Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Albums So Far in 2016

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2016, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music and Americana. Up first we take a look back at the best country and Americana albums of 2016 so far. There have been a lot of fantastic albums already this year and sonically there’s a lot of variety. It’s quite clear Americana is gaining a bigger influence, while in the Nashville pop scene they’re still completely bastardizing country music to the point of no return making the appearance of major label artists on this list shorter than last year. Another story that has helped define this list is artists experimenting with different sounds in the independent and Americana scenes, straying from their original sound. While some may think this indicates they don’t know what they want, I think it’s just the opposite, as artists clearly are tired of genre lines and being put into boxes.

The first albums listed are considered candidates for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country and Americana albums so far in 2016….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Dave Cobb Super Compilation – Southern Family

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

There’s nothing else to say except Sturgill Simpson did it again. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King AnimalChris King – Animal

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like.Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a callback to country’s honky tonk heydays mixed with some blues and rock n’ roll, creating a dynamic record, with each song grounded in country music. Overall I think Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent country album. Price’s vocals are great as she captures the solemness of the slower tracks, but has the appropriate bite and attitude on the rowdier songs. Margo Price has played on several of the late shows and performed on SNL on April 9. It’s still too early to tell, but given the recent success of Chris Stapleton, this could be a big album for country music. Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is one of my favorite albums so far this year.

Dori FreemanDori Freeman – Self-Titled

I’ll be surprised if there’s another debuting country or Americana artist in 2016 that shows more promise than Dori Freeman. This debut album from Freeman blew me away upon the very first listen. In fact I had to play it several times over because only hearing it once wasn’t enough. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area. You can pretty much call it flawless. It’s an album that every true country and Americana fan needs to hear. Dori Freeman is a name you need to know. This is one of the best albums I’ve had the privilege to write about on Country Perspective.

Aubrie Sellers – New City BluesAubrie Sellers New City Blues

The debut album New City Blues from Aubrie Sellers proves that she is a very talented artist who is poised to make a lot of great music for years to come. Never before have I heard a debut album from an artist take so many creative risks. Sellers mixes country, bluegrass, Americana and rock like she’s been doing this for decades. There’s nothing safe about this album, from the lyrics to the production. While Sellers may sound just like her mother Lee Ann Womack, she proves to have her own style and more than enough talent to step out of this shadow and make her own name. New City Blues can feel like a bit of a slog to get through at 14 songs and many songs will take multiple listens to fully grasp. But I assure you it’s well worth your time to sit down and listen to this album over and over.

More Highly Recommended Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon 

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle 

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side 

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind 

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost 

Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

William Michael Morgan – William Michael Morgan EP

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit 

Ryan Beaver – Rx 

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me 

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Speedbuggy USA – South of Bakersfield 

Harvest Thieves – Rival 

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History 

Country Perspective’s Best Music Reviewed in May

The Honeycutters On The Ropes

This is the monthly recap post of all the great music we reviewed on the blog in case you missed it or just came across our humble, little blog. So check this music out if you haven’t already.

10/10

None

 

9/10

Albums:

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side

Singles:

Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”

Erik Dylan – “Pink Flamingos”

 

8/10

Albums:

Ryan Beaver – Rx

The Lumineers – Cleopatra 

Album Review – Carter Sampson’s ‘Wilder Side’

Carter Sampson Wilder Side

How have I never heard of Carter Sampson? That was my reaction upon coming across the Oklahoma singer-songwriter. From an early age she knew she was born to make music and her passion still runs deep today. She averages 220 shows annually, as she loves to travel and play music, although she has a deep fondness for playing in her home state. Sampson is also the founder and director of Oklahoma City’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, which partners with nonprofit organizations that help educate empower women through music education. And earlier this year she released her fourth studio album Wilder Side, produced by Travis Linville. If you’re a fan of that old school, 70s country sound, you’ll really enjoy Wilder Side.

The album title track establishes the tone of the entire album, a down to earth, classic country feel. The song is about Sampson exploring her wild, gypsy side. The acoustic guitar and some soft pedal steel guitar give the song a relaxing feel and make the listener feel right at home. Sampson further explores the life of living on the highway on “Highway Rider.” She sings about how when you’re living life on six-wheels you never know where home is next. It’s your traditional rambling, highway song about never being able to really settle down. I should also point out that fellow Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland joins Sampson on this song. It’s a real treat to hear two talented songwriters come together on this song. A plucky banjo plays in “Run Away.” Once again Sampson sticks to the life on the road theme, as she sings about falling in love with someone only to tell him she can’t stay. This is more bluegrass-based song, making it one of the lighter tracks on the album. The instrumentation is really strong on this song.

“Holy Mother” is about Sampson asking the holy mother to pray for her and her girls as they go out on the town for the night. She knows they’re going to drink and have some fun, but she asks that none of them go home with a “guitar man or anyone else in the band” because she knows it will lead to heartbreak and trouble. Sampson explores moving on from her past and town on “Everything You Need.” Throughout the song she’s speaking to an ex she has left behind for a new life, hoping that he’s found what he needs in his life now. It’s this type of song that really makes you appreciate Sampson’s mature approach to songwriting. There’s no bitterness from the woman, as she only hopes her ex finds his happiness like she has found it.

One of my favorites on Wilder Side is “Medicine River.” The folky song is an ode to the Medicine River and Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. What stood out in particular on this song for me are Sampson’s vocals, which are quite strong. What helps her vocals stand out is the light and stringy instrumentation, which lets her stand out and guide the song. The soft and tender “Take Me Home With You” is about a lonely woman and man meeting at a bar. The woman is just coming off a break up she can’t shake off her mind and just wants someone to take her home so she can lay next to them and feel safe. It’s by no means a rebound song, but a coping mechanism to deal with the sobering feeling of being alone. This much is evident by the achenes in Sampson’s voice.

“Wild Bird” is a song about Sampson being out on the road and hearing about a major storm heading towards her hometown in Oklahoma. She explains as much in an interview with American Songwriter, where she talks about being out on the road and hearing about a large storm hitting her town for the first time while she wasn’t there. She explains how fearful she felt for her family and friends because of Oklahoma and it’s reputation for the amount of tornadoes they experience. It’s a song that also explores how powerless a person can feel when there’s nothing they can control about a situation. It’s another superbly written song on this album.

Sampson explores leaving home and hitting the highway again on “Tomorrow’s Light.” It goes further than this as she also sings about listening to the radio and the voice of Hank Williams. As she returns home later in life, the only she says that has changed are the voices on it, which she doesn’t recognize (she’s better off I say). It’s one of those you can always go home songs that almost anyone can relate to and understand. Wilder Side comes to an end with “See The Devil Run.” It’s a gospel-inspired song about the sights and sounds Sampson takes in as she sits in a church pew. Listening to the song closely you feel like you’re sitting right next to her because the song describes the scene so well. I can picture it right in my head and it once again speaks to the testament of the great songwriting from Sampson. It’s the right type of feel good song to close the album.

Wilder Side features some of the best songwriting I’ve heard this year. The instrumentation is no-frills, straightforward and just good old country music. The only thing I could say I didn’t like about this album is there’s maybe one too many songs about the rambling, highway life. These songs are well-written without a doubt, but the theme can get a little tiring after hearing it on multiple songs. It’s a minor complaint, as the album as a whole is really an example that all country and Americana songwriters should take notice of and strive to achieve. Carter Sampson is an artist more people need to hear and talk about, as it’s crazy it took this long for me to hear such a talent. As I’ve said many times, the amount of talent out there in the independent scene is staggering and Sampson is another example of the many artists who deserve to be heard. Wilder Side is an album any country and Americana fan can appreciate.

Grade: 9/10