PHW's Albums of the Decade - Addendum, pt. 2

Three weeks ago I posted a list of my 50 favorite albums of the past decade. You can catch up with that here, here, here, here, and here, if you’d like. While drafting the list I found that I rediscovered plenty of albums that were and are still worthy of more attention, even though they ultimately weren’t included on the finished product. It was extremely difficult to cut many of them, especially those made by lesser-known artists. So starting last week, continuing today, and for the next 2 Mondays I’ll be spotlighting some of these additional albums that I consider every bit as essential as the Top 50. This week's batch focuses on a few that would fall under the Americana banner. Here they are, in no particular order:

Ghosts of the Great Highway - Sun Kil Moon (2004)

I didn’t really get into this album until a few years after it came out. My roommate at the time was a huge fan and sharing a stereo with him basically forced me to spend time with it when I otherwise would have missed out. I had heard “Carry Me Ohio” and maybe another song or two, but it wasn’t until later that I was struck by the record’s cohesion and its kind of melancholic beauty, both of which became more apparent after a few good spins. Truly, this is an album that needs to be heard straight through and given time to settle into your head. Singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek started recording under the Sun Kil Moon moniker after breaking up his former band, Red House Painters. On his first proper full length as SKM he comes across like his generation’s Neil Young; equally adept at nostalgic folk songs as he is shredding his electric guitar to pieces, as on the 14 minute “Duk Koo Kim” or “Salvador Sanchez”. Thanks for this one Paul.

MP3 :: Carry Me Ohio

No One Will Know Where You’ve Been - The Roadside Graves (2007)

The Roadside Graves’ sole LP for fledgling Brooklyn label Kill Buffalo restored my faith in alt country a few years ago. Not that NOWKWYB is tied into one sound or genre, but had this album dropped in ‘97 instead of ‘07 there‘s a good chance that it would have caught on as like-minded bands (Old 97s, Wilco, Son Volt, etc.) of that era did. Like them, the Graves draw from country, folk, pop, and big, bold rock & roll in equal measure - all brought home by singer-lyricist John Gleason’s incredibly poignant songwriting. “Family & Friends” and “West Coast” are the undeniable singles, but its “Radio”, with its three-part evolution from folk-blues dirge to Stones-y rock & roll to cathartic, Springsteen-like anthem that sets the bar on this record.

MP3 :: West Coast
MP3 :: West Coast (live from Hear Ya sessions)
MP3 :: Radio (live from Hear Ya sessions)

The Dead Will Walk, Dear - The National Lights (2007)

Though it probably sounds kinda lame, the debut album from The National Lights has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first records I championed after starting PHW in early 2007 - a discovery I kind of stumbled upon a few months prior while scouring the internet for mp3s. They were the first band I contacted for a copy of their record, the first to oblige, and they were my first interview way back when PHW was just a tiny little baby (phw?). Today, the album holds up just as well as it did in ‘07, when it found itself in my Top 10 at year’s end. The Dead Will Walk, Dear is a hushed, beautiful song cycle that, upon close listen, is actually a disturbing series of songs about a river and some girls who have been killed and dumped into it. Yeah, old fashioned murder ballads cleverly disguised as songs of love lost. Songwriter Jacob Berns may sound innocent enough, but the dude’s got a serious dark side.

MP3 :: Mess Around
MP3 :: Midwest Town
MP3 :: Buried Treasure

The Animal Years - Josh Ritter (2006)

Josh Ritter is a hell of a songwriter, and one listen to The Animal Years is proof of that. Featuring production from Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse), The Animal Years takes more sonic chances than 2003’s Hello Starling, especially on highlights like the lilting “Girl In The War” or the ten-minute barn-burner “Thin Blue Flame”. Elsewhere Ritter proves equally adept at crafting smart, AOR radio should-be hits like “Wolves” and “Lillian, Egypt”, dusty folk ballads like, well, “Monster Ballads” and “Good Man”, or the achingly pretty piano ballad “Here At The Right Time”.

MP3 :: Girl In The War
MP3 :: Thin Blue Flame

Under Cold Blue Stars - Josh Rouse (2002)

Like Ritter, Josh Rouse has enjoyed moderate success making intelligent, folk-driven music for grown ups. While that may not sound particularly exciting in and of itself, both share a gift for crafting memorable melodies and textured, inviting musical settings. After Under Cold Blue Stars, Rouse steered a bit too close to MOR for my tastes, but on his third album you can hear the work of a songwriter equally inspired by The Smiths as he is by the at-the-time supple Americana and alt. country scenes. The joyful, nostalgic lyrics and wind in your hair feel of “Miracle” never cease to put a smile on my face.

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