1. Charlie Robison - Beautiful Day
Charlie's "divorce album" is a lean, mean, nearly perfect dish of Texas country. Sharply crafted and passionately performed, this is Robison's most consistent, and likely best, album to date. So solid is this record, Charlie bests his well-regarded brother's recent output, even in the songwriting arena. A broken heart has rarely sounded so good.
Hear this: Down Again
2. Ben Nichols - Last Pale Light in the West
A collection of gritty narratives based on Cormac McCarthy's blood-soaked epic, "Blood Meridian," Ben's solo record is as powerful as anything I've heard this year (and much of last), despite the narrow focus. Nichols tops his band Lucero's major label debut with this strong entry that holds up after myriad replays.
Hear this: Toadvine
3. Buddy and Julie Miller - Written in Chalk
Quiet at times, raucous at others, Buddy and Julie are in fine form on this album and the songs feel timeless. Though it's a lazy comparison, "Written in Chalk" is this year's "Rattlin' Bones."
Hear this: Chalk
4. Magnolia Electric Company - Josephine
Haunting. I don't know of any other way to describe lead singer Jason Molina's voice (okay, besides "acquired taste"). Gorgeous - that's how I'd describe Josephine.
Hear this: O Grace
5. Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
My favorite band hits the "big time" with their first release for Universal. Did they sell out? Nah. Change their sound? Well, they gussied it up a smidge with a few (ok, crapload of) horns. The honking doesn't detract from the sound for me, but the raw emotion that pulled me into this band in the first place seems to have ebbed just a bit. Still a very worthy release and possibly the best entry point for listeners new to the band.
Hear this: Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble
6. BettySoo - Heat Sin Water Skin
My favorite new discovery of the year. The emotion will grab you, the lines will cut you and the melodies will never leave your mind.
Hear this: Just Another Lover
7. Wrinkle Neck Mules - Let the Lead Fly
Hear this: Pull Me From the Wreckage
8. Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels
Great Lake Swimmers expand on their sound with Lost Channels, without losing any of the beauty.
Hear this: Pulling on a Line, Still
9. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'em What Your Name Is
My second favorite new discovery of the year, these guys are good-time seventies fun mixed with raunchy R&B mixed with some indie garage rock rawness. I dare you not to dance... or at least tap your foot like crazy.
Hear this: Sugarfoot
10. Drew Kennedy - An Audio Guide to Cross Country Travel
FTM doesn't play favorites - I like what I like. That said, I'm proud to welcome friend of FTM Drew Kennedy to the top 10 with a truly deserving release. His literate, unorthodox (for country) writing style and soulful vocals stand far above the crowd in the Texas music scene. He inhabits these road-themed character sketches with natural ease.
Hear this: Cincinnati, Rolling Around in the Bed
11. The Black Crowes - Before the Frost...Until the Freeze
12. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies
13. Son Volt - American Central Dust
14. The Devil Makes Three - Do Wrong Right
15. Slaid Cleaves - Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away
16. Joshua James - Build Me This
17. Switchfoot - Hello Huricane
18. Miranda Lambert - Revolution
19. Krizz Kaliko - Genius
20. Mastodon - Crack the Skye
21. The Avett Bros. - I And Love And You
22. Brad Paisley - American Saturday Night
23. Chris Knight - Trailer Tapes II
24. Joe Nichols - Old Things New
25. George Strait - Twang
26. Drive-by Truckers - The Fine Print
27. The Dustin Bentall Outfit - Six Shooter
28. Them Crooked Vultures - s/t
29. Pearl Jam - Backspacer
30. Tom Russell - Blood and Candle Smoke
31. Sons of Bill - One Town Away
32. Deer Tick - Born on Flag Day
33. Those Darlins - s/t
34. Grant Langston - Stand Up Man
35. Guy Clark - Somedays the Song Writes You
36. Pete Bernhard - Straight Line
37. Steve Earle - Townes
38. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
39. Scott Warren - Quick Fix Bandage
40. Holly Williams - Here With Me
41. The Fox Hunt - America's Working So We Don't Have To
42. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit - s/t
43. Eric Church - Carolina
44. Drive-by Truckers - Live From Austin, TX
45. Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle - Let's Just Stay Here
46. Willie Nelson & Asleep At The Wheel - Willie and the Wheel
47. Old Californio - Westering Again
48. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
49. The Deep Dark Woods - Winter Hours
50. Phosphorescent - To Willie
51. John Moreland & The Black Gold Band - Endless Oklahoma Sky
52. Robert Earl Keen - The Rose Hotel
53. Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey & The Groogrux King
54. Roman Candle - Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
55. Red Fang - s/t
56. Jason Eady - When the Money's All Gone
57. Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan
58. Austin Lucas - Somebody Loves You
59. Megadeth - Endgame
60. The Pines - Tremolo
Author's note: all the albums on this list are very much worth a listen - there were others I enjoyed this year, but I had to cut it off somewhere.