Hopefully you’ve at least heard of some of them.
1. ZZ Top, La Futura (American Recordings): First new ZZ Top studio album in nine years is a total groove, stripped down to the basics of rock ‘n’ blues, so simple and consistent, and featuring one of the great lines of the year: “Chartreuse, you know I like that big caboose!”
2. Marty Stuart, Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down (Sugar Hill): Marty Stuart continues to lap the Music City competition with another textbook demonstration of traditional country music of the highest order.
3. Sara Watkins, Sun Midnight Sun (Nonesuch): Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins’ 2009 self-titled debut album was lovely, but this year’s follow-up is a stunning step forward in taking her further beyond progressive bluegrass and into her own special creative realm.
4. Minnesota, Are You There (Hymn & Holler): A conceptual collaboration between Peter Himmelman and filmmaker David Hollander (Personal Effects and TV’s The Guardian and Heartland) is seen as Himmelman’s first “band” album in over 25 years, even if the set, which features longtime associates Jeff Victor on keys and Kristin Mooney on vocals, is just the latest setting for the veteran singer-songwriter’s brilliance.
5. Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, One Wrong Turn (Alligator): Easily the most inventive contemporary blues composer/harmonica player, Rick Estrin leads his tight quartet in an ultra-hip set full of clever downers like “Callin’ All Fools” and the hysterically hapless “(I Met Her On The) Blues Cruise.”
6. Public Image Ltd., This Is PiL (PiL Official): Something’s oddly reassuring–almost comforting–in PiL’s first album since 1992, from its opening belch to “Lucky you! This is PiL…you are now entering a PiL zone” and the ever-gripping instrumental backing, in that there are some things you can still have faith in.
7. Joan Osborne, Bring It On Home (Saguaro Road): Joan Osborne long ago proved she could sing anything pop could challenge her with, and this album of classic soul, blues and R&B covers updates the evidence.
8. Graham Parker & The Rumour, Three Chords Good (Primary Wave): Such a surprising and most welcome return from the historic GP&R–after 30-plus years–made it seem like they never left, even if Parker, solo or leading other bands, never has.
9. Joe Jackson, The Duke (Razor & Tie): Not even Duke Ellington’s sophistication as a composer and arranger is beyond the grasp of Joe Jackson, who infuses The Duke’s genius with his own.
10. Susan Justice, Eat Dirt (Capitol): She was great when she was Susan Cagle playing with her siblings in the New York subways, and as Susan Justice, she shows a Taylor Swift-like facility for pop melody and pensive lyric, but with 10 years’ added maturity.
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