Various Artists

No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 2

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No Depression used to describe itself on its masthead as "The Alternative Country (whatever that is) Bi-monthly Magazine," and while most of the folks who read the magazine are in on that joke, there are still plenty of folks who seem a bit puzzled by the blend of old and new roots sounds that have become the bread and butter of Americana music fans and the deep-rooted alt-country community. No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 2 is the second in a series of compilation albums (assembled in part by No Depression founders Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock) that's seemingly built around the notion that "I can't define alt-country, but I know it when I hear it." Attempting to explain the format through example, this disc runs the gamut from the introspective singer/songwriter material of Jay Farrar to the blustery hard rock of the Drive-By Truckers, facing the pioneering old-timey music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard against the hard-edged familial honky tonk of Shaver, and contrasting the jaunty updated Western swing of Paul Burch with the heartbroken mood of Julie Miller. The link is more a matter of feel and mood than anything else -- the country influence is felt as often as it's heard in this music, but there's a heart, soul, and lack of grandstanding in this music that's a world apart from the glossy bombast of current Nashville product, and the presence of two duets featuring Johnny Cash (one with his daughter Rosanne Cash and the other with June Carter Cash) helps clarify who the scene's spiritual forefather truly is. No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 2 may not provide the definitive answer to the alt-country question, but it's good listening and does paint a clearer picture than just reading about the stuff.

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