BILLY JOE SHAVER The Real Deal (Compadre)
In Kinky Friedman's written introduction to The Real Deal, he calls Billy Joe Shaver the poet laureate of Texas. This disc makes a solid case for the lofty distinction - it's one of Billy Joe's career best.
JIMMIE DALE GILMORE Come On Back (Rounder)
Country spiritualist Jimmie Dale Gilmore wanted to record a honky-tonk-era homage to his late father, and we can all be thankful he did.
RICHMOND FONTAINE The Fitzgerald (El Cortez)
Bleak tunes about Las Vegas losers, dead bodies found near creeks and younger brothers who go off to war and don't come back might not be your typical country chart fodder, but The Fitzgerald offers further proof that Willy Vlautin knows his way around a real hurtin' song.
PINETOP SEVEN The Night's Bloom (Barbary Coast)
With its string-enhanced orchestrations, The Night's Bloom is the Pinetop Seven's chamber country masterwork. It may never be heard on commercial radio, but it's just what you want to put on after closing time.
MARY GAUTHIER Mercy Now (Lost Highway)
Another Gurf Morlix-produced winner from hardcore roots heroine Mary Gauthier, whose drinking songs should come with assault and battery charges. Raw and right on.