The ongoing look at the albums I acquired this year:March Gary Louris, Vagabonds (2008) Produced by Chris Robinson, whose Black Crowes history gives the album a Southern vibe, this solo record from former Jayhawks member Gary Louris is good overall and occasionally great. "She Only Calls Me on Sundays" is a fantastic country-blues lament, and the album features backing vocals from Robinson, Jenny Lewis, and Susanna Hoffs. You know you want to check it out now. Tift Merritt, Another Country (2008) Damn near perfect. I've loved Tift Merritt since Bramble Rose, and her latest album has her continuing on a path that's part alt-country and part midcentury R&B revivalist. Her vocals are beautiful on every track, but "Another Country" is the one most likely to make you pull over while driving just to listen. The Jayhawks, Live From the Women's Club (2002) This is Volume 1 of a set of live albums put out by The Jayhawks, and it's fantastic. It's got some of their best songs on here, from "Save It for a Rainy Day" to "A Break in the Clouds," but it also offers a fascinating look into the songwriting process by opening with "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and closing with a previously unreleased and earlier incarnation of the song called "Someone Will." Great band, great live recording. April Counting Crows, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings (2008) I'm honor-bound to keep checking in on Counting Crows; I'll never stop loving August & Everything After, and they've put out a lot of good music since then, as well. I honestly expected to like the second half of this concept album more than the first, since morning-after brooding seems more in line with Adam Duritz's m.o. than weekending bar rock. But damn if he didn't change things up and frontload the record with great tracks like "Los Angeles" and "Hanging Tree." Adam, you sneaky dog. Gin Blossoms, Congratulations I'm Sorry (1996) I wish I'd had this album when I was 14, and could relay some kind of story of growing up with one of the best pop acts of the 1990s. But aside from a few random tracks, I didn't start collecting Gin Blossoms albums until I was in college. And that's a shame, because this album is a prime example of solid mid-'90s pop-rock. If it hews a little too closely to the pattern set out in New Miserable Experience (right down to the country excursion at the end), it's still an honest and well-written bunch of songs, from the hit singles "Follow You Down" and "Competition Smile" to the beautiful "Not Only Numb" and the upbeat "Highwire." Just a great album all around. Golden Smog, On Golden Smog (1992) Golden Smog is one of those bands I like and whose albums I'm slowly collecting just to fill out that part of my catalog; I am anal, and I accept this. This EP of five covers was their first release. Good stuff. Golden Smog, Blood on the Slacks (2007) A decent outing from the band, but still, worth it for collecting. Eytan Mirsky, Was It Something I Said? (2001) Eytan Mirsky's been on my radar since I heard "(I Just Wanna Be) Your Steve McQueen" in The Tao of Steve, and this album is as wonderful and sad and poppy and just as great as I'd hoped it would be. The songs are all quick and biting and usually cover the same ground — guy loves girl, girl spurns guy, guy shrugs like he knew it was coming all along — but Mirsky is fantastic in the way he can create so many original songs out of the same kind of heartbreak. "Just Another in a Long Long Line" and "All the Things to Do When She Says No" are great, as is "Steve McQueen." Old 97's, Blame It on Gravity (2008) The latest release from my favorite working band. I wrote about the album when it was released, and still stand by my love for it. "Here's to the Halcyon" sums up like half of my 20s.