A Pack of Mutts

Music's "designer dogs"

8. Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now (Lost Highway): Stark, threadbare songs from one tough Cajun woman who has seen the abyss and returned with a heart full of love. The title track finds her doling out forgiveness to those who drove her to her demons, while "I Drink" finds a person utterly resigned to one of those same devils. Gauthier describes herself as a "truth teller" rather than a songwriter, and there is absolutely no artifice in her music. Art, yes, but not artifice.

9. Decemberists, Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars): Many perish on this doomed voyage across singer Colin Meloy's peculiar seas. Some go by their own hands as in "We Both Go Down Together," others fall overboard as in "My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)," while still others are devoured, either by immense fish ("The Mariner's Revenge Song") or by the cannibal kings of the great America-in-wartime parable "16 Military Wives." And it's all damned funny. Musically, Picaresque hews pretty close to the Elfin English folk/chamber pop of the previous two Decemberists full-lengths.

Freakwater Is Thinking of You
Freakwater Is Thinking of You

10. Johnny "Guitar" Watson, The Funk Anthology (Shout! Factory): An incredible reissue of the Gangster of Love's funk, disco and proto-rap recordings, this one ranges from hits like "Ain't That a Bitch," "Superman Lover," and "I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby" to shoulda-been smashes like "Lone Ranger" and "You Can Stay but the Noise Must Go" to some unreleased stuff that holds its own. Watson was the living link between the country blues of Lightnin' Hopkins and the whacked-out, funky Southern rap of guys like OutKast and Devin the Dude, and this double disc captures him in all his stinging-blues-guitar, sly-vocal glory.

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