October 2007 Original Soundtrack, Into the Wild (2007) I heard the soundtrack before I saw the movie, which was unusual but pleasant. Eddie Vedder has some great songs on this album, as well as couple decent protest anthems, but my favorite is probably "Rise Up." It's just Vedder and a mandolin, and it's amazing. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions (2006) Bruce Springsteen no longer has the vocal range to pull off some of these songs, but the fun of the album is that he doesn't seem to care. Every song feels like a group of musicians sitting around and banging out covers of old-time songs, which is exactly what's happening. Springsteen can't hit the high notes on the opening "Old Dan Tucker" without sounding like he's screeching more than a little, but that's the whole point. Everything on the album is fast and loose, and it's one of the most enjoyable records Springsteen has ever made. Allison Moorer, The Hardest Part (2000) Good alt-country that flirts with mainstream. Plus she's married to Steve Earle, so I kind of had to check her out on general principle. Christopher Denny, Age Old Hunger (2007) This is easily one of my favorite albums of this year, and one of the best discoveries I've made in a while. I already wrote about it for John's blog, but if you're too lazy to click over, I'll say it again: Go buy it. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Follow the Lights (2007) Never let it be said that Ryan Adams is content to rest on his laurels; this EP dropped just a couple months after the release of Easy Tiger. Elvis Costello, The Delivery Man (2004) I picked this up on a whim, and I've enjoyed it, but I always have to spend time with Elvis Costello albums. This one's good, but I can't quite commit to it yet. November 2007 Nothing. Broke. December 2007 Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (1991) Where has this album been all my life? Oh right, it came out when I was 9. This is the kind of great guitar pop I can't seem to get enough of, even if Sweet has the habit of occasionally getting kinda squirrely with the lead guitar and ignoring the melody. Still, "I've Been Waiting," "Girlfriend," "Winona," "Your Sweet Voice," "Nothing Lasts"; these are amazing songs. Amos Lee, Amos Lee (2005) I picked this up because Lee blew me away with his voice when I saw him at the Aimee Mann Christmas show, so I was surprised when most of the tracks here were subdued. But it's a great acoustic soul album, especially "Arms of a Woman." Old Crow Medicine Show, O.C.M.S. (2004) I could listen to "Wagon Wheel" over and over and over again. And I have. Josh Ritter, The Animal Years (2006) I loved Hello Starling when I found it, and it's interesting to see how The Animal Years takes Ritter's singer-songwriter aesthetic, mixes in some brash Americana leanings, and ups the ante on the impressionistic lyrics. Not that the songs on Hello Starling are completely literal; it's that they spoke in a more easily accessible metaphor, with bits like "Here I am standing at your window again / Waiting for you to say 'Go away' or 'Come in' / I'm your locked door's worst knocker, I'm your curtain's best friend / I'm trying hard to love you but you don't make it easy babe," or the line from "Kathleen" that says, "Every heart is a pack tangled up in knots someone else tied." But on The Animal Years, Ritter sings things like, "Out on the desert now and feeling lost / The bonnet wears a wire albatross / Monster ballads and the stations of the cross / Sighing just a little bit." The songs here take a little more work, and the musicianship and production aren't what you'd expect, but that's part of what makes it a great album. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun (1995) Also good. There's not much I can add. I'm a sucker for great pop, and Sweet makes just that. The Lemonheads, Come On Feel the Lemonheads (1993) What can I say, I'm on a 1990s kick. If you made a pop record between 1992 and 1997, I'll listen to it. Ryan Adams, The Suicide Handbook (c. 2001) The aborted tracks and rough cuts of what would eventually be trimmed down to make Gold — a pretty phenomenal album — this is a great look at early versions of songs I already know and love. The acoustic version of "Firecracker" is amazing. Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 (2007) It's always a pleasure when more Gram Parsons music gets released, and this is a great double-album of Burrito Brothers concerts that show's just how archetypal and influential Parsons was on rock and country music of his era. Every track is worth hearing, but the rough demos of "$1,000 Wedding" and "When Will I Be Loved," with the harmonies on the Everly Brothers cover still shaky and half-improvised, are downright beautiful.