My country ‘tis of thee

The year in twang

This was a year of transition in country music. People got bored with the vanilla retreads Nashville continued to crank out, and in spite of commercial radio’s stranglehold on their playlists, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a soundtrack by a bunch of hillbillies, was the best-selling record in the genre — and with no radio support to boot. Artists such as Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Allison Krauss moved a bit closer to becoming household names, but the Americana scene still maintained its outsider status as the year came to a close.

Following the events of Sept. 11 there was a resurgence of patriotism, which has almost always been the domain of country music. The best thing to come out of the tragedy: Alan Jackson’s simple but touching “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” The worst thing: having to listen to that goddamn Lee Greenwood tune again.

Anyway, here are our choices for the best country albums of 2001 — dedicated to the memories of Dale Earnhardt and our American heroes.

Country album of the year:
Dale Watson, Every Song I Write Is For You (Audium). This is real country, as Watson created this tribute to his fiancee following her death in a car accident. Pure emotion makes every song a powerhouse.

The rest of the best:
Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot). Escovedo is a master songwriter, and his delivery is near perfect on what may be his finest work since Thirteen Years. Country by a certain definition — and some fine pedal steel playing.

Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy & Julie Miller (Hightone). The first couple of Americana finally release an “official” duet album, and it’s everything we hoped it would be. Great songs, great harmonies, Julie’s poignant words and Buddy’s stunning guitar playing. As good as it gets.

The Derailers, Here Come the Derailers (Lucky Dog). The best country band in Texas makes its best record to date in Nashville, and the magic is captured at last. Twang, surf, ’60s rock and a little soul thrown in for good measure.

John Anderson, Nobody’s Got It All (Columbia). A great comeback from one of the most traditional performers still on the circuit. Twenty years in the business and he still sounds like a classic honky-tonker.

Jim Lauderdale, The Other Sessions (Dualtone). With songwriting credentials that tower above most of his peers, Lauderdale makes another great country album. Intelligent and catchy lyrics and a fine voice make him the total package.

Gary Allan, Alright Guy (MCA). One of the most popular new rocking country artists on the scene, Allen has another notch in his gun with this gem.

Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony). Welch and partner David Rawlings hit full stride with this stark collection of hillbilly goth. Dark, literary and a little twisted, it all works like a soothsayer’s charm.

Roger Wallace, That Kind of Lonely (Texas Roundup). Austin’s best-kept secret delivers his second stellar collection of authentic country. Drinking music for the masses.

George Jones, The Rock: Stone Cold Country (Bandit). He’s 70 years old and still the King of Country Music. This one loses points for the lame duet with Garth Brooks, but everything else is vintage Jones. That voice will live forever.??