Americana Pie

Grab a slice of 2004's best roots music while it's still hot.

7. Starlings TN, Between Hell and Baton Rouge (Catamount/Chicken Ranch). What do you get when you take a couple of punk-rockers from the Louisiana backwoods, put them on an intensive course of Spiritualized and Spaceman 3 records and then run them through an old-time music seminar? And then have them learn to play back all they learned on mountain dulcimers, some picked in the traditional manner and some bowed like some kind of strange lap fiddle? You get stuff like this "nineteenth-century techno" record, a unique and eerie collection of postmodern mountain music similar to that of bands like Califone and the Handsome Family, albeit without electronics.

8. Jesse Dayton, Country Soul Brother (Stag). People from in and around Jesse Dayton's home town of Beaumont, Texas, right near where Louisiana oozes into the Lone Star State, have always had a hard time keeping their genres pure. Thank God for that -- otherwise we wouldn't have George Jones's rock-and-roll sides, Gatemouth Brown's country fiddling, or even Janis Joplin's potent mix of country, rock and blues. Or, for that matter, Dayton's Country Soul Brother, a Gulf Coast gumbo of horn-heavy country, blue-eyed soul, Czech-Texan polkas and rockin' honky-tonk that sounds like deep East Texas AM radio from 1974. (Oh, and Dayton also transforms the Cars' "You're Just What I Needed" into a Texas dance-hall anthem.) For those of you who miss the late, great Doug Sahm, here's a little slice of his big-as-Texas spirit served up by a worthy successor.

9. Various Artists, Music From Coffee and Cigarettes (Milan). Ever sat up way too late with your record collection and gotten far too deep into a jug of wine and put together a too-weird-for-words compilation tape? That's exactly what this soundtrack CD is like -- an "I-can't-believe-this-song's-after-that-one" assemblage that segues from the primordial ska of the Skatellites to George Clinton's high funk to light opera from Gustav Mahler. And you might think you need to hear another cover of "Louie Louie" about as much as you need a case of mad cow disease, but that's only because you've yet to hear Iggy Pop's incandescent version. It'll have you breaking your own furniture, and happy about it.

10. Adrienne Young & Little Sadie, Plow to the End of the Row (Addiebelle Music). Will Kimbrough co-produced and co-stars on this exciting and confident mountain-music debut from Adrienne Young, a Nashville-based singer/banjo-picker/multi-instrumentalist to watch. There are fine lines between down-home and downright precious, accessibility and crass commercialism, and Young walks both with aplomb. There are no vocal affectations or cutesy turns of phrase here; Young possesses a sweet and laconic vocal authenticity, and her band shines, both on the covers of Appalachian staples such as "Soldier's Joy" and "Lonesome Road Blues" and on her originals, especially the laid-back title track and the excellent "Sadie's Song."

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