10 Independent Albums Worth Checking Out

The major labels are taking the week off, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new in the racks. Indeed, music lovers are sure to find something worthwhile in this batch of 10 new independent albums, listed in alphabetical order.

Sam Bush & David Grisman

Hold On We’re Strumming (Acoustic Disc)

Here’s a treasure for mandolin fans. Sam Bush and David Grisman have been buddies since 1965, and that friendship is evident throughout this collaboration. Generous and engaging, this one blends their unique styles with music they wrote together. “Dan’l Boone” is a particular favorite. Includes insightful liner notes for the uninitiated.

Listen to "Dan'l Boone."

Thad Cockrell

Warmth & Beauty (Yep Roc)

I didn’t know a thing about this North Carolina guy when I picked up this engaging CD, and now it’s always on my desk. He’s got a beautiful singing voice, a firm grasp on country arrangements and a pleasant way with words. I wish I had a barstool at home, so I could get the full effect. Tift Merritt and Caitlin Cary offer their lovely harmonies.

Listen to "Why Go."

John Gorka

Old Futures Gone (Red House)

This guy has the most relaxing voice in folk music, and that’s saying something. He skips the jokey lyrics this time, so the payoff comes in the quieter songs, revealed in his rich, soothing baritone. If you don’t care a lick about lyrics, the melodies here are still delightful. If I could be a folk singer, I’d be John Gorka.

Listen to "Always."

Emmylou Harris

Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch)

This elegant album is a natural step from 2000’s Red Dirt Girl and features more of her poetic songwriting. “Can You Hear Me Now” is beautiful, though it reminds me of a certain mobile phone commercial. It sure would be a treat to hear a traditional country album along the lines of Dolly Parton’s The Grass Is Blue, but this is mighty good, too.

Listen to "Can You Hear Me Now."

Chris Knight

The Jealous Kind (Dualtone)

The ragged characters in Chris Knight’s songs know all about hard luck. Liquor store robberies, dashed dreams, murdered brother-in-laws -- this definitely isn’t the feel-good hit of the year. But conflict is what creates a good story, and these stories are positively gripping. For those who flipped for Knight’s 1996 debut, pick this one up.

Listen to "The Jealous Kind."

Lost & Found, Volume 1 (Lost Highway)

Want to get a music journalist in bed? Put this under the pillow. With tunes from Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams only found previously on vinyl, an unreleased song from Whiskeytown, a live take from Kathleen Edwards and a tease of Lost Highway’s baby acts like the soulful Marc Broussard, this one’s a no-brainer for the alt-country fan.

Listen to "Wichita Lineman."

The Mavericks (Sanctuary)

The Mavericks return! I loved these guys in the ‘90s when they scored retro hits like “What a Crying Shame” and “Here Comes the Rain.” Their impressive reunion album throbs with horns aplenty, and Raul Malo’s supremely seductive voice still delivers a knockout. Jimmy Webb might’ve killed to write “San Jose.” A very strong comeback.

Listen to "Would You Believe."

Darrell Scott

Theatre of the Unheard (Full Light)

Don’t let the puppet on the cover fool you. This is not a playful album. Sure, he wrote the Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone,” but this project hews closer to “Heartbreak Town.” Listening to Theatre of the Unheard is like reading a book of vivid, heartbreaking short stories. Best of all, Scott possesses a bold, deep voice that suits these vignettes perfectly.

Listen to "Uncle Lloyd."

Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez

The Trouble With Humans (Train Wreck)

Big-time songwriter Chip Taylor (“Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing”) hired Carrie Rodriguez first as a fiddler, but luckily, he persuaded her to sing as well. The sincere second effort from this unlikely duo will charm you without clobbering you over the head. The harmonies are splendid, and the words are wise.

Listen to "We Come Up Shining."

White House (Pinecastle)

There’s a small town about 25 miles north of Nashville named White House, and the five top-notch, A-list bluegrass musicians in this supergroup live there. Their weekly jam session evolved into this fine traditional album. It may not be groundbreaking, but the friendship and camaraderie is certainly evident in their music. Refreshing.

Listen to "Blue Eyed Darlin'."

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