We're about halfway through the year, so before I dive into another pile of new CDs, I'm moving a big ol' stack to the file cabinet -- except for these 10 albums released earlier this year, which I'd recommend to music fans with an adventurous ear. I have noted one of my favorite tracks from each selection, in case you want to download some tunes.
Matthew Barber, Ghost Notes (Outside Music)
His rich vocals drew me in first, but now it's the songs that stick in my head. He's vulnerable without being whiny, and he knows that you need a good melody to pull it off. This is a mellow record, perfect for quiet nights at home. Choice track: "Easily Bruised."
Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway)
The drawl in his singing voice is not an exaggeration and he's funny without coming across as a smart-aleck. Even better, the album is well-produced, but not over-produced -- and it's my favorite country album of the year so far. Choice track: "Girl Downtown."
Kathleen Edwards, Asking For Flowers (Rounder)
On her third album, I get the feeling that she's still not afraid of confrontation. Still, she lets her guard down when she writes about losing a loved one, somehow capturing that tricky moment when you don't really know what to say. Choice track: "Scared at Night."
Griffin House, Flying Upside Down (Nettwerk)
His music sounds so effortless, like he grabs a guitar and everything falls into place. While his straightforward writing doesn't lean on big words, his lyrics always impress me anyway. And I like the passion in his vocals. Choice track: "Better Than Love."
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum (Capitol Nashville)
I dig the distinctive singing and melodies, but the production is a bit thick. Still, I feel like this is a fresh approach to country music. Their first single, "Love Don't Live Here," really took off, and I can't wait to see what they do next. Choice track: "I Run to You."
Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin' (Lost Highway)
Her voice is magnificently controlled throughout this tribute to Dusty Springfield, but there is equal power in the breaths and the lulls. And you can hear every single note of music. Brilliant work. Choice track: "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."
Kathy Mattea, Coal (Captain Potato)
Always drawn to narrative songs, this West Virginia native delves into her roots, recalling life among the coalmines. Her warm voice remains inflected with wisdom, while Marty Stuart lends a bluegrass touch. Choice track: "Green Rolling Hills."
Tift Merritt, Another Country (Fantasy)
A lot of influences converge here: North Carolina roots, a long French vacation and studio sessions in Topanga Canyon, California. A sunny-sounding album with undertones of sadness and frustration will get to me every time. Choice track: "Hopes Too High."
Justin Rutledge, Man Descending (Six Shooter)
A twinge of melancholy runs through the album, emphasized by the subdued musicians backing him. His voice seems on the verge of collapsing into sobs, but with these somber songs, it works. Bummer songs are beautiful too. Choice track: "Everyone's in Love."
The Weepies, Hideaway (Nettwerk)
Whenever I listen to this album, the last year of my life unfolds before me, with all its awkward moments and small victories. If you feel like you're constantly trying to find a foothold in the world, here's your soundtrack. Choice track: "Antarctica."