1 Dierks Bentley: "Feel That Fire"(Capitol Nashville): This effort has Bentley blazing new trails with music that maintains enough bluegrass edge to feel roots-worthy but holds tight to the signature gravel in his voice that gives his tunes a rock lean. And the journey through varied song styles, from a hopeful duet with Americana songbird Patty Griffin to the smoldering "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes," shows that Bentley's talent runs deep from the first track to the last.
2 Miranda Lambert: "Revolution" (Columbia Nashville): She can have you pining to knock on the door of your childhood home one minute, make you want to take up smoking the next and then turn right around and give you the urge to sew curtains for an Airstream. That's the one-woman powerhouse that is Miranda Lambert.
3 Jake Owen: "Easy Does It" (RCA Nashville): Sometimes, country music is just inevitable, and the slightest southern drawl gives way to a full-on traditional sound no matter how modern the backing may be. Add the storytelling style of Owen's songwriting, as on the small town "Every Reason I Go Back" or the subtly philosophical "Green Bananas," and listeners will find solace in the way solid country feels when it comes so naturally.
4 Tim McGraw: "Southern Voice" (Curb Records): McGraw has come a long way from his "Indian Outlaw" days. He's found a way to usher in the kind of provocative music that eludes his country brethren. Tragic songs, soaring vocals and shout-outs to Jesus (and "It's a Business Doing Pleasure With You" adds a lighthearted breather) make this 12-track endeavor a bridge to a more mature McGraw.
5 Brad Paisley: "American Saturday Night" (Arista Nashville): Just when you think Paisley might have wandered into that comfortable territory where every album will sound the same, he comes up with original ideas and sets them to the likable music that he does so well. The kind that's intensely traditional without feeling dated. Songs of political and cultural promise settle in nicely with ones of fatherhood and the realities of masculinity in this collection of some of Paisley's most substantial music.