If I were to do this list on another day, I'm sure the order would certainly change and several different releases might appear. That's just the nature of top 10 lists. I do feel certain that any one of these releases will stand the test of time and provide rewarding listening for many years to come, however, and that's the most important criteria for me when considering releases for inclusion on this list.
1. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (Anti-)
Neko Case has a sound of her own and is not likely to be confused with any other artists out there. Whether singing alone or singing with Kelly Hogan, the vocals are sublime and instantly recognizable. Her idiosyncratic and sometimes oblique songwriting style is not for everybody but it sure works for me. Whether the songs are sparse and stripped down or big, layered productions - both of which are found on this album - the album is wholly effective and the songs unfold more and the album gets better with every listen.
2. Jason Isbell - Southeastern (Relativity / Southeastern)
One of the strongest collection of songs to be found on any album this year. The best and most consistent material he's ever written over his relatively young career. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.
3. Brandy Clark - 12 Stories (Smith Music Group)
I think this new debut release by the singer-songwriter who has written songs for country artists such as Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow and LeAnn Rimes is the best country album I've heard this year.
4. Camera Obscura - Desire Lines (4AD)
Traceyanne Campbell delivers again with intelligent lyrics wrapped in beautiful pop melodies and more than a hint of melancholy. Like the Neko Case album, the more you listen, the more you will be rewarded.
5. Dolly Varden - For a While (Mid-Fi)
Take songwriting informed by the pop sensibilities of the Beatles, soul, classic country and the Laurel Canyon songwriting sound of the '70s, then add the gorgeous vocal-harmony blend of Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, and that gives you some idea of what to expect on what is arguably the best album of their 19-year history.
6. Sam Phillips - Push Any Button (Littlebox Recordings)
This artist is so underrated and overlooked. You know a Sam Phillips song when you hear it. Beautifully put-together slightly off-kilter pop songs and a voice which doesn't sound like anybody else out there. All this makes her truly unique.
7. John Paul Keith - Memphis Circa 3AM (Fat Possum)
A great collection of tuneful pop, country and rockabilly songs with titles like "Baby We're a Bad Idea." Then throw in the fact that he's an excellent guitarist and really good singer and it makes for one of the most engaging collection of songs of the year.
8. Charles Bradley - Victim of Love (Daptone)
This is soul music the way it ought to be.
9. Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple (Merge)
Heather McEntire has one of the finest voices in the Americana (for lack of a better term) genre and she can deliver a slow ballad every bit as convincingly as a full-tilt rocker.
10. Gregory Porter - Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)
There's not a better singer on this list than Gregory Porter, and he is a fine interpreter of jazz and soul standards and composer of some really strong original songs. Fans of Bill Withers would probably find a whole lot to like about this artist and this release.