1. LORI MCKENNA
“Numbered Doors” Among this Stoughton singer-songwriter’s many gifts is her unpredictability as a storyteller. But even when you don’t know where she’s going, McKenna — with deft assistance from Mark Erelli — always takes you to the heart of the matter. It’s a thrill to be along for the ride as she gives voice — and melody and nimble instrumentation — to the joys and frustrations of everyday life for everyday people.
2. MIRANDA LAMBERT
“Platinum” The reliable country spitfire raised her game to new levels, toggling between tough and tender on an album that stretches from vintage throwbacks to contemporary swagger — all tied together with heart, attitude, and a voice that oozes authenticity.
3. ERIC CHURCH
“The Outsiders” Church reached a high-water mark with 2011’s “Chief,” but here ascends to even greater heights as he corrals his disparate tastes in songs that could provide the soundtrack for anything from an arena singalong to a backporch hootenanny or a dark night of the soul.
4. DAN WILSON
“Love Without Fear” A pop craftsman of the highest order, the former Semisonic frontman and in-demand songwriter offers up tales from the heart. And with a tenor of such remarkable elasticity and warmth, it’s like having an incredibly gifted friend in your corner, giving you advice every time you play his songs.
5. NIKKI LANE
“All or Nothin’ ” On her dynamite second album, this straight-shooting, tough-talking, and hell-raising singer-songwriter combines the classic country grit of predecessors like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette with ’60s girl-group charm, for a winningly retro sound topped by a thoroughly modern attitude.
“They Want My Soul” The Texas rockers get the job done in a zippy 38 minutes. But the tunes here are so urgent and striking that they make you want to double the album’s running time — by playing them again, to revel in their skewed beauty.
7. INGRID MICHAELSON
“Lights Out” On her sixth release, Michaelson pushes her skills — both as a songwriter and a vocalist — to new depths of expression. She trafficks in fun, pillowy pop, but also excavates darker corners with a heartening vigor.
8. THE AFGHAN WHIGS
“Do to the Beast” Reunion albums can be dicey affairs, especially when key members aren’t involved. But these ’90s alt-rock pioneers roared back to life in the studio, effortlessly picking up where they left off, erupting with a collection of tracks as jittery, pitch-black, melodic, and soulful as ever.
9. TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
“Hypnotic Eye” This rock-solid album offers everything the deservedly revered classic rockers are capable of — it stomps, slinks, snarls, and soars, earning a rightful place among Petty’s best and offering proof that we should never count out our veterans.
10. JOE HENRY
“Invisible Hour” His greatest acclaim may come as a sought-after, Grammy-winning producer, but that’s likely because so many artists revere Henry’s meticulous craftsmanship on his solo albums. His impeccable taste strikes here again, as he combines both the literary and conversational over a beguiling palette of rock, folk, Americana, jazz, and soul music.
“1000 Forms of Fear” The Aussie singer-songwriter often lends her talents to others, including David Guetta and Rihanna. But her own stories are equally captivating as she brews up the most enjoyable concoction: radio-ready electro-pop with lyrics that are emotionally substantive, and at times painfully honest.