Brandi Carlile – Give Up the Ghost: I’ve actually been on a Brandi binge lately. Having liked her upon first listen, I’ve grown to truly, madly, deeply love her upon devoting further attention to her songs. This year’s release didn’t initially win me over, but subsequent listens (and a different emotional state on my part) have let me fully appreciate what’s going on here. The writing is solid; the production is intriguing; and the voice is stunning… always.

The Leisure Society – The Sleeper: This is a fun eMusic find that I’ve come to totally adore. I’d classify these guys in a league with bands like Snow Patrol and Trashcan Sinatras. The lead singer has a honey-smooth voice that glides over the engaging, meandering playfulness of the sonic landscape. And the songs are good, four of which earned five-star ratings from me.
Peter Bradley Adams – Traces: Due to a prolific muses streak, this is PBA’s second year in a row on my Best list. This may be his most lively recording to date and, if you know Pete’s work, you know what I mean by that. He’s a soft-spoken guy with a light musical touch. What speaks to me in his songs is the nomadic theme — the search for meaning, for place, for home. Maybe it really is the curse of the Sagittarius. But, thanks to Pete, we have a soundtrack for our roamings.

Katie Herzig – Live in Studio: Acoustic Trio:
Okay, Katie was on last year’s list, too. I can’t help it. I love her so much. This collection finds her with touring companions Jordan Brooke Hamlin and Claire Indie doing their thing the way they do it. I don’t generally like live records because the sound usually sucks and the applause is annoying. But this one is actually a studio recording of the trio playing live, meaning no real overdubs and such. It captures their combined perfection and is just lovely.
The Duke and the King – Nothing Gold Can Stay: I heard a cut from this on the radio one day and went straight home to download it. This duo is a collaboration between Simone Felice of the Felice Brothers and Robert “Chicken” Burke and it’s named after the two hucksters in Huckleberry Finn. Armed with that knowledge, you know there’s something good awaiting you. And there is, in the form of poignant, mellow, acoustic-based laments.
The Boy Least Likely To – The Law of the Playground: Another eMusic discovery that is just plain fun. These guys make bouncy, light-hearted acoustic pop with titles like “The Worm Forgives the Plough” and “I Box Up All the Butterflies.” It’s a record to listen to on a bright, sunny day while bopping around the house or yard doing chores because it’s energetic and whimsical. Tuba, anyone?
Andrew Belle – All Those Pretty Lights: Part of the second Ten Out of Tenn tour, Andrew is reminiscent of Brett Dennen and Sean Hayes to a certain degree, although I might actually like him better than either of those other guys. Naturally, the track that includes little Katie Herzig (“Static Waves”) is probably my favorite, but it’s also just a good song.

David Gray – Draw the Line: Oh, goodness. I’m a David Gray fan from way back… circa 1992 and his first album. I appreciate his consistency of quality and emotion. This latest effort toes that line nicely. Honestly, I haven’t delved deep enough into it yet to really know the intricacies of the tunes, but I like it. So there.
Viva Voce – Rose City: This husband-and-wife duo consists of Anita and Kevin Robinson who hail from Muscle Shoals, Ala., though they relocated to Portland in the early ’00s. Inventive and atmospheric are two terms that have been thrown at their music, and I’d say both fit pretty well. The intertwined vocal parts are awful nice, too. You really hear Britain way more than Alabama in their sound. KCRW likes them pretty good, to boot.
Mindy Smith – Stupid Love: This is another record I need to spend more time with. I love Mindy’s voice and she’s generally a fairly solid writer. Nothing will ever top “Come to Jesus” from her debut, but this one feels pretty good. It’s an easy listen without being easy listening, if you know what I mean.