Predictions for Country & American Roots Categories at the 2017 Grammy Awards

Grammy

This Sunday we celebrate the biggest music awards show of the years. I’m of course referring to the 59th Grammy Awards, set to air Sunday night at 8 pm ET on CBS. Many of the awards however are presented in the pre-show that’s live streamed online and information for this can found be found here. After hosting for five years, LL Cool J steps aside as host and The Late Late Show host James Corden takes over. Multiple country artists will be performing on the show, including Sturgill Simpson, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban (most likely new single “The Fighter”), Little Big Town (part of tribute to Bee Gees), Maren Morris (duet with Alicia Keys) and Kelsea Ballerini (duet with Lukas Graham). Now let’s get to the predictions! Keep in mind I’m not the best at this prediction game, but I feel like I do a little better each year. The award shows can be unpredictable. And be sure to make your own predictions in the comments.

Note: I will not be doing a live blog this year. I will however be live tweeting it all on Twitter, where you can all of my live thoughts as the show unfolds. Just go to twitter.com/realcountryview to follow if you don’t have Twitter. I’ll also most likely be doing a recaps/reaction post.

Album of the Year

  • Adele – 25
  • Beyoncé – Lemonade 
  • Justin Bieber – Purpose 
  • Drake – Views
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

What I Would Pick To Win: Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth of course. Just imagine the outcries afterwards of all the big names that got taken down by some guy from Kentucky who made an album for his son.

What I Predict Will Win: Beyoncé’s Lemonade is the clear favorite I think, with Adele being the closest competition. But with other big names in Drake and Bieber also here, the votes could easily split and lead to Sturgill pulling off an upset similar to Beck a few years ago. I’d be fine with Beyoncé and Adele winning if Sturgill doesn’t, as I enjoyed both of their albums.

Best New Artist

  • Maren Morris
  • The Chainsmokers
  • Chance The Rapper
  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Anderson .Paak

Who I Would Pick To Win: Anderson .Paak or Chance The Rapper, as both of their latest albums were awesome. But if I had to pick between these two, I would go with .Paak.

Who I Predict Will Win: Honestly I have no clue here. I could see any of these nominees winning, even Kelsea Ballerini because despite being a complete unknown outside of the country music bubble, Black River Entertainment continues to prove they have a lot of friends in high places. Morris is getting to duet with Alicia Keys and is quickly becoming a darling on the awards circuit. I’ll be content as long as Ballerini or The Chainsmokers don’t win.

Best Country Solo Performance 

  • Brandy Clark – “Love Can Go To Hell”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells”
  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”

What I Would Pick To Win: Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” (Anything but Urban’s song, which is ironically exactly what I wrote here last year)

What I Predict Will Win: Maren Morris’ “My Church” due to as I said above Morris quickly become an awards circuit favorite and this single being extremely popular. The other favorite I would think is Underwood, as she’s been a favorite of the Grammys.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”
  • Kenny Chesney & P!nk – “Setting The World on Fire”
  • Dolly Parton & Pentatonix – “Jolene”
  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You”

What I Would Pick To Win: Woof this category is rough. I guess I would go with “21 Summer.”

What I Predict Will Win: Dierks Bentley & Elle King’s “Different For Girls” because apparently people are okay with stereotypical bullshit and really think this is some deep song.

Best Country Song

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey & Steven Lee Olsen)
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” (Sean Douglas, Thomas Rhett & Joe Spargur)
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” (Lori McKenna)
  • Maren Morris – “My Church” (Maren Morris & busbee)
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice” (Miranda Lambert, Shane McAnally & Josh Osborne)

What I Would Pick To Win: Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” (Not Urban or Rhett)

What I Predict Will Win: Any of these have a great shot at winning I think. But I think they’ll go with “Humble and Kind” or “Vice.”

Best Country Album

  • Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
  • Maren Morris – Hero
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 
  • Keith Urban – Ripcord

What I Would Pick To Win: Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

What I Predict Will Win: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is pretty much a lock here, with Simpson getting an overall Album of the Year nomination and a performance slot.

Best American Roots Performance 

  • The Avett Brothers – “Ain’t No Man”
  • Blind Boys of Alabama – “Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time”
  • Rhiannon Giddens – “Factory Girl”
  • Sarah Jarosz – “House of Mercy”
  • Lori McKenna – “Wreck You”

What I Would Pick To Win: Rhiannon Giddens – “Factory Girl”

What I Predict Will Win: The Avett Brothers – “Ain’t No Man”

Best American Roots Song

  • Robbie Fulks – “Alabama at Night” (Robbie Fulks)
  • Jack White – “City Lights” (Jack White)
  • Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars – “Gulfstream” (Eric Adcock & Roddie Romero)
  • The Time Jumpers – “Kid Sister” (Vince Gill)
  • Lori McKenna – “Wreck You” (Lori McKenna & Felix McTeigue)

What I Would Pick To Win: Lori McKenna – “Wreck You”

What I Predict Will Win: Jack White – “City Lights”

Best Americana Album

  • The Avett Brothers – True Sadness 
  • William Bell – This Is Where I Live
  • Kris Kristofferson – The Cedar Creek Sessions
  • Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle
  • The Time Jumpers – Kid Sister

What I Would Pick To Win: Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle

What I Predict Will Win: William Bell – This Is Where I Live

Country Perspective’s Top 30 Country/Americana Albums of 2016

The Listpocalypse of 2016 is almost over. You’ve probably been thoroughly beat over the head by year-end lists and awards by now and have grown sick of them. But I can tell you that this is the last one for 2016 from Country Perspective. The year of country music and Americana has come to an end, so it’s now time to take a look back at the very best albums that both country and Americana gave us. It was certainly an interesting year to say the least. We got a wide variety of great music along the way and I certainly had enough to make a top albums list. Originally I had this set at 20 albums long months ago before expanding to 25. As of a couple of days ago, it was still 25. Then I had trouble deliberating over the last few in and decided to expand it again to 30. I’m pretty happy with it at 30 and I feel this list is a nice snapshot of 2016 for country and Americana.

One last thing: You’re welcome to disagree with this list as much as you want and I encourage you to do so. However keep in mind this is my list, therefore you can’t tell me I’m wrong because we’re entitled to our own opinions. You are welcome to make your own top 30 (or whatever number) list in the comments below. In fact I encourage this too. Share your favorite music, as we can all benefit from this.

So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 30 Country/Americana Albums of 2016:

Wheeler Walker Jr Redneck Shit

#30 – Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit

There’s a perfect symmetry with the artist topping this list helping make the album at the bottom of this list happen in the first place. Sturgill Simpson told fellow Kentuckian Ben Hoffman to follow a crazy idea, introducing him to super producer Dave Cobb. Simpson told him to go “full Kauffman” or he never wants to see him again. Wheeler Walker Jr. was born and the world has never been the same. Walker’s debut album is full of filthy, raunchy country goodness. Once you get past the heavy swearing, dick sucking and jerking off though, you get some pretty fine country music. There’s plenty of steel guitar and some surprisingly deeper songs than meet the eye dealing with heartbreak, losing your job and of course sex.

Best Songs: Can’t Fuck You off My Mind, Fuck You Bitch, Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass, Better off Beatin’ Off

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

#29 – Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon

Randy Rogers came off one hell of a year in 2015. He teamed up with buddy Wade Bowen and they released one of the best albums of the year. They won both Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo/Group of the Year award and Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year with “Standards.” This year Rogers returned with a new album with his own band, a return also to Texas after trying their hand on Music Row. The result is an album full of plenty fiddle and steel guitar and some of the sharpest writing we’ve heard from the band. It has me excited to see what comes next from the band, as this album puts them on a great path going forward.

Best Songs: Old Moon New, Look Out Yonder (feat. Alison Krauss & Dan Tyminski), Tequila Eyes, Neon Blues

brent-cobb-shine-on-rainy-day

#28 – Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day

Brent Cobb is a name that I’ve come across a lot in country music the last few years. But we had yet to hear an album from Cobb himself. That changed in 2016. Cobb released his debut album Shine on Rainy Day, the type of album you can throw on any time and enjoy. It’s all-around solid and doesn’t have any filler on it. The relatable themes and the southern rock meets country sound is going to win him more and more fans. Cobb reinforces with this album why I’ve kept my eye on him because his talent and artistry is quite high. Shine On Rainy Day is the beginning of what I believe is the start of a bright and fruitful career.

Best Songs: Country Bound, The World, Shine On Rainy Day, Diggin’ Holes

Mark Chesnutt Tradition Lives

#27 – Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

Nobody predicted new music coming from Mark Chesnutt in 2016. And it was probably one of my favorite surprises of 2016. The 90s country star delivers one hell of a “comeback” album in Tradition Lives. It took years for this album to come together, but it was well worth the wait. The steel guitar and fiddle are thick and will bring a smile to the most jaded of country fans. Chesnutt still sounds as great now as he did in his prime and is another shining example of why writing off older artists is just plain dumb. Chesnutt more than still has “it” and if he’s up for it, I imagine this isn’t the last music we’ve heard from the Texan.

Best Songs: Lonely Ain’t the Only Game in Town, Is It Still Cheating, So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore, Oughta Miss By Now

11 - Pure & Simple cover - Dolly Parton

#26 – Dolly Parton – Pure & Simple

Like I said, don’t write off older artists. The ageless and timeless Dolly Parton returned with yet another new album at the ripe age of 70, despite solidifying years ago she’s a legend. From the very listen of this album I was immediately hooked and couldn’t stop listening. She wrote, arranged and produced this entire album (co-producers are Richard Dennison & Tom Rutledge). That’s incredible. While radio and the greater mainstream at-large mostly write-off older artists, they’re missing out. There’s not much else to say. It’s Dolly Parton and its great music. It doesn’t get anymore pure and simple than this.

Best Songs: Can’t Be That Wrong, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine, Head Over High Heels, Forever Love

Caleb Caudle Carolina Ghost

#25 – Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost

If I had to describe Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost in one word, it would be smooth. He makes everything on this album sound so smooth and easy. It’s full of quality songwriting and you couldn’t make it more country if you tried. Caudle’s style and approach to music is very unassuming and allows the music to really reach out and grab the listener. The songwriting is beautifully uncomplicated and the instrumentation elevates it in every way. Carolina Ghost is the real deal and shows he has a very bright future in country music.

Best Songs: White Doves Wing, Wasted Thursday, Borrowed Smiles, Steel & Stone

Addison Johnson I'm Just A Song

#24 – Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

Addison Johnson is probably one of my favorite new artists I came across in country and Americana music this year. Johnson is an artist that was born to make country music.This album is full of traditional country goodness that will leave you wondering how the hell is this guy is not getting more attention. The talent is pretty clear and shows that the sky is the limit for Johnson’s future. His songwriting shows great maturity and should only get better with time. My only real complaint with this entire album is the length. Being only seven songs long left me wanting to hear even more, which I guess can be a good thing. But I hope on the next one we get to hear even more because the world needs to hear more music from Johnson.

Best Songs: My Last Song, Already Been Through, I’m Just A Song, High on the Mountain

loretta-lynn-full-circle

#23 – Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

It’s 2016 and we got new music from the legendary Loretta Lynn. How cool is that? Even cooler is this album is up for a Grammy for Best Country Album at the 2017 awards. This is the first album of new recordings from Lynn in over 10 years and features a collection of both covers and folk songs Lynn learned as a child. The album is pretty deep, as Lynn explores death and looks back at experiences in her life. It could very well be the last recording from Lynn and a reminder of how much we need to cherish this legend while we still have her. Lynn is one of the best ever in country music and this is yet another great album from the icon.

Best Songs: Who’s Gonna Miss Me?, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, Fist City, Lay Me Down

Aubrie Sellers New City Blues

#22 – Aubrie Sellers – New City Blues

The daughter of Lee Ann Womack has certainly made her mark in 2016. Her brand of garage country on her debut album New City Blues captured critics and fans’ attentions everywhere when it was originally released back in January. It also captured the attention of major label Warner Bros. Nashville, signing Sellers and re-releasing the album under the label in the fall. The album’s unique sound is one you certainly won’t forget and when it comes to Sellers’ vocals you can say the apple didn’t fall too from the tree. Her introduction of garage country could prove to be important, as Miranda Lambert adopted it on her new album and I expect to hear it more going forward. Not bad for a debut, eh?

Best Songs: Dreaming in the Day, Light of Day, Sit Here and Cry, Something Special

Darrell Scott Couchville Sessions

#21 – Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

One of the finest songwriters in country music returned with new music in 2016. Couchville Sessions was an album recorded several years ago, literally recorded on a couch in Nashville. Thank goodness Scott remembered and released it because music like this deserves to be heard. I knew this was an album worth my attention from the very first song, “Down to the River.” Scott in his trademark soulful voice croons, “and we won’t give a damn if it’s rock, folk, country or blues.” At the end we get to hear the voice of the late great Guy Clark telling us a short story. It’s a special moment, especially in the light of his not so distant passing. Just one great songwriter paying homage to another great songwriter, like the past greats of music intended.

Best Songs: Down to the River, It’s About Time, Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean, Love Is The Reason

brandy-clark-bdinst

#20 – Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town

Brandy Clark absolutely nails the small town theme in this album. One of the best in country music today delivers blistering songwriting on rural living and the everyday struggles of the average person. Derek really summed it up well in his review: Big Day in a Small Town is a truly great example of country music evolving. With the help of Jay Joyce, the album has songs firmly planted in country’s traditional styles, yet they’re given room to explore and reach to different heights and areas. Big Day in a Small Town is the best example of a modern country album. With a great production and songs that standalone well, yet fit into a nice, cohesive theme.

Best Songs: Love Can Go To Hell, Daughter, Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin’, Homecoming Queen

Parker Millsap The Very Last Day

#19 – Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Parker Millsap proves once again he’s one of the best artists in Americana today. The Very Last Day seamlessly blends genres and tells intriguing stories with ease. Well upon the surface it seems so easy. If you listen to this album casually, you will miss out on some nice subtleties and details that really help make this album shine. It’s the little things on this album that help make the big parts standout so well. The Very Last Day gives you a little bit of everything, as it explores love, death and everything in-between. The standout of this album is “Heaven Sent,” one of the best songs you’ll hear all year and maybe the best song Millsap has ever written.

Best Songs: Heaven Sent, Hands Up, You Gotta Move, Tribulation Hymn

Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules

#18 – Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules – Let Me Off at the Bottom

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules firmly establish themselves as one of the best groups in country and Americana today with Let Me off at the Bottom. Meade & The Flying Mules are as talented as about any group in country and Americana today. I would best describe them as The Mavericks (the soulful, catchy lyrics) meet Old Crow Medicine Show (the folky, roots sound). The instrumentation is flawless throughout the album keeping it fun when they need to while also setting the tone perfectly on the more melancholy tunes. The songwriting is sharp, witty and even deeper than meets the eyes. Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules are the real deal.

Best Songs: Leave Me to Bleed, He Should’ve Been Mine, Count the Roses, There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used to Be

flatland-cavalry-humble-folks

#17 – Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks 

As that old line from Alabama goes, “if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” Well Flatland Cavalry has the fiddle part well covered in their music. The Lubbock based band delivers a fiddle-filled debut album featuring a variety of themes and a great dose of both fun and more serious songs. As a country fan you’ll get a little bit of everything you want out of a country album when you listen to Humble Folks. Lead singer Cleto Cordero is one of the more promising vocalists I’ve heard out of Texas in sometime. What’s great is this band is just going to get even better with time and there’s strong reason to believe Humble Folks is the beginning of a really bright career for Flatland Cavalry. Don’t be surprised if some day this band releases an album that ends up near the very top of our year-end list.

Best Songs: Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson) [feat. William Clark Green], Devil Off My Back, A Life Where We Work Out (feat. Kaitlin Butts), One I Want

Cody Jinks I'm Not the Devil

#16 – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil 

While this wasn’t as good as Adobe Sessions, Cody Jinks delivers a really good album in I’m Not The Devil. He’s quickly establishing himself as one of the biggest fan favorites in the independent country scene, as I constantly have Jinks’ fans reminding me of him. He’s clearly got country fans’ attentions. On his new album Jinks does a lot of self-reflecting, exploring love, heartbreak and the struggles of life as a musician. The instrumentation really shines on the album, as it’s equally catchy and appropriate for the songs. The once metal singer fits like a glove in country music, as he’s quickly established himself as one of the best in the genre today.

Best Songs: Heavy Load, I’m Not The Devil, Vampires, Chase That Song

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

#15 – Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Jinks isn’t the only artist to quickly gain a loyal legion of fans. Margo Price has captured her own passionate fan base with the release of her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter this year. It’s an album that is topping or going near the top of many critics’ lists. While it’s very good and places well on my list, I felt other artists delivered her style of country better this year. Still her impact has undoubtedly been felt and she’s set herself up to have her “Sturgill moment” on her sophomore album. Her debut album shows she can deliver that throwback country sound with aplomb and that it’s just the beginning of a very promising career.

Best Songs: Hands of Time, Hurtin’ on the Bottle, Four Years of Chances, This Town Gets Around

Dori Freeman

#14 – Dori Freeman – Self-Titled

Undoubtedly one of the most promising new artists to break onto the country scene this year was Dori Freeman. Her debut album blew me away upon the very first listen. 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 and Dori Freeman is a name you need to know.

Best Songs: Ain’t Nobody, Fine Fine Fine, Tell Me, Still A Child, Go On Lovin’

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wings

#13 – Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

The album I’ve always wanted from Miranda Lambert finally came in the form of The Weight of These Wings. Not just an album, but a double album! The amount of pure, raw energy Lambert channeled into the music on this album cannot be understated. Her talent is on full display and truly feels like the birth of an even greater artist. It feels like Lambert is taking the next step up in her artistry. She’s shown an amazing amount of growth and this is an album country fans certainly won’t forget and should savor for years to come.

Best Songs: Tin Man, To Learn Her, Ugly Lights, Runnin’ Just In Case, Use My Heart

lydia-loveless-real

#12 – Lydia Loveless – Real

Lydia Loveless has been one of the most promising up and comers in the country/Americana scene for a few years. But we had yet to really hear a complete album from her. Until now with her new album Real. The sonic changes and the album’s not immediate appeal may turn off some listeners. But for those who are patient, willing to give it a chance and don’t fuss over genre labels, they’re rewarded with an album that deeply explores love and heartbreak. The songwriting is quite sharp and I think the production is really solid on each song, a credit to producer Joe Viers and Loveless herself. I also applaud Loveless for refusing to play by “genre rules” and setting out to make the album she wants to make because the honesty of this album really shines through.

Best Songs: Real, Heaven, Out on Love, Longer, Same To You

lori-mckenna-bird-and-the-rifle

#11 – Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle

2016 was a long time coming for songwriter Lori McKenna, as she really broke out in many’s eyes with the success of “Humble and Kind.” In addition she released a great album in The Bird & The Rifle. It was simply her year and why she was rewarded Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year award. Featuring her own recording of her hit song, the album also contains some other sharply written phenomenal songs on life, love and small towns. There’s the pointed, but well-intended lesson of “Old Men Young Women.” She reminisces of old times and old plans on “We Were Cool.” “Giving Up on Your Hometown” sees her illustrating the painful realization many come to about their small hometowns and that you can’t keep things the same forever. Then you have aching love song “Always Wants You,” which is about a woman being unable to shake the love of someone she thought she was over. McKenna takes you to songwriting class from start to finish.

Best Songs: Old Men Young Women, Wreck You, Humble & Kind, We Were Cool, Always Want You

Robert Ellis Album

#10 – Robert Ellis – Self-Titled

Robert Ellis’ new self-titled album does an excellent job of crafting stories of love, heartbreak, redemption and life. It also does a great job of incorporating so many different genres together to create some really unique sounds and moments on the album, while elevating the lyrics in the process. This isn’t necessarily a country record and feels more like an Americana record. Country purists and fans of Ellis’ original work might be quick to dismiss this record because it goes so many different places sonically. But music fans will find a lot to love about this album and sink their teeth into because there’s plenty to digest. I enjoyed the journey both the lyrics and instrumentation took me on and it’s an album that I think gets better with more listens. Call it what you want. I’ll call it great.

Best Songs: California, Elephant, You’re Not The One, Couples Skate, It’s Not Ok

Luke Bell Self Titled Album

#9 – Luke Bell – Self-Titled

Luke Bell’s self-titled album is a traditional gem that shines from start to finish. It’s an album that couldn’t be more country if it tried. Bell is such a naturally gifted vocalist who makes it sound so easy when he sings. It can be easy to call Luke Bell a throwback, but really this is just how country music is supposed to sound. Bell is just someone who gets it. This is clear when you hear all of the steel guitar and fiddle throughout each song. It’s clear with the quality songwriting that draws from relatable and simple themes that the common man can connect with and understand through their own experiences. Bell could very well be the next big name to come from the independent country scene. He’s every bit as talented as the biggest names to come from the scene in recent years.

Best Songs: Bullfighter, Sometimes, Workin’ Man’s Dream, The Great Pretender, Loretta

paul-cauthen-my-gospel

#8 – Paul Cauthen – My Gospel

I’ve mentioned many promising new artists on this list, but if you wanted me to name the very best new act to break onto the scenes in 2016 it would be Paul Cauthen. From beginning to end Cauthen blows me away with My Gospel. It’s hands down the best debut album I’ve heard this year and perfectly exemplifies the distinctiveness that every new artist should strive for in their music. Not to mention you can tell this comes straight from the heart and soul of Cauthen, as it shines through on every aspect of the album. This is the type of music the world needs more of today. With My Gospel Cauthen immediately establishes himself as one of the best in the genre. The sky is the limit for him and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Best Songs: I’ll Be The One, My Gospel, Still Drivin’, Saddle, Grand Central

blackberry-smoke-like-an-arrow

#7  – Blackberry Smoke – Like An Arrow

After delivering a really good album in 2015 with Holding All The Roses, they surprised everyone by returning with another new album just a year later. The result: Like An Arrow, one of the best albums of the year and arguably the best of the group’s career, earning Country Perspective’s 2016 Group/Duo of the Year award. Blackberry Smoke continue to demonstrate why they’re amongst the best in both country and rock. What’s amazing is how flawless they make it look. But I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Blackberry Smoke isn’t your ordinary band that goes through slumps and bad albums. They consistently churn out some of the best music you’ll hear today.

Best Songs: Waiting For The Thunder, The Good Life, Running Through Time, Like An Arrow, Sunrise in Texas

Kelsey Waldon I've Got A Way

#6 – Kelsey Waldon – I’ve Got A Way

Kelsey Waldon’s I’ve Got A Way is an amazing album that is 110% country goodness. You simply have to hear it for yourself. This album has no bells or whistles about it. It doesn’t rely on trends and clichés in its songwriting. This is three chords and the truth right here. The instrumentation and production couldn’t be more well-arranged on each song and Waldon just belts it on each track. The songwriting is forthright, honest and cutting. It’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year and Waldon has quickly established herself amongst the best.

Best Songs: All by Myself, False King, Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road, Don’t Hurt the Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most), The Heartbreak

karen-jonas-country-songs

#5 – Karen Jonas – Country Songs

Country Songs is another fantastic album from Karen Jonas. She’s only two albums into her career and has already delivered better albums than many artists will release over a 20 year career. I know this is quite high praise, but when I listen to Jonas sing I hear something special. She has the potential to go down as a great if she continues to make more albums like the two she has released. All of the praise she gets is deserved and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be mentioned amongst the very best in country music today. You’re not going to find too many albums better than Country Songs.

Best Songs: Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year – “The Garden”, Wasting Time, Country Songs, Wandering Heart, Why Don’t You Stay, Whiskey & Dandelions

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

#4 – Various Artists – Southern Family

Many are going to be surprised of how “low” I’m ranking this album and why it didn’t win album of the year. The main reason is simple: a compilation album with world-class talent is supposed to be great, therefore I hold it to a higher standard. It’s not fair to compare this album to your average great release because you can’t compare the work of one artist to a work of many artists. So I couldn’t in good faith give a compilation album top honors nor could I put it above the other album of the year candidates. The other main reason was the best song of this album is a cover and if you recall I penalized Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch for the same reason last year. I must be consistent. Please don’t let this take away from the fact that this is a brilliant album that will hold up for years to come and is yet another shining example of Dave Cobb’s genius. It’s also the best several artists on this album have sounded in a while. Cobb brought out the very best in everyone involved. You can’t ask for more out of a producer.

Best Songs: I Cried, Grandma’s Garden, You Are My Sunshine, Sweet By and By, God Is A Working Man, Learning

BJ Barham Rockingham

#3 – BJ Barham – Rockingham

BJ Barham’s Rockingham will flat-out knock you on your ass. It’s depressing as hell and it’s full of raw emotion. Don’t take this as bad as it’s quite the opposite. It’s a beautifully dark album that paints a poignant tale of the failed American dream, lost hope, the hells of small town living and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The songwriting is absolutely flawless and couldn’t be any deeper if it tried. While I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the instrumentation on this album because the songwriting is so excellent, it also shines bright and does a good job of letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way.

Best Songs: Unfortunate Kind, The American Tobacco Company, Rockingham, Water in the Well, O’ Lover

Chris King Animal

#2 – Chris King – Animal

You have no idea how close I came to naming this album of the year. A lot of albums came and went throughout the year. Most didn’t hold up quite as well as when I originally reviewed it. But Chris King’s Animal has held strong the entire year. This is an actual true album in every sense of the term. Everything on it connects and tells a greater story of a man who loses love, finds his way and regains it all once again. There’s pain and darkness every step of the way in the man’s journey, even he finally regains love because he knows he’s flawed and he’ll mess up again. But he also knows he’s where he belongs. When I say it’s a true album too, I mean it’s meant to be heard from beginning to end to get the true effect intended. Only one of two albums in 2016 could boast this and King should be proud of the art he created in Animal.

Best Songs: Take It Down, Animal, Borderland, Martinez Social Club, Deep End

#1 – Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

As announced yesterday, this is our album of the year. It’s the second time Simpson has won it. Read the full write-up for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year here.

Best Songs: Call to Arms, Sea Stories, In Bloom, Breaker’s Roar, Oh Sarah, All Around You

The Hodgepodge: Pop Duets Ignore Country’s Rich Talent Pool of Female Artists

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – “Different for Girls”

Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato – “Without a Fight”

Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk – “Setting the World on Fire”

One of the most recent musical trends out of Nashville, as you can tell by the above pairings, is partnering a male country singer with a female non-country singer to record a non-country song, probably in hopes for a crossover hit. Three big, veteran names in country music are using the big names from female pop acts to gain even more exposure and revenue.

This isn’t a terrible trend, and Paisley and Chesney’s songs aren’t terrible. “Different for Girls” has some backwards lyrics, but Dierks and Elle sing the song well, and I like the production to the tune. My only gripe with this trend is that it blatantly ignores a large, talented pool of female singers in country music. Females who already struggle to get songs on the radio by themselves. To be fair, Dierks Bentley also recorded “I’ll Be The Moon” on Black with newcomer Maren Morris, a song which received quite a bit of album promotional play and press before the album’s release. However, the label decided to move forward with the Elle King duet as the single, not the Morris duet.

I know the answer to this question is money and marketability, but why not record these same songs with country newcomers? Mickey Guyton has a vocal power similar to Demi Lovato, and could easily fit into “Without a Fight.” In Fact, on several occasions while on tour with Paisley, Mickey Guyton sang Allison Krauss’ role in “Whiskey Lullaby.” I think Mickey Guyton could have sung Lovato’s parts and “Without a Fight” could still be just as good.

Like I said, I know that there’s a certain marketability that comes with having Demi Lovato’s or P!nk’s name attached to a song as opposed to Mickey Guyton or Cam. Outside of the obvious pop demographic (which the songs are clearly catered toward), those two names are just simply more well-known. But even some singers like Kellie Pickler and Lauren Alaina are good singers themselves and have the American Idol notoriety surrounding their name.

Obviously the larger purpose of songs like the ones mentioned above is the fact that these females attract a non-country audience to song and probably double the listening potential. But coming off a year in which the problem of females on country radio, or lack thereof, was headlining everywhere, it’s odd to me that producers would gloss over that potential talent pool.

Chris Young recently had a number one song on the Airplay Charts that he recorded with Cassadee Pope. “Think of You” is just as Adult Contemporary sounding as the three aforementioned songs. So don’t try to argue that “country females won’t sell” because clearly a duet between male and female COUNTRY singers sold and succeeded.

I’m probably just beating a dead horse and screaming at a brick wall because complaint’s like this haven’t helped. Even with Tomato Gate on everyone’s mind last year, Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini are still the only females getting consistent radio airplay. Yet women like Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, Aubrie Sellers, and Margo Price have all released great albums this year. Why don’t we hear them on the charts? Why aren’t labels pursuing duets with these talented singers? Yes, Aubrie Sellers has recently signed a deal with Warner, and Lori McKenna has seen excellent success as a songwriter from “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind.” However, it’s still a shame that several of country’s talented female singers are overlooked for a cash-grab pop duet.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Mo Pitney has announced his debut LP through Curb Records. Behind This Guitar will be released October 7.
  • William Michael Morgan announced his debut album, Vinyl, will be released on September 30.
  • Reckless Kelly will release Sunset Motel on September 23.
  • Also on September 23 Dwight Yoakam is releasing a bluegrass album titled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
  • Jack Ingram will release Midnight Motel on August 26. Hear the new single, “I’m Drinking Through It.”
  • The Cadillac Three will release Bury Me in Boots tomorrow.
  • Cody Johnson will release Gotta Be Me tomorrow.
  • Next Friday, both Cody Jinks (I’m Not The Devil) and Kelsey Waldon (I’ve Got a Way) will release albums. A day which is sure to be a good day for new country music.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn With all the talk of country duets today, what could be better than a duet from two of country’s best singers? Sit back and enjoy this 1973 hit from their duet album of the same name.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Foo Fighters “Everlong” The only non-country music I’ve listened to this week is the Foo Fighters Greatest Hits album, so I recommend what is probably my favorite Foo Fighters song.

Tweet of the Week

I told myself not to mention a certain country group that I wrote about in last week’s Hodgepodge, but this tweet pretty much sums up my opinions on “Comeback Kid.”

iTunes Review for Big Smo

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This guy hates the fact that country fans call Big Smo not country. Especially when later on in this review, he clearly states how Big Smo raps. Sure we don’t technically own the word “country” but we know which music is actually country music and which is actually rap or hick hop.

The Hodgepodge: It’s Impossible to Choose One Defining Song for a Genre

I stumbled upon a New York Times article this week that made a big claim about rock music. The author basically says that when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look at rock music, the only name that’ll matter is Chuck Berry. Not Springsteen, Zeppelin, the Stones, or The Beatles, but Chuck Berry. I’m not saying he’s wrong about Berry being a figurehead and representative of rock music, but rock’s different styles don’t warrant such a narrow-minded claim. Yes, “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent song and Chuck Berry fathered rock music like Hank fathered country. The author says Berry made simple, direct, rhythm based music, which best exemplifies rock music. He’s not wrong, but I think it’s wrong to pigeon-hole the genre into one song.

The big part of his claim comes from the fact that when NASA sent Voyager I into space, they included a mix record which included “Johnny B. Goode” on the track list – the only rock song on the list. So this got me thinking, is it possible to narrow down country music into one song that best represents the genre over the 70+ years of artists and songs who’ve done so much? I’ll argue that you need a Mount Rushmore of songs, not just one, because even country’s best songs and artists had different styles that are all country music.

Take “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” arguably the best country song of all time. Listening to the song with its grand crescendo and a faint steel guitar, it’s vastly different from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song electric guitars and simple percussion beat, also argued to be the best country song. Both songs sound way different, yet they’re both country music, and they’re both great representations of the genre. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings couldn’t be more different in their sounds, yet both artists not only exemplified the Outlaw movement, but country music as a whole. Waylon’s rock sound is more in line with Cash’s style, but even then, the two artists are distinctly different.

The Bakersfield Sound has its own unique flair different from the aforementioned artists, yet Merle Haggard and Buck Owens are just as influential to country music. Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette don’t exactly sound like Kitty Wells, but all of their music is a big part of country’s history. Many of these styles stem from Hank Williams, and all these styles are equally important to country’s roots. These are the styles that have influenced many of today’s Americana and Country stars. The early generation brought out singers like George Strait, Reba, and Alan Jackson, who have gone on to influence the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, and pretty much everyone we’ve reviewed here.

The point is I think it’s impossible to simply try to find one song or artist to represent a music genre rich with history and talent. Country, Rock, Rap, and every other genre has their top-tier of artists who’ve gone onto to influence the genre. At the end of the day, one can always trace the history back to the root of the genre, which is never a bad option to choose as a genre head. But dismissing Waylon or Merle as a defining artist of country music because their sound was not Hank’s country sound is blasphemous, as is dismissing rock’s eclectic history because it’s not as simple and rhythmic as Chuck Berry.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • On July 8, Mark Chesnutt’s new album, Tradition Lives will be released.
  • David Nail’s Fighter will be released the following week on the 15th.
  • At the end of the month on July 29, Lori McKenna’s The Bird & The Rifle will be released.
  • Shovels and Rope recently released a new single called “I Know.” Their new album Little Seeds will be out October 7.
  • Southern rockers/Texas Country band Whiskey Myers are working with producer Dave Cobb on their new album, Mud. The first single from the album is “Lightning Bugs and Rain.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“False Accuser’s Lament” by Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I’ve been listening to a lot of Boland lately, and this song has jumped up my list of favorites from him. “False Accuser’s Lament” can be found on Rancho Alto, one of Boland’s best albums in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion

Velvet Portraits by Terrace Martin – an album mixed with Jazz, Hip Hop, and R&B, Velvet Portraits is a diverse album. It’s a fun listen though, with the relaxing Jazz instrumentals and hip hop lyrical deliveries on the others. It’s different, but worth the listen.

Tweet of the Week

Wheeler Walker, Jr. is a great follow on twitter if you don’t mind some profanity on your timeline. As streaming continues to rise, labels getting songs on “featured playlists” on Spotify or Apple Music will be the new way of getting on the charts.

A Chase Rice iTunes Review

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Chase Rice’s new single, “Everybody We Knows Does,” is the same generic BS from every other generic bro before him. After his letter apologizing for “Whisper,” I expected at least something that shows a little effort in a follow-up single, but I was mistaken.

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