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Down-Home Delights

Ten of the best from Nashville and elsewhere

9. Blaine Larsen, Off to Join the World(BNA/BMG): This is the year's most surprising Nashville debut, not only because the owner of the rich, mature baritone turns out to be a baby-faced 19-year-old (from just outside Tacoma, no less) but because there's almost no stylistic difference between its moments of stale cornpone and fresh insight. A few foreshortened song structures, a couple unconventional chord changes and some nonjudgmental, carefully observed lyrics, and suddenly an album from well within the adult-suburban country subgenre is delivering utterly arresting numbers about nonbiological dads, public education and teenage self-destruction. Hey, if the Rolling Stones can make a good rock and roll record in 2005, anything's possible.

10. Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Begonias (Yep Roc): Purty, purty, purty go these duets by Ryan Adams's former Whiskeytown partner and the celebrated musical son of a Baptist minister. It's far less momentous than some noted stylistic predecessors, from Whiskeytown itself to the doomed partnership between Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. But the underground has always nurtured small-scale focus, country music has always honored humility, and this simple set of love and heartbreak songs suggests how those values could apply to duets at home as well as in the recording studio.

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