With After the Fair, K-Tel, the label responsible for so many unintentionally hilarious late-night television commercials, has actually put together a great collection.
A wide-reaching survey of modern female "alternative" artists, the album offers something for every mood, from the breathy, rollicking opener, Leah Andreone's "It's Alright, It's OK" (RealAudio excerpt), to the simple lo-fi drum and guitars of Jen Wood's "Ride" (RealAudio excerpt), 16 songs later.
Emotions range from the schmaltzy, nearly New Age "Let Her Feel the Rain," to the ripping powerhouse of Sleater-Kinney's "The End of You."
There are a handful of prominent artists represented here (Lucinda Williams, Juliana Hatfield, Kristin Hersh), but some of the biggest surprises come from lesser-known performers. High points include Natcha Atlas' languid, exotic "Mon Amie La Rose" and the hypnotic, retro lullaby "To Dream of Sarah," by Eleni Mandell.
But perhaps most enjoyable is the hysterical honky-tonk romp "20 Questions" (RealAudio excerpt) by Amy Rigby, who mercilessly interrogates a passing-out drunk, philandering lover who has just stumbled home.
The "21st Century" subtitle is a little dubious, since all of these songs were written and recorded in the 20th century. Regardless, all the material some of it several years old sounds mighty fresh.