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It would be nearly impossible to compile a single top-10 list for the year's best albums. We all have different tastes (few albums overlap the lists that follow) and we all listen to different music, depending on what we seek out, what's recommended to us or what lands on our desks. So, instead, we offer you our annual picks of the top albums of the year — we're sure you'll agree, disagree or want to argue and tell us what we missed. Frankly, we hope you'll let us know the albums that you hope were left off only because we didn't hear them.

Tie for first – Levon Helm Electric Dirt (Vanguard); Levon Helm Band MerleFest Ramble CD Recorded Live 4/26/08 Watson, MerleFest, NC (FestivalLink) – Levon Helm is the primal voice of American roots music. Singing from his soul, Helm celebrates his triumph over throat cancer with two great releases. Electric Dirt is the logical follow-up to his Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer, digging a little deeper in his rootsy field with blues, gospel and rocking R&B. Those of us lucky enough to have seen the Merlefest show felt blessed to have witnessed that glorious performance. To have a pristine live recording of Helm sounding like he did in the Band days to revisit time and again is a treasure beyond measure. Long live Levon.

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Listen to the Lion)

Jimmy Carpenter, Toiling in Obscurity (Independent)

John Nemeth, Love Me Tonight (Blind Pig)

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, Twisted (Alligator)

Commander Cody, Dopers, Drunks and Everyday Losers (Blind Pig)

Coco Montoya, The Essential Coco Montoya (Blind Pig)

The Very Best, Warm Heart of Africa (Green Owl)

Otis Redding, Otis Redding: The Best: See and Hear (Shout Factory)

Various Artists, Fire in My Bones Raw, Rare, & Other-Worldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) (Tompkins Square)

— Grant Britt

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) – Two-ought-nine was the year where I got bamboozled left and right from both sides. Sufjan's BQE, a film score to go along with a documentary on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (exciting, right?), is absolutely equisite. The Mouse/Horse disc is the only alt.guest-star-laden album I've loved in ... well, maybe ever. Columbia, S.C.'s Toro Y Moi made me reconsider acousti-glitch. Call him Conor iBerst. Doom is the W.B. Yeats of the rap game. Future of the Left and Mastodon sated my blood lust, and MOF kept me harmonized just when I needed it most. Verily, it's too hard to pick just one; but if one of these records contains all the others, it's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul (Studio)

MF Doom, Born Like This (Lex)

Various Artists, Observe and Report Soundtrack (New Line)

Monsters of Folk Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La)

Toro Y Moi Causers of This (Carpark)

Bob Dylan Together Through Life Columbia)

Future of the Left Travels With Myself and Another (4ad)

Pax Nicholas and the Netty Family Na Teef No De Road of Teef (reissue) (Daptone)

Mastodon Crack The Skye (Reprise)

Sufjan Stevens The BQE (Asthmatic Kitty)

 — Timothy C. Davis

The Dead Weather Horehound (WEA/Reprise) – Sending out sincere apologizes to the brothers Avett whose major label debut comes in at a close second, but I'm going with the latest Jack White project as my top pick. From beginning to end, Horehound oozes with fuzzy, sonic rock tracks that creep into your psyche and then linger there permanently. On lead vocals, The Kills' Alison Mosshart reeks with this swaggering sex appeal that only a love child from Keith Richards and Siouxsie Sioux could match. But at its core, as with all of White's project (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) there's this underlying yet completely obvious traditional rhythm and blues base present that truly solidifies each of the efforts. It might sound like a bit of a contradiction, but then again maybe you haven't given Mr. White a good listen.

Avett Brothers I and Love and You (Sony)

Pearl Jam Backspacer (Universal Music Group)

Them Crooked Vultures Them Crooked Vultures (Interscope)

Ben Harper & Relentless 7 White Lies for Dark Time (Virgin)

Wolfmother Cosmic Egg (Interscope)

Black Crowes Before the Frost...Until the Freeze (Red Distribution)

Sonic Youth The Eternal (Matador)

Street Sweeper Social Club Street Sweeper Social Club (Independent)

Dinosaur Jr. Farm (Jagjaguwar)

— Lynn Farris

Avett Brothers I and Love and You (Sony) – Sure, being local has something to do with it, but it's also about a group of guys with solid, emotional songwriting that hit the big-time record label and kept their integrity and roots intact. Nico Vega, Band of Skulls, The Cooked Vultures all have the energy, Dan Auerbach's got the songwriting, Black Joe Lewis has the soul, Dave Matthews Band gets the sentimentality, but the Avetts have it all. Thanks to Rick Rubin for not fixing what isn't broken. Local or not, it gets better every time I listen.

Nico Vega Nico Vega (MySpace)

Them Crooked Vultures Them Crooked Vultures (Interscope)

Dan Auerbach Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears Tell 'Em What Your Name Is (Lost Highway)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz! (Interscope)

Thenewno2 You Are Here (Vagrant)

The Dead Weather Horehound (WEA/Reprise)

Band of Skulls Baby Darling Doll Face Honey (Artist First)

Dave Matthews Band Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (RCA)

Honorable mention: Nirvana Live at Reading (DGC)

— Jeff Hahne

Jay-Z The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation) – I've gone over this list a million times trying to convince myself to put someone else on top, but there's no denying that this album was oversaturated for a reason. From start to finish, it was the year's best album. Great verse, great production, solid guest appearances. I think Jay-Z's used to the top.

Rick Ross Deeper Than Rap (Def Jam)

Kid Cudi Man On The Moon: The End of Day (Motown)

Wale Attention Deficit (Interscope)

Clipse Til The Casket Drops (Sony)

Pac Div Church League Champions (Mixtape)

Mos Def The Ecstatic (Downtown)

Skyzoo The Salvation (Duck Down)

J. Cole The Warm Up (Mixtape)

Drake So Far Gone (Cash Money)

— Mike McCray

Califone All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans) – Let's say you're moved by the spirit of roots music, but bored to tears with declarations of authenticity and Southern Thing dogma. Let's say you enjoy a little sonic angel dust sprinkled on your swamp blues and hills twang to remind you that music is a living organism, and not a regional birthright. Let's say you love a good melody, too, especially when a little dissonance makes it shine that much more. Let's say you also like it when a songwriter invites you into the narrative mix. Then let's say that Califone just keeps making old things new again, which is a pretty damn neat trick.

Antlers Hospice (Frenchkiss)

Batrider Why We Can't Be Together (Low Transit Industries)

Extra Golden Thank You Very Quickly (Thrill Jockey)

Land of Kush Against the Day (Constellation)

The Paper Hats Deseret Canyon (Apparent-Extent)

Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career (4AD)

Curtis Harvey Box Of Stones (FatCat)

Shelley Short A Cave, A Canoo (Hush)

Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly (Hometapes)

Nels Cline Coward (Cryptogramophone)

Lambchop Live at XX Merge (Merge)

— John Schacht

Alice in Chains Black Gives Way to Blue (Virgin) – An amazing return from a band thought to be extinct since singer Layne Staley's drug overdose death in 2002. New singer William Duvall fills Staley's shoes with verve, enhancing the band's sound without aping Staley's style. Jerry Cantrell's signature guitars remain intact, dripping, oozing and then proceeding to melt the amps. The title track is a tribute to Staley with Elton John on the piano.

The Flaming Lips Embryonic (Warner Brothers)

Dexter Romweber Duo The Ruins of Berlin (Bloodshot)

Sonic Youth The Eternal (Matador)

U2 No Line on the Horizon (Interscope)

Talk Normal Sugarland (Rare Book Room)

Debashish Bhattacharya O Shakuntala! (Riverboat)

Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)

Neil Young Fork in the Road (Reprise)

Nels Cline Coward (Cryptogramophone)

— Samir Shukla

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