Various Artists No Depression: What It Sounds Like Vol. 1 (Dualtone)
It's tough to go wrong with a compilation conceived by the most respected alt.country publication in America that features tracks by Doug Sahm, Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Olsen and Victoria Williams, Robbie Fulks and a host of other purveyors—past and present—of Americana in all its various forms, all bookended by Johnny Cash's "Time of the Preacher" and the Carter Family's "No Depression in Heaven." There's not a single dud among the album's 13 tracks, but I must admit that I can take Victoria Williams' voice only in the smallest of doses.
Why the folks at No Depression magazine, which was founded almost 10 years ago in the fall of 1995, waited so long to issue volume one of What It Sounds Like is a mystery, especially considering the wave of controversy surrounding what, exactly, "alt.country," "twang-core," "y'allternative" or whatever you want to call it actually is. The arguments continue to this day, with fans staking claims on the subgenre in the name of every band from The Eagles to Uncle Tupelo. For ease of purpose, it can be agreed that alt.country is music that falls somewhere in-between contemporary country and mainstream rock. Hence, the artists collected here were chosen to represent not only a remarkably popular subgenre, but also a certain ethic that calls for music to be honest and true to its American roots, embracing a lifestyle that combines the storytelling of the folk troubadours with the conversational style of classic country and blues, presented in such a way as to appeal to music fans who imbibe a little classic rock every now and then. That's the link that binds these artists, and perhaps what gives alt.country its almost universal appeal. Let's just hope we don't have to wait nine years for volume two.
Release date: March 9