The Carper Family - Old-Fashioned Gal (Self-released)
The successor album to their Americana Country Album of the Year winner, "Back When," shows the Carper Family sticking with what they do best: Fine musicianship and songwriting and, oh, those harmonies. More original songs and some covers, and maybe a little more bluegrass instrumentation. Lots of great musicians helping out and Cindy Cashdollar handling production.
The Dock Ellis Band - Bad Songs and Waltzes (Self-released)
These St. Louis favorites released their best album to date in 2013, chock full of country goodness. The songwriting is good, Jesse Irwin's vocals hit the mark and Dave Anderson guests on pedal steel. Some of the album is not suitable for airplay (no big surprise, there), so get out and see these guys to hear the full album.
Robbie Fulks - Gone Away Backwards (Bloodshot)
Robbie Fulks' best album arrived in 2013, filled with material he wrote with the exception of a couple of public domain fiddle tunes. The songs alternate between country and bluegrass styles, and Robbie gets help from Mike Bub (Del McCoury) and Rob Gjersoe (the Flatlanders). A complete work that satisfies.
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin - Bakersfield (MCA)
Vince and Paul take a ride out to Bakersfield, Calif., home to a country-dance sound that features twangy Telecasters, fiddles and drums. They limit the songs to ones recorded by Buck and Merle, but with masters such as these there really aren't any limits. One of Nashville's best singers and guitarists and its busiest steel player have joined forces in a fine traditional country album.
Miss Leslie - Lucky (Zero)
Miss Leslie's latest release is also her best record. She continues writing good songs at an unbelievable pace and her vocals exude warmth, pain, humor and sadness apropos of the material. She's got a lot of great Texas musicians playing on this one too.
Joel Savoy's Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round - Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round (Valcour)
There's hardly a hint of Cajun seasoning in this release. Instead Joel Savoy has created a straight-ahead honky tonk album featuring family and friends to cover chestnuts like George Jones' "Color of the Blues" and Dolly's "Livin' on Memories of You." Rose Sinclair provides tasty pedal steel licks throughout.
Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain (High Top Mountain)
The best debut album I've heard by an artist in some time, possibly going back to Dwight, which is only right considering Sturgill has been opening shows for him. Mostly original material with two exceptions, one being Steve Fromholz's classic, "I'd Have to be Crazy." Sturgill not only attempts this song which Willie has heretofore owned, he nails it.
Son Volt - Honky Tonk (Rounder)
Jay Farrar has been playing on occasion in local country bands, and the natural output of that is "Honky Tonk," a set of originals, backed by local musicians Gary Hunt, Justin Branum, Brad Sarno and Mark Spencer -- OK, we'll include Jay as a local too. Jay's songwriting clearly influenced the album, but I think the other players influenced Jay too.
Dale Watson and His Lone Stars - El Rancho Azul (Red House)
Neotraditionalist and co-founder of "Ameripolitan" music, Dale Watson returns with 14 originals, including his classic account of Billy Joe Shaver's dustup down in Waco, Texas. Lots of drinking songs on this album if you can believe that, and two songs come with dance lessons.
Various Artists - The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons (Warner)
Buddy Emmons is the most influential pedal steel guitarist ever, and this is a worthy tribute to the Big E. This is a nice mix of instrumental and vocal performances with some less well-known steel players. Highlights include Raul Malo taking on "Night Life," a couple of cuts with Duane Eddy and 92-year old Jimmy Dickens, who gave Buddy a job as one of his Country Boys in the late '40s, singing "When Your House Is Not a Home."