Black 47

,

Iraq

(UFO). Singer-guitarist Larry Kirwan's songs present a you-are-there, grunt's-eye view of the war that rings brutally true, and they are powered by the veteran New York band's galvanic Celtic-rock.

Carlene Carter

,

Stronger

(Yep Roc). After bottoming out on drugs and alcohol, the daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash is back with her first album in 13 years, and it exudes the vivacious intelligence and charm of her popular early-'90s work.

Ry Cooder

,

I, Flathead

(Nonesuch). The virtuoso guitarist and roots aficionado completes his ambitious album trilogy about a bygone Southern California with a typically quirky and colorful saga that involves a journeyman country singer and a space alien.

Dr. John and the Lower 911

,

City That Care Forgot

(429 Records). One of New Orleans' premier musical ambassadors channels his anger over what has happened to his Katrina-devastated hometown into his hardest-hitting songs, with music that celebrates the city's rich heritage.

Fred Eaglesmith

,

Tinderbox

(A Major Label). The Canadian singer-songwriter's best album is a set of brilliantly terse songs - intensely evocative and haunting - set to a pungent Americana heavy on gospel and blues flavorings.

Jamey Johnson,

That Lonesome Song

(Mercury). Drinking, drugging, divorce: The Alabama-born honky-tonker has lived it all, and he puts those staples of country inspiration to good use on a set that is far darker than most mainstream Nashville releases.

James McMurtry

,

Just Us Kids

(Lightning Rod). The keen-eyed Lone Star bard, never one for easy romanticism, is at his sharpest here, mixing compelling character narratives with scathing political commentary, often accompanied by lean and nasty roots-rock. He edges out another Texas troubadour, Hayes Carll (

Trouble in Mind

).

Ashton Shepherd

,

Sounds So Good

(MCA Nashville). The big-voiced young Alabama native shows herself to be an imposing torchbearer for tradition-minded honky-tonk on this terrific debut. And she can write as well as she can belt.

Mavis Staples

,

Live: Hope at the Hideout

(Anti-). Focusing on the "freedom songs" of the civil rights movement, the gospel-soul great tears it up in a spectacularly stirring live set. Other old-timers who moved us: B.B. King (

One Kind Favor

), Howard Tate (

Blue Day

), and Garnet Mimms (

Is Anybody Out There

).

Lee Ann Womack

,

Call Me Crazy

(MCA Nashville). Sounding both vintage and contemporary, the singer offers another sterling collection of adult country songs - meaning they acknowledge that life has disappointments and regrets, and not a lot of happy endings.