(In alphabetical order):
Pinto Bennett, The Last Saturday Night. Billy Joe Shaver thinks this fellow crusty, old honky-tonker is great. He’s right.
Tyler Childers, Country Squire. It was a tough call between Childers and fellow Kentuckian Ian Noe’s Between the Country, as both keep it raw and real while drawing brilliantly on their Appalachian roots.
Jack Ingram, Ridin’ High … Again. The Texan’s studio album sounds almost like a live set, with a terrific mix of originals and covers, and killer ballads alternating with swaggering roadhouse rockers.
Jason James, Seems Like Tears Ago. The young Texan evokes George Jones, Hank Williams, and Buck Owens as he shows his mastery of traditional country sounds on a dozen top-notch originals.
The Mavericks, Play the Hits. Singer Raul Malo and Co. take songs from Willie, Waylon, Elvis, and more, and make them their own on this hugely entertaining collection.
Rod Melancon, Pinkville. The south Louisiana native can sound like a bayou Steve Earle, but his songs pack a wallop all their own, from the hard-rocking “Westgate” to a country-soul portrait of Freddy Fender.
Buddy and Julie Miller, Breakdown on 20th Ave. South. One of Americana’s first couples present scenes from a marriage, with unflinching honesty.
Allison Moorer, Blood. The loss of Moorer’s parents in a horrific family tragedy serves as the inspiration for this stark, searing set, an accompaniment to her memoir of the same title.
Mavis Staples, We Get By. The gospel-soul matriarch keeps the faith with stirring and unstinting fervor on tracks written and produced by Ben Harper.
Tanya Tucker, While I’m Livin’. On her first album in years, the country spitfire digs deep on songs, most of them written by Brandi Carlile, that reflect her advancing years but also her enduring spirit.
Honorable Mention: Vince Gill, Okie; The Highwomen, The Highwomen; Miranda Lambert, Wildcard; Ian Noe, Between the Country; Bill Toms and Hard Rain, Live.