1. Slaid Cleaves, Broke Down (Rounder)
A singer-songwriter with a folkie flair for the story song and simple, memorable tunes. A stunning album, full of the kind of songs that will bring tears even on repeated listens.
2. Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love, Audible Sigh (Compass)
Proof that rock music made from a Christian perspective doesn't have to cater to the latest pop trends, Vigilantes of Love have been making great folk-rock masterpieces for a decade this is arguably their best yet.
3. Jim Roll, Lunette (New West)
With production from Silos founder Walter Salas-Humara, the comparisons to that band's early records are easy to make, but Roll has the quality songs to make the familiar sounds worthwhile. Big city folk for city folks.
4. Joseph Arthur, Come to Where I'm From (EMD/Real World)
For his sophomore album, this Peter Gabriel discovery delves deep into the funkier corners of his folk and world music influences, emerging as some kind of holy trinity combination of David Bowie, Nick Drake, and Peter Gabriel.
5. Outkast, Stankonia (LaFace/Arista)
Rap's Mothership has arrived, and it carries the badass mofos of southern rap to new heights of funky lunacy. The single, "Mrs. Jackson", only hints at the groove this group latches onto. If only all rap was this inventive, and innovative.
6. Allison Moorer, The Hardest Part (MCA Nashville)
Probably the best country album on a major label this year, and worth it for the Lonesome Bob cameo vocal on "Next Time", alone. Moorer takes the southern soul influences she shares with sister Shelby Lynne and takes it to the country side.
7. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Island)
Leaving the country music to her sister Alison, Lynne revealed her true self on this liberating disc, the best gutsy girl-soul since Dusty Springfield left Memphis.
8. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Bloodshot)
Without his band Whiskeytown around, Adams turns out a very Dylan-esque solo disc with suitably odd parenthetical titles. No extra emphasis is necessary for these gently rocking tunes, though.
9. Teddy Thompson, Teddy Thompson (EMD/Virgin)
Dad Richard is renowned more for his guitar playing than the many fine songs he has penned, but son Teddy appears ready to spearhead a one-man (two, if one counts Rufus Wainwright) resurgence of the sweet-voiced '70s singer-songwriter. In the grand romantic tradition of Harry Nilsson, this Teddy bears watching.
10. Chico Cesar, Chico Cesar (Putumayo)
From the music-rich country of Brazil, this oddball artist takes back the samba influences that David Byrne borrowed for a while and adds Talking Heads style bouncy pop and reggae to the mix for a genre-mixing good time.