Jesse Cook Nomad (Narada World)
It would be easy to write "noveau" flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook off as the acoustic guitar world's Kenny G—a Paco de Lucia for soccer moms. But Cook's versatility, polished technique and visceral command of Middle Eastern, Indian, Spanish and Moorish music make him far more intriguing than your average cracker with an instrument and the ability to make middle-aged white women swoon as if they're having some kind of cross-cultural epiphany. That's not to say that Cook doesn't employ a certain degree of the cheese factor, just that his music is worthwhile even as far as audiophiles are concerned.
Shannon Wright Over the Sun (Quarterstick)
Shannon Wright continues her Polly Jean Harvey-for-hipsters routine on her fourth Quarterstick release, which comes across as a revelation. Wright, who has long been identified with a degree of lyrical honesty that can make you cringe and fall in love all at once, has become the kind of guitar player that can do the same thing with six strings and a mortally wounding strum. These nine are Wright's best songs to date, and her trademark wail is their most perfect compliment. Playing the anti-Tori Amos is what Wright does best, and she does it better here than ever before.
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver Thank God (Crossroads)
After 25 years of leading the bluegrass revolving door that is Quicksilver, you might have reason to believe that mandolin virtuoso Doyle Lawson must be getting stale. Couldn't be further from the truth. Thank God is an unapologetic and fervent blend of traditional Southern gospel and pure bluegrass revelry. Lawson leads his troops through a dozen God-laden tunes with the passion of a man half his age, and the troops respond with performances that are patently flawless. Twin fiddle breaks and Lawson's seasoned mandolin make for one hell ... um, heck, of a listening experience.