Hollywood Town Hall & Tomorrow the Green Grass, by the Jayhawks
Alt-country is typically traced to Uncle Tupelo, but the early '90s Jayhawks made better records. Where Uncle Tupelo found scrappy affinities between traditional Americana and punk, the Jayhawks brought '70s country-rock to the alt-rock '90s: country songwriting and harmony, rock-and-roll energy, soulful groove. Green Grass is also the best album-length application of a major alt-country insight: the dark, socially aware lyrics are all the more heartbreaking when set to sunny music.
Both albums have just been reissued, each with a handful of also-rans and live tracks. Green Grass comes with a second disc of acoustic demos. The highlight here is the singing. While the band's sound is hard to pin down, Mark Olson and Gary Louris's vocals display classic country close harmony, mutually sensitive at every turn.