2004) Smith's debut album features some really good alt-country, leading off with the howling "Come to Jesus" and culminating in a pretty fantastic cover of "Jolene" that features Dolly Parton on backup vocals. It's a deliberately paced album, but a good one. June 2007 Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man (2000) You really can't go wrong with any of Cash's American Recordings series. "I'm Leaving Now" is a personal favorite. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (2006) Again, another great album. "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is probably the catchiest song about damnation you'll hear outside of a revival meeting. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006) Literate bar rock. Who knew? Another solid find. I really don't know what else to add, which I know makes me look lazy or ignorant or you name it, but I don't care. The Hold Steady produce honest, yearning rock from the heart. Elvis Costello, Spike (1989) I'll be honest, I bought this because (a) it was $2.99 and (b) it has "Veronica." Pretty much all I needed. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, All the Gold in California: The Best of the Gatlins (1996) This is probably the greatest impulse buy I've ever made. I was with my sister at Amoeba when I spotted this greatest hits collection of the band whose tapes my mother used to play when my sister and I were very little; I've had "She Used to Be Somebody's Baby" in my head since at least age 7. The Gatlin Brothers put out some awesomely cheesy country in the 1980s, and this album has a bunch of their hits, the kind of songs I can't objectively classify as "good" but that still hold a weird little place in my heart. I'm nostalgic. The disc was only a few bucks, and paid for itself with the joy my sister and I felt while belting out "Broken Lady" on the way home from the store. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (2004) Jack White, taking a break from creeping everyone out with his own band(s), stepped up to produce Van Lear Rose and write one of its tracks. It's an interesting blend of a more experimental alt-country on the White-penned "Portland, Oregon" and Lynn's more straightforward style on the more classic-sounding numbers like the title track and "Miss Being Mrs." (which is a fantastic title). Definitely worth it. Bruce Springsteen, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) What can I say, I like Bruce Springsteen. And I don't like him with some kind of pseudo-hip ironic detachment, nor as some kind of relic from a bygone era of performers. I really like him. And if I didn't take to this album as quickly as I did Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., it's still a great record from one of the biggest artists of the last 50 years. The packed lyrics and sense of an epic life being frustrated by circumstance wouldn't really explode out of the gate until Born to Run, but it's still amazing to think that Springsteen was only 24 years old when E Street Shuffle came out. Let that sink in. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road (1994) I remember Mary Chapin Carpenter charting early in the 1990s with the album before this one, Come On Come On, which produced something like half a dozen singles, including her cover of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses." Stones in the Road didn't have as many hits, but it's still got some good songwriting for its time, including the album opener, "Why Walk When You Can Fly." Lyle Lovett, Joshua Judges Ruth (1992) The title pretty clearly hints at both the biblical and emotional underpinnings of the album, and Lovett again performs some amazing songs, including "Church" and "I've Been to Memphis." If you're not listening to Lyle Lovett, you could pick worse places to start.