On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98
For those who grew up within spitting distance of rural America and for those who have been overexposed to country music from an early age, it's fair to draw a line in the sand between "good" country and "bad" country.
As a Wyoming high school student, this was a reoccurring rant topic as we drove for endless hours from one side of town to another with nothing else to do. It came up often, because my Datsun 210 hatchback had only an AM band on the radio, and that AM band played only country.
The criteria for "bad" country music was any music that glorified social problems, was sung by men in purple cowboy boots and, generally, was recorded after I was born.
That's the cynical point of view of a damaged Wyoming girl who thought it was fun to yell "Skoorb Htrag" (Garth Brooks backward) as we drove by the Casper Event Center, where people were camped out to get the best Garth Brooks tickets.
And although I've opened my mind a little since then, I still think the best country music was written before I was born.
In "Timeless," McBride seems to be making an album for people like me who can't listen to another pedantic and predictable patriotic twang tune.
She covers classics such as "You Win Again" by Hank Williams, "You Ain't Woman Enough" by Loretta Lynn, "I Still Miss Someone" by Johnny Cash, "Thanks A Lot" first sung by Ernest Tubb, "Love's Gonna Live Here" by Buck Owens and Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," first sung by Sammi Smith.
Rated: There's no Skoorb Htrag on this album.
Jimmy Rogers All-Stars Band
"Blues Blues Blues"
Available at All That Jazz for $16.98
Because it's stocking-stuffer time, might I suggest "Blues Blues Blues." This is by no means a new release. It came out in 1998. It's the last time Jimmy Rogers was in the studio, sharing a vocal mic with the likes of Jeff Healey, Stephen Stills and Robert Plant. Before the album was finished, Rogers passed away, making it a more poignant tribute.
Rogers was a founding member of Muddy Water's band. When he died at age 73, he was one of the last early-Chicago blues men.
On "Blues Blues Blues," musicians such as Eric Clapton and Mike Jagger pay their dues to one of the musicians to whom they owe their careers.
Bluesmen such as Jimmy Rogers made the Rolling Stones' sound possible, a fact the band always has acknowledged, but it really hits home when you listen to Keith Richards play the guitar on songs such as "Trouble No More" or when you hear Jagger's voice on "Goin' Away Baby."
Rated: This album is a page in the history books.
Calexico/Iron and Wine
"In the Reins"
Available at All That Jazz for $10.98
If great harmonies are the source of great music -- as Brian Wilson suggested all those decades ago, then this album did it right.
On the surface, this is an unusual collaboration. On paper, Calexico's border-crossing rhythms would seem to clash with Iron and Wine's slow and sad acoustic man and his guitar. But in the studio, it works.
Calexico slows down, and Iron and Wine wraps themselves around Calexico's trumpet and percussions.
One of my favorite tracks is "Red Dust." With its harmonica and finger-picked guitar, it sounds like an Arizona version of the blues.
Together, the two bands create a wandering beast that swaggers between country and mariachi. That sound comes out most in the song "Sixteen, Maybe Less." Iron and Wine's Sam Beam sings. A slide guitar follows the lyrics like water through an empty canal: "One grinning wink like the neon on a liquor store / We were sixteen, maybe less, maybe a little bit more / I walked home smiling. I finally had a story to tell."
Rated: They should form one seamless band. This is the album for both of them.
-- Autumn Phillips