Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand" (Rounder). The roaring mouthpiece of hard rock meets the heavenly voice of bluegrass somewhere between the craggy hollers of Appalachia and the forest depths of time immemorial.
Mary Gauthier, "Between Daylight and Dark" (Lost Highway). It matters not whether this singer-songwriter's often harrowing tales relate real-life situations or people -- the emotions they elicit are as genuine as humanly possible.
Steve Earle, "Washington Square Serenade" (New West). The Texas singer-songwriter offers his take on life in the big city in this New York-rooted excursion in which his skills as a social observer and commentator are equaled by his passion for the plight of the downtrodden or forgotten.
Porter Wagoner, "Wagonmaster" (Anti-). This Grand Ole Opry stalwart died in October, but he couldn't have gone out on a better note than this lively and moving swan song shepherded by his friend and collaborator Marty Stuart.
Merle Haggard, "The Bluegrass Sessions" (McCoury Music). Country's greatest living poet surrounds himself with fiddles, mandolins and acoustic guitars in a tradition-minded outing that is up to the minute in his social critiques and timeless in his takes on the human condition.