40 Best Country Albums of 2014

The greatest statements from the year's outsiders, small town heroes and American middle class

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Cory Branan, 'The No-Hit Wonder'

38. Cory Branan, 'The No-Hit Wonder'

Cory Branan's never had a tough time earning accolades — as soon as his 2002 debut The Hell You Say made the rounds, he was everything from heir to John Prine to a wunderkind in league with Ryan Adams. Still, being immensely skilled with a melody and turn of phrase doesn't always correlate with hit-making, so despite his consistently strong output of punk-raw country tale-telling, he's been something of a niche fave. Cosmically beautiful, then, that Branan's latest, The No-Hit Wonder, is earning some of the most fervent attention of his career (even if the title/title track are meant more to honor brothers-in-arms, less as a selfie). Its honky-tonk stompers, saloon-y piano and Petty-esque propulsion have been perking ears across genre divides, from CMT to NPR. And Branan's been busy straddling a noteworthy and musically fitting onstage split, too, jumping from punk shows with Against Me! to rootsy routes with Justin Townes Earle. N.K.

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