9. A.A. Bondy, BELIEVERS. Atmospheric and dreamy, Bondy's newest sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a David Lynch film. Picture yourself driving down a desolate road at midnight with this CD playing low in the background...
8. Bright Eyes, THE PEOPLE'S KEY. Conor Oberst is one of the greatest, most inventive songwriters of the last decade. Some people don't care for his artistic flourishes, like having this album opened and closed by the words of a spiritual teacher who speaks of aliens, but I love it.
7. City & Colour, LITTLE HELL. The haunting vocals alone are reason enough to purchase this album, but with songs like "The Grand Optimist," where Dallas Green ponders his own worth and ghostly sings "I guess I take after my mother", and it's a must have. This was my major new find of the year.
6. Middle Brother, MIDDLE BROTHER. A fun hillbilly/rock group made up of members from Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit. Their song "Middle Brother" has one of my favorite, if inexplicable, lines of the year: "I got a dick so hard that a cat can't scratch." What?
5. Over the Rhine, THE LONG SURRENDER. From Cincinnati, this husband and wife team created one of the most swoony, bluesy records I heard all year. Karin Bergquist's vocals are gorgeous, and when teamed up with Lucinda Williams on the track "Undamned"...lawdy. The most touching song of the CD is "Only God Can Save Us Now," centering on the residents of a nursing home.
4. Frank Turner, ENGLAND KEEP MY BONES. Trust me. Once you hear "I Still Believe," a rowdy song about the power of music, you'll be hooked. Turner does rock n' roll with flair, but he also has the ability to pull some heartstrings with songs like "Redemption."
3. Ryan Adams, ASHES & FIRE. Adams' best work since GOLD, but this is an even more thoughtful affair. Those who keep shrugging him off as a has-been are big stupid-heads. His voice at times can be the equivalent of a steel guitar.
2. Emmylou Harris, HARD BARGAIN. A gut-wrenching set of songs. There is the occasional lovely lighthearted meander (the fun "Big Black Dog", which will make you want to go hug your own dog immediately), but this is for the most part a very sad and beautiful album. With songs ranging in theme from Emmit Till to New Orleans after Katrina to the loss of close friends, how can it not be.
1. Gillian Welch, THE HARROW & THE HARVEST. First of all, how great is that title? Gillian is an amazing one-of-a-kind artist. Her voice is recognizable even to people who aren't familiar with her name. Her songwriting and playing is nearly as spare as it gets, but so damn haunting. That's what made her record TIME (THE REVELATOR) an all-time favorite of mine. Here she mines that same familiar territory of lost souls, but offers them some kind of redemption.