various artists,
No Depression:
What It Sounds Like, Vol. 1

(Dualtone, 2004)

You would think that starting a compilation album with Johnny Cash singing "The Time of the Preacher" would set up the rest of the tracks to be disappointments, right? Oh, no. No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 1 is loaded with wonderful songs, most of which equal Cash's amazing performance. The contents of this album were handpicked by the editors of No Depression, an alternative country quarterly magazine published since 1995.

There's "Fathless Street" by Whiskeytown, who successfully (and thankfully) transitioned from punk music to become alt-country favorites. "Five Hearts Breaking" has a great guitar riff combined with a wonderful vocal performance by Alejandro Escovedo. There's a bit of humor and honkytonk in "Cowboy Peyton Place" by Doug Sahm. The absolutely addictive "Parallel Bars" by Robbie Fulks with Kelly Willis contains delightfully sarcastic humor and an amusing exchange between the artists at the end.

The nostalgic "How I Love Them Old Songs" by the Hole Dozen (featuring Mark Olson, Victoria Williams & Friends) was recorded live at Austin's Hole in the Wall bar and conveys every bit of energy from that performance. Even the most stoic person would feel a compulsion to sing along with the chorus.

"No Depression in Heaven" by the Carter Family has inspired generations of alt-country performers and been covered by the New Lost City Ramblers as well as Uncle Tupelo. As the original 1930s recording was the inspiration for the No Depression magazine, it is fitting that it serves as the capstone for the first No Depression compilation album.

Hayseed with Emylou Harris, Allison Moorer, Kevin Gordon with Lucinda Williams, Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Kasey Chambers, Buddy Miller -- there are so many other artists and songs on this album that are equally deserving of rave and fanfare, but this is a review, not an in-depth essay. Bottom line: buy this album. It's perfect for those wanting an introduction to the musical subgenre and a treasure for long-time fans of alt-country that will enjoy some of their favorites collected in one place.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 29 May 2004

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