Real Purty

There's a couple of telling statistics in my list of the 10 Best Albums of 2000: six were released on indie labels, two were artist-owned label releases, and only two came from corporate conglomerates. Draw your own conclusions. Also, two of the acts are locals, and my choice of them had nothing to do with Orange County chauvinism—pretty damned impressive when you think about it. Hold your collective head high, OC!

1. JUDY HENSKE, Loose in the World (Fair Star Music). As if this comeback album weren't amazing and unlikely enough on its own terms ("The Beatnik Queen" retired from music 34 years ago and didn't come out of hiding until this year), Henske re-emerges as a clamorous white broad who completely re-sculpts the meaning of blues, jazz and folk music in her own image. Henske doesn't so much sing a song as occupy it. The passion she injects into her material is startling: part Bessie Smith, part Ethel Merman, part Lenny Bruce, all raw emotion, theatrics, humor and style. Bonus: "Tikky Tikky Gumdrop" is certainly the most touching love song ever written for a dog.

2. COREY HARRIS & HENRY BUTLER, V-D Menz (Alligator). As a singer and guitarist, Harris is more funky and authoritative than any of the young country blues revivalists on the scene; singer/ keyboardist Butler is a raspy, Ray Charles-like veteran, equally at home playing sophisticated jazz or gutbucket, barrelhouse blues. Put them together, and you have a duo that recalls the glory days of the legendary Leroy Carr/Scrapper Blackwell duets, sounding as down-home as a platter of barbecued neck bones with a bottle of dandelion wine to wash it all down—without ever coming off like a museum piece. In other words, precious and rare nat'chl blues: living and breathing, as opposed to merely archival.

3. DION, Dj Nu (Collectables). At age 63, against all conceivable odds, the God of Guido Cool has released the best album of his career, a collection of songs that brings doo-wop back from the brink of extinction. Original, previously unrecorded songs dating back to the 1950s, plus a couple of Brooce covers, showcase Dion's swaggering sound, with his vocals as sweet and cocky as ever and harmonies so wonderfully Belmont-ish that if you closed your eyes, you'd swear you were back in the Bronx in 1960. Personal fave: the gorgeous, lilting ballad "In New York City," in which Mr. DiMucci lovingly, tenderly recounts boning his wife on their anniversary. It doesn't get any sexier than that.

4. CHRIS GAFFNEY & THE COLD HARD FACTS, Live and Then Some (Tres Pescadores). Talk about your homegrown heroes: this album was recorded live at the Swallows Inn in San Juan Capistrano, a local dive bar/biker hangout that actually has sawdust on the floor and frequently sports a hearty bouquet of bladder squeezin's if you sit close enough to the men's room. Here, Costa Mesa's Gaffney is in his element as he regales the unwashed with honky-tonk homilies at once funny, heartbreaking and poignant in a tequila-marinated voice that soars and cries with all the beauty and pain of life itself. Released as a two-fer with the formerly out-of-print 1985 album Road to Indio, this is far and away the nation's best country album of the year.

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