In no particular order, my top six southern artists from 2006. I'm talking about guys whose big picture performance in the past year has been stellar. And six artists because there's no reason to limit it to five and I don't have the time to write about ten.
Tom Petty - The man has a formula. And it's still not tired. He creates simple rock songs about simple, American life and gets his best friends (who happen to understand understatement perhaps even better than he does) to play behind him on the record and on tour. His solo album "Highway Companion" is evidence that something can be slick and honest at the same time. As usual, he toured for a great part of the year with The Heartbreakers brought out some top-notch opening acts like Pearl Jam and The Allman Brothers Band. Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Drive-By Truckers - The five members of DBT have a stunning outlook on life in the gothic south and their work in 2006 evinced that view more clearly than ever before. Their latest work, "Blessing and a Curse," while slightly more accessible than their previous efforts, in no way compromised their blue collar sound or presentation and continued their tradition of exposing all the dirt and grime underneath the veneer of southern living. Lyrics like "They say every man's house should be his palace / But his castle stank of cat shit and alone" are so blunt that they're almost ironic - but strangely enough, in the context of a Truckers album, they seem stark and gritty. Hometown: Florence, Alabama and Athens, Georgia
Modern Skirts - The only band on this list who didn't release a new album during the year, The Skirts spent the last twelve months frantically pushing their 2005 work, "A Catalogue of Generous Men" and justifiably so. Relying on simple pop melodies, tight harmonies and hooks that reel in even the most skeptical of listeners, the band's sound has developed into something magnificently catchy - some type of guilty pleasure that you know you shouldn't feel guilty about in the first place. With the success that bands like Keane had in '06, expect Modern Skirts to make a noticeable splash in the mainstream in 2007. They also get extra points because their drummer and bassist lived two apartments over from me my senior year at UGA. Hometown: Athens, Georgia
Derek Trucks Band - Put the Duane Allman references aside. Derek Trucks is his own guitarist who has developed his voice as an instrumentalist to an almost scary extent. Hell, even Eric Clapton gets his ability (Trucks has been on tour with Slowhand's backing band since the fall). On the full band's 2006 record, "Songlines," Trucks and his bandmates show a beautiful balance of restraint and release, managing to be poignant instrumentally while keeping the tunes relatively easy to swallow, even for someone who isn't into the 15-minute versions of these songs you might hear at a live show. This is the guitarist that I'll be telling my grandkids about. Oh yeah, Derek is also in the Allman Brothers Band and managed to put on brilliant concerts with all three of his outfits for the majority of the past year. Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida and Atlanta Georgia
Glossary - Falling somewhere between the depressing realism of The Drive-By Truckers and the relative optimism of anything else on this list, the members of Glossary sound like they've culled the best from bands like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Uncle Tupelo and Centro-matic to create some sort of alt-pop-country that is simultaneously straightforward and complex. Musically they are succinct, lyrically they are direct and overall, they address life that's stuck in middle management in a way that, surprisingly, doesn't even come close to sounding cliche. "For What I Don't Become," their 2006 release, is forty minutes of fresh air that still makes you feel like you've been there before. Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN
My Morning Jacket - Critical darlings sometimes deserve the praise they receive. My Morning Jacket falls into that category. Their eerie pop-rock is stunning and frontman Jim James is at the apex of a creative streak that would make any half-way sane writer want to just give up. Their live release "Okonokos," recorded live at The Fillmore in San Francisco has turned heads as a followup to their 2005 work "Z." If after seeing a MMJ show live, you don't want to sell everything but your guitar and hit the road, you probably don't like rock 'n roll in the first place. This is the only artist on the list that doesn't sound southern to me. But based on the state alone, I'll keep 'em here. Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky