Well, 2020 is nearly over, and thank God we’ve had lots of incredible country music to keep us going through such a difficult year. A very tough decision, as always, to choose a ‘Top 10’, but here we go…
10. Maddie and Tae – ‘The Way It Feels’
Maddie & Tae made their long-awaited return with their sophomore record ‘The Way It Feels’ this year, and they came back with a bang. A stellar pop-country collection packed with top class songwriting, infectious tunes and the duo’s signature dreamy harmonies. No second-album-syndrome here; if anything, it’s an upgrade on the debut album, with so many potential country radio singles on offer.
Top 3 songs: ‘Water In His Wine Glass’, ‘Trying On Rings’, ‘I Don’t Need To Know’
9. Lori McKenna – ‘The Balladeer’
Any Lori McKenna album seems to make its way into our Top 10 year-end lists by default. Breathtaking songwriting, brave subject matters, and that iconic vocal that can bring the toughest of individuals to their knees. Nobody has mastered the art of imagery in songwriting quite to the standard of Lori McKenna, and with songs like ‘Marie’ and ‘When You’re My Age’, the listener is transported into the worlds of the characters, seeing life from their perspectives. It’s a special ability, and one that any aspiring songwriters can take so much inspiration from. Another special album from one of country’s greats.
Top 3 songs: ‘The Balladeer’, ‘Marie’, ‘Stuck In High School’
8. Donovan Woods – ‘Without People’
If you haven’t delved into Donovan Woods’ back catalogue yet, don’t let him go under your radar. Without a doubt, one of the best male songwriters out there, and a real unique voice too. ‘Without People’ is a gorgeous collection, sonically very different to anything else on this list, often veering into the alt-country, indie realms. The album expresses emotions that extend across the full spectrum – love, father and son interaction, and what life is actually like without companionship. It tugs at the heartstrings, and Donovan’s delivery is sublime.
Top 3 songs: ‘Seeing Other People’, ‘Clean Slate’, ‘Last Time I Saw You’
7. Lindsay Ell – ‘heart theory’
One of the big surprise packages of the year. With her concept album ‘heart theory’, Lindsay Ell established herself as one of the most versatile, creative artists on the scene, with a collection that showcased all facets of her ability. Hard-hitting, brutally open songwriting with a tonne of influences on show, it’s an album full of heart and soul that has become one of our most-played this year.
Top 3 songs: ‘Hits me’, ‘The oTHEr side’, ‘make you’
6. Tenille Arts – ‘Love, Heartbreak, & Everything In Between’
Tenille Arts seems to be one of those slow burners who is creeping her way up the country ladder right now. The lead single from the album, ‘Somebody Like That’, has made its way into the Top 20 on country radio, and shows no signs of stopping. ‘Love, Heartbreak, & Everything In Between’ is just about as good as a pop-country album gets, with so many potential radio singles, and a lyrical quality that sets Tenille Arts apart from many of her competitors.
Top 3 songs: ‘Wild Love’, ‘I Hate This’, ‘Nothing To See Here’
5. Rachel Reinert – ‘Into The Blue’
Rachel Reinert, formerly of Gloriana, released her debut solo project, ‘Into The Blue’, this year, and it’s well worth checking out. There’s a beautifully atmospheric, ethereal feel to the production, similar to what we heard on Kacey’s ‘Golden Hour’ record. Four years in the making, it’s a collection that was put together with such precision and quality. It’s super dreamy from start to finish – no filler in sight.
Top 3 songs: ‘Ocean’, ‘Kiss On The Cheek’, ‘Some Kind Of Angel’
4. Brett Eldredge – ‘Sunday Drive’
An album that deserved so much more; probably a consequence of the circumstances this year. ‘Sunday Drive’ is the album of Brett Eldredge’s career, and sees him opening up like never before, in a collection that feels categorically ‘him’. Brett goes back to basics here, stripping back the arrangements, allowing those crisp vocals to shine. The largely piano-based, acoustic melodies feel so raw, and add a vulnerability to Brett’s music that we’ve rarely heard in the past. It’s an album he’ll be able to look back on at the end of his career with immense pride – a superb effort.
Top 3 songs: ‘Sunday Drive’, ‘Good Day’, ‘Then You Do’
3. Gone West – ‘Canyons’
RIP Gone West. It was a short but very sweet run for Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves and Nelly Joy. ‘Canyons’, their debut (and final!) album, was a breath of fresh air from start to finish, blending those beachy Californian vibes with Hawaiian influences and some awesome storytelling. They were one of the hottest rising acts before their unfortunate separation; a big loss, and a waste of so much potential. Still, ‘Canyons’ goes down as one of our top debut albums, and we’ll be enjoying it for years to come.
Top 3 songs: ‘Slow Down’, ‘Gamblin’ Town’, ‘Tides’
2. Kip Moore – ‘Wild World’
A fairly predictable choice here, and one that will appear on many UK lists this year. Fan favourite Kip Moore returned with his fourth studio album, ‘Wild World’, unleashing some Springsteen-esque, soaring production techniques to deliver an absolutely blinding collection. Kip’s grittest, deepest album to date with such a big, atmospheric sound throughout; it’s simply begging to be performed live. A career-defining album.
Top 3 songs: ‘Fire and Flame’, ‘South’, ‘Payin’ Hard’
1. Brandy Clark – ‘Your Life Is A Record’
Another gem of an album from one of the greatest wordsmiths of our generation. Brandy Clark continues to set the bar incredibly high, and ‘Your Life Is A Record’ saw her experimenting with an orchestral, live-studio sound, which provides some truly dramatic, emotion-evoking moments such as ‘Love Is A Fire’ and ‘I’ll Be The Sad Song’, whilst Brandy’s playful side shines on ‘Long Walk’ and ‘Better Boat’. A brave move, sonically, but one that suited Brandy’s style to a tee, resulting in some of the best material of her stellar career. Fully deserving of its Grammy nomination, it’s the best all-round package of 2020.
Top 3 songs: ‘Pawn Shop’, ‘Love Is A Fire’, ‘Who You Thought I Was’
Brothers Osborne – ‘Skeletons’
Josh Turner – ‘Country State Of Mind’
Little Big Town – ‘Nightfall’
Ashley McBryde – ‘Never Will’
Cam – ‘The Otherside’
Luke Bryan – ‘Born Here Live Here Die Here’