Nostalgia is big these days, as evidenced by the glut of “I Love Whatever Random Decade” shows on VH1. But while most of those shows focus on the hitmakers and one-hit wonders of the decades, there are always a ton of great albums that managed to fly under the radar during the period.
In this series, we’re going backward by decade to pick out our choices for the most overlooked albums. All are brilliant works and none of them got the credit they deserved when they came out. We’re starting with the 2000’s.
The Waybacks- Devolver (2000)With their 2000 debut album, The Waybacks go all over the musical map. “Compadres in the Old Sierra Madres” is an old Riders in the Sky Western tune. “I Wanna Be Like You” is a Disney movie theme. “The Witch of the Westmereland” is an Irish-style ballad. But somehow, all these odd elements come together to make an album that flows naturally.
Paul Thorn- Mission Temple Fireworks Stand (2002)Paul Thorn is one of those guys whose song titles you’ve probably heard of but whose music you likely never have. He’s written hits for Sawyer Brown and Toby Keith, among others, but it’s when he sings his own music that he shines most. Mission Temple Fireworks Stand is a concept album of sorts, exploring the quirks, the hypocrisy, and the simple beauty of religion in the Bible Belt. The title track is a rollicking tune at home in any tent revival about a man who gives up his church ties and uses his revival tent for double duty, preaching the word and selling fireworks. “Ain’t Living in Sin No More” is about a couple who decides to tie the knot after several years of living together, and the different way they’re treated by their family and church once they have “that legal document and a different last name.”
Jason Ringenberg- All Over Creation (2002)If there were an award for most aptly titled album of the decade, Jason Ringenberg would win hands down. This album is indeed all over creation. From the beer-soaked “Honky Tonk Maniac from Mars” to the Civil War bio “Bible and a Gun” to the casual sweetness of “Camille”, Ringenberg covers the map and officially cements his legacy as a solo artist.
Todd Snider- East Nashville Skyline (2004)Every generation has at least one songwriter who is just that much better than everyone else. Todd Snider is this generation’s contribution. His genius lies in taking the ordinary lives of castaways and losers near his East Nashville home and making them more interesting than any tales of kings or wise men ever penned. While every Todd Snider album is a masterwork, this is widely considered to be his finest. Every song shines and every lyric hits like a train.
Antsy McClain- Time Sweetened Lies (2005)Antsy McClain, known primarily as the frontman for the Trailer Park Troubadours, often gets pigeonholed as a novelty act due to his often funny lyrics and trailer park motif. But The Trailer Park Troubadours have always been more than a comedy band and on McClain’s solo debut, he proves it. Gone are the jokes and one-liners, replaced by the kind of melancholy loves songs and odes to childhood lost that often lurked unnoticed on the B-side of many Trailer Park Troubadours album.
Thomas Dolby- The Sole Inhabitant (2006)For most people, Thomas Dolby is a one hit wonder, the guy who did “She Blinded Me With Science.” But after the fame wore off, Dolby continued to innovate and make brilliant albums throughout the Eighties, Nineties, and into this decade. This album, a live chronicle of his one-man show tour throughout 2005, shows off the best of those songs, along with the brilliance of Dolby’s synthpop stylings as he, using only a keyboard and a computer, manages to play songs that sound full and lavish.
My Morning Jacket- Okonokos (2007)My Morning Jacket has recently begun to see some popularity due to the release of their Evil Urges album in 2008 and their epic shows as the “house band” for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. This album, catching My Morning Jacket’s live energy extremely well, shows why their popularity has only increased since their debut in 1999.
The Everybodyfields- Nothing is Okay (2007)Johnson City, Tennessee’s The Everybodyfields is one of those bands that is hard to understand how they never broke into the mainstream. Their mix of Folk, Country, and Americana music is beautifully weaved together by the dual vocals of Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews. Quinn’s twangy country vocals meld well with Andrews’ beautiful Alison Krauss-esque singing. But their true greatness lies in their ballads, which exude sadness as well as any band has this decade. Their song “Lonely Anywhere” exemplifies this as Andrews tells the tale of a breakup with a busy lover. “Start writing/make a list of your plans for the year/and send me a little note in the mail/when my name appears/on your list of things to do/if you ever see past you/I’ll keep some days clear.”
Femi Kuti- Day by Day (2008)While a legend in his native Africa, Femi Kuti has never fully broken through in America. The son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Femi keeps his father’s spirit alive through his own original recordings. His songs, which borrow elements from Pop, Funk, Reggae, and Jazz, are ready made for dancing and his energetic stage performances, featuring dancers and backup singers in traditional African garb, have made him popular in the underground.
Elvis Perkins- Elvis Perkins in Dearland (2009)If anyone in the world has the right to be depressed, it’s Elvis Perkins. The son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, Elvis had to deal with the double shot of the very public revelation of his father’s homosexuality and his subsequent death from AIDS. If that weren’t enough, Perkins’ mother was a passenger on one of the planes that ran into the World Trade Center. While these dual tragedies would put some people in a mental institution, Elvis Perkins chooses to exorcise is demons in song. “Doomsday” is an ode to his mother and a tribute to her memory. “1-2-3 Goodbye” is the tale of a man remembering his lost family through an old photo album. Top to bottom, Elvis Perkins has one of the best albums of 2009 and one of the most overlooked of the decade.
What are your favorite overlooked albums of the 2000’s? Let us know in the comments section.