Mandy Barnett, Strange Conversation. The singer, best known for portraying Patsy Cline, takes a disparate collection of pop, soul, and rock numbers and makes a riveting personal statement.
Shemekia Copeland, America’s Child. The powerhouse vocalist and daughter of the late blues great Johnny Copeland works here in Nashville with a bunch of Americana stalwarts and delivers her own state of the union.
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis, Wild! Wild! Wild!. Fulks recaptures his early alt-country brilliance and teams with the piano-pounding sister of Jerry Lee Lewis for a rollicking set that lives up to its title.
Mary Gauthier, Rifles and Rosary Beads. Adapting the stories of combat veterans and the spouses of veterans, the singer-songwriter paints a devastating portrait of the toll of war but also an uplifting one about service and sacrifice.
Buddy Guy, The Blues Is Alive and Well. The music certainly is in the hands of this ageless blues giant, who at 81 sounds as vital as ever.
Joshua Hedley, Mr. Jukebox. This young throwback cannily mixes hard country and countrypolitan styles with timeless songwriting for a classic sound that is nevertheless squarely his own.
Loretta Lynn, Wouldn’t It Be Great. At 84, the country matriarch presents some new songs and revisits older ones, showing she’s as sage and salty as ever.
JD McPherson, Socks. The roots-rocker’s Christmas album joyously transcends the season with unabashed rock and roll and terrific original songs that evoke the colorful storytelling and clever humor of Leiber and Stoller.
Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel. On their third album, Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe (who had a strong solo album in Sparrow) again take no prisoners with their tart and unsparingly candid takes on their lives as women.
John Prine, The Tree of Forgiveness. On his first album of original material in 13 years, the singer-songwriter delivers more incisive wisdom with a twinkle in his eye, and shows why he’s more beloved than ever.
Honorable Mention: Ry Cooder, The Prodigal Son; Jesse Dayton, The Outsider; Shooter Jennings, Shooter; Bettye LaVette, Things Have Changed; Gina Sicilia, Heard the Lie.