YLIAS editor Dan Wharton (@LifeInASong_Dan) selects the Top 10 Country Albums of 2018…
10. THE WANDERING HEARTS – ‘WILD SILENCE’
UK fan favourites grab the #10 slot ahead of some incredible albums that were so difficult to leave out this year. ‘Wild Silence’ had to be in there; a monumental breakthrough album for one of the brightest, most talented acts the UK scene has ever seen. Just over a year ago, not many of us knew who these guys were – now they’re selling out venues all over the UK and have also made their mark in Nashville. Their debut album fuses influences of Country, Folk, Americana and beyond, packed full of undeniably infectious melodies and flawless harmonies that have catapulted them to success this year. Keep an eye out for the deluxe edition of ‘Wild Silence’, coming next month.
9. LUCIE SILVAS – ‘E.G.O.’
I’ve gone a little off-piste for this one. This isn’t massively a ‘country’ album, but Lucie’s ties to the Nashville song writing community are a good enough excuse! Creatively, this is one of the best records I’ve come across in years. It represents a newly-found freedom for Lucie who delivered a collection of songs full of great depth, social context and intriguing sounds. If you’re the open-minded type who can appreciate cross-genre material, this is the album for you. Quality song writing, slick production and just damn good music from one of our very own.
8. PISTOL ANNIES – ‘INTERSTATE GOSPEL’
Yes, it’s the post-divorce album we’ve all been craving from Miranda. There are no limits when she teams up with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, and this album has had rave reviews across the board for its lyrical quirkiness, traditionally-leaning sound and signature Pistol Annies sass. It has its really fun moments such as ‘Got My Name Changed Back’, but also moments of great depth and quality with the likes of ‘Milkman’ (one of the best songs of 2018) and ‘Cheyenne’. By far their best piece of work to date as a trio.
7. ASHLEY MCBRYDE – ‘GIRL GOING NOWHERE’
What an album. As soon as I saw the video of her performance of the title track at the Opry last year, I knew I was watching a huge star in the making. Unfortunately, the album hasn’t generated the sales figures that it so desperately deserves, but it’s one hell of an introduction for the mass market to an artist with a long-lasting career ahead of her. No gimmicks, just great rock-infused country music and some of the most hard-hitting song writing you’ll hear. She’s become a big favourite amongst the UK country community and I can’t wait to see her tear up the main stage at C2C in March.
6. DIERKS BENTLEY – ‘THE MOUNTAIN’
Dierks is back. I really couldn’t grasp his ‘Black’ record aside from 3 or 4 tracks. ‘The Mountain’ is a whole different story. It blends elements from all of his previous albums, all the way from the bluegrass influence from ‘Up On the Ridge’ to the pop-infused ‘Black’ sound. It’s a collection which will have something for everybody at both ends of the country spectrum, and it’s the Dierks we all know and love, playing to his strengths. ‘Burning Man’ with Brothers Osborne is a classic, and I also particularly love ‘Living’, ‘Goodbye In Telluride’ and ‘One Way’. Easily up there with the ‘Riser’ album for the best stuff he has ever released. Welcome back, Dierks.
5. KENNY CHESNEY – ‘SONGS FOR THE SAINTS’
Same story as Dierks’ album for me. I felt Kenny had lost his way a little with the previous album ‘Cosmic Hallelujah’, trying too hard to be trendy. ‘Songs For The Saints’ sees him going back to his roots – laid-back island music. It’s a passion project for Kenny, who is donating all revenue to helping the victims of Hurricane Irma, and the material reflects this passion and raw emotion. The beachy ‘Life On A Rock’ and ‘Be As You Are’ are my favourite Kenny albums, and this one is cut from the same cloth. ‘Every Heart’ is just everything I love about Kenny’s music, and the new single ‘Better Boat’ is a message that I think we all need to hear at some point in our lives. Top drawer.
4. BROTHERS OSBORNE – ‘PORT SAINT JOE’
How this wasn’t nominated for Album Of The Year at the CMAs, I will never know. They set the bar high with their ‘Pawn Shop’ album but this topped it for me. I particularly love the soulful ‘A Little Bit Trouble’, as well as the final track ‘While You Still Can’ which is one of the finest written songs they’ve ever released. Brilliantly structured and a masterclass in musicianship, ‘Port Saint Joe’ thoroughly deserves its place in the Top 5.
3. LORI MCKENNA – ‘THE TREE’
The queen of song writing released her 9th studio album this year, and it’s an absolute stunner. Lori has an unrivalled ability to transport the listener to another place with her storytelling, and the characters become so vivid that they almost feel like part of your family. She really is that good. This album brought me to tears on the first listen (like most of her music does) – it’s so lyrically powerful and there are songs that I’m sure all of us can relate to at different moments in our lives, such as ‘People Get Old’ and ‘You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone’. If somebody were to ask me why I love country music as a genre, this is the album I’d play.
2. CALEB CAUDLE – ‘CRUSHED COINS’
I’m guessing this will be a new name for most of you reading this. Well, you might want to start listening as he’s coming to the UK for AmericanaFest next month. I fell in love with Caleb’s ‘Carolina Ghost’ album back in 2016, a tough album to beat. But boy, did he deliver. There’s a warmth about this album melodically that only a select few can deliver; it’s Americana at its very best. Lyrically sophisticated and intriguing, too. It’s an album that begs to be heard live with a full band – I’m guessing this won’t be the case for his UK shows but hopefully we can look forward to that in the future. Trust me, give this one a spin, you won’t regret it. An under-the-radar masterpiece.
1. KACEY MUSGRAVES – ‘GOLDEN HOUR’
You’re not surprised, surely?! It’s topped so many ‘best of’ lists this year and deservedly so. It’s even been nominated for all genre Album Of The Year at the Grammys. This is the perfect example of an artist pushing the boundaries with their craft and evolving, without alienating a loyal fan base. Kacey has captured so many imaginations with this futuristic collection, and the quality of song writing defies belief. It’s struck a chord with the mainstream listeners as well as the country community, and it’s doing wonderful things to introduce new listeners to the genre. Not only my favourite album of 2018, one of my favourite albums ever.
Brett Young – ‘Ticket To L.A.’
Dan + Shay (Self-Titled)
Jimmie Allen – ‘Mercury Lane’
Scotty McCreery – ‘Seasons Change’
Sugarland – ‘Bigger’
Ruston Kelly – ‘Dying Star’
The Shires – ‘Accidentally On Purpose’
Eric Church – ‘Desperate Man’
Devin Dawson – ‘Dark Horse’