Everything I Touch Runs Wild, Lori Carson (Restless Records). Love songs are rarely this painful; breakup songs, seldom this exhilarating.
Costello & Nieve, Costello & Nieve (Warner Bros. Records). Elvis Costello's farewell to Warner Bros.--the false-advertised greatest hits notwithstanding--is his finest work for the label, a career retrospective pared down to the bare essentials: Elvis' voice and Steve Nieve's piano.
Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan (Columbia Records). An aging Bob Dylan filled with doubt and remorse is a Bob Dylan filled with more than the mere vestiges of greatness.
Butch, Geraldine Fibbers (Virgin Records). From country dilettantes to punk explorers, the Fibbers have become the '90s version of The Band; plus, Carla Bozulich is this year's best male and female singer.
Sound of Lies, The Jayhawks (American Recordings). Sound of Lies isn't as bitter as it could have been and not nearly as wistful as the Jayhawks used to be, which is why it's the band's best record with or without Mark Olson.
The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy, The Minus 5 (Malt/Hollywood). It figures that the best collaboration between members of Seattle's finest nobodies, the R.E.M. guitarist, and other anonymous alterna-stars belongs pretty much to the Young Fresh Fellow himself, Scott McCaughey, who finally cut the crap and wrote a coherent album that rocks and rolls from roaring start to melancholy finish.
Trailer Park, Beth Orton (Heavenly/ Dedicated). In the year when Sarah McLachlan put the fair in Lilith, Beth Orton emerged with a record at once ethereal and tough. Trailer Park is a nightmare masquerading as a reverie, ambient folk made by a woman who doesn't need to frolic in her undies to make a point.
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, Ladies and Gentlemen is perhaps the most special album of 1997, the one that sounds only like itself; for that reason alone, this is a masterpiece, even if you never know it's there.
In It For the Money, Supergrass (Capitol Records). Burt Bacharach should be writing songs for Supergrass, much as he did for Dionne and Dusty decades ago; the ugliest men in rock play it snappy and sappy in equal doses. And the great thing is that they had so much crap left over, they added a second disc just for grins. The giddiest, silliest, smartest record of 1997.