Finally, No Depression magazine co-editors Peter Blackstock and Grant Alden attempt to answer the big one: what is “alternative country”? A return to traditional roots? Soul music for hillbillies? Country stripped of Nashville gloss? Mountain-folk with punk phlegm? The truth probably lies in its scuppering of lazy stereotype. Far from being a repository for mawkish sentiment and conservatism, true country music is dark, heroic and often unnervingly acute. Not to mention beautiful. In those terms, it’s hard to fault this awesome collection, bookended by Johnny Cash’s blood’n’granite take on Willie Nelson’s “Time Of The Preacher”?aided by Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil?and The Carter Family’s “No Depression In Heaven”. In between, Doug Sahm’s “Cowboy Peyton Place” tips a wink to honky-tonk swing; early Whiskeytown nugget “Faithless Street” points the ruinous way to future days; Buddy Miller offers up the driving old-time fare of “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?” and Allison Moorer bathes in the soft steel of “Is Heaven Good Enough For You?” The collaborations are curiously evocative, too?Lucinda Williams adding bluesy moan to Kevin Gordon’s “Down To The Well”, Robbie Fulks and Kelly Willis’ playful “Parallel Bars”, Emmylou Harris adding porcelain to Hayseed’s “Farther Along” and Hole Dozen (Mark Olson and Victoria Williams, plus various Gourds and Silos) barrelling through Mickey Newbury’s “How I Love Them Old Songs”. Brilliant.