A lot of elders did a lot of stellar work in the country/roots field in 2013, and the year also showed that reunions don't have to be disappointing. In country itself, while young male stars were fixating on "Chicks, Trucks, and Beer" (to quote a Tyler Farr title), and even one of the best, Brad Paisley, stumbled, promising young women emerged, writing circles around them. And who doesn't like a thrilling comeback?
12 Stories, by Brandy Clark (Slate Creek). In a year in which women far outpaced men in bringing fresh, intelligent voices to country music, Clark is one of the best.
Blind, Crippled, and Crazy, by Delbert & Glen (New West). After 40 years, Delbert McClinton teams with old partner Glen Clark, and they sound better than ever on a loose and lively set whose roadhouse rambunctiousness is offset by some fine, soulful moments.
Pushin' Against a Stone, by Valerie June (Concord). With a voice that falls between Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday, June ranges in mesmerizing fashion from stark folk and gospel to full-blown pop-soul and blues.
Memphis Circa 3 A.M., by John Paul Keith (Big Legal Mess). On his third album, the Memphis singer-guitarist excels at everything from jangly guitar-pop to rockabilly, country, and blue-eyed soul, with original songs that sound like lost classics.
Feeling Mortal, by Kris Kristofferson (KK Records). The 76-year-old master continues his artistic rebirth with another set of moving, soul-baring songs delivered with craggy grace.
In Time, by the Mavericks (Valory). Ten years after splitting up, the ensemble, led by big-voiced Raúl Malo, is back with another vibrant tapestry of sound that soars gloriously beyond the borders of the group's country roots.
The Reconciliation?, by My Darling Clementine (Five Head Entertainment). The English husband-wife duo evokes George and Tammy with brilliant songs in a classic-country vein.
Same Trailer, Different Park, by Kacey Musgraves (Mercury Nashville). The Country Music Association's new artist of the year sometimes writes with Brandy Clark, but she's sharp-witted in her own way on this major-label debut.
Annie Up, by Pistol Annies (RCA). The hell-on-heels country trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley is as tough and tender on this second album as on the first.
The Would-Be Plans, by Jimmer Podrasky (Chief Injustice). The leader of the defunct Americana/power-pop band the Rave-Ups makes a stirring comeback with an album that reveals a defiantly resilient spirit in the face of tough times.
Honorable Mention: Good Wine and Bad Decisions, by Julie Roberts; Hoodoo, by Tony Joe White; Only Slightly Mad, by David Bromberg; My Favorite Picture of You, by Guy Clark; Old Yellow Moon, by Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris.
Hightop Mountain, by Waylonesque newcomer Sturgill Simpson, and El Rancho Azul, by veteran honky-tonker Dale Watson, keep the trad-country torch burning bright. Like a Rose shows Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies doing her bandmates proud, and they all get a run for their money from Spitfire, by LeAnn Rimes. And former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell delivers his best solo album with Southeastern.