Chicago's Dolly Varden—a quintet built around husband and wife Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen—are among the few alt-country groups that prove how wrong it is that music this sweet and pure should has to have an "alt" in front of it. Sublime harmonies, traditional country instrumentation, and songwriting that never gets cute should be the standard for mainstream country, not an alternative. Songs like "Mayfly" (where for nearly seven minutes love is praised in all tenses), "Done (Done)" (where the rhythm section breaks out with harmonies to create a perfect roll-down-the-car-window song), and "Favorite Friend" (where a dark piano creates an end-of-the-night ballad worthy of Neil Young) are among the best examples of how music made within tradition can still defy limits when played with inspiration. Considering this group has been circulating for just about 20 years, it's a testament to its high standards that it has a smaller catalog than most bands of its vintage. Dolly Varden waits until it's sure it has something worth saying.