Roots, country, blues, Americana - why fight about the names? This great music stays right at home in style and theme. Below are Nick Cristiano's roots and country top 10 for 2014.
"Cowboy" Jack Clement, For Once and for All (I.R.S.) The legendary producer and Nashville bon vivant delivers beautifully understated versions of some of his best-known songs on this posthumous, guest-laden release.
Mike Farris, Shine for All the People (Compass). The powerhouse vocalist rattles the rafters with a soul- stirring blend of gospel standards, his own gospel-drenched originals, and a transcendent take on Mary Gauthier's "Mercy Now."
Jason Eady, Daylight and Dawn (Thirty Tigers).
The deep-voiced singer unsparingly mulls "Causes," "Consequences," and "Recovery" on a set of whiskey-soaked hard country. Song title of the year: "One, Two . . . Many."
Doug Seegers, Going Down to the River (Rounder). Story of the year: Sixty-two-year-old Nashvillian goes from homeless to killer country-soul debut album, with guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller.
Billy Joe Shaver, Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod). At 75, the original country outlaw remains as ornery and as soulfully poetic as ever.
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Thirty Tigers). Despite the title and some trippy moments, this fresh voice remains hard-core country at heart on his second album.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (Thirty Tigers). With Stuart in top writing form, these crack musicians and singers once again cover all the country bases, along with some rock, soul, and gospel, in superb fashion.
Paul Thorn, Too Blessed to Be Stressed (Perpetual Obscurity). The roots-rocker audaciously goes for unabashed positivity, and he pulls it off in his usual highly entertaining fashion, with a charismatic blend of pulpit and street.
Jesse Winchester, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble (Appleseed). The genteel, Southern-bred singer-songwriter died in April at 69, leaving behind this sublime collection, steeped in warmth, grace, and exquisite craft.
Lee Ann Womack, The Way I'm Livin' (Sugar Hill). The country star goes indie on her first album in six years, and she delivers her best yet, displaying her usual excellent taste with a collection of exceptionally well-chosen songs.
Carlene Carter, Carter Girl (Rounder).
Miranda Lambert, Platinum (RCA Nashville).
Nikki Lane, All or Nothin' (New West).
Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy (ATO).
Jimmer Podrasky, The Would-Be Plans (Chief Injustice).