Rhythm & Views

Various Artists

It's almost worth one last trip to the beach just to take along these collections, tailor-made for any iPod-challenged Tucsonan out of range of KXCI. Both No Depression magazine (for which I am a contributing editor) and the Americana Music Association have released top-notch disks, explaining themselves to the unenlightened.

Nettwerk America's compilation features artists traditionally aligned with the Americana camp, including Gillian Welch, Iron and Wine, Jason Ringenberg (Jason and the Scorchers) and the Jayhawks. The disk benefits Sweet Relief, which subsidizes health care for musicians.

Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris perform on all three disks, but the ND compilation has them backing undeservedly obscure Nashville treasures Kevin Gordon and Hayseed, sending a strong message about the magazine's focus. No Depression: What It Sounds Like tends more to the rustic and rockin', while the Americana release leans slightly more toward traditional country and singer-songwriter fare.

This Is Americana benefits the Scholarship Fund of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, which released a similar compilation of contemporary blues artists three years ago. With a retail price of $1.98, Get the Blues topped the Billboard charts for several months. The AMA is hoping the same tactic will attract similar attention to its genre. A fat booklet gives background on each artist, including Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley, the Jayhawks, Rosanne and Johnny Cash, BR549 and rising star Tift Merrit. Vince Gill, Tony Brown and Rodney Crowell turn in a standout track as The Notorious Cherry Bombs; Jay Farrar contributes his powerful statement of political hope, "It Doesn't Have to Be This Way"; and Shelby Lynne turns in her soulful, beautiful "Telephone."

No Depression, too, helpfully offers summaries of its artists' careers in the liner notes, as well as a free copy of the magazine. The disk, hopefully labeled "Vol. 1," unquestionably omits a number of important artists, but the selections are impossible to fault, including godfather Doug Sahm, Buddy Miller, Whiskeytown, Neko Case, Robbie Fulks with Kelly Willis, Alejandro Escovedo--which No Depression controversially named the Artist of the Decade in the 1990s--and Johnny Cash. Liners say the latter's cover of Willie Nelson's "The Time of the Preacher" was the song that launched the magazine. Cash recorded it in Seattle with members of Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice in Chains. The disk closes with The Carter Family singing "No Depression in Heaven," whence came the title of the first Uncle Tupelo release. But the most memorable track, and the one which seems best to define the magazine, is a cover of Mickey Newberry's "How I Love Them Old Songs," an Acuff-Rose gem recorded in a tiny Austin bar by a fun-loving bunch, including, among others, Chuck Prophet, Walter Salas-Humara (Silos), former Uncle Tupelo member Max Johnston, and the aforementioned Mark Olson and Victoria Williams.

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