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 

Album Review – Harvest Thieves Make Solid Debut With ‘Rival’

Rival

The Texas music scene produced a lot of great music in 2015. And to start off 2016 this doesn’t seem to be changing, as some new music out of Texas will kick this year off the right way. Meet alt-country/Americana band Harvest Thieves. They’re based out of Austin, Texas and part of the label Holy Mountain Sounds. Harvest Thieves is made up of frontman Cory Reinisch (vocals/guitar), Dustin Meyer (vocals/bass), Annah Fisette (vocals/mandolin/keyboard), Coby Tate (guitar) and Wes Cargal (drums). Together they create a pretty unique sound, mostly blending garage rock and traditional country (with a few more influences here and there) to create a folksy, punk vibe in their music. But what’s the best about this is you’ll never know what you’re going to hear next. You’ll become intrigued by Harvest Thieves from the very beginning on their debut album Rival.

The album begins with the folk rock frenzy that is “Bob Dylan’s 78th Hangover.” The song is surprisingly catchy and you’ll find yourself hooked by song’s end. It’s a journey song based off a bender front man Reinisch experienced. “I was at a point where I had some important decisions to make and went about it in a way that purposely took me out of a place of comfort and complacency,” he explains. “I tried to soak up every experience, every person, and ultimately every open bottle I could find to help process. It was exhausting. I suppose it’s about discovering a balance through which to alternate between life’s extremes. Success and failure. Love and loss. Great potential and disastrous shortcomings.”

Heartbreak is the central theme of “Your Damn Vanity.” Like the city of Austin, a husband finds his wife and himself not be the same people they used to be. All of these changes have made him cynical towards love and life. He wishes his now ex-wife nothing but the worst while he sits and drowns his sorrows. The lyrics are dark, but very well written and make for an excellent heartbreak song. “The Least Of These” is steel guitar driven tune about a man who does what he pleases and follows the beat of his own drum, damn what everyone is saying around him. But he owns up to all of it. And perhaps what drives this attitude is a woman who claimed to love him, but he knew she didn’t have the “purest heart” and bid her farewell. So in the end you feel some sympathy towards this man, yet also envious of his honest lifestyle.

Reinisch and Fisette duet throughout “I Killed Laura Palmer.” This song has a psychedelic rock vibe, yet traditional country vibe too, from the instrumentation to the lyrics. It’s so weird, yet so alluring. What is this song alluding to? Is it about covering up murder? Is it about life? Ultimately I think it’s about how we all daydream of what we desire and why we can’t reach that desire now. This is definitely one of the standouts of this album. Electric guitars meet fiddles in “Peruvian Valium,” a song about discovery and love. Two people find the calling of the world around them, but both know they love each other. As the final line of this song says, “So, keep me in mind, and I’ll keep you in mine.”

“Part-Timer’s Lament” is about a person parting ways with a lover or perhaps a family member. Regardless of who it is this person has stepped out of line and is now being removed from the other’s life. They did something that was unforgivable and now they must deal with never being in the other’s life anymore. It’s a very angry song, making the fast guitar licks appropriate, as it gives the song a tense feeling that comes when you part ways with a person. The upbeat and ominous “Upstage On The Front Page” follows. It’s about a guy warning the current boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend of the trouble she is going to cause him. He saw it for himself and warns the current boyfriend he better be more careful. He doesn’t say exactly what she will do to him, but it isn’t good and not something you want to be careless about.

Harvest Thieves really show off their storytelling chops on “Desolation Wildfire.” It’s about a man who lives in California and works in the mountains. He chops down his trees and gets his paycheck every Friday, which he blows on drinking and debauchery by Monday. He doesn’t have a wife, children or a lot of money and the only friend he has, his dog, is set to die soon. It’s a very desolate and lonely life. The instrumentation on this song is fantastic, as an unexpected saxophone solo shows up in the bridge. “Talk of Surrender” blends the lines of fighting in a war and fighting for someone you love. Using imagery from both, it leaves the listener wondering which exactly the song is about, when it’s really about both. “Predestined Arrangement” tackles life and the concept of destiny. The message of the song is you shouldn’t get too angry or worried about the way things are because everything is predestined before they happen. It seems to apply you make your own destiny, so you really shouldn’t surprised about what happens to you.

Harvest Thieves toy with metal themes and lyrics throughout this album, but it’s most evident on “History Teachers.” Some might interpret this song to be political, but I believe it’s more about fighting for what you believe in and the end you’ll get what you deserve. “Lancelot’s Blade” closes out Rival. Like many songs throughout this album it relies on vivid imagery and metaphors to paint an interesting picture in the listeners’ heads. The song is about the only way to find your way in life is block out all outside influences, close your eyes and listen to what your heart is telling you to do. Once these ties are “severed” that you can find happiness. It’s a very freeing, spiritual song that wraps up and sums up the album well.

The Austin-music scene is full of a lot of different country and Americana groups, some good and some bad. And I can say with certainty that Harvest Thieves is one of the good ones. They really don’t sound exactly any other group I’ve heard from the Texas scene recently, although they definitely have some similarities of groups like Cody Canada & The Departed and Micky & The Motorcars with the way they blend rock and country influences. What stood out most to me though about Rival was the deep and well-thought out lyrics throughout it. It’s a lot further along than many new acts I hear and this bodes well for their future. If you like any of the groups I mentioned above, you’ll definitely enjoy this band. Harvest Thieves is band you need to have on your radar, especially if you’re a fan of country and Americana from the Texas scene.

Grade: 8/10