Building Our Own Nashville’s Top 20 Country Albums of 2016
Putting together my top ten Country albums of 2016 has been so incredibly difficult that I increased it to top 20, but even that was a tough challenge. This year has brought us so many great albums and also so many great new artists that I almost gave up all together. However, I managed it, not with ease as I have changed the ranking so many times. New albums came out after ones were already chosen and that changed things up too. Some artists made the list, then not made the list, then re made the list and so on… my mind was going crazy.
Alas, the list is now made and once published, that will be it. There are going to be many that people don’t agree with or albums that are further down than people would expect but, this is just my list, my opinion and if we all chose the same, then it would not only be boring but would deprive us all of comparing lists to either discover an artist or to give an album a chance that we may not have considered before. Also, please note that I have not been able to listen to every country album released this year, so please feel free to give me suggestions.
If there are artists that you are unfamiliar with on this list, I hope you give them a listen. After all, word of mouth or word of type from Ipad is the best way we can hear about artists these days.
#20 – Kaylens Rain – In Our Blood
Kaylens Rain are a brother and sister duo from Sydney Australia.
I thoroughly enjoyed every track off this album. I would describe it as country pop with a little bit of a traditional sound and a shot of rock. There is such a loveable modern country sound to this album, especially with its relevant and relatable lyrics, modern vocal stylings and a great use of traditional country instruments which makes the album so deliciously fun to listen to. It is a gripping album which needs to be heard and recognised.
Stand out tracks : Do You Wake Up, Firefly Summer, When The Sun Goes Down
#19 – Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town
Brandy is a well known songwriter within the country music community who has reached a whole new level of success recording her own music. Best known for her writing credits on Kacey Musgraves‘ Follow Your Arrow, Miranda Lambert Mamma’s Broken Heart and The Band Perrys Better Dig Two, Brandy has recorded two the most celebrated albums in country music over the last few years. It is with this album, though, Big Day In A Small Town which has catapulted Brandys career as an artist rather than a songwriter alone.
The Grammy nominated singer has a history of writing tongue and cheek, brave and rather daring lyrics which challenges the country community, especially country radio. Brandy’s ability to write story telling lyrics and turn them in to relatable comedy is quite astonishing and really very clever. Brandy has a smooth, cool style that she makes look so easy and she is truly gracious, humble and quite the artist. Brandy brings a whole new level of power to women in country, opening doors for others to follow suit which has proven again that women can dominate the charts too. Her musical stylings offer a strong traditional side of country mixed with a slight modern sound. There really is no other artist out there like her.
Stand out tracks : Girl Next Door, Love Can Go To Hell, Three Kids No Husband
#18 – Dan and Shay – Obsessed
Whilst Where It All Began was a great album – Obsessed offers so much more. Upon my first listen, I noticed the songs in general were much more memorable and whilst catchy – they were also of a more mature standard which we would expect on a second album. I think this album in particular will reach a broader audience.
The album consists of many fantastic songs with a mix of ballads, upbeat summer sounds and vocally challenging Country Pop songs with a twist of Soul and R&B.
Stand out tracks: Already Ready, From The Ground Up, Obsessed, All Nighter, Road Trippin’.
#17 – Kiefer Sutherland – Down In A Hole
Down In A Hole is a very enjoyable and entertaining album. It is not an album where you will find pop tracks, dance tracks, belters or beer drinking anthems. It is an album full of timeless, soulful, truth-telling stories, which Kiefer himself describes as his own personal diary. He offers us an album so diverse, that it delivers a real mix of cross-over genres such as Rock-Country, Country-Blues and Folk-Country. Kiefer sings his songs like he means every word and you find yourself captivated by his deep, expressive lyrics (he co-wrote every one of the 11 tracks on this album – with producer Jude Cole), his integrity and vocal emotion.
Kiefer has as very raspy, raw, mature rock-sounding voice, similar to that of Chris Rea mixed with a bit of Bob Dylan – bringing a really exciting sound to Country Music and music as a whole.
Stand out tracks : Not Enough Whiskey, Can’t Stay Away, Calling Out Your Name, My Best Friend.
#16 – Wynonna and The Big Noise
It’s funny because I went in to this album thinking that I wouldn’t like it. I certainly did not expect to love it and am pretty ashamed of myself for not giving Wynonna Judd the credit she deserves. Not knowing much of her previous music and only knowing her by name and face, I can only judge her musically by this one album for now.
Firstly, this album really is a BIG noise, but in a great way. There is so much instrumental goodness in this album which sonically, makes this album exciting, fun and easy to listen to. Wynonna, as most will know, is a true power house vocally and she sounds killer on every track. As an artist who has been around for a while and leans more on the traditional side – this album fits in with the modern stylings of Country music today. This album deserves so much more credit and attention. This is one of those albums that you can imagine being phenomenal in a live setting. I was addicted from the opening track Ain’t No Thing.
Stand out tracks: Every Ending (Is A New Beginning), Ain’t No Thing, Staying In Love, Things That I Lean On.
#15 – The Shires – My Universe
A lot of people will be surprised that this isn’t higher on my list and it’s not as if I don’t think that it should be, I just simply had so many favourites this year that it was very hard to decide where to put this. My Universe is a fantastic album and no fan will be left displeased. Known best for their epic ballads, My Universe certainly does not disappoint in that area – the album has plenty of tear jerking tunes to pull at those heart strings! There are few up-beat tracks on this album but the ones that are, are very catchy and fun such as Beats To Your Rhythm and I’m Not Even Drunk Right Now. The Shires keep reaching new heights and have worked hard to get there. The Shires have recently been signed to Big Machine Label Group in the US, the label that made Taylor Swift famous. This is an album worth getting for its flawless vocals, lyrics and stunning melodies.
Stand out tracks : Beats To Your Rhythm, Daddys Little Girl, Common Language
#14 – Lori McKenna – The Bird and The Rifle
It was during Lori’s performance at C2C Festival earlier this year that caught the attention of UK country fans. Most of us already knew her as she is one of the best songwriters in Nashville and has been for years. Lori has penned songs for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Little Big Town to name a few and often teams up with writers Liz Rose and Hilary Lindsay and together they call themselves The Love Junkies. The Love Junkies notably wrote Girl Crush for Little Big Town which won multiple awards.
Lori is not just an outstanding songwriter but she is a uniquely gifted singer too and has such a distinctive voice that is easily recognisable and wonderful to listen to. What a great couple of years Lori has had. This year her song Humble and Kind – recorded by Tim McGraw – won Song of The Year at the CMA awards and is also up for a Grammy.
I was so pleased that Lori recorded her version of Humble and Kind for this record. She brings a whole new level and emotion to this song that makes me cry every time I hear it. This entire album is full of noteworthy songs that have a folk-country style and is an album with no fillers, just overall fantastic, sensational tracks.
Stand out tracks : The Bird and The Rifle, Humble and Kind, Giving Up On Your Hometown, We Were Cool
#13 – Southern Family – Compilation album – Dave Cobb
This is by far one of the best compilation albums I have ever heard in a long time and it is produced by the critically acclaimed and highly sought after Dave Cobb. Dave has gathered some of the greatest artists in the industry such as Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown, Brent Cobb, Brandy Clark, Morgane Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, John Paul White, Anderson East, Jason Isbell, Holly Williams, Shooter Jennings and Rich Robinson to celebrate their ties to the south and together, the artists have delivered some of the most truthful, honest, soulful and sweet-sounding tracks in the genre today. Whilst the majority of songs are penned by the artists and are some of their best work, you also have an outstanding, breathtaking and unforgettable version of You Are My Sunshine by Morgane Stapleton which has additional vocals by husband Chris Stapleton. Having seen this song live, I remember how it left the entire audience with chills.
The entire album is stand out for me so picking select ones was very hard.
Stand out tracks: Miranda Lambert – Sweet By and By, Brent Cobb – Down Home, Morgane Stapleton – You Are My Sunshine, Learning – Anderson East.
#12 – Brothers Osborne – Pawn Shop
TJ and John Osborne who make up Brothers Osborne are becoming one of the most celebrated duos in country music today and are gaining recognition fast. They rightly won Vocal Duo of The Year at the CMA awards this year. The brothers co-wrote every song on this album with some of the industry’s most creative and talented writers such as Shane McAnally, Jessi Alexander, Barry Dean, Sean McConnell and Maren Morris. With a strong team like that, this album was not going to be a disappointment.
TJ, who takes lead vocals has a strong, deep southern baritone which grabs your attention right away. Pawn Shop is sonically in the direction of Country-roots-rock with an element of traditional country and country-blues which gives it a deep south sort of style with a Johnny Cash influence in places. The songs are all single worthy and the whole album is something that would translate fantastically well in a live setting. I can only imagine their performances being electric, energetic and vibrant.
The collaboration with Lee Ann Womack is a note worthy track as is Down Home which was co written with Jessi Alexander and is already known to Jessi fans as her version was featured on her EP with the same title.
Stand out tracks: It Ain’t My Fault, Down Home, Loving Me Back (feat Lee Ann Womack), 21 Summer
#11 – Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Dayu
I had been excited to hear Brent’s album since Andrew Combs recommended him to me. Brent has been on the scene for a while writing for and with other artists including Andrew Combs who both have the song Shine On Rainy Day on their current albums – although Andrews is titled Rainy Day Song. Brent’s entire album is a real find, a real treasure. Shine On Rainy Day is so far from the mainstream kind of country and is one of those albums that is musically genius and unbelievably refreshing. Brents music is the perfect blend of country-blues, country-folk, Americana with a dash of soul. It’s hard to categorise Brent to a particular genre as he is simply just a exceptional artist and I find it difficult to limit him as such genre wise for he has a talent that goes way beyond any labelling.
Brent has a real and honest soulful tone to his voice that delivers a true old fashioned style which is also slightly hypnotic and he pretty much takes you away from the real world as I found myself totally lost in every song off this album. If you enjoy artists such as Dylan ,previously mentioned Andrew Combs and Barna Howard then this is the album for you.
There is no bad song on this album as it is one of those must have albums that you can chill out to, enjoy immensely and it is endlessly playable.
Stand out tracks: Solving Problems, Country Bound, Shine On Rainy Day, Let The Rain Come Down
#10 – Sean McConnell – Sean McConnell
Sean McConnell is such a refreshing and exhilarating artist and this whole album is not only gripping but highly entertaining and all round impressive. Whilst vocally, Sean doesn’t sound like anyone in the country music industry, sonically he reminds me of an early Keith Urban and also a bit of David Gray and not just because he has a track called Babylon. Sean’s album is a nice blend of Country and Americana showcasing a lot of traditional country instruments such as the Banjo and Mandolin amongst many others. Sean has a lovely soulful voice which is very mesmerising to listen to.
Stand out tracks: Holy days, One Acre Of Land, Hey Mary, Queen Of St Marys Choir
#9 – Sam Outlaw – Angeleno
Angeleno is such a deserving album on this list. Sam Outlaw is such an underrated artist and I am sure that anyone in the country community who hasn’t heard this album yet will enjoy it. Sam is more of a traditional country artist with a modern twist and a bit of a Mexican style added too. His music is of such a high standard that it is almost criminal that he is not more known. Every track is one to talk about and Sam himself is quite the character which makes me love this album even more.
Stand Out Tracks: Keep It Interesting, Ghost Town, Angeleno and Who Do You Think You Are?
#8 – Indigo Summer – Indigo Summer
Indigo Summer are a Country Music duo I stumbled across totally by accident – and I am so glad I did! I think it’s one of those ‘meant to be’ moments when you discover an artist you are likely to always be a fan of.
Together, Indigo Summer make Country Pop Music perfection. They create such a beautiful blend of harmonies and their vocals have a nice, authentic Country sound. If you like vocal harmony groups, then Indigo Summer should be right up your street. With comparisons to the likes of Lady Antebellum. Every single track on this album are fantastic in their own right.
Stand out tracks: Something You Miss, What It Wants, Not To, A1A, Ah Yeah!
#7 – Sturgill Simpson – A Sailors Guide To Earth
Produced by Sturgill himself, this entire album is a letter to his son who was born in 2014. The opening lyrics are Hello My Son, Welcome to earth, which instantly grabs you, especially if you are a new parent. The musical intro to the first track, Welcome To Earth is a stunning piano accompaniment with additional sounds that are so cleverly placed. The attention to detail on all the tracks from the instrumental quirks, great Orchestral segments and the additional sound effects are a huge part of what makes this album so unique and wonderful. The album is soaked in a true southern soul style with a real raw edge and is an emotionally breathtaking masterpiece.
Sturgill, like many great artists, has been on the scene for a while now but has only just started to gain the recognition he truly deserves. A man who was quite vocal during the CMA award nominations, it is a great triumph to see him up for Album Of The Year at The Grammys, which after the media support he has had, critics and fans alike have been celebrating since. The mainstream music fans however, seem to be up in arms prompting the Who the f*ck is Sturgill Simpson tweet from Sturgill after the nominations were announced. Wouldn’t it be great and a real breakthrough for country music if Sturgill were to win? He has my vote, if mine was counted. Here’s hoping.
The album is well worth your time and well worth holding the album of the year title. Each track is mesmerisingly quaint, unusually fantastic and musically smart. Sturgill even creates a whole new version of Nirvana’s In Bloom and his vision of the song is quite genius. He has transformed it not only into a country song but a true work of art that makes the song almost unrecognisable that many will assume it is his, however, those, like myself, who were huge Nirvana fans will recognise the song as soon as the lyrics kick in.
Stand out tracks : Welcome To Earth, Breakers Roar, Sea Stories, Brace For Impact ( Live A Little)
#6 – Courtney Marie Andrews- Honest Life
Officially, this album is not out until January 20th in the UK but it has been out in the US for a few months and as I have had a copy for a while, I had to feature this album in my top albums this year.
I love everything about this album. Courtney is an artist to watch and as someone who is already on Rolling Stones list of top albums in Country Music this year, her popularity is bound to grow.
Courtney Marie Andrews’ musical stylings are of the strongest, purest sound of Folk blended with the finest and most soulful sounds of Country, Americana and roots music providing a rare craft that is highly pleasing to the ear. Her voice is almost old soul and combined with her music, she delivers similarities to artists such as Joni Mitchel, however, there is so much individuality in Courtney’s music that the similarities are only very slight. Courtney is an artist who truly deserves the praise she has gained from critics this year. She spent so much time as an independent touring artist, working hard to write and release the album she always wanted to. Courtney writes her music from such an honest and almost melancholic angle, giving her songs an emotionally somber twist lyrically but sonically her music has a somewhat uplifting and optimistic tone.
Courtney’s album Honest Life will be released in the UK January 20th via Loose Music who are the UK home for many great artists of similar status such as Andrew Combs and good friend of hers Barna Howard, Grammy nominee Sturgill Simpson and The Handsome Family.
Courtney will be touring the UK towards the end of February and March. She will be joining fellow label buddies The Handsome Family as well as some headline shows.
Stand out tracks: Irene, Rookie Dreaming, How Quickly Your Heart Mends
#5 – The Young Fables – Two
This debut album (titled TWO) is full of nice Americana/Country sounds, without a trace of the Pop country sound that we are so used to hearing these days. Every song on this album is a joy to listen to, with traditional Country stylings and instruments and interesting story-telling lyrics, as Country Music should be.
Laurel and Wes – who make up The Young Fables – clearly fit perfectly as a duo and write Country Music perfection together, with many of the songs having toe-tapping melodies. It is one of those albums that you want to sit down and not just listen to, but REALLY listen to. Laurel has such an interesting voice, which is really hypnotic and mesmerising with a stunning Southern tone that suits this style of music perfectly. Her voice is very similar to that of Mindy Smith combined with Kimberley Perry from The Band Perry. The album has similarities with Mindy Smith’s music as a whole – as well as Ashley Monroe’s and Kacey Musgraves’.
Stand out tracks : The Road Home, Isn’t Enough, Completely, September, Bed Of Roses.
#4 – The Henningsens – World’s On Fire
There is so much to love about this album; it’s everything that got me into Country Music – before the modern sound was turned into a Pop sound. I loved their EP, but World’s On Fire is of such a higher standard that I would put them up there with the likes of Lady Antebellum. There is most certainly a gap in the market for Country groups at the moment. Whilst bands like Little Big Town are currently and quite deservedly at the top of their game, their sound is very different – so comparing them would be pointless. However with the departure of Rachel Rienert from Gloriana – and The Band Perry changing genres – there is now room for The Henningsens to take their place.
The Henningsens all take a turn on lead vocals, although Clara takes the lead on most songs. They all have such a modern – Southern sound that takes you straight into the heart of Nashville. This album is refreshingly exciting and there’s enough variety to have something for everyone.
Stand out tracks : Worlds On Fire, Hank (Rolling In My Grave ), There’s A Line, Golden, Why I Farm.
#3 – Maren Morris – Hero
Maren Morris is probably one of the most exciting artists in Country Music today –her Country – Bluesy single My Church was a massive hit and caught everyone’s attention and her ‘self – titled’ EP, did exceptionally well, citing her one of the most respected and loved artists amongst fans, critics, other Country artists and songwriters. It seems everyone would like to either work with her or record one of her songs. Some of her biggest fans are fellow Texans such as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.
This album does not disappoint; most of the songs from her EP fortunately made it to the album, apart from The Company You Keep– although that song did make it on the Target exclusive version.
Maren has a large variety of genres in her music, covering cool Country, Funk, Soul, Bluesy, Reggae, Rocky kind of sounds, that she is almost a genre in herself. I think Maren would do very well as a mainstream artist in the main charts and not just Country charts but I guess it depends on whether the mainstream radio DJ’s would give her the time of day.
Stand out tracks : Second Wind, Drunk Girls Don’t Cry, 80’s Mercedes, My Church , I Wish I Was
#2 – Lucie Silvas – Letters To Ghosts
Lucie’s voice is undeniably flawless. She has an extensive vocal range, with a stunning smoky – raspy, gentle tone even at volume, and is quite simply breathtaking.
This album has an energetic force with a number of powerfully enchanting, exquisite and astonishing tracks.
The music from this album in general, is just great music – well produced, featuring strikingly good vocals and gripping songs with exceptional lyrics. Every song on the album is single-worthy. I was hooked from the intro to the very first song which is title track Letters To Ghosts.
Stand out tracks: Villain, Roots, Smoke, Unbreakable Us
#1 – Miranda Lambert – The Weight Of These Wings
I feel that The Weight Of These Wings will go down in history as one of the best country albums of all time and will undoubtedly be a contender for album of the year at the CMA’s next year and hopefully a Grammy, too.
Miranda brings so much truth and passion to this album, showing us her sensitive and vulnerable side and she delivers powerfully emotional vocals with brutally honest lyrics as well as keeping her crazy, sass, bad ass attitude and female empowerment. No one in the music industry sounds like Miranda vocally, she is truly unique.
This album has everything from the most traditional country, through the sweetest style of Texan Country to the purest sound of Americana with elements of Folk, Blues, Jazz, church music and even a bit of a American Punk. Sonically, it pulls in elements from every one of her previous albums making it almost incomparable to any one album. Miranda returns to her roots with this album and reminds us why women in Country should be celebrated and championed.
The Weight Of These Wings is a double album divided between ‘The Nerve’ and ‘The Heart’, with 24 tracks in total – but you don’t feel like it is overkill. Every song is a stand-out track alone and has the ability to be a single.
This album made it hard to choose stand out tracks as are all amazing but I had to cut it down.
Stand out tracks : Smoking Jacket, Vice, Tin Man, Keeper Of The Flame, Highway Vagabond, Pushin’ Time, Runnin’ Just In Case, Ugly Lights, Good Ole Days