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The 26 Albums of 2014 You Probably Didn’t But Really Should Hear

From Dolly Parton’s ‘Blue Smoke’ to Frankie Ballard’s ‘Sunshine & Whiskey,’ the stellar albums you may have missed in 2014

26 Albums You Need to Hear

With so much music released every year, we can't blame anyone for missing some real gems — albums that, for whatever reason, didn't make their way into country music fans' hard drives, CD players or onto their turntables. Some slipped into the marketplace without a major-label marketing push, while others were big-budget releases that, despite a promotional blitz, have so far flown under the radar. The one factor they all have in common? They deserve to be discovered anew. Here are the 26 albums from 2014 that you probably haven't, but really should listen to in their entirety. — By Stephen L. Betts, Adam Gold, Joseph Hudak, Andrew Leahey, Marissa R. Moss and Sarah Rodman

Don Williams, "Reflections"

Courtesy of Sugar Hill (Universal)

Don Williams, ‘Reflections’

Between Glen Campbell's struggle with Alzheimer's, George Strait's retirement and the deaths of legends like George Jones and Cowboy Jack Clement, these have been hard times for fans of country's classic troubadours. Luckily we've still got Don Williams, and Don Williams is still good. Great, in fact. "I'll be your spring when it feels like winter,” the 75-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer croons on a melancholy rendition of Britton Cameron's "I Won't Give Up on You" — the third track from Williams' 25th studio album, Reflections. A respite from the reign of bro country, this 10-song collection of country-Americana covers the likes of Townes Van Zandt's "I'll Be Here in the Morning," Guy Clark's "Talk Is Cheap" and the Merle Haggard murder ballad "Sing Me Back Home." It's a must-have for anyone who hankers to hear the Gentle Giant — one of the genre’s most subtly emotive voices — do what he does best.

Carlene Carter, "Carter Girl"

Courtesy of Rounder

Carlene Carter, ‘Carter Girl’

Daughter of June and descent of the Carter Family, Carlene Carter has never failed to fill big shoes. Once again, on Carter Girl — the singer's first full-length since 2008 — she faces her family legacy head on, cutting a festive set of 10 Carter Family covers that's as full of life as it is reverence, along with a pair of new originals to add new chapters to the family legacy. Those two tracks alone are worth the price of admission. The first, "Me and the Wildwood Rose," an obvious nod to the Carter Family immortalized standard "Wildwood Flower," is a sweetly moving tribute to Carter's grandparents, Maybelle and Ezra, told through childhood memories. While the second, "Lonesome Valley 2003" — an adaptation of the Carters' "Lonesome Valley," co-written with former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson — is a piano-led rumination on the year she, and the world, lost Johnny and June.

Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Small Town Heroes"

Courtesy of ATO Records

Hurray for the Riff Raff, ‘Small Town Heroes’

Prolific New Orleans indie folkies Hurray for the Riff Raff have, under the radar, released five full-lengths in the eight years they've been a band. Don't miss their latest, the stunning Small Town Heroes. The album boasts a dozen tracks brimming with rusty Americana imagery and modern problems that'll make you fall in love with banjoist/vocalist/bandleader Alynda Lee Segarra 12 times in a row. With a smoky, celestial set of pipes that'll cut clear through even the cheapest set of earbuds, Segarra — a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent — proves herself a small town country girl at heart on serenades and country-blues rompers like the anti-gun, modern murder ballad "The Body Electric" and the acoustic meditation "The New SF Bay Blues." Segarra's voice fills the astral calm of "Levon's Dream" and delivers the gloom-and-doom love-as-drug-addiction analogy of the album's title track with a resolute sadness straight from the gut.

The Howlin' Brothers, "Trouble"

Courtesy of Readymade Records

The Howlin’ Brothers, ‘Trouble’

Produced by Raconteurs co-leader and power-pop songster Brendan Benson, Nashville three-piece mountain string band the Howlin' Brothers' second full-length Trouble is a rip-roarin', hootenanny on wax that puts a rocked-out spin on old-timey bluegrass. Complete with kitchen-sink percussion, front-porch pickin' and hollerin' three-part harmonies, the album careens through cuts like the fast-shufflin' "Pack Up Joe" and the rockabilly two-step "Pour It Down" with a loose production that puts spirited performances over slick sonics. Instead of smoothing out the sharp edges, Benson captures a playful, in-the-moment musical conversation that keeps the trio's traditionalist leanings from sounding like calculated throwback pastiche.

The Secret Sisters, "Put Your Needle Down"

Photo courtesy of Universal Republic

The Secret Sisters, ‘Put Your Needle Down’

Laura and Lydia Rogers' haunting harmonies combine with the spooky nuances of T Bone Burnett's country baroque production for an album fit for a horror film. But that shouldn't scare you away. Rather, touches like the pained violin strains on the Southern gothic second track, "Iuka," are magnetic. As are fleshed-out covers of the P.J. Harvey marriage kiss-off "The Pocket Knife" and the half-baked Bob Dylan sketch "Dirty Lie." The record — the Muscle Shoals sister act's follow-up to their self-titled 2010 debut — actually takes its titular line from that Harvey song and a page from the Old Crow Medicine playbook for "Dirty Lie." But it's when the Rogers sisters infuse Burnett's swampy atmospherics with their ethereal vocals and cherubic charm that the duo asserts a singular identity for their Americana peers to reckon with. Listen to "Rattle My Bones."