1. Kathleen Edwards - Failer (Potty Mouth/Universal)
Although it's not due out until mid-January stateside on Rounder, this album has been out for many months and hundreds of repeated listens. No Depression editor Peter Blackstock called it one of the year's best and for good reason. With a voice and depth that shines on songs like "Mercury" and "Six O'Clock News", the ten songs resemble Lucinda Williams if she was 23. The quality of each song rarely falters, with the final "Sweet Lil' Duck" coming as close to The Replacements' "Here Comes A Regular" as you'll hear. Remember this name and look out for this album. It's purely refreshing.
2. Paul Westerberg/Grandapoy - Stereo/Mono (Vagrant)
After taking a hiatus from the touring and recording racket, it was unknown if or when the former 'Mat would get back into the studio. And while he literally didn't return to the studio here, its ragged glory, abrupt endings and looseness is one of the better albums to come out in recent years. The Grandpaboy portion brings to mind Keith Richards if he severed the Stones. Songs such as "High Time" and "Silent Film Star" ooze one infectious riff after another. The singer-songwriter material tends to go over the same territory (and same chords in some spots) but as a whole, it's definitely an easy pick.
3. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight (Merge)
This band gets better with each album, using everything but the kitchen sink to get a feeling that goes back to the late seventies and early eighties of Blondie with a healthy dose of primal rock. There isn't a track on the album that is worth skipping over, with the band moving over old territory with new nuances. "Jonathan Fisk" and "Don't Let It Get You Down" possess the pop sensibilities of sixties rock bands while "Someone Something" is another high moment. Lead singer Britt Daniel is definitely on the right path, but it's debatable whether future albums can come close to this one.
4. Ron Sexsmith - Cobblestone Runway (Linus Entertainment)
After getting together with Steve Earle for last year's Blue Boy, this undervalued and often under-appreciated singer went for a slightly different, less folk album. With the record here, Sexsmith is given a contemporary sound that wasn't as present on previous albums. The acoustic guitar is replaced by a disco dance beat on "Dragonfly on Bay Street" while the subtle layers of sound make "Gold in Them Hills" simply majestic. The track's remix also has Coldplay's Chris Martin on vocal, but songs such as "God Loves Everyone" and "These Days" propel the album along.
5. Steve Earle - Jerusalem (Artemis)
Aside from the idiotic brouhaha which surrounded Earle's song "John Walker's Blues", this album seems at times more like a great EP. Clocking at less than 40 minutes, Earle goes from "Amerika v.6.0" to the uplifting closing title track without much change or reinvention. The duet with a female singer, in this case Emmylou Harris, seems to be a staple of recent albums. Here "I Remember You" is very effective. This album might be just as powerful as The Rising from Springsteen, but won't be given its just desserts. Another great album from someone building one hell of a great body of work!
6. Tom Petty - The Last DJ (Warner Bros.)
Oh, wait! Sorry, am I supposed to write about this album? I wouldn't want radio programmers to get mad at me. They may not play me or virtually ignore me. But when you're Tom Petty, do you really care? A loosely based concept album that would have made Roger Waters envious at times, Petty and his Heartbreakers start off with the title track and rarely lose focus. "Joe" is what the music industry has devolved into while "Money Becomes King" is another gem. Unfortunately it does suffer somewhat in places, but not before the closing songs put the album back on track.
7. The Pretenders - Loose Screw (Artemis)
With an upcoming tour in the New Year, Chrissie Hynde opts for a leaner and less meaner sound on this record, fusing reggae with rock and melodic pop. What makes the record work so well though is the somewhat British outlook on the lyrics. Tracks like "I Should Of", which hauntingly resembles Pulp's Jarvis Cocker circa Different Class and "You Know Who Your Friends Are" are instantly accessible. The reggae sound is also strong, with "Complex Person" leading the way. But they haven't forgotten their roots either, especially listening to "Lie to Me". Nothing pretentious here, just one good track after another.
8. Dixie Chicks - Home (Open Wide/Columbia)
After basically telling the suits where to go and the quickest way to get there, the Dixie Chicks opted for less polish and shine all the more for it. Taking the high road while Shania and others take a different route, the trio goes back to basics with a heavy dose of bluegrass, roots and "mountain" musical styles. Although the cover of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" is one of the early singles, there isn't a bad song on the record. The track which is great to listen to has to be "White Trash Wedding", a hoedown that resembles Metallica with dobros and banjos.
9. Lasse Lindh - You Wake Up at Sea Tac (Hidden Agenda)
This so-called "debut" album is a great surprise. Brimming with tight melodic pop and rock tracks, the singer shows his depth in lyrics and sound with songs like "The Heart Is Old" and "Damage Done" leading the way. Lindh resembles other songwriters coming from that region, especially Sondre Lerche, but Lindh sounds more relaxed throughout. Resembling the pop folk styles of British bands like Travis and Coldplay, Lindh should have a long and fruitful career ahead of him.
10. Blue Mountain - Tonight It's Now Or Never (DCN)
Taken from the last hurrah of this band before splintering into solo projects, this band's no nonsense approach to having a good time and being a solid roots rock outfit is demonstrate time after time. A double-disc from a show in Chicago, the album wastes little time getting the sound right and keeping it for nearly two hours. Whether it was giving the band a proper sendoff or knowing it would be the last go around, the care and intensity given to each song is incredible. It's a very, very good rock record.