1. Wild Hope - Mandy Moore - Mandy Moore's latest CD boasts a mature sound that ventures into folk and country territory, songs she co-wrote with artists like Rachel Yamagata, Lori McKenna and The Weepies. A fantastic, subtle sound that didn't get the attention it deserved. Key tracks: Extraordinary, Most of Me, Looking Forward To Looking Back, Wild Hope, Nothing That You Are.
2. Alright, Still... - Lily Allen - An edgy blend of several types of music, Lily Allen took the music scene by storm this year just ahead of Amy Winehouse. Blunt and uncensored, Alright, Still... is a fun album with catchy hooks, sung through a British accent and a dirty mouth. Key tracks: Smile, LDN, Everything's Just Wonderful, Friday Night, Alfie.
3. Once OST - The soundtrack from the indie hit musical really made the movie what it was, hitting each scene with emotional resonance through the songs. Featuring the fantastic vocals of (mostly) Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová. Key tracks: Lies, Fallen From the Sky, Falling Slowly, If You Want Me, When Your Mind's Made Up.
4. One Cell in the Sea - A Fine Frenzy - New singer/songwriter Alison Sudol's debut CD is a string and piano-laden album of heartache and genius, complimented by the voice of a siren. Haunting and unforgettable. Key Tracks: Come On, Come Out, The Minnow & the Trout, You Picked Me, Liar, Liar, Lifesize.
5. The Story - Brandi Carlile - The Story was recorded almost entirely live by the guitarist/songwriter, boasting appearances from the likes of the Indigo Girls. This CD definitely has a country feel to it, but is reminiscent of Melissa Etheridge sometimes, and Bonnie Raitt others. Either way, the end product is a fantastic package. Key tracks: Late Morning Lullaby, The Story, Turnpentine, Have You Ever, Until I Die.
Singles that I really enjoyed this year include:
Umbrella - Mandy Moore. I prefer the toned-down, folksy remake to the original by Rihanna. Definitely worth seeking out, probably the best single of the past few years.
Gimme More - Britney Spears. Best dance song of the year.
Going To a Town - Rufus Wainwright. Release the Stars was close to making my list, so I have to tip my hat toward the best song on that CD, and probably the best by the artist to date.
Chick Habit - April March. Hip and retro, this single wowed me when it played during the credits of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (from Grindhouse), prompting me to immediately purchase the soundtrack.