A Pack of Mutts

Need a little alt in your country? These ten don't.

8. Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now (Lost Highway): Stark, threadbare songs from one tough Cajun woman who has seen the abyss and returned with a heart full of love. The title track finds her doling out forgiveness to those who drove her to her demons, while "I Drink" finds a person utterly resigned to one of those same devils. Gauthier describes herself as a "truth teller" rather than a songwriter, and here, she's all artist, not artifice.

9. The Decemberists, Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars): Many perish on this doomed voyage across singer Colin Meloy's peculiar seas. Some go by their own hands as in "We Both Go Down Together," others fall overboard as in "My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)," while still others are devoured, either by immense fish ("The Mariner's Revenge Song") or by the cannibal kings of the great America-in-wartime parable "16 Military Wives." And it's all damned funny. Musically, Picaresque hews pretty close to the elfin English folk and chamber pop of the previous two Decemberists full-lengths, but Picaresque somehow rises above the others. Ask their new label Capitol Records, if you don't believe me.

10. Johnny Guitar Watson, The Funk Anthology (Shout! Factory): An incredible reissue of the Gangster of Love's funk, disco and proto-rap recordings, this one ranges from hits like "Ain't That a Bitch," "Superman Lover" and "I Want to Tata You Baby" to should've-been smashes like "The Lone Ranger" and "You Can Stay but the Noise Must Go" to some unreleased stuff that holds its own. Watson was the living link between the country blues of Lightnin' Hopkins and the whacked-out, funky Southern rap of OutKast and Devin the Dude, and this double-disc captures him in all his stinging blues guitar, sly vocal glory.

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