There was so much good music this year it was impossible to narrow it down to just 10. Even getting down to these 13 was harder than it's been in a very long time. Other than the final pick the rest are practically interchangeable; different but all equally great. That's why I've chosen not to give rankings except for the (obvious) #1. So here goes nothing:
Todd Snider - Eastside Bulldog: Todd finally makes a full album by his hard partying alter-ego Elmo Buzz. No social commentary here, just lots of songs about Hank Williams Jr, fast cars and faster women.
Lucinda Williams - The Ghosts of Highway 20: Almost 40 years in and Lucinda is just as raw and moving as she's ever been. No one sings like she does, and luckily no one dares to try.
Lydia Loveless - Real: I was lucky enough to see Lydia Loveless live a couple of months ago and she was even better than this record lets on. I read someone describe this as "hipster country". I have no idea if that's even a thing, but if it is I like it.
Band of Horses - Why Are You Ok?: It's becoming increasingly obvious these guys can't make a bad record. If you've ever liked anything they've done in the past you'll like this one just as much. Not their best album, but still better than most.
Wilco - Schmilco: Wilco lost me almost 10 years ago. I loved everything up to 'Sky Blue Sky' and then I became completely disillusioned with every new record after to the point I don't think I've listened to their last couple of albums more than once. They won me back with this. This seems more like the natural follow up to 'A Ghost Is Born' than anything since
D Generation - Nothing Is Anywhere: A record I never thought would actually happen. 17 years after breaking up D Generation returned with more of the sleazy NYC glam punk that made me love them in 1994. The band that was the soundtrack to my first post-high school summer sounds just as fantastic 22 years later.
Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter: Old fashioned honky tonk is alive and well in 2016. Call it Americana or Alt-Country if you want, but this could be an unreleased Loretta Lynn record from 1968. The world needs more of this.
Hey! Hello! - Hey! Hello! Too! (original Hollis version): One of the best records of the year is one that unfortunately you can't buy if you didn't get it in the 10 days or so it was available this past spring. The band re-recorded the album with guests vocalists before officially releasing it later in the year, but that version doesn't come close to the original. Not as poppy as their 2013 debut, but still full of the gigantic hooks only Ginger Wildheart can write. It's a shame so few people got to hear the album as originally intended.
The Jayhawks - Paging Mr. Proust: After a failed reunion with Mark Olsen in 2011, the band regrouped with a combination of their pre and post 1997 lineups and made their best album since 2000's 'Smile'.
Various Artists - Southern Family: A compilation album put together by Nashville super producer Dave Cobb. All of the usual Americana suspects are present (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown, Shooter Jennings), accounted for and turn in some memorable performances - but the unexpected highlight is former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson's album closing "The Way Home". Backed by a gospel choir it's a beautiful ending to a wonderful record.
Butch Walker - Stay Gold: After a somber album dealing with the death of his father 2 years ago, Butch came back ready to turn up the amps and make a rock n roll record again. As infectious an album as you'll hear this year or any other.
David Bowie - Blackstar: Not sure what I can say about this album that hasn't already been written in hundreds of pieces dissecting everything about it. A true musical genius gifting us with his last piece of art. The sound of a man who knew his life was coming to an end but still had something left to say. As haunting and powerful an album as Bowie ever made.
Drive-By Truckers - American Band: Nothing else comes close. The perfect record for an imperfect moment in history. From the stark black and white photo on the cover (not using a Wes Freed painting for the first time in 15 years) you know you're in for a completely different type of DBT album. Instead of turning a blind eye to everything wrong in 2016 this album tackles "conservatism", gun violence, social class, and racism head on. 45 minutes of what it means to be a white, middle class southern liberal in the era of Trump. Disgusted, bitter and pissed off but in the end still struggling to make the world a better place. An unquestioned masterpiece. The finest record they've ever made, and by far the best of the year.