At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see music journalists go through the time-honored ritual of compiling “best of the year” lists. I’m a big fan of that most years, but I’m more excited about a couple of records that are due to drop in early 2009: Justin Townes Earle’s Midnight at the Movies and Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone. Both showed up in my mailbox during the holiday season, and so they’ve provided the soundtrack to sessions of present-wrapping and long drives to visit family. First, about Earle: It’s not easy being the son of a music legend and notorious hellraiser, but this lanky progeny has managed to chart his own path. Midnight at the Movies is wistful and wryly humorous, and suffice it to say that the young Mr. Earle rises to the grand expectations of both his blood and his namesake, Townes Van Zandt. As for Ms. Case, she takes up where she left off on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, with her grand, soaring vocals drenched in gorgeous reverb. Acoustic Guitar will be talking to Earle and Case during 2009, so keep an eye out for some illuminating interviews.