5. Lee Ann Womack, 'The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone'
It's clear in the first few bars of "All the Trouble," the opening track of The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone, that something mysterious – and something tempestuous – is brewing inside of Lee Ann Womack. Oozing with stark and moody blues, she sounds more Lightnin' Hopkins than anything sitting comfortably on terrestrial radio. But in the more than two decades she's been in the spotlight, Womack's proven that she's completely undaunted when it comes to taking risks on unknown songwriters or veering toward the traditional. Recorded at SugarHill studios in Houston with husband Frank Liddell on production, Womack had a hand in writing half of the album's tracks, which range from the steel guitar-laced "Talking Behind Your Back" to the soulful swank of "He Called Me Baby," which both further cement Womack as one of the genre's most formative vocalists. It's Nashville's younger generation who often gets to hold the candle for reinventing and rebirthing country's classic sounds, but The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone is one the best examples this year of how old can be new again. Or, in Womack's hands, timeless. M.M.