1. DAVE HAUSE
“Resolutions’’ The albums that imprint themselves on our hearts do so by helping us celebrate the highs, providing solace in the darkness, confirming things we already know about the world, and teaching us things we don’t know. Every CD on this list did that for me, but none more so than this heartfelt collection of ruminations in which Hause has said he tried to capture “where your youthful aspirations meet with your adult reality.’’
“21’’ Ouch. Refining what it means to hurt so good, the British powerhouse - with first-class assistance from several collaborators including Dan Wilson and Paul Epworth - took down an ex and took us with her on this major leap forward from her debut. Whether scraping the sky with her voice or excavating the depths of her scorched heart, Adele is proving herself a singer-songwriter of extraordinary grace and pathos.
3. THE DECEMBERISTS
“The King Is Dead’’ Sometimes a detour takes you to a thrilling new place, and on its sixth full-length album, the band famous for its arcane references and elaborate musical set pieces takes a stroll down a simpler, more countrified lane. Thanks to pitch-perfect vocal and instrumental contributions from folks like Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Peter Buck, the band produced a set as enjoyably earthy as its previous releases were delightfully arch.
4. LORI MCKENNA
“Lorraine’’ We’re used to the Stoughton native opening a vein and pouring out bittersweet musical stardust, but this gut punch of a record - named for her late mother and namesake - goes beyond even her best work. Exuding strength and vulnerability in her flinty voice, she unearths the universal in the detailed specifics of motherhood, marriage, family, and home.
5. ERIC CHURCH
“Chief’’ Locating his true voice, the North Carolina native tips from good to great on his third release. He deftly found a way to express a sense of lyrical individuality and musical adventurousness within the confines of contemporary country while simultaneously stretching its boundaries on both heartbreakers and boot-stompers.
6. JILL SCOTT
“The Light of the Sun’’ When life hands the gifted Philly singer lemons she makes sweet soul music out of it. Heck, when it hands her anything that’s what she does. Scott’s first release in four years finds her on a joyful, lively, funny, and deeply funky search for good men, good times, good faith, and the strength to recognize the good - or at least useful - in the bad.
7. VINCE GILL
“Guitar Slinger’’ The title speaks to the country veteran’s well-known six-string prowess, but all of his talents are on display on this wide-ranging album, with vocals that swing from celestial highs to raggedy lows, and songs that distill the joys and catastrophes of life in ways that make you laugh out loud and well up with tears.
8. FOO FIGHTERS
“Wasting Light’’ As musical niches become ever more diffuse, it’s a comfort to have these guys around to rep for rock ’n’ roll. On one of their most vital, thoroughly satisfying releases to date - thanks in part to contributions by old friends such as Butch Vig, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Bob Mould - the Foos go from a whisper to a scream but never forget the vital charms of melody and raw power.
9. THE ROOTS
“Undun’’ They may now be better known as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, but the Roots manage - with astonishing consistency - to craft records of seductive darkness. Nominally a concept album about a look back at the short, bleak life of a fictional inner city kid, the songs stand on their own as mini-symphonies of sound and fury as voices (including guests Dice Raw, Bilal, and Big K.R.I.T.) pile up over collisions of hip-hop, rock, gospel, and soul.
10. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
“Go-Go Boots’’ The cast of characters expands as the Southern rockers continue their tradition of weaving intense, intricate, hard-boiled narratives while keeping the beat and the atmosphere hard and heady. This time they’ve spiked their brew with an extra (and welcome) dose of swampy soul.
“Sensory Overdrive’’ The Hanoi Rocks frontman serves up a set of bristling rockers that sneer, snarl, smirk, and sing about the good times and the bad, careering from pop-punk to hard rock and even a dab of country. And you won’t find another record released in 2011 that manages as skillfully to utilize both Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead and Lucinda Williams.