1. Hayes Carll – Trouble In Mind (Lost Highway) A masterpiece of rock with a country attitude and a Texas drawl. Interesting characters in unlikely situations that we can all somehow relate to.
2. Chris Knight – Heart Of Stone (Drifter’s Church) One of the closest finishes between #1 and #2 in the history of my year-end poll. Heartbreaking and beautiful from one of Kentucky’s best songwriters. I’ll listen to this album the rest of my life.
3. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (New West) The closest thing we have to Lynyrd Skynyrd today. This excellent band survived the departure of songwriter and singer Jason Isbell and didn’t miss a beat by adding bassist Shonna Tucker to the songwriting mix. Her “Purgatory Line” is near-perfect.
4. James Intveld – Have Faith (Molenaart) In-demand session musician and one-time lead guitarist of the Blasters pulls off the year’s best honkytonk album.
5. Malcolm Holcombe – Gamblin’ House (Echo Mountain) The mercurial Holcombe is somewhat of an enigma, having stopped and started a music career more than once. Rugged folk with echoes of Guy Clark and John Prine.
6. James McMurtry – Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod) The reliable McMurtry does not top Childish Things with this album but comes close. “Ruby And Carlos” may be his best song.
7. Watson Twins – Fire Songs (Vanguard) Louisville transplants now in L.A. put out this terrific album of country-leaning rock and pop with plenty of heartbreak. Their version of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is a blueprint of what a great cover should be – totally different yet the same.
8. Chatham County Line – IV (Yep Roc) Just like all their other albums, the boys in CCL land on my year-end list. The best bluegrass-y band around.
9. Avett Brothers – The Second Gleam (Ramseur) The Second Gleam or Gleam II is another short collection of acoustic personal songs of loss and hope from Scott and Seth without third “brother” Bob Crawford.
10. Miss Lana Rebel – All I Need (Wantage) The top debut of the year. Lana hails from Portland, Oregon. I haven’t heard country music this promising from a female artist since Freakwater. This one came out of nowhere to win me over.
11. BoDeans – Still (He & He)
12. Tift Merritt – Another Country (Fantasy)
13. John Mann – Evening News (self-released)
14. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey (Lost Highway)
15. John Mellencamp – Life Death Love And Freedom (Hear Music)
16. Dave Insley – West Texas Wine (self-released)
17. Todd Snider – Peace Queer (Aimless)
18. Peter Cooper – Mission Door (Red Beet)
19. Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal (Back Porch/Manhattan)
20. Grayson Capps & The Stumpknockers – Rott-n-Roll (Hyena)
Last 5 out: Glen Campbell, Ryan Adams, Justin Rutledge, Bonnie Prince Billy, Old Crow Medicine Show. Top reissues: Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac (Expanded Edition), Hank Williams – The Unreleased Recordings. Top various artists collection: The Imus Ranch Record.