1. Iron & Wine - Jesus The Mexican Boy - Tour EP
This CDR was the only recorded music available at the start of Iron & Wine's 2002 tour and featured demos not included on the debut Sub Pop album The Creek Drank The Cradle, which came out that fall. Three songs later found their way onto The Sea & Rhythm EP, while two more were re-recorded for the joint Calexico album. This is a fantastic song, as Sam Beam uses a poor Mexican boy as a stand-in for the compassion of Jesus to show how easily people can let down their fellow man. It's so often true that the poor are the selfless, more clear in their understanding of the brotherhood of man than those who are more fortunate.
2. Crooked Fingers - Solitary Man - Reservoir Songs EP
This covers EP features songs by Kristofferson, Neil Diamind, Springsteen, Prince and Bowie/Queen, and Eric Bachmann's band absolutely owns all of them. He's most similar vocally to Neil Diamond, but he turns "Solitary Man" into a spooky banjo ballad, taking all the breeziness out of the original version and replacing it with a wheezing euphonium. It's a daring and thrilling cover song.
3. Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 2 - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
One of the albums crazier tracks, this interlude is full of electronic beeps and a bassline that sounds like it's climbing up and down stairs.
4. Wilco - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I could write plenty about the opening song to this brilliant album, but I'll stick to what I remember from first hearing it. I hit up Wilco's Web site when they first started streaming the limbo-stuck album, and soon had a CDR of it, and this song sounded like "Misunderstood," but with the wistful nostalgia of that song cut out and replaced by an alternately playful and menacing dreamscape. It was a song that hit hard, right away, but has enough in it for thousands of listen.
5. Steve Earle - What's A Simple Man To Do - Jerusalem
I listened to this song a ton in the months after it came out, and it's absolutely a record of its time. Like Earle's follow-up, The Revolution Starts Now, it's heavily political and somewhat rushed. Jerusalem came out two months after Springsteen's The Rising, and if the Boss was among the first to tackle Sept. 11 in American popular culture, Earle was perhaps the first to make an album exploring the dark and heinous cloud of the Bush years that were kicked into high gear by the terrorist attacks. This song rides a jaunty organ riff, at odds with its lost-job characters but drawing even more attention to the down-and-out lyrics.
6. Mike Doughty - The Only Answer - Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis
The best live album ever recorded by a hip-hop beatnik gone solo acoustic. Doughty took his Soul Coughing songs and stripped them bare, throwing in some fitting acoustic tunes from his 2000 Skittish album. I searched for years for this album, but it was practically impossible to find pre-bit torrent. I was hugely into Soul Coughing in high school, and between Skittsh and this album I had a huge Doughty resurgence.
7. David Cross - Socks and Shoes - Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!
Biting, sarcastic and defiantly liberal in his political comedy at a time when that sort of thing was practically illegal in this country, Cross nailed the excesses and the hipocracies of the Bush administration from the get go. I laughed my ass off to this album over and over. Calling the $300 Bush tax break the disaster-enabling bribe it was, Cross said the following should've been on a bumper sticker: "I'm an ignorant motherfucker who just watches network news and I vote."
8. Tom Petty - The Last DJ - The Last DJ
I finally got to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers live on this tour (with Jackson Browne opening no less!), so I probably overrate this album quite a bit. It drew 1.5 of 5 stars from Allmusic.com. Ostensibly it's a statement of independence from Petty, as well as an expression of fondness for the way rock 'n' roll worked in his youth. That holds up fairly well on this title track, as Petty certainly has a strong point to make about corporate radio stations, but the album has its mine field of duds as well. Still, the album has one of my favorite Petty songs of all time, "Have Love Will Travel," with this exquisite verse:
How about a cheer for all those bad girls9. Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Buffalo - Sonoran Hope and Madness
And all the boys that play that rock and roll
They love it like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls
When this album came out, I bought it at Zia, save it for the next weekend, then played it in my car as I drove up the Mount Lemmon highway. Now that's a great way to introduce yourself to a record. Sonoran Hope and Madness is sadly the last Roger Clyne album I consider outstanding, but a streak of four in a row is damn good anyway. "Buffalo" was and is my favorite song from the album. It's pure Arizona, starting with a spare strummed acoustic, then the drums hit and the electric guitars and the song just starts exploding. At its core, the song is about fighting against the loss of nature at the expense of concrete and iron, something as personal to Clyne as anything.
10. Okkervil River - Lady Liberty - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See
I got into Okkervil River a few months after this album came out, and the one-two-three punch of the opening tracks just floored me. "Lady Liberty" is the third one, and by that time I was hooked by the band's ramshackle energy and the passionate yelping of singer Will Sheff. Soon after, Okkervil River swung through Tucson for a show on Thanksgiving, and later the band stayed at my house, up late into the night having beers and chatting about music, life and everything. Great times.
Iron & Wine - Jesus The Mexican Boy (demo)
Mike Doughty - The Only Answer (live)
Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Buffalo (live)
Okkervil River - Lady Liberty (live)