Top 10 Country Albums Of 2017: Emma Jordan

2017 seems to have been the year of the second album for half of these artists, some of whom I’ve only just discovered.  Here are my ten starting points for country music conversations to carry us through to 2018.

10 Kelsea Ballerini – Unapologetically

I’m new to Kelsea’s music, but this second album appears confident in the country-pop genre. There are a few key, honest tracks and, along with much-lauded live performances, her enthusiasm ensures I’m looking forward to her C2C appearance in March.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • I Hate Love Songs
  • Unapologetically
  • Legends

9 Angaleena Presley – Wrangled

Presley is the final third of the Pistol Annies that I have yet to see live, but until that night I have her song writing and vocal talents to while the time away as I discover her lives, loves and regrets, ironically, usually when doing the housework. Presley, Lambert and Monroe co-wrote Dreams Don’t Come True: ‘I thought I’d change the world with three chords and the truth/I’d be like Elvis but with lipstick and boobs’.  Hearing Bless My Heart felt like catching up with an old friend, albeit one who wouldn’t cross, or wrangle, her pal.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • Dreams don’t come true
  • Bless my heart
  • Motel Bible

8 Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing 

Pearce debuted her album, Every Little Thing, in October – and what a calling card. I know I’m not the only one a little bit in love with the heartbreaking ballad If My Name was Whiskey; along with Logan Brill, Pearce nails unrequited love songs. Need more evidence? I give you the title track, Every Little Thing, her number one single. The up-beat Everybody Gonna Talk about not giving a damn ensures she’s an undeniable Underwood or Lambert successor. 2018 will be a fabulous year for this Big Machine Label Group artist.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • If My Name was Whiskey
  • Every Little Thing
  • Everybody Gonna Talk

7 Lee Ann Womack – The Lonely, The Lonesome and the Gone

In the late nineties, two Lee Anns dominated the country airwaves – LeAnn Rimes and Lee Ann Womack. The Lonely, The Lonesome and The Gone is Lee Ann’s 10th studio album, and just as proudly displays her vocal storytelling.  I could listen to her unique chords sing all night, and her C2C set a few years ago reintroduced a whole new audience to I Hope You Dance, her classic 90s country number one.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • All the Trouble
  • The Lonely, The Lonesome and the Gone
  • Hollywood

6 Midland – On the Rocks  

I had a lot of fun reviewing On the Rocks, on repeat, in Autumn for YLIAS; such great musical influences throughout the album, such personality on stage. I’m gagging to see how they light up the arena next March at C2C. Kacey – I’ve a feeling they’re after your rhinestones.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • Make a Little
  • Drinkin’ Problem
  • Check Cashin’ Country

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

I’ve only just discovered Grammy and AMA winning Jason Isbell – actually through his Twitter account this autumn, as he observationally toured Europe. His vocals and song writing skills are as resonant as his tweets are wry, and I was hooked when I heard his sixth album, The Nashville Sound, released with band the 400 unit (named after a former Psychiatric unit in Alabama) in June. A roots/Americana artist, Isbell has been performing for well over a decade, as a solo artist and member of different groups, along with his wife and fiddle player, Amanda Shires.  You can sense their love throughout their album but especially on If We Were Vampires, a tale of lovers hoping for forty years together, which is refreshing in a world where relationships struggle to achieve even the seven-year status. The album’s sound is so good it’s hard to settle on just three top tracks, but lights should shine on the realities of Anxiety, co-written with Shires, and the album’s hopeful final track, Something to Love. When the ten-track album finished I was searching for more stories, so I’ll be immersing myself in the back catalogue over the festivities, tweets at the ready.

Stand up tracks:

  • If We Were Vampires
  • Anxiety
  • Something to Love

4 Charlie Worsham – The Beginning of Things

Worsham’s second album, The Beginning of Things, released under Warner Music Nashville in April, has been in my heart for over a year, thanks to UK performances and a free CD from Charlie’s Shoreditch performance last November (take note, Marketing, this strategy works). The Mississippi-born Guitar Whisperer is outstanding live – his six strings simply come to life in his skilful hands. I’m so grateful to Country2Country for introducing this outstanding musician to the UK. Charlie demonstrates much love for music, life and audiences, and would easily mesmerise an O2 Main Stage audience. Oh, I have to choose just the three:

Stand Out Tracks:

  • Cut Your Groove
  • Lawn Chair
  • I Ain’t Going Nowhere

3 Chris Janson – Everybody

The moment I heard Janson’s second album, Everybody, released under Warner Bros. Nashville in Sept, I had to review it for YLIAS. From the opening track, Who’s Your Farmer, a-banjo-picking, hip-shaking ditty, through to the title track, Everybody – which could easily have been a Brad-Paisley observation on life – this is a strong collection from multi-instrumentalist Janson, who is often found with his trademark harmonica around his neck. The album ends with a perfect full stop final track, the piano-based anthem for the 21st century – Drunk Girl.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • Who’s your Farmer
  • Everybody
  • Drunk Girl

2 Margo Price – All American Made

Released in October, but I’ve only recently listened to, this second album from Price shot her stories straight into the second spot of my Top Ten Country Albums.  The juxtaposition of innocent vocals and experiential lyrics has earned her well-deserved critical acclaim. And she’s returning to the UK for C2C in March.  Hello, 2018.

  • A Little Pain
  • Pay Gap
  • All American Made

1 Kip Moore – Slowheart

Moore’s third album, Slowheart, is my absolute favourite on-repeat CD of 2017. Yes, I buy CDs; instead of petrol, my car probably runs on Kip. It’s a safe understatement that I’m a bit of a fan.  However, each time I hear The Bull, I also thank Uncle D for teaching Kip La Bamba on guitar.  Insightful and mature, this album is musically polished, right from the off, as I Plead the Fifth, combines a killer bass with signature sandpaper vocals; ‘have I ever mixed your memory with Tennessee?’  Top Five single, More Girls Like You, with its powerful pre-surf-break intro, seals my choice of (only) top three tracks.  In an industry where multi-label changes are frequent, Kip has carved his own initials onto the trunk of MCA Nashville and this album demonstrates the payoff.

Stand Out Tracks:

  • I Plead the Fifth
  • The Bull
  • More Girls Like You