7. Wanda Jackson “Unfinished Business” (Sugar Hill Records) — It's remarkable enough that the Oklahoma City-based Queen of Rockabilly is recording new albums at age 75. But it's even more impressive that the Maud native continues to push herself musically. In 2011, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer released the barnburner comeback album “The Party Ain't Over,” produced by respected rocker Jack White, and in 2012, she teamed with acclaimed alt-country singer/songwriter/producer Justin Townes Earle for “Unfinished Business,” a completely different sonic experience that still sounds just like her. While “The Party Ain't Over” celebrated her rock 'n' roll trailblazing with raucous horns, scorching electric guitars and forays into neo-soul, funk and calypso, Jackson and Earle (son of wild-card Texas singer-songwriter Steve Earle) planted their collaboration in her country, rockabilly and gospel roots. Here's hoping Jackson's 31st studio album won't be her last, because I can't wait to hear who she teams with next and what they come up with.
8. Tom Skinner “Tom Skinner” (598 Recordings) — Take Garth Brooks' word for it: The eponymous album from red dirt elder statesman is a “very, VERY special gift” indeed, a warm and inviting showcase for the Bristow native's vibrant storytelling and convivial voice. Although the Tulsa singer-songwriter's name often turns up in album credits for the likes of the Red Dirt Rangers, The Great Divide and The Departed, Skinner has rarely recorded himself, preferring the energy of playing live. With his stalwart pal Mike McClure, frontman of The Great Divide and co-founder of 598 Recordings, and the esteemed Joe Hardy, who has worked with the Georgia Satellites, Steve Earle and ZZ Top, coproducing, Skinner's album has the laid-back, cozy vibe of a great living room show.
9. Karen Dalton “1966” (Delmore Recordings) — The 75th birthday of the folk enigma passed with little fanfare last year beyond the release of this collection of impromptu, previously unheard tracks of the Enid-bred singer/musician and her then-husband, guitarist Richard Tucker, rehearsing for a gig at their remote, primitive cabin near Summerville, Colo. With her goose-bump-inducing croon and natural gift as a song interpreter, it's a shame Dalton — who died at the relatively young age of 55 — is hardly known outside Bob Dylan's reference to her in his 2004 biography “Chronicles: Volume One.” Bob the Bard's praise that “Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed” is right on the mark, and her cover of “God Bless the Child” is probably the only one that can hold a candle to Lady Day's original.
10. Shiny Toy Guns “III” (Five Seven Music) — The highly anticipated return of vocalist Carah Faye Charnow, whose crystalline pipes helped propel the Shinys to a 2007 Best Electronic/Dance Album Grammy nomination for “We Are Pilots,” turned out to be more than just a reunion. It was a full-blown revitalization for the electro-pop band, which bassist/synth player Jeremy Dawson and singer/guitarist Chad Petree, who hail from Shawnee, founded in 2001. It's a testament to the album's overall strength that I wind up with a new favorite track every time I listen to it.
Honorable mentions: Jimmy LaFave “Depending on the Distance” (Music Road Records); The Departed “Adventus” (Underground Sound/Thirty Tigers); Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition “Incommunicado” (Smith Music Group); Parker Millsap and Michael Rose “Palisade” (self released); and K.C. Clifford “The Tag Hollow Sessions” (Free Skipper Records).