July 2007 Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger (2007) I had what could be called tempered hopes for this album, given the fact that Ryan Adams has in recent years put out some great records (Jacksonville City Nights), some really good ones (Cold Roses), and some terrible ones (29). But I was happy to hear Adams fusing the best of his current sounds on Easy Tiger, which ranges from the acid-country-rock of Cold Roses to rootsier country and pop-rock that almost sounds like lost tracks from Gold. There are some great songs here, and the album is more listenable than some of his other work; "Goodnight Rose" sets the perfect mood for country-tinged rock, and "Halloweenhead" is the kind of crunchier rock Adams hasn't really succeeded at until now. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (2007) Man, did I miss Wilco. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Jeff Tweedy's need to get really experimental to the point where only really self-involved college students could dig their music. (Several minutes of feedback and silence does not a smart song make, and you're more than welcome to disagree, but really, I don't give a shit.) But apparently even Tweedy didn't like the direction the band was taking, saying, "I got really nervous about the technology on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you need a certain amp or pedal to make a song what it is, it isn't a song." And this album is clearly the manifestation of that stripped-down, direct approach that had gotten away from the band. Sky Blue Sky is like a breath of fresh air, a mix of pop and blues and soul and country that's somehow soothing and exciting and hopeful all at once. From the gentle opening of "Either Way" to the funk of "Hate It Here" to the peace of "On and On and On," this is the album Wilco needed to make if they wanted to stay alive. Patton Oswalt, Werewolves & Lollipops (2007) I watch a lot of stand-up comedy — I'm probably the only guy you know who still gets pissed when you mention how Dat Phan won "Last Comic Standing," or who quotes Slovin & Allen to confused coworkers — but I don't buy many comedy albums. But Patton Oswalt is one of my favorite comedians. I loved Feelin' Kinda Patton, and his latest is just as fantastic. It's fast-paced, dirty, and filled with weird little free-associative riffs born of a lifetime of being the hyperliterate nerd with strong opinions about George Lucas. (Okay, so I relate to the guy.) Oswalt's comedy is more confessional than observational; rather than making tired jokes about airports or cabs or whatever, he tells stories about his own life and beliefs but makes them widely relatable. Werewolves & Lollipops is hilarious and weird and wonderful, and I laugh every time I hear it. August 2007 Two Dollar Pistols, Hands Up! (2004) The cover art snagged my eye (don't judge me), and I hoped that the vintage photo would mean an old-school sound. Thankfully, it did. Two Dollar Pistols are churning out some vintage country, ranging from Western swing to drinking songs to classic-sounding ballads like "Where Would We Be Without Goodbye." I love finding albums like this in the clearance bin and taking a chance on them; when you find a winner, like I did here, it feels like you're the only person in the world who's ever heard the album. It becomes yours in a way that other albums never can. Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Souls' Chapel (2005) Marty Stuart is great at fusing bluegrass, country, and soul, and even if you don't subscribe to any particular religious creed, this album still sounds great. Yonder Mountain String Band, Yonder Mountain String Band (2006) Decent newgrass. September 2007 The Beatles, With the Beatles (1963) It's stunning to think that The Beatles only put out 12 studios albums as a group. Their second album has some amazing classic pop, including "It Won't Be Long" and "All My Loving," as well as some great covers of R&B tunes like "Please Mister Postman" and "You Really Got a Hold On Me." It's so easy after all this time and hype to just write them off, but listening to this album reminds you of how good they really were. The Infamous Stringdusters, Fork in the Road (2007) A solid bluegrass album. What can I say, I like the genre. June Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower (2003) This is the wonderful flip side to Johnny Cash's American Recordings. June Carter Cash's final album is wonderful, a simple and genuine recording that looks back on her life and career with some great songs and enjoyable performances. It's a little shocking to her hear voice, which was never powerful to begin with, sounding almost paper-thin on some of the tracks, but it works well with Johnny's watery baritone. Daughter Carlene Carter provides some backing vocals, and even Marty Stuart plays on a couple of the tracks. The American Recordings received more press, but this album is just as important.