#4 Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire 

Getting back in touch with his acoustic self, not to mention saying sayonara to his vices, has done a world of good.   
 


#5 Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto 

Just when you thought you heard everything Coldplay was capable of, they apparently have a few more tricks in their Brit pop playbook.



Honorable Mentions:

Jill Phillips' In This Hour, Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys, Feist, Metals

 

Glenn McCarty
Contributing Writer 

For this music lover, 2011 was the year the Internet killed the radio star. Sites like Spotify, Noise Trade, and Twitter provided access to music in unprecedented ways. Here are six albums I'll be listening to for years to come: 


 
Gungor, Ghosts on the Earth is remarkably rich in sonic texture and philosophical vision. The collective resembles Arcade Fire, but also invites comparisons to innovators David Crowder Band. The Decemberists' The King is Dead is a mature, thrilling mix of, rock, blues, folk and Americana, and more accessible than previous work from the band. The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow is a luscious, lovely folk/country album so mature and confident it's hard to believe it's a debut.
 

 
Gillian Welch's The Harrow and the Harvest is a bluegrass gem; feels ripped from another century. Over the Rhine's The Long Surrender benefited from Joe Henry's production, resulting in arguably the most impressive album yet from this duo. Sara Groves' Invisible Empires is full of the lovely, piano-driven meditations on life Groves has become known for, and contains my favorite lyric of 2011: "Are you and I an apparition, Flickering up on the screen, Sending out our best transmissions, Waiting in our velveteen?"  

 
Other great titles: Tom Waits (Bad as Me), Ryan Adams (Ashes & Fire), Paul Simon (So Beautiful or So What), Joe Henry (Reverie), Shaun Groves (Third World Symphony), Burlap to Cashmere (self-titled), Radiohead (The King of Limbs), The Hawk in Paris (His & Hers EP), Ben Shive (The Cymbal Crashing Clouds

 

Susan Ellingburg
Contributing Writer 

 
Sometimes the best new songs are the old ones—especially when one of the classic voices of our time decides to re-imagine classic songs from musical theater. Enter Sandi Patty's new Broadway Stories CD. If you're expecting a collection of nothing but big, "blow out the speakers with a high note" songs, Sandi's smooth, lazy (in a good way) rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" will be a revelation. The energy kicks up a notch in the toe-tapping "Swingin' Love Medley," a track that evokes a 1940's radio broadcast. Other standout songs include the poignant "Send in the Clowns," a version of "Love is Only Love" that gives Barbra Streisand's "Dolly" a run for her money, and an irresistible "Sound of Music Medley." (Don't even try to fight the urge to sing along with that last one. Resistance is futile.)