Johnny Cash, Al Green and Ho-Hum dominated the top spots in our album poll. To mix it up, we limited one act to one album in this list.
1. Johnny Cash "At Folsom Prison"
The be-all, end-all, quintessential live recording was carved into the tapes at 9:40 a.m. and recorded in a mess hall, with Cash unsure if Clive Davis would fulfill the promise to fire him for the "prank." Like all great live albums, it bolts the listener down in the middle of the crowd. It's one of the greatest albums, ever, period. "Sooie!"
2. American Princes "Other People"
Some may scoff at the Princes' last record being ranked so high, but few, if any, albums have defined the character of the Little Rock sound quite like this one. It wasn't named the greatest album of the year by Magnet Magazine for nothing.
3. Al Green "Let's Stay Together"
Recorded when he was 25, this is the album that kicked off Al Green's classic period and is still considered a soul classic of the highest caliber. The title track contains three of the greatest minutes of pop music ever recorded, the cover of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is restrained Green at his best and, between the singles, there's no gristle to be found.
4. Ho-Hum "Sanduleak"
Few bands have ever been able to balance "catchy," "effortless" and "smart" as well as Ho-Hum. And this, the group's second album, is the best example of just that. "Fake Pop Minefield" is a power-pop earwig of the highest degree and, 12 years since its release, "Things Like That Are a Drag" still sounds like the best sequel to Big Star's "Thirteen" ever made.
5. The Gunbunnies "Paw Paw Patch"
Produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson and signed to Virgin Records after being singled out by CMJ as the "Best Unsigned Band" of 1986, the band formerly known as When Michael Jackson Rears His Flaming Head released this debut, cut a follow-up and then vanished (Max Recordings finally released the sophomore album last year). A local album with a cult following if there ever was one.
6. Isaac Alexander "See Thru Me"
Between drumming for Boondogs, serving as front man for both The Easys and Big Silver and being a bad-ass ad man, Isaac Alexander managed to find the time in 2008 to write and record an instant classic that's a tastefully spare, devastatingly melodic trip through surviving adulthood. Funny, self-deprecating and everything else you've come to expect from the workhorse.
7. Louis Jordan "Best Of"
Usually, we'd adhere to the " 'Best of' albums are for people who don't care about music" adage, but "The King of the Jukebox" ruled before the era of the album, so he gets a pass. The subject of countless compilations, this no-frills single-disc offers up 20 of his absolute best but inevitably leads to dropping even more money on a more complete collection.
8. Levon Helm "Dirt Farmer"
It marked his first solo album in a quarter of a century, his first after throat cancer took his voice, his first after a fire took 80 percent of his studio, and by gum if it doesn't sound like the album he'd been waiting to make his whole life. Loaded with the traditionals he learned as a boy in Turkey Scratch, Levon Helm's new rasp and old drums shine, heartier and wiser than ever.
9. Mulehead "The Gospel Accordion II"
A rollicking, amplified trip through religion, hangovers and general bastardry. It's Kevin Kerby at his most acerbic. And drunk. They sing to Pontius Pilate, Satan and trifling women with lyrical footnotes and guitar solos. Also, it's possibly the funniest album title to ever come out of Arkansas.
10. Pharoah Sanders "Karma"/ Rwake "Voices of Omens"
Tied for the final spot, these two albums may be disparate upon first glance, but once you find the similarities in their sonic mayhem — Pharoah practically shrieking into his saxophone, Rwake blasting away through their amps, tribal drums abound — you'll find that Arkansas, time and time again, does chaotic noise beautifully.
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