Drive-By Truckers
Decoration Day
New West Records

The alt-country genre—speaking critically here—carries an interesting paradox at its root. Authenticity is a core value, on the one hand, but as anyone who’s ever spotted a phony can attest, they’re often the ones tripping over each other to prove themselves more authentic than thou. Not to accuse Drive-By Truckers of inauthenticity—who knows? (And, you could argue, who cares?) But when they lead off with a song inspired by a newspaper account of brother-sister incest and thereafter run the sensitive Jerry Springer gamut of presumably authentic (read: kinda white trashy), suspiciously literary and conscientiously rough-edged Americana, it’s hard to listen closely without wondering if this isn’t some sort of elaborate put-on. There’s an awful lot of country-boy put-on going on (see any issue of No Depression), and Decoration Day, of its kind, sounds almost too good to be true.

Suspicions (or cynicism) aside, it’s one of the better Southern rock-ish disks since The Bottle Rockets’ The Brooklyn Side, with which it shares more than a few small-town rock tics—if more quietly—and an uncanny ability to make even Southern rock-listening men feel like righteous asses.

There’s some fine wordsmithing scattered here, some sloppy, too, but it’s a repeat-listenable collection of nicely roughed-up rural reality, even if it does carry a masked whiff of imagination. Exemplary stuff, if you can believe it. Or even if you just don’t care. (Brad Tyer)

Various Artists
Chile: Promise of Freedom
Alternative Tentacles Records

On the morning of Sept. 11, 1973, the democratically-elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, received word that a military coup to remove him from power was imminent. By mid-afternoon, Allende, who refused to leave his post as president of the Republic, was found dead after military forces under the command of General Augusto Pinochet bombed the presidential palace. Over 3,000 people were killed during the coup; many more became desaparecidos. Pinochet, with U.S. support, would go on to rule Chile as military dictator for the next 17 years.

These events and more are chronicled in Chile: Promise of Freedom, a six-part audio documentary produced by The Freedom Archives in remembrance of the 30th anniversary of Allende’s death. Through interviews, archival recordings and music, the CD relates the cultural and social renaissance that blossomed in Chile under Allende’s presidency to the gloomy days of the Pinochet dictatorship. It includes an interview with the novelist Isabel Allende, a journalist at the time, and music by Victor Jara, the popular Chilean singer-composer whose shot and mutilated body was found a week after the coup outside a soccer stadium turned into a prison camp. These recordings represent an oral account of events that shouldn’t be easily forgotten. (Diego Bejarano)

Explosions in the Sky
The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
The Temorary Residence, Limited

The guy who sold me this CD said it’s about as close to emo as he cared to get. I’d heard some of the songs before and hadn’t really considered it, but he’s right. All The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place would need is a whiny singer and an empty Midwestern landscape on the cover to cross the Rubicon into the province once marked by tiny backpacks and Little League shirts worn by people who never swang a bat.

What you get instead is a quilted sheet of hypnotic drone and sparkle with pretty parts, noisy parts, mellow parts, intense parts, spacey parts, wintry parts. It’s nice. I imagine Explosions in the Sky playing live with their bodies coiled in S-curves and the eyes screwed shut, swaying on the balls of their feet. It makes me miss my old pal Jonathan Rothman, who used to live here and always played in bands that sounded kind of like this. (Andy Smetanka)

Yerba Buena
President Alien
Razor & Tie/Fun Machine Records

Once in while you find a band of musicians adept at blending different and colorful styles of music so naturally that they leave you in awe, and with a deeper appreciation of music itself. Ozomatli was certainly one of those bands; their sounds penetrated the eardrum, pumped the blood, and made the muscles twitch so that the sucker listening had little choice but to get up and dance. Yerba Buena manages superbly to concoct that feeling, and exert that effect on the listener.

Named after an ancient Cuban legend in which a medicine woman collects the herbs with the best healing properties from the field and combines them to make one good herb (yerba buena), the 10-member Latin band similarly collects the best rhythms from the musical meadow to make one sound from the healing properties of the many others. From the cumbia-infused “Solito Me Quede” to the mambo-happy “Electric Boogaloo,” Yerba Buena easily blends hip-hop with soul with a touch of funk and African drums to create what is being described as the new sound of the New York City streets. It is no surprise that the band has earned a Grammy nomination for President Alien, their first album. (Diego Bejarano)

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