VARIOUS No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 2 (Dualtone)

No Depression: a song by The Carter Family, Uncle Tupelo’s debut album, a scene and a magazine. “No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 2” is curated by the creators of the latter, an attempt to explain and educate in ways that the printed word will always fall short of. Crammed with crackling Americana both ancient and modern, with an elderly reel-to-reel tape recorder on the back cover, it’s my prescription for bliss.

Jay Farrar, once of the aforementioned Uncle Tupelo, now with the reconvened Son Volt, opens proceedings with the sublime “Station To Station”, suffused with integrity and close-meshing melody – “It’s not the end of the world/Can’t even see it from here”, he sings in a moment of joyous revelation. Patty Loveless’ “Sounds Of Loneliness”, written when its author was a shockingly perceptive 14 year old, is representative of the more traditionally country material here, but still shot through with bleak, ringing otherness instead of the expected maudlin sentimentality.

Drive-By Truckers’ “Outfit” is thick, soupy and brilliant, a father’s advice to his son littered with ideals for living: “Don’t sing in a fake British accent…Have fun but stay clear of the needle/Call home on your sister’s birthday/Don’t tell ‘em you’re bigger than Jesus”. Cue, seamlessly, a father-and-son duet by Shaver called, naturally, “Blood Is Thicker Than Water”, in which Pa Billy Joe’s corroded vocals are a particular delight. Still, because this is country music, albeit a modern spin on the same, tragedy haunts these songs: son Eddy didn’t live long enough to see its release.

Caitlin Cary with Ryan Adams’ “The Battle” finds two ex-Whiskeytown members duetting on an obscurity exhumed from the 3” bonus CD that accompanied early copies of Caitlin’s debut album. Julie Miller’s small voice moves metaphorical mountains against a sparse piano and cello backing on “I Can’t Cry Hard Enough”.

Some ominously prescient highlights of last year’s big Johnny Cash box set, “The Legend”, make welcome reappearances here. Daughter Rosanne’s “September When It Comes” always wrongfoots my ears with its American Music Club-esque intro. Luminous, heartfelt and haunting, the duetting Man In Black sounds older than time here. He appears equally ravaged on “Far Side Banks Of Jordan”, recorded with his wife June Carter Cash. A later version than that on “The Legend”, these failing voices sing from a vantage point within touching distance of the realisation of the lyrics.

Finally, there’s the Flatlanders’ “Hello Stranger”, that being the collective noun for Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. Rescued from an album originally released only on eight-track – and how much more country/trucker cred could an album aspire to than that?! – this Carter Family tune brings it all back home again, and the circle is unbroken.

Licensing strictures may have rendered this a less definitive article than the compilers might have hoped, but it’s a rare various artist compilation that works so well as an album in its own right, undoubtedly helped by a programme that, at a smidge under 45 minutes, tickles the taste buds but can’t help but leave you wanting more. Nothing here is less than interesting, and much of it is timeless, making this a cherishable disc.