My tastes were more oriented towards roots-music this year than any in recent memory and The Damn Quails put out a stunning debut that satisfied my yearnings like no other. The unique voices of Bryon and Gabriel combine for divine harmonies and their writing is the class of contemporary bands that fall into the "red dirt" scene, or nearly any scene for that matter. There isn't a weak song on the offering and what's more, nearly every tune spent time lodged in my brain on replay at one point or another. Brilliant work, epic even. Best songs: All of them, but if you must have 1 or 2 …"Fool's Gold" and "Mary" always slay me.
Wrapped around the undeniable song of the year, "Codeine," is an album that more than pulls its own weight. Isbell fans may have hoped for something louder, but what they got was an artist-defining gem of a southern rock and soul record. Strong lyrics, excellent musicianship and plenty of easy-to-love melodies make this an album most anyone can appreciate, and true music lovers will adore. Best tracks: Codeine, Alabama Pines.
The boys went and growed up on us. While Hellbound Glory is still infatuated with the darker subjects - addiction, dysfunctional families and death, in particular - their songwriting has improved a great deal since their last album. Not that it was ever bad. It's just that this time around the songs are better developed. The hooks are hookier and the subject matter comes across more naturally - it no longer feels like they're trying to shoehorn in every deviant behavior and curse word they can, just because they can. This is a band on the rise and with material this good, they may eventually break down the wall between alt and country. Best tracks: Better Hope You Die Young, Knocked Off the Horse.
What else is there to say about Hayes? Rapier wit. Songwriting that recalls the greats of country and folk music. Memorable, affable voice. Actually has something to say. Just enough weirdness to keep him a little mysterious. Check, to all of those. This guy's the real deal; one of the few artists I'll buy an album from without hearing a single note. He never disappoints, never rests on his accolades. Thanks for another winner, Hayes! Best tracks: Another Like You, Chances Are.
Jimbo calls this "catfish music," and I see no better way to describe it. Confederate Buddha is a melting pot for southern music - R&B, rock, folk, country and swamp soul, all mixed, matched and sifted out at different times on the record. Mathus' writing is in turns poetic, straight-forward or abstract, all expertly crafted and emotionally performed. Best tracks: Cling to the Roots, Aces and Eights.
Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin and Neko Case in a blender vocals. Transgendered Hayes Carll songwriting chops. That was weird. …this album is great.
Best tracks: Are You Ready to Die, Hell's Bells
The in-demand producer of #6/former hair band member/former 90's alt-rock band, the jack - nay master - of all trades turns in this hook-driven smorgasbord of power pop, hard rock and jangly country-flavored rave-up goodness. This album alongside #8 would make a killer party soundtrack. Best tracks: Synthesizers, Suckerpunch
If this is a sellout, I wish every artist who's been accused of such had such a well-done betrayal of ideals. The Black Keys expand their blues rock sound to (bluesy) glam rock and power pop without missing a step or making it sound contrived. Sometimes you just need to turn off your inner-critic and enjoy. Fun, fun, fun! Best tracks: Gold on the Ceiling, Nova Baby
Adele somehow straddles the huge divide between modern pop and "old people" soul music with great success. Even the songs that lack lyrically are made great by Adele's huge (but never diva-esque) voice. There hasn't been an artist in some time that brought together so many people in mutual admiration. This is a chick album that dudes can be unashamed to love. It's an old-school album that kids can groove to. Excellence. Best tracks - Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You.
Sounding like the Black Crowes by way of Muscle Shoals, Ponderosa is a super-talented band of southern rockers who mostly steer clear of the clichés of the genre. Kalen Bush's lead vocals are stirring and the harmonies take their sound over the top. Ponderosa isn't reinventing the wheel here, but what they do, they do very well. Best tracks: Old Gin Road, Devil on My Shoulder.
13. Stoney Larue - Velvet
15. Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire
16. Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
17. Wilco - The Whole Love
18. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears - Scandalous
19. Mastodon - The Hunter
20. Will Hoge - Number Seven
22. Miranda Lambert - Four the Record
23. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
24. Justin Haigh - People Like Me
25. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
26. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
28. Bon Iver - s/t
29. Sunny Sweeney - Concrete
31. Bad Meets Evil - Hell (The Sequel)
32. Left Lane Cruiser - Junkyard Speed Ball
34. Big KRIT - Return of 4Eva
35. The Decemberists - The King is Dead
36. F*cked Up - David Comes to Life
37. Merle Haggard - Working in Tennessee
38. Eli Young Band - Life at Best
39. Adam Hood - The Shape of Things
41. Glossary - Long Live All of Us
43. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing
44. Dawes - Nothing is Wrong
45. Cody Canada and The Departed - This is Indian Land
46. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
47. George Strait - Here for a Good Time
48. Robyn Ludwick - Out of These Blues
50. Jason Boland and the Stragglers - Rancho Alto