Alibi V.13 No.4 • Jan 22-28, 2004 

Aural Fixation

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

Deep Purple Bananas (Sanctuary)

If you can get passed the three decades-old metal clichés and intermittently overwrought organ solos, Deep Purple's first studio album in five years is quite good, perhaps their best effort since 1987's The House of Blue Light. Ian Gillan's voice sounds at least 20 years younger than its host is, and despite his proclivity for "spicing" his lyrics with the aforementioned clichés, he manages to conjure up more than a few memorable melodies. And as long as bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice remain in their respective roles and original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore insists on exploring his questionable Celtic roots on syrupy records with his wife, it almost doesn't matter who's slinging the six-string for DP. But the fact that it's Steve Morse serves the Purple better than, say Joe Satriani did during his brief stint with the band some eight years ago. Bananas marks Morse's second studio album as a full-fledged member of Deep Purple, and he's finally leashed his guitar stuntworks to the extent that his playing no longer sounds histrionic in this context.

Standout tracks here include "Silver Tongue," "Walk On" and "Razzle Dazzle," but there're plenty of solid rockers to sink your teeth into. Jon Lord's retirement and replacement by former Rainbow and Ozzy Osbourne keyboardist Don Airey is really the only component that doesn't quite mesh. His Hammond/Leslie passages at times sound more like a parody of Lord's signature keyboard work than the texture beds they're presumably supposed to serve as. But with the rest of the band in top form, you'll probably be willing to overlook such relatively minor indiscretions.

Release date: out now