December 30, 2009 | 3:45pm
The Deep Dark Woods - Winter Hours
Both the band's name and the album title may seem intimidating, but in truth, Winter Hours shines light on warmly-lit environs via easily embraceable melodies, supple arrangements and the most earnest of sentiments.
Bap Kennedy - Howl On
The ever affable rocker turned country troubadour who formerly helmed Ireland's powerhouse Energy Orchard returns with another superb solo album that again reflects his ability to cast rumination and reflection in the context of genuinely engaging melodies.
Dirk Hamilton - More Songs From My Cool Life
If the title may seem pure bravado, so be it. Hamilton's been responsible for some of the most indelible journeyman music of the past 35 years, beginning with the criminally ignored seminal efforts You Can Sing on the Left or Bark on the Right and Alias I and these days, his weary, remorseful tales of tattered circumstance remain as affecting as ever.
Ellis Paul - The Day After Everything Changed
After establishing himself on the revered Rounder label, Paul's struck out on his own and despite the ominous overtones of the title, his approach remains the same, one that finds him richly inspired by idyllic environs and the most enthusiastic of intents. The result is a pure homespun delight, one that can supercharge either a Saturday night or a Sunday morning.
Greg Trooper - The Williamsburg Affair
Quietly purveying his rootsy charms, Trooper is, well, a real trooper considering his lack of a much-deserved wider audience. Confident and assured, The Williamsburg Affair is an Americana masterpiece worthy of a meaningful encounter.
Craig Bickhardt - Brother to the Wind
Though unfailingly unpretentious, Craig Bickhardt is a session veteran whose songs and playing have graced many a classic album back in the day. This rare solo outing puts both his songwriting and instrumental talents front and center, while all-star back-up vocals from Terri Hendrix, Darrell Scott, Janis Ian, Maura O'Connell and Beth Nielson Chapman enhance the rich, warm textures and make this set sound as comforting as a well-worn blanket.
Buskin & Batteau - Red Shoes and Golden Hearts
Another of those acoustic duos that garnered a limited populist appeal in the early '70s, Buskin & Batteau offer a comeback effort of sorts, although for most, it will be a first introduction. It's an impressive one at that, all supple melodies and seamless harmonies, affirming Red Shoes and Golden Hearts as the product of a delicate yet durable combination.
Stonehoney - Songs From a Hillside Living Room
Poco reincarnated? Or is it the Eagles? It certainly sounds that way, but given the invigorating country rock delivery, ringing guitars and vibrant harmonies, the comparisons are tantamount to complements, and well deserved at that.
The Injured Parties - Fun With A Purpose
Ever-ambitious pop pundit Larry O. Dean offers his eagerly awaited new musical incarnation in the guise of The Injured Parties, a fresh, smart and irreverent outfit that delivers robust rock 'n' roll fully primed with infectious energy and edgy appeal.
Patrick Bloom - Ghost of Radio
Perhaps the smartest and most adroit young songwriter currently residing in the hinterlands - in this case that most unlikely of musical breeding ground, Iowa! - Bloom has previously shown his formidable skills both on his own and in his previous outfit, the Mayflies. With Ghost of Radio, he offers a series of buoyant songs that once would have been considered radio-ready, had the medium in question not become merely a ghost of its former self.