Coffee starts to degrade fairly quickly. If you can find someone who roasts locally, that's ideal. The closer you are to the roaster, the less shipping and handling and the more likely you are to get quality coffee. If a company is roasting something to be shipped nation wide, they have to make certain sacrifices. So like @Max said, look for a Roast Date. Within the last week or two is ideal, a couple months is decent.
For places like Tim Hortons (Canada), McDonalds or Starbucks, they are looking for a very consistent taste every time. This is easier to do with a Darker Roast as you hide some of the nuances of specific crops. Often these will be from multiple origins to "blend" to a consistent taste. There are still many acceptable coffees that are blended like this. However, if you look at many of the Artisianal Coffee Places, they often tend to go for a light or medium Roast. They'll also tend to advertise a specifc farm and country. The reason for this is that with a lighter roast you can taste more of those specific notes in the bean. Some places in my opinion go to far and under roast it. I find in this case it actually comes across as overly sour. So this is entirely up to you what you prefer or are used to.
You want something that was vacuum sealed at the roaster. Coffee reacts with oxygen and degrades as soon as it's roasted. Vacuum sealing it immediately, slows down that process. So this means avoid anything in a bulk bin in a coffee shop or grocery store. You also want to buy something that is a whole bean. As soon as you grind it, it also starts to degrade (within minutes). You can find a ceramic burr hand grinder for about $30.
For me, I have a few local roasters that I really like, but for my daily cup I can't afford to buy them regularly either. So basically, I look semi-local (for me it's anything in western Canada) for a medium roast from a company that can tell me where they got their bean. I look for words like "single origin" and "fair trade" and yes, even "organic". I don't actually care if it's Organic, but I've found these companies often care about their product more. When I get the coffee I like to be able to taste something unique in it. I'm not sitting here looking for "hmmm this tastes of elderberries and caramel by the ocean in the fall..." that's a little too much for me. That said, if it just tastes like generic "coffee", then I'm not really interested. Not to say that any of this guarantees their quality... so buyer beware.
I don't think specific brands fits with this site, as it's too specialized/localized, but hopefully that gives you something to look out for.