My Musical Year In Review, 2008 — 5

Augustwrap-jtearlelife.jpg Justin Townes Earle, The Good Life (2008) As I wrote for John: Justin Townes Earle's The Good Life is everything you’d expect from a man fathered by Steve Earle and named after Townes van Zandt, which is to say, it’s a solid collection of story songs, alt-country, and old-school sounds that’s completely listenable. “The Good Life” has a Hank Williams swing to it, while “South Georgia Sugar Babe” has a bluesier stomp that would be right at home on one of the elder Earle’s records. Justin Townes Earle is determined to do right by his dad, his namesake, and his influences, and every song on the album can be pegged to one of those sources. However, the resulting record doesn’t feel fragmented; rather, it feels like a young musician — the kid is like 25 — exploring the music he loves and trying to figure out how to tie it all together. wrap-cantrellvine.jpg Laura Cantrell, Humming by the Flowered Vine (2005) A wonderful record and great gift from a friend. Giving music is hard, but my buddy Collins is the best. wrap-begonias.jpg Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, Begonias (2005) I'd had this album in the back of mind as something I needed to buy for more than two years, but it didn't come into my life until a friend gave it to me. As is often the case, it arrived at what turned out to be the perfect time: The sound, lyrics, and general sensibility — a mix of brilliant alt-country and vintage style — were exactly what I needed. The album is one of shattering duets, songs that are so sweet and sad that listening to them is a bracing, stirring activity. It's in the gentle sway of "Please Break My Heart," or the lovelorn worry of "Something Less Than Something More"; it's in the heartbroken but proud swagger of "Party Time," or the resigned ultimatum of "Whatever You Want." Most of all, it's in the hard-earned wisdom of "Two Different Things," the song that opens the album and sets the honest tone for what's to follow: It's just perfect. wrap-pistolstift.jpg The Two Dollar Pistols With Tift Merritt, The Two Dollar Pistols With Tift Merritt (1999) A solid record of country duets between Tift Merritt, who's got a voice like a damn angel, and John Howie Jr., the frontman for Two Dollar Pistols who's got a crazy swagger to his powerful baritone. The titles tell you everything you need to know: "If Only You Were Mine," "Counting the Hours," "Suppose Tonight Would Be Our Last." Yep. wrap-chicassweetwater.jpg Tres Chicas, Sweetwater (2004) An alt-country group comprised of Lynn Blakely, Tonya Lamm, and Caitlin Cary. What more do you need to know? wrap-williestranger.jpg Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger (1986) The classic concept album that will have you singing along through the tears. Willie gets me every time with, "He cried like a baby / he screamed like a panther in the middle of the night." And "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain?" Damn. wrap-hanklovesick.jpg Hank Williams III, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' (2002) Talent clearly skips generations. Hank III is a fantastic heir to his grandfather's heritage, fusing classic-sounding riffs and swing with a modern edge. "Broke, Lovesick & Driftin'" and "5 Shots of Whiskey" will get you where you need to go. Completely great. September Nothing. Broke, exhausted, stressed, and just never able to make time. October wrap-benwhatever.jpg Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen (1997) This is one of those albums that always existed on the periphery for me, even though I was familiar (like everyone) with "Brick" and "Song for the Dumped." But when I found a cheap copy, I happily picked it up and plugged the gap in my collection. wrap-sweethoffs.jpg Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers: Vol. 1 (2006) A strong, simple collection of well-done covers of 1960s pop and rock, and the same great sound that Sweet has been making all along. Their rendition of "Monday, Monday" is fantastic.