As the countdown continues, a Memphis savant makes the cut, while a pair of cranky roots-rockers get angry and eloquent:
It seems odd to champion this intensely musical garage-rock masterwork as the year's best local record, when, in fact, it's one of the best records of the year, period, probably the second-best album to emerge from the newly revived garage-rock scene after the White Stripes' White Blood Cells. What separates the Reigning Sound from almost every other band in their little corner of the world isn't just that frontman Greg Cartwright has been doing this for a decade (and Time Bomb High School is a more impressive achievement than anything he did in much-loved previous bands the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers). It's that the band's musical command seems to be on a higher plane: Time Bomb High School is an album concocted out of record-shop dust, built on a love of an era's worth of musical culture, one in which echoes of great records past rattle in the crevices. And unlike so much of the backward-gazing in local music culture, it's a testament to pop music, not folk music. For those who worship at the altar of the rotating, three-minute epiphany, Time Bomb High School is a Sunday kind of love indeed.
Song Sample: "She's Bored With You"
Single: "The Long Way Around" — The Dixie Chicks (2006)
A great singles band even before the controversy made them household names among even non-country fans. This veiled response, unlike their direct response ("Not Ready to Make Nice"), was a non-hit and also their best moment. Here's a live clip from Later with Jools Holland:
The Mekons/Waco Brothers leader goes solo with an album that approaches the first band's best and tops the second's. From my 2004 year-end list:
"Hard work, get it while you can," Brit-turned-Chicagoan Jon Langford cackles sarcastically midway through his outsider's appraisal of a country gone crazy. Once an unintentional preemptive strike at George W. Bush's debate strategy, it's now the comic-horror refrain that haunts this president's almost surely disastrous second term. As for Langford, he'd like to condemn his adopted home to damnation, but he loves it and its music too much to give up: "The country isn't stupid, even though it's silent," he promises, against all countervailing evidence. "It still has eyes and ears, it just can't find its mouth."
Song Sample: "The Country is Young"
Single: "We Can't Make it Here" — James McMurtry (2005)
An old-fashioned folk-rock epic, the "Eve of Destruction" of the George W. Bush years, only a lot better.