As another fantastic year for country music releases draws to a close, here are my picks for the top 10 country albums of 2017 – Dan x
- Lauren Alaina – ‘Road Less Traveled’
2017 has been a year to remember for Lauren Alaina and the one she’ll look back at as her breakout year. It’s been a long time coming for the 2011 American Idol contestant – a string of not-so-successful singles only added pressure to the new album. Thankfully, ‘Road Less Traveled’ gained radio traction and became her first #1 hit, and boy did she have a quality album to offer too. Lauren has without doubt one of the most powerful voices in the genre, and the standard of the song writing here is sublime.
Top tracks: ‘Three’, ‘Think Outside The Boy’, ‘Pretty’
- Zac Brown Band – ‘Welcome Home’
In all honesty, #9 is much lower than I expected this album to be. As a ZBB fanatic I thought this was nailed on for the top spot. However, it didn’t quite hit the heights of ‘The Foundation’ and ‘You Get What You Give’. That being said, it’s wonderful to see the guys doing what they do best – no EDM nonsense, just pure southern country music. ‘2 Places At 1 Time’ really is a classic, and Jimmy De Martini is back at the forefront after a back-seat role for the most part on ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Welcome home, boys.
Top tracks: ‘Roots’, ‘2 Places At 1 Time’, ‘Family Table’
- Carly Pearce – ‘Every Little Thing’
Carly Pearce set the standard when the title track ‘Every Little Thing’ exploded onto country radio earlier this year. In a year that has proved so challenging for female artists on the charts, Carly offered a very unique, different vibe that proved hugely popular with country fans worldwide. The follow-up album of the same name was truly stunning; a lovely mix of radio-friendly up-beat tracks with some beautiful ballads (‘If My Name Was Whiskey’ being the highlight) cemented its place on my top 10 list. An instant favourite and one that will definitely stand the test of time.
Top tracks: ‘Every Little Thing’, ‘Doin’ It Right’, ‘If My Name Was Whiskey’
- The Cadillac Three – ‘Legacy’
The Cadillac Three’s third album ‘Legacy’ was a subtler, more ‘country’ offering than its predecessors, albeit with a few heavy southern rock anthems thrown in along the way. Jaren Johnston is one of my favourite vocalists in the genre, and the standard of songwriting was taken up yet another notch for this personal, hearty project. The likes of ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘American Slang’ are great cross-over tracks that will appeal to the masses (‘American Slang’ was added to the Radio 2 playlist this year), and there are some absolute gems elsewhere, including ‘Love Me Like Liquor’ featuring Lori McKenna and the title track ‘Legacy’ which displays a totally new dimension. An absolute belter of an album that deserves so much more exposure.
Top tracks: ‘Hank & Jesus’, ‘Demolition Man’, ‘American Slang’
- Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – ‘The Nashville Sound’
One of the most musically-creative, lyrically-audacious albums I’ve head in a long time, ‘The Nashville Sound’ is another Grammy-winning album in waiting for Mr Isbell. Addressing the sensitive topics of politics, race and discrimination (along with a couple of stunning love songs), Isbell has crafted a work of art that stamps its authority on our troubled society and makes a defiant statement. Dabbling with country, rock and blues influences, this is a showcase for Isbell’s immense musical ability and proof that he is one of the most sophisticated song writers of our generation.
Top tracks: ‘Cumberland Gap’, ‘White Man’s World’, ‘Hope The High Road’
- Aaron Watson – ‘Vaquero’
A 16-track masterpiece from the new Texas country King, Aaron Watson. Keeping me gripped for 16 songs without skipping any is no mean feat; this is a classic. Aaron has found a knack of staying true to his traditional country roots whilst making his songs so universally appealing to traditionalists and mainstream fans alike. Just look at ‘Outta Style’, packed full of violin (a rare feature these days), sitting pretty in the top 20 on country radio after nearly a year on the chart. Aaron always keeps one eye on the live show when crafting his albums, and ‘Vaquero’ has more than its fair share of knockout concert tracks, as well as the heartfelt songs like ‘The Arrow’ and ‘Diamonds and Daughters’ which will bring a tear to the eye.
Top tracks: ‘They Don’t Make Em Like They Used To’, ‘Clear Isabel’, ‘The Arrow’
- Kip Moore – ‘Slowheart’
The man can do no wrong. Kip’s one of those artists who will constantly keep you guessing from one album to the next; there’s a progression with every release and you’ll never see him sticking to a trend. The previous offering ‘Wild Ones’ is one of my favourite albums, period, so ‘Slowheart’ had a lot to live up to. ‘Wild Ones’ still remains #1 for me, but the new album is absolutely killer – packed full of awesome live tracks as well as the likes of ‘Last Shot’ and the very personal ‘Guitar Man’ that will bring out the goose bumps. Kip refuses to follow the pack, and the way his underground fan base has built over the last few years has been astonishing, both here and in the states. Jumping around to ‘The Bull’ at Shepherd’s Bush is the moment of 2017 for me, and I can’t wait to see Kip raise the roof at the O2 in March.
Top tracks: ‘Plead The Fifth’, ‘The Bull’, ‘Guitar Man’
- Midland – ‘On The Rocks’
Are they ‘authentic’? Have they really been plying their trade, playing in Texas bars for years and struggling to earn a living? I’ll leave that for you guys to form an opinion on, but good music is good music. And this is damn good music. We reviewed Midland’s EP last year and knew ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ was something special, but we never imagined it’d become the breakout smash that it’s become. Shane McAnally worked his magic once again on a truly sublime album that was a breath of fresh air and was the final nail in the coffin for the bro-country era. A quality offering from start to finish, this is material that country radio has been crying out for for far too long, and maybe the tide is starting to turn.
Top tracks: ‘Out Of Sight’, ‘More Than A Fever’, ‘Nothin’ New Under The Neon’
- Sam Outlaw – ‘Tenderheart’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the most underrated artist in country music. Sam should be huge. ‘Angeleno’ was, and still is, one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard and it set the ball rolling for a very exciting new artist. Could he maintain the standards? Hell yes. ‘Tenderheart’ does exactly what it says on the tin, exposing a deeper, more emotional side to Sam’s writing, coupled with some stunning instrumentation in one of the most authentic, beautifully crafted easy-listening offerings you’ll hear for a while. ‘Tenderheart’ is one of the songs of the year. It’s worth mentioning that Sam’s UK shows this year with a full band have been an absolute joy to witness – make sure you catch him next year!
Top tracks: ‘Bottomless Mimosas’, ‘Tenderheart’, ‘Bougainvillea, I Think’
- Sarah Darling – ‘Dream Country’
Everything about ‘Dream Country’, from the intricately designed CD case, to the wonderfully imaginative and thought-provoking song writing, to Sarah Darling’s utterly flawless vocal delivery, is sublime. As this was her first album released independently, it gave Sarah the creative freedom to truly express herself as an artist, and ‘Dream Country’ gives us a glimpse into her personal influences and emotions. ‘Where Cowboys Ride’ takes us to the wide-open fields of Wyoming, whilst ‘Montmartre’ transports us to the quaint, idyllic streets of Paris. The imagery she creates is simply stunning and so much thought has gone into the whole project. I was totally transfixed from the first listen (particularly with ‘Starry Eyes’ which has been my favourite song ever since) and the spine-tingling string section adds a magical feel to the album that you will fall in love with. By far my most-played album of 2017.
Top tracks: ‘Where Cowboys Ride’, ‘Starry Eyes’, ‘Halley’s Comet’