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  The Greatest Knoxville Records of All Time

What makes for great Knoxville music?

That's what we've been asking ourselves for the past several weeks in our quest to honor the best records made by Knoxvillians past and present; unfortunately, there's no single deciding factor, no "Knoxville sound" that can serve as a litmus test. In fact, most of these records couldn't be more different: The genres listed here range from barrelhouse blues to laundromat punk. Some of these records were made for major labels and won the artists lasting fame; others were recorded in Fort Sanders basements and stacked on the shelves of a few local stores. Many of the musicians were born and raised here; others came and went...

So what's "Knoxvillian" about this music? Well, if you listen closely to any of these albums, you might detect a common sensibility being shared among these musicians who performed in our dusty streets, dingy bars, and concert halls in the past 100 years: an honesty to their music. The songs may be ironic or straightforward, silly or sober, vicious or forgiving—but none of them sound fake. They were all recorded by people actively pursuing their dreams here—whether this was the place to do it or not—and they didn't stoop to following trends or pandering to imagined tastes. They recorded this music because this is what they had in them.

To figure out which records to put on our list, we assembled a blue ribbon panel of local music experts: writers, musicians, historians, scene-watchers. In making the final selections, we did establish some criteria: The records had to have been recorded by true Knoxvillians, if not by birth then at heart (even if they later left); the records must have been released in a commercial form that could be purchased at local stores (not just demo tapes or something circulated among friends); the records should still conceivably be available, even if you have to look hard (archival and long-lost recordings didn't count).

This selection probably isn't complete, and it's highly likely that we didn't list one of your personal favorites. Just keep in mind that music appreciation is subjective, then plunge in.

Our esteemed panel:

Mike Dotson
Lee Gardner
Lisa Morrow
Jack Neely
Shelly Ridenour
John Sewell
Benny Smith
Todd Steed
Coury Turczyn