I just want to start off by saying that I did not listen to much new country music this year, but the albums I did listen to were actually very diverse and not normally what country music is nowadays. I will first start off with an honorable mention, then I will get straight into the top ten.
An Honorable Mention
- Chuck Wicks: Turning Point (86 / B)
After eight long years between album (with an EP released in 2013), we are finally given another full-length album by the country artist of “Stealing Cinderella” fame. To me, this was a very solid album filled with catchy country tracks, and almost none of them were, at least to my opinion, bordering on bro-country; “Whatcha Got Girl” comes very close to it. But, nonetheless, each track on here is very solid and very enjoyable. The reason that I decided not to put it on my top ten list, and it just missed the number ten spot, is because the number ten spot actually gives me a bit of nostalgia.
The Actual Top Ten
10. Ronnie Dunn: Tattooed Heart (85 / B)
At number ten, I have chosen Ronnie Dunn’s Tattooed Heart. Even at sixty-three, Dunn knows how make good country music. I might have been biased to put this at my number ten because I simply loved Brooks & Dunn, but this album really holds up. I have a bit of a soft spot for the first track on this album – “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas.” It was the first song that played on the radio when I got my car (which I don’t have anymore *sniffle*). The second track – “Damn Drunk” – is another favorite of mine, partly because of it being a collaboration with Kix Brooks and partly because it is what makes a country song good. Even the Ariana Grande cover, which is where the album’s name comes from, holds up really well, despite it being one of my least favorite songs on the album.
9. Ward Thomas: Cartwheels (88 / B+)
This might come off as a bit odd to some people, considering that the band Ward Thomas comes from Hampshire, England. I know, a British country band. It struck me as odd, too. But, don’t let this fool or discourage you from giving this album a listen. Tracks such as the title track, “Boomerang,” “Dirt and Gold,” and “Where the Sky Is” really showcase Catherine and Lizzy’s songwriting ability and vocal harmonizing. Overall, this is a really good country pop album, and I certainly give this a high recommendation.
8. Green River Ordinance: Fifteen (89 / B+)
This might cause some confusion to some people as well, simply because GRO was initially considered an alternative rock/pop rock band. They have certainly come a long way since 2009’s Out of My Hands, and their sound certainly has changed. When they released 2012’s Under Fire, I had a slight feeling that they would release an album that had a more country sound to it, but I was still a bit surprised when I heard “Red Fire Night.” Nonetheless, this is a really good country album, and it still has some of the musical elements that GRO had in their earlier days. And it even has a re-recording of perhaps their most popular song “Endlessly,” though I did not initially enjoy it at first, and I still feel that the album could have done without it, but I digress.
7. Madeline Merlo: Free Soul (89 / B+)
Who would have thought that good country music could come from Canada, let alone England? Well, there appears to be a big country scene with our neighbors to the North, and Madeline Merlo’s Free Soul is simply one of the many good albums to come from it. I was pleasantly surprised to listen to this and hear almost everything I love about country. Almost every track on here is really enjoyable, save for “Ready to Say Goodnight,” which has a collaboration with Tim Hicks. The album could have either done without it or could have been a solo with Madeline. Other than that, this was definitely one of my favorite country albums this year, and I simply cannot wait for her future releases.
6. Charles Kelley: The Driver (89 / B+)
Charles Kelley’s first album since Lady Antebellum went on hiatus is definitely a solid one. I mean, it made my top ten by placing at number six, so he must be doing something right, at least for me. This album has elements of heartland rock, county pop, alternative rock, and pop rock, which makes it one of my favorite all-around albums of this year, because I love it when artists mix genres together, even if it means we have to endure some of the modern country acts that I dare not mention. Tracks such as the title track, “Your Love,” “Lonely Girl,” “Round in Circles,” and “Leaving Nashville” are tracks that I consider my favorites on the album.
5. David Nail: Fighter (91 / A-)
David Nail has certainly been one of my favorite modern country artists to come around in the last ten years, mostly because he does not conform to the mold that modern country is, whether it be fully or not at all. I would have to say that this is his mostly sonically pleasing album to date, which does not take anything away from his earlier releases like his debut. Some of the tracks on here indicate that Nail is an old soul, like “Old Man’s Symphony,” which is possibly my favorite track on here. Other favorites include: “Night’s on Fire,” the title track, and “Babies.”
4. Kiefer Sutherland: Down in a Hole (91 / A-)
Yes, Jack Bauer released a country album! And you want to know something? It’s really good. Like, really good. With elements of Americana and folk rock, this album is a really enjoyable one. There really isn’t much else that I can say about this album other than it is really good, but this is definitely high on my recommendations.
3. Maren Morris: Hero (89 / B+)
This album really surprised me. After someone close to me played “My Church” for the umpteenth time (you know who you are), I just had to give this album a listen. And I am glad I did. This album is great. It has elements of country (of course), country pop, folk rock, and just a hint of R&B. The first three tracks of this album – “Sugar,” “Rich,” and “My Church” – are simply amazing. Other tracks such as “80’s Mercedes,” “Just Another Thing,” and “I Wish I Was” are amongst my other favorites of this album.
2. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (89 / B+)
This is probably the one album that I have replayed the most, and for good reason, too. Sturgill Simpson is definitely an innovator in modern country music today. He gives off the vibe of an outlaw country artist from seventies all the while mixing so many other genres into his music. This album is bluesy, jazzy, psychedelic, and soulful. Everything that modern country is not, and somehow it works. Favorites include: “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” “Keep it Between the Lines,” “Sea Stories,” “All Around You,” and “Call to Arms.” I would also like to mention the cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” While it is not my favorite on the album, it is definitely worth mentioning.
So, now we’re at the number one spot. I feel that I have mentioned some really great releases for country in 2016, but what made my number one spot? What album do I consider the greatest country album of 2016?
Well, that albums is…
1. Margo Price: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (91 / A-)
This is one of the best country albums I have ever heard, in any generation. It mixes modern country with old-time honky-tonk, bluegrass, and a bit of Americana. Every track on here is beautiful and enjoyable and easy to listen to. If you were to just give one album that I have mentioned in this post a listen, I would strongly urge you to listen to this one. it is simply that good.
So, there you have it: my top ten country releases this year. Hopefully, my list will encourage someone to listen to one of the albums, if not all of them, if they haven’t heard them yet.