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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Justin Townes Earle, 'Single Mothers'

35. Justin Townes Earle, 'Single Mothers'

Guy Clark once said Justin Townes Earle had thumbs like sledgehammers — and the lanky son of Steve certainly does have a way of fingerpicking that sounds like he's clinging to each string for dear life, playing as loud as his hands will let him so everyone and anyone can hear. On Single Mothers, he lets the lyrics do the pounding, firing out odes to the plight of fatherless parenthood with a subtle and near-sweet affectation, replacing those steely strums with Memphis grooves and slow shuffles. "Mama, she's gone," he sings on "Picture in a Drawer" in his heartbroken howl, calling on the woman who has always been there when a more ephemeral love has come and gone. M.M.

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