Backbeat writers revisit their favorite albums of the year.

The year 2001 produced its share of catastrophes: major terrorist campaigns in D.C. and New York, a widespread anthrax scare -- and J. Lo's solo debut. Fortunately, there's plenty worth remembering about the first official year of the new millennium, as artists of every genre proved that music still matters, maybe now more than ever. Despite something a young Bob Dylan once said, sometimes you should look back.


Norman Blake
Flower From the Fields of Alabama (Shanachie)
Another gem from the great singer and guitarist Norman Blake, whose career received a well-deserved boost when he appeared on the O Brother, Where Art Thou?soundtrack. Flower is a typically eclectic collection of such Southern musical delights as "Salty Dog," "Sitting on Top of the World" and "If We Never Meet Again (This Side of Heaven)." The 63-year-old Blake sings them all in his plaintive, out-of-the-past voice. This is American roots music at its best. -- David Hill

Rodney Crowell
The Houston Kid
(Sugar Hill)
For many years, Rodney Crowell was among the most literate singer-songwriters working in the Nashville idiom. But because literacy is no longer in vogue at the major labels that control commercial C&W, he's now plying his trade on an independent level. This shift in status has done nothing to undermine his skills, however. The Houston Kid is among Crowell's most moving and finely detailed pieces. -- Michael Roberts

Bob Dylan
Love and Theft
Time Out of Mind, which earned a Grammy as 1997's best album, is one of the most overrated platters in the Dylan library; in the wake of a serious illness that threatened to silence the Voice of His Generation, the long-player's exhaustion was interpreted as profundity. But its reception has clearly energized Dylan, who sounds livelier on Love and Theft than he has in ages. In comparison with Mind, the new CD's language is sharper, its observations keener, its music more varied. Ol' Bob still has a lot of life left in him. -- Roberts

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