Grant sez: The 40 best songs of the Oughts
Dimly reminded that a decade was closing and lists were in order, I proffered my top ten albums here a few weeks back, and moved on. And then I remembered that I’m meant to be producing a specialty show for WMKY, and so quickly tossed a bunch of songs onto iTunes and tried to cram the best of the Oughts into two hours. But I was also trying to produce a coherent listening experience, so I grouped songs thematically and according to no ranking. I got, I believe, 27 tracks into the show, though I’ve no idea when it will air.
For our purposes, here, I shall try a ranking of sorts. To wit, the top 40 songs I remember having heard during the Oughts. With annotations, as they present themselves. I would emphasize a certain amount of caprice in the rankings, but I have tried, best I can, to take the thing seriously.
40. “Rescue Me,” Tom Gillam, Never Look Back (Treehouse, 2007). Tom’s my friend, and this is the first of three albums I’ve designed for him – so far. You can take this ranking with whatever spicing seems appropriate. But listen first, would you please?
39. “Mercy,” Duffy, Rockferry (Polydor, 2008). I know, I know, and I don’t really care in the slightest.
38. “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’,” Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound (Signature Sounds, 2006). Alas, the lineup changed after this album, and I think they’ll never quite be what I hear fragments of here. And yet they’ll still be astonishing.
37. “I Wish It Was Over,” Teddy Thompson, Separate Ways (Verve Forecast, 2006). New country from the old country, sorta.
36. “Cotton,” Sam Baker, Cotton (Music Road, 2009). The best album I heard this year. The best SONG I heard this year, though in fairness, having fallen off mailing lists, there was plenty I missed. Placed here because…I don’t know, exactly, but here it sits.
35. “Plan To Marry,” Lucinda Williams, Little Honey (MCA Nashville, 2008). Because what seems most important about Ms. Williams this decade is not the music she made, but the peace her songs suggest she may finally have found.
34. “Desperately,” Romi Mayes, Sweet Somethin’ Steady (self-released, 2006). Produced by Gurf Morlix. She comes from Canada, plays in Texas, and on the way back and forth. I sure hope some day to see her. At least half of every record she’s made that I’ve heard is…well…she’s real good, let’s leave it at that.
33. “Weight of the World,” Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women (Yep Roc, 2009). Christy McWilson at the microphone, singing a song she wrote years back for the Picketts. Like the V-Roys, every time I go back to McWilson – I wrote about both of them, and should know better – I’m struck by how good she really is.
32. “When The Wheels Don’t Move,” Son Volt, American Central Dust (Rounder, 2009). The first great peak oil song.
31. “A Taste of Honey,” Lizz Wright, Dreaming Wide Awake (Verve, 2005). The opening bars of this song won her a feature. Listening to the rest of the album, and the usual silliness, won her the cover on our last issue before redesign. The only cover I didn’t design, courtesy the glorious Art Chantry.
30. “Mowin’ Down the Roses,” Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (Mercury, 2008). Somehow this always reminds me of George Jones, if only because it’s finest kind throwback country.
29. “Heaven’s My Home,” The Duhks, Migrations (Sugar Hill, 2006). I had almost forgotten how much I loved this record, and this band. The singer I liked most left, of course, and that may be part of it. Maybe it doesn’t wear as well as I’d thought. Nah…
28. “Tears, Tears and More Tears,” Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, The River In Reverse (Verve Forecast, 2006). Of all the things we did, or tried to do, our New Orleans cover is one of my proudest moments.
27. “Black Cadillac,” Roseanne Cash, Black Cadillac (Capitol, 2006). A very brave and knowing song. I realize just now that I’ve left Rodney Crowell off this list, which is probably a mistake. Ah, well.
26. “Somebody Saved Me,” Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Soul’s Chapel (Universal South/Superlatone, 2005). I could have picked several tracks from this album. The numbering, see, is somewhat arbitrary and not subject to detailed scrutiny, at least not on this side of the typing. Allmusic doesn’t even list this release.
25. “Pretty Girl,” Diana Jones, My Remembrance of You (Orchard, 2006).
24. “Swept Away,” Jon Dee Graham, Full (Freedom, 2006). Two sides of the same coin.
23. “Glad It’s Not Me,” Kenny Roby, Rather Not Know (Morebarn, 2002). An easy, light song. Deceptivel deep. I need to return to Roby’s work, to find the other albums he’s made since 6 String Drag, and see.
22. “Don’t Cry A Tear,” Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, It’s Not Big It’s Large (Lost Highway, 2007). Nice to know he’s still got it, when he wants. Still a stupid title for the best album he’s made in ages.
21. “Trouble In My Way,” The Como Mamas featuring Mary Moore, Como Now (Daptone, 2008). I love the voices, simple as that.
20. “Little Pink Radio,” Hope Nunnery, Wilderness Lounge (self-released, 2007). I love the voice. I love the fact that she made her first record older than I am now. I hope she makes another. And, yes, that’s her real name.
19. “Plastic Spoon,” Otis Taylor, Double V (TelArc, 2004). Mr. Taylor writes and sings songs which are difficult to listen to, as is his intent. He is very good at his work.
18. “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby,” Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Lost Highway), 2000. Not Ralph Stanley, not even Dan Tyminski’s signature song, but this magnificent trio because Susan and I were lucky enough to hear them sing this at the Down From The Mountain taping/wrap concert at the Ryman. I still wish this trio would record an entire album, but it seems unlikely anybody will oblige me.
17. “Drinking Problem,” Lori McKenna, Unglamorous (Warner Bros., 2007). A duet with Tim McGraw, a folksinger dragged into the mire of Nashville, and it’s still one hell of a song, regardless.
16. “No Dark In America,” Rosco Gordon, No Dark In America (Dualtone, 2005). Nobody heard this one, which is a pity. It’s a joyous response to 9/11, cut in his Queens livingroom, released after his death. This is my closing, on the radio show.
15. “Not My Daughter,” Valorie Miller, Sweeter Than Salt (Redhead, 2002). The first song on her first album, and the best thing she’s ever cut. By far.
14. “A Few Honest Words,” Ben Sollee, Learning To Bend (Thirty Tigers, 2008). The quintessential song about our last election.
13. “John Walker’s Blues,” Steve Earle, Jerusalem (Artemis, 2002). Not the best song Steve wrote this decade, but the one which ended up mattering most.
12. “Hush Child,” Sometymes Why, Sometymes Why (self-released, 2005). I tend to focus on “Too Repressed” because I think it’s a richer text than its joking premise suggests. But this is a deep, subtle song, beautifully played. And should not be missed.
11. “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” Shaver, The Earth Rolls On (New West, 2001). A touchingly macho display of love.
10. “Stay On The Ride,” Patty Griffin, Children Running Through (ATO). I put “You’ll Remember” on the radio because it’s shorter and segued better. But this is the song, the wisest and best sung composition on her best album to date.
9. “99 And A Half,” Mavis Staples, We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti-, 2007). Amen.
8. “Travelin’ Soldier,” Dixie Chicks, Home. The stunning Bruce Robison song free speech killed, and a song we needed to hear. Need to hear. And a tear-jerker. And beautifully sung.
7. “Heather Are You With Me Tonight,” Elizabeth Cook, This Side of the Moon (Hog County, 2005). The best song about our Gulf Wars, no matter your politics.
6. “Mercy Now,” Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now (Lost Highway, 2005). I ran out of time on the radio show and couldn’t include this. Which is more than frustrating, but I’m still learning how to estimate such things.
5. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson, Drive (Arista, 2002). I never watch the CMAs, but for some reason tuned in as he sat down to play this for the first time. I’m not a huge Alan Jackson fan, but this is one hell of a song.
4. “The Man Comes Around,” Johnny Casy, American IV (Lost Highway, 2002). Hard to listen to. I am, perhaps, too influenced by the powerful video which went with.
3. “With God On Our Side,” Buddy Miller, Universal United Congregation Of (New West). Again, not the track I used on the year-end show, mostly as a matter of time. Buddy is a Dylan fan, I am not. But even as churlish as I can be on the subject, I can be won over by a handful of Dylan’s songs. Like this one, when Buddy sings it.
2. “I Dream A Highway,” Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony), 2001. For the radio show, I used “My First Lover,” which is about ten minutes shorter. But this is a monumental accomplishment on the best (and perhaps least appreciated, based on what I’ve seen) album of the decade. And yet it’s not my #1 choice, oddly enough. Because this is…
1. “We Can’t Make It Here,” James McMurtry, Childish Things (Compadre, 2005). Angry and musically adventurous and pissed off, which is different from angry. And a summary of how this decade felt, from my side of the typing.
My vacation is about over. I will be less present and more dilatory than I have been these last couple weeks, but it’s been fun.