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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Various Artists, 'Country Funk Volume II: 1967-1974'
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20. Various Artists, 'Country Funk Volume II: 1967-1974'

The second installment in a series we can only hope is just getting started. Boasting some bigger names than its 2012 predecessor, curator Zach Cowie once again showcases country musicians who could get on the one without losing their down-home swagger. There's familiar tunes drastically reworked (Billy Swan decelerates "Don't Be Cruel" into a smoldering slow jam), bona fide oddities worth preserving (yes, that's Bobby Darin getting hassled by drug cops while trying to play harmonica on "Me and Mr. Hohner") and major country stars from Dolly Parton to Willie Nelson to Kenny Rogers appearing at their most gritty and gutbucket. K.H.

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