Okay, it's kinda cheating, really being a Top 12, 'cause I stuck in a couple of ties. Picking only 10 top releases from last year was hard.

Honorable Mentions

Consider this a multi-way tie for number 11. :^)
First new studio album in several years, and it was worth the wait. Songs of beauty and desperation, with great arrangements.

PALACE MUSIC - Viva Last Blues (Drag City)
Will Oldham's plaintive singing and songwriting never fails to move me. If I had to do this list over again, I think it'd end up in Top 10, but I can only work on this thing for so long ...

OLD 97s - Wreck Your Life (Bloodshot)
Butt-kickin' insurgent country.

CHRISTY MOORE - Christy Live at the Point (Columbia-Sony UK/Newberry)
The Owld Hoor does it again, just himself and his guitar and a bunch of great songs.

BIG SANDY AND HIS FLY-RITE BOYS - Swinging' West (Hightone)
Great Western swing from Anaheim, California

Okay now ... here's the Top Ten!

10. HEDNINGARNA - Trä (Silence Records)
Mind-blowing Swedish band (featuring Finnish singers), playing traditional music plugged-in, fuzzed-up and wacked-out.
(tie) PETER OSTROUSHKO - Heart of the Heartland (Red House Records)
Gorgeous music from the American heartland, composed by and performed on mandolin and fiddle by Peter O., Dean Magraw and a talented cast of musicians.

9. BEAU JOCQUE & THE ZYDECO HI-ROLLERS - Git It, Beau Jocque! (Rounder)
Driving, forceful, irresistable zydeco. It's no wonder he's the most popular zydeco attraction in southwest Louisiana, where you're lucky if you can get a parking spot within a half-mile of Richard's Club.

8. THE MAGNOLIA SISTERS - Prends Courage (Arhoolie)
"An all-girl Cajun band," as it was described to me by Ann Savoy, who fronts this group with fellow Eunice resident Jane Vidrine. It's a joy to hear all this female Cajun singing, with lush harmonies and spirited playing. The songs range from traditional Cajun songs (some lyrically reworked to the female point of view) to ancient ballads dating back to old Brittany.

7. SONNY LANDRETH - South of I-10 (Zoo)
Sizzling record from Lafayette singer/songwriter/slide guitarist. No one else sounds like Sonny.
(tie) RICHARD BUCKNER - Bloomed (DejaDisc)
Superb singer-songwriter from the San Francisco Bay area. Great songs, and nice touches of fiddle, dobro and steel guitar.

6. MARTIN HAYES - Under the Moon (Green Linnet)
Second album from this stunning Co. Clare fiddler, who plays in a very lyrical, laid-back style the he learned from the old-timers. He can tear it up too, as he ably demonstrates on this record. Fiddle and guitar doesn't sound any better.

5. WILCO - A.M. (Sire/Reprise)
The first band to emerge from the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, this one with Jeff Tweedy on lead vocals and songwriting. Country-rock in a more pop vein than UT, but Jeff's singing and songwriting is as endearing as ever.

4. BLUE MOUNTAIN - Dog Days (RoadRunner)
Terrific American music, roots-country-rock from Oxford, Mississippi. Consistently good songwriting, great energy, quiet and noisy to boot.

3. STEVE RILEY & THE MAMOU PLAYBOYS - La Toussaint (Rounder)
The fifth release from this young Cajun band, who continue to preserve the Cajun tradition while still taking Cajun music into the next century. They've written some great new songs and tunes for this record, and let their hair down with some rockin' arrangements.

The Top Two

It was an incredibly difficult, and in the end fairly arbitrary, decision to rank these two. At any time either of them could have been #1, depending on my mood. I'd call them BOTH the top album of the year, and there was only one little thing that ended up making me rank them this way ...

2. SON VOLT - Trace (Warner Bros.)
Ex-Uncle Tupelo Jay Farrar's new band put out, in my opinion, the other best album of 1995. American roots music at its finest, wonderful, emotionally involving songwriting, acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, lap steel ... and Jay's timeless voice.

The only record of 1995 that made me cry (specifically, the song "Windfall"), and the best album of 1995 except for ...

1. CORDELIA'S DAD - Comet (Omnium)
#2 might have made me cry, but this one made my scalp tingle (and "The Frozen Girl" from this album almost made me cry. Still ...

Brillaint Amherst, Massachusetts band, most of whose repertoire comes from the Anglo-American folk tradition, and which they once played plugged-in electric as well as acoustic. Cordelia's Dad now only play acoustic music (and spun off a separate rock band, Io, for the electric stuff) and are among the finest performers of traditional tunes and ballads anywhere. This record, with the exception of one track, is completely acoustic, and contains stunning performances. Tim Eriksen's a cappella vocals on "Old Virginia" are a standout. The best album of 1995.

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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)