1. Orchestra Baobab Specialist In All Styles (World Circuit)
After an 18-year hiatus, Senegal's Afro-Latin kings reunite and miraculously pick up precisely where their transfixing grooves left off. Comeback of the year, and album of the year, too.
2. Neko Case Blacklisted (Mint)
Backed by her Giant Sand accomplices, Neko Case ventures down the desolate two-lane that leads to the dark heart of the desert and tells the gripping tale with soulful sophistication. Unsettlingly great.
3. MaSTERMINDS Stone Soup (Third Earth Music)
The thinking person's thugs show how to make a provocative hardcore hiphop record without resorting to bitches 'n' bullets clichés.
4. cotton Mather The Big Picture (Rainbow Quartz)
Better than Oasis, not quite as good as the Beatles.
5. MERLE HAGGARD The Peer Sessions (Audium)
What do you get when you give Merle Haggard an acoustic guitar and a tape machine and leave him alone on his ranch for three years? An understated country classic of timeless beauty.
6. VICTORIA Williams Sings Some Ol' Songs (Dualtone)
As you might imagine, free spirit Victoria Williams's take on the standard repertoire is anything but. The exquisitely tasteful arrangements of Van Dyke Parks help ensure the album's classic status.
7. DRive-By Truckers Southern Rock Opera (Lost Highway)
ATLien fuds ambitiously devise a rock opera based on the legend of Lynryd Skynyrd that turns out to be a surprisingly poignant meditation on race relations, the rock 'n' roll road and Southern identity.
8. jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter Reckless Burning (Burn Burn Burn)
Members of Whiskeytown, the Walkabouts and Citizens' Utilities band together behind the spellbinding voice of Hominy's Jesse Sykes to create a country-noir sound that will haunt you for years to come.
9. Tin Hat Trio The Rodeo Eroded (Ropeadope)
Avant acoustic threesome Tin Hat Trio decide to go country and western, although, with their arsenal of toy pianos, prepared banjos, violins and Willie Nelson (!), The Rodeo Eroded definitely ain't Nashville.
10. Cody Chesnutt The Headphone Masterpiece (Ready Set Go)
Rather than wait around for the music industry to manufacture a black Beck, Cody Chesnutt just retired to his bedroom and made his own Headphone Masterpiece on a four-track. Gotta love it. 3