The Blow - Paper Television (buy it)
"Even with its subverted mainstream pop productions, the Blow is still very indie-pop and very K-sounding; they're just not trapped in any preconceptions of that that means. Paper Television is exciting and accomplished, the album where the Blow goes from being interesting to being addictive." - All Music.
MP3: The Blow - Pile of Gold
Bright Eyes - Noise Floor (buy it)
This long-overdue rarities collection from Bright Eyes is sadly less than comprehensive (even taking into account the five bonus tracks available on the vinyl edition). But many of his best songs live here, and their fuzzy, unselfconscious fury overshadows the ample solipsism. Even better, none of the songs are about being famous. The closest he comes is the still-sublime "Motion Sickness", a transporting dirge of a song ostensibly about being on the road but more about floating around in some kind of suspended animation. This release brings back memories of trolling Audiogalaxy for b-sides to super-limited-edition split-7" tracks. You'll still have to troll some other site to find "North of the City" or "Feeling It (for Ian)". Any handful of songs on this disc is preferable to the output of the "important artist" he's become.
MP3: Bright Eyes - I Will Be Grateful for This Day, I Will Be Grateful for Each Day to Come
Norfolk & Western - Unsung Colony (buy it)
Adam Selzer, Rachel Blumberg & crew turn out a gorgeous album of miniature pop epics treated with carefully understated production and extra creaks & wails. See 'em on tour with Corrinna Repp in the coming weeks.
MP3: Norfolk & Western - The New Rise of Labor
Various Artists - The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited (buy it)
Steve Earle, Beth Orton, Nick Cave, Wilco, Sonic Youth, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and many others cover songs from the legendary collection of original American recorded music, which in turn had a huge influence on the folk revival of the 60s. The performances are culled from a series of concerts curated by Hal Willner. While I'd liked to have seen some more contemporary artists on this set who operate in a rougher, rawer, lower-fi style and spirit of the originals, this is still sure to be a great listen.
Video stream: Wilco - "James Alley Blues"
Various Artists - Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook, Vol. 1 (buy it)
"These kids today with their sequencers, samplers, loops, USB interfaces, pitch controllers and iPods holding 5,000 songs. They think music was invented yesterday by them and their buddies and tunes are spit out at the push of a button in patterns of Zeroes and Ones. Ain’t it time we all unplugged, slowed down and got our folk back on? To wrap our hands around the cool maple neck of an actual guitar and our brains around actual songs passed down for generations?" Pretty mean ad copy for a great-looking compilation, co-released by Bloodshot and Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. John Langford, John Stirrat from Wilco, and Robbie Fulks and others pay tribute to classic songs, with real live folklorist Paul Tyler offering up liner notes with song histories.
MP3: Colby Maddox - Shady Grove
MP3: Janet Bean - Deep River Blues
Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition) (buy it)
Williams' record of amazing songs and overdone production is almost certainly enhanced by the addition of three bonus tracks and most importantly a bonus live disc of a WXPN concert from 1998, featuring many of the best songs from the album ("Metal Firecracker", "Drunken Angel") in rawer form.