* Band of Horses, Infinite Arms (Columbia/Fat Possum) — BOH had opening tours with Widespread Panic and Pearl Jam this year, and perhaps that reflects the band’s overall appeal better than anything. Infinite is an epic rock ‘n’ roll record, the kind our descendents will look on with the same slack jawed reverence we all look at Led Zeppelin IV , and more contemporary efforts like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Pearl Jam’s Ten . A bold prediction for sure but one I would bet the farm on. * Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, I Learned The Hard Way (Daptone) — Ain’t heard this kind of soul since Marvin Gaye and Aretha’s glory days. Sharon has the voice and stage presence to become a legend and this record does a fine job of showcasing her exquisite vocals along with the band’s tighter-than-shit grooves. * Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone (Anti-) — Mavis made a name as a young woman singing with her family band The Staples Singers, who released several classic albums on Stax in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Although several musicians have tried to produce a record for this gospel-soul icon in recent memory (Prince, Ry Cooder), it took Jeff Tweedy’s (Wilco) expert ear and touch to compile a track listing and backing music that might be the best thing Staples’ has released. * Darker My Love, Alive As You Are (Dangerbird) — With a nod to early Grateful Dead and the Beatles harmonizing, DML released an album capturing the soul of its influences and put a new spin on an old classic. In the way of all the great ones, this record gets better with every listen. * VA, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine (Oh Boy) — John Prine will long be one of my favorite songwriters. This modern-day-twist of Prine classics does an excellent job of illuminating the brilliance of Prine’s simple if not genius lyrics. Contributors include The Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, Lambchop, Drive-by Truckers, Old Crow Medicine Show and the album’s most stunning cut “Wish You All The Best” from My Morning Jacket. * Foals, Total Life Forever (Sub-Pop) — This UK-based five-piece managed to make some of the most gorgeous, ambient music I’ve heard recently. With a healthy nod to Talking Heads and a modern spin on that band’s epic sound, Foals released one of the most unique sounding records of 2010. * Giant Sand, Blurry Blue Mountain (Fire) — Giant Sand is not for everyone. Howe Gelb’s scorched earth, cactus-country is at times brilliant beyond imagination and in the next, weird and muddling. Blurry is no doubt among the more accessible GS records but also has the same off-tempo irreverence Gelb’s made a career of. * Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD) — Deerhunter has been teetering on the edge of brilliance for some time and with this record finally fall heavy on the right side of the equation. The music is still weird enough to be compelling but also offers a few choice cuts you could put on mixes for your mother. * Delta Spirit, History From Below (Rounder) — This band’s comfort with classic country-rock is beyond refreshing. The singular sound also owes something to folk sensibility and passion and the resulting sound can be both tear-stricken and out of control jubilee. DS is definitely a band I expect big things from in the years to come. * Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge) — Time and again we’ve seen once-great bands pop up a decade later and release sonic crap which serves as a watered-down imitation of their earlier work. Not the case with Superchunk. Majesty rips with the same intensity of much of the band’s earlier canon and even manages to showcase a breadth and depth not found on its prior records. Honorable Mentions: Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub-Pop); It’s True, It’s True! (self released); The Mynabirds, What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood (Saddle-Creek); Drive-by Truckers, The Big To Do (New West); Elton John & Leon Russell, The Union (Decca); El Ten Eleven, It’s Like A Secret (self released); Mastodon, Crack The Skye (Reprise); Chuck Prophet, Let Freedom Ring! (Yep Roc)

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