This page is part of an opinionated overview of "alt.country" music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... Naturally, it's a work in progress, and quite incomplete, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letters "X," "Y" and "Z"
X "See How We Are" (Elektra, 1986)
One of LA's premier punk bands led the way for rockers to appreciate country music, not as a lowbrow novelty to mock, but as an artform to explore -- the group's lead guitarist Billy Zoom had left the band, replaced here by Dave Alvin of the bluesy/barband-y Blasters, who lent a huge stylistic oompf to the album. Alvin also contributed the song "Fourth Of July, which gave an inkling of where his own music would be headed. Nice stuff: you can also check out John Doe's solo work and the freewheeling Knitters albums for some similar material...
Yard Sale "Everything's A Dollar" (Self-Released, 2006)
Well, like the event this band takes its name from, this disc is an odd hodge-podge of influences and interests; what it has to offer might not be for everyone, but if the right person comes along and something catches their eye, they might be really happy to take it home. Jill Olson of the Oakland-based twangband, Red Meat, teams up with a couple other stalwarts of the SF Bay Area indie music scene, and their rock/folk/billy offerings are highly personal and a bit raggedy. Didn't quite grab me, but it's a nice little DIY-type disc.
Yarn "Yarn" (Ardsley Music, 2007)
Yarn "Empty Pockets" (Ardsley Music, 2008)
Yarn "Come On In" (Ardsley Music, 2010)
Yarn "Leftovers, v.1" (Ardsley Music, 2011)
Yarn "Almost Home" (Self-Released, 2012)
Yarn "Leftovers, v.2" (Self-Released, 2013)
Outtakes from session in 2008 and 2009...
Yarn "Shine The Light On" (Self-Released, 2013)
(Produced by Bill VornDick)
A gentle, contemplative all-acoustic album with all the songs penned by singer-songwriter Blake Christiana... This is a pleasantly nuanced set, strong but subtle stuff that'll grow on you a little bit more each time you give it a whirl. Guest performers include Caitlin Cary singing harmony on one track, and John Oates(!) playing on two towards the end... Nice stuff; it kind of reminds me of Thad Cockerell's quiet moments.
Dwight Yoakam - see artist discography
Adrienne Young "Plow To The End Of The Row" (Addie Belle, 2003)
One of the most striking and original "Americana" albums to come down the pike in a while! Aptly described as "a fresh bunch of old rhymes and new tunes," this is a fascinating mix of styles -- branching off from old-timey bluegrass into more expansive folkish material (ala the Be Good Tanyas), Young has a stylistic and vocal range that's quite nice. At times she sounds Rosanne Cash-ish, at others a persona emerges that is very much her own. Also, this album has an impressive batch of original material, particularly songs like "Plow To The End Of The Row," and the album's tweaky opener, "I Cannot Justify." Towards the album's end, she shifts towards more rock-oriented material, which is less alluring, but on the whole this is quite innovative and well worth checking out. Highly recommended. (For more information, check out Young's website at www.adrienneyoung.com)
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie "The Art Of Virtue" (Addie Belle, 2005)
Consider yourself put on notice: Adrienne Young is a contender for the throne. Which throne? You name it. The opening track, "Art Of Virtue," has a sleek, velvetlike feel and a vocal performance of such warmth and self-assurance that makes it clear that Young could easily slide into the upper tiers of the pop-bluegrass scene, if she were so inclined... (Alison Krauss might wanna check and make sure her 401Ks are all in order...) But the rest of the album has plenty of rasp and twang to it, keeping Young & Co. well within the bounds of the indie/old-timey camp as well. The pickin' is solid but not overly flashy and the band encompasses an admirable variety of musical styles and tones. Plus, basing some of the material on a pamphlet by founding father Ben Franklin (and including an abridged facsimile of the pamphlet in the booklet inside the album...) Well, how much more "Americana" can you get?? I'm not sure if this album has as much freshness or immediacy as Young's debut, but it's still pretty damn good... It's certainly one of the best newgrass/alt-Americana albums you're going to come across this season... Recommended!
Adrienne Young "Room To Grow" (Addie Belle, 2007)
On her third solo record, Americana darling Adrienne Young edges away from her bluegrassy roots and goes more high-concept (and a bit closer to mainstream country...) The album opens with the in-your-face pop lavishness of "All For Good," which harkens more to Mary Chapin Carpenter or Sarah McLachlan than to Delia Bell and Alison Krauss... Young follows this adult-alt outburst with a Celtic track, giving twangfans pause: has she gone down a different path? Well, the answer is "yes," but in a good way... I didn't like the start of this album, but Young definitely hits a groove halfway through, and fans of contemporary triple-A singer-songwriter material (including the current Nashville pop crossovers) may fine a new heroine here. Young is a solid singer and musician, she sings with conviction and feeling, and she has found able collaborators in guitarist Will Kimbrough, as well as Nashville stalwart Mark D. Sanders. It's not totally my cup of tea, but I'm still on Young's bandwagon... Definitely worth checking out.
Bob Young "American Stories" (Nation Records, 2001)
(Produced by Philip Vaughan)
Self-recorded local-guy roots music, basically a lot of amateur bar-band blues, though with a little twang in there, too. For twangfans, the pot-smoking novelty song, "Roll Me A Long One" is a winner (about a guy who finds some ancient weed in an old coat he's about to give to the Salvation Army, and figures, what the heck, just once more for the old times...) Also nice is the perky, uptempo "Zydeco," which sounds just like you'd expect - a perky, uptempo zydeco tune with a killer beat.
Dulcie Younger & The Silencers "Kitty, Kitty... Growl" (Golly Gee, 2004)
I'm as much a sucker as any other old-style country fan for a fiesty gal what wants to snarl out a few fast-paced rockabilly tunes... Add guitar god Deke Dickerson into the mix, and I'm on board. Now sure, Ms. Younger is hardly half as super-cool as, say, Wanda Jackson was... But then again, who is? All in all, this is a pretty nice offering from the modern-day California indiebilly scene... The production quality and guitars are as fine a frame for her voice as Younger's ever gonna find, and she throws herself into these songs (most of them originals) with all her heart... This record might not change your life, but if it doesn't at least make you tap your toes and smile a little -- if not, then, Jack, you're dead!
Dan Zanes "Parades And Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected By Carl Sandburg For The American Songbag" (Festival Five, 2004)
This disc is an absolute delight, certainly one of the best folk-roots records of the year (and one that best deserves being called an "Americana" album). As Zanes says of himself, in the liner notes, what I know of Carl Sandburg could barely fill a thimble -- I always vaguely thought of him as a distant member of the American literary canon, one of the many eminent old white guys that I would probably never read if some teacher or another didn't force me to... His lightness of touch, his political populism and sense of humor completely eluded me, as did his nearness to me in time -- although he was born in the decade after the American Civil War, he didn't emerge as a writer until around the First World War, and was very much a 20th Century artist. This album is made from songs gathered in a book called The American Songbag, which Sandburg published in 1927, just as America's modern pop culture -- and, along with it, the country music industry -- was coming into being. The writing is down-to-earth and personable, written in a plain voice, telling little stories that pull you right in, and includes such gems as the well-known "Hallelujah, I'm A Bum" and the half-taunting topical song, "Titanic," which casts a critical eye on the fabled naval tragedy. The instruments Zanes chose for this album create a nostalgic, late-19th Century feel, particularly a softly bomp-bomping, muted tuba, a gentle mandolin and a notably un-bluegrassy banjo, which perfectly frame Zanes's uneven and pleasantly human vocals. Avant guitarist Marc Ribot plays on a few tunes, but most of the musicians are just pals of Zanes, East Coast folks you've never heard of, who lend a nice DIY feel to the project. I was enchanted by this album, I hope you will be, too! (For more info, check out the label at: www.festivalfive.com.)
Mike Zito & The Wheel "Gone To Texas" (Ruf Records, 2013)
This is a little more blues-oriented than what I'm usually write about, but there's also a funky, rootsy undercurrent that's pretty Little Feat-y and might be of interest to a few of you all out there... Pretty good if you like the style!
Alt.Country - Compilations Albums
Hick Music Index