36. Little Bandit, 'Breakfast Alone'
Little Bandit bandleader Alex Caress has a timeless Roy Orbison/George Jones croon and a taste for note-perfect Countrypolitan arrangements. That sound alone is enough to draw listeners in to his East Nashville crew's debut; what makes it one of the year's finest country LPs is everything else. Caress is a canny songwriter, with a wicked sense of humor (see the mock-mournful murder ballad "Scattered and Smothered") and a tendency toward conflicted passion, whether the object is a fast-moving town ("Nashville") or a noncommittal lover ("Pitiful Heart"). He's admirably dedicated to resisting cliché even when he flirts with familiar forms. These songs feel lived-in and real, even when – maybe especially when – they're delivered with the slightest ironic smirk. S.V.L.