Best of 2001: S. Renee Dechert

Best Music of 2001 Lists

If you listen to alternative country, it was a stellar year with lots and lots of great music. In fact, I agonized over some of my exclusions and added a “Mighty Fine, Too” section. That said, here are my selections — though I should add that I struggled with the order of the first three choices right up until the end.

1. Lucinda Williams, Essence (Lost Highway)
A friend of mine described this as having “every note, every word perfect”, and I’d have to agree. Here Williams simply outdoes herself by writing a record that highlights her writing and voice while exploring the mechanics of relationships. Stunning.

2. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
Yeah, yeah, it’s not really country, but Love and Theft is about the roots of country – the roots of American music for that matter. It’s vintage Bob Dylan, commenting on the nature of art, music, and life.

3. Drive-by Truckers, Southern Rock Opera (Soul Dump)
This is simply an amazing album, probably my favorite of the year. Here The Truckers take their music to another level in a smart, subversive rock opera that reclaims Lynyrd Skynyrd and examines the music, culture, and history of the South. “Road Cases” is also one of my favorite songs of the year.

4. Billy Joe Shaver, The Earth Rolls On (New West)
Shaver has created a reflective record that explores life and relationships. It’s also noteworthy as Shaver’s last album with son/guitarist Eddie. If there’s anyone who’s known loss, it’s Billy Joe Shaver; The Earth Rolls On gives us insight into how to endure.

5. Chris Knight, Pretty Good Guy (Dualtone)
Knight keeps getting better and better — in fact, it’s unfortunate he’s not receiving more attention. His Slaughters, Kentucky, voice and great songwriting are as much in evidence here as on his debut, Chris Knight. Front and center are Knight’s stories about average people fighting to survive in a chaotic world. “North Dakota” is another favorite song of this year.

6. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings strip down their already acoustic sound for this outing, an exploration of folk music with a twist.

7. Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy and Julie Miller (Hightone)
For years, Buddy and Julie Miller have made appearances on each other’s albums; this time, they go the whole nine yards, and the results are stellar.

8. The Derailers, Here Come the Derailers (Lucky Dog)
The Derailers work squarely in the tradition of Owens’ and Haggards’ Bakersfield Sound, giving it a twist that’s pure Derailers. And these guys always look so sharp. Moving to a major label did nothing to compromise their honky-tonk sound.

9. Nancy Apple, Outside the Lines
Listen for up for Nancy Apple. She’s smart, fun, and sassy — with an unfailing sound. Music needs more folks willing to color outside the lines like she has on this retro rockabilly-country album.

10. Various Artists, The Thrillbillys: Music from the Motion Picture (Planetary)
This soundtrack to the “moonshine fueled rampage of revenge” independent film has some of the best of the Redneck Underground: Angry Johnny and The Killbillies, Trailer Bride, The Drive-by Truckers, and The Shiners. It’s the story of Dodger Cole who gets out of jail to find that the Virginia hills where she bootlegged whiskey have been taken over by mini-malls and convenience stores. The film follows Dodger’s move to take back the South; the music is equally defiant.

Mighty Fine, Too (In Alphabetical Order)

Best Unreleased Album
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
There’s nothing country or even about it, but this is one fine album that uses short-wave radio as a metaphor for exploring the limitations of communication. Following a snafu with Reprise that’s delayed the album’s release, it’s supposed to be released by Nonesuch in April of 2001.

Musical Event of the Year
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical – “Once More with Feeling”
Fans have been hearing for years of Joss Whedon’s plans to write a musical – and when he did it, he didn’t let us down. Clearly, most of the Buffy cast are actors, not singers and dancers, but they did their best – and their lack of polish made the performances all the more personal. Whedon’s parody of musicals, old and new, was smart, moving, and funny. Maybe this will finally get Buffy a long-overdue Emmy nod. I’ll bet my truck that ER and The West Wing won’t top this for nerve and creativity.