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

Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2016 Country Perspective had the privilege to review a lot of fine music. The world of country, Americana and folk certainly produced it’s fair share of great music throughout the year, reviving old sounds and sparking new ones every step of the way. There was certainly a fair share of innovation and creativity on display from a variety of artists. And now we get to look back the very best that was released. We first take a look at the very best albums of 2016, which will be nominated for Country Perspective’s top award, Album of the Year.

When deciding what album will win the 2016 Country Perspective Album of the Year Award, Country Perspective will take into consideration some key aspects: songwriting, instrumentation, production, accolades, impact on genre, consistent quality in the album and how memorable they are. I will ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But I’m not the only one deciding. Country Perspective encourages feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly be considered when determine who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. This year I did a much better job I feel in grading, especially for the 10/10 albums and only gave a couple of grades that I ultimately found to be too high. After much consideration I found four albums were ultimately worthy of their 10/10 grades and fit to be the nominations for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. So without further ado, here are the nominees:

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Various Artists/Dave Cobb – Southern Family

Coming into 2016 this was an album everybody in the independent/traditional community were licking their chops in anticipation to hear. How could you not be excited for a project headed by super producer Dave Cobb, which everything he touches seems to turn into gold? To top it off an all-star cast of artists from both the mainstream country and Americana realms would be recording the music. Well the hype was certainly met, as this turned out to be exactly what many anticipated it to be and that’s one of the year’s best albums. While this didn’t make the impact I was hoping it would make, everyone who has heard it in both critics and fans circles seem to be in near unanimous conclusion that it’s brilliant. It’s hard to pick highlights on this album because you could pretty much say this about every song. Cobb got 100% out of each artist on the project.

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.

BJ Barham Rockingham

BJ Barham – Rockingham 

Small towns are a pretty common theme in country music. If you turn on country radio you’re bound to hear some upbeat song that glorifies small town living and makes rural living out to be the greatest thing in the world. But the truth is there are a lot of harsh realities about small town living you won’t hear about in those songs. Luckily for us there are artists like BJ Barham who come along and give us the sad truth behind small towns all across America. Barham has spent the majority of his career as the frontman of the popular independent country group American Aquarium. But this year he decided to step out alone and release his first solo album, a project titled Rockingham that he wrote after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The result is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

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. At eight songs long, this album is somehow the perfect length. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way. I don’t think there will be another album released this year as morbid as Rockingham. But I don’t know if there’s an album better than it this year too.

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson capture our inaugural Album of the Year award in 2014 with his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and now he’s back again going for his second win. Metamodern launched Simpson’s career into a whole new stratosphere, as he signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records and has quickly become a household name in country and popular critics’ circles. So in 2016 he was faced with the unenviable task of following up a near-universally praised album, while also releasing his first album under a major label. Of course in his own unique way, he delivered again.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth has received just as much praise from critics as his sophomore album, despite some grumblings from fans hoping he would have been more traditional with his music. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and went on to be #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, Billboard Top Rock Albums chart and the Billboard Folk chart. He’s also continuing to sell out larger venues across the world and appears to not be slowing down in the slightest in terms of his popularity. Needless to say Simpson wins in terms of impact of the nominees, but this is only one facet of the award.

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 Animal

Chris King – Animal 

Chris King came onto a lot of people’s radars in 2013 with the release of his album 1983. It was definitely a country leaning album. But his follow-up takes a different. King went Americana with his new album Animal and the creative shift pays off in spades to deliver an enthralling album on heartbreak and life. You could call it a concept album, but then again aren’t all good albums concept albums? There’s still a country influence in the album, but there’s also rock, pop and other flourishes. King and Animal are undoubtedly the underdog of these four nominees, as the other nominees are an all-star cast of names, one of the biggest artists in country music and a popular independent artist with a fairly large following. But King absolutely belongs alongside them, as he proves with Animal he’s a name you should be familiarizing yourself with if you haven’t yet.

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.

That’s your nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year award. Be sure to voice who you believe should win in the comments below. 

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 

The Hodgepodge: Beyoncé’s Visual Album ‘Lemonade’ and Music’s Next Steps

On April 23, pop sensation Beyoncé dropped another surprise album for her fans. However, unlike 2013’s Beyoncé, this surprise album Lemonade also included a surprise HBO special. This one-hour program was a visual aid to the album, essentially a string of music videos for the album’s songs, interlude with an original poem written by Warsan Shire. That’s breaking it down to almost nothing, because the album, listening to it or watching it, is deep. It’s more than just a call-out to her husband Jay-Z who may or may not have cheated. In an age where social justice is at the forefront of many of today’s issues, Beyoncé’s Lemonade gives a voice to African-American women. A voice that challenges stereotypes and the treatment this group of women tend to receive from the public.

Beyoncé not only simply uses music, but an entire album in multiple media, to send her message. She connects with her core audience in the best way she knows: writing and singing songs. And she takes this a step further with the visual album. As many of the songs deal directly with the anger, confusion, and worry of a possible cheating husband, the visuals on the album tell a more complete story.

Now there’s an elephant in the room that quickly needs to be addressed: Tidal. For a short time, Lemonade, was solely available through Tidal: the music streaming service owned in part by Jay-Z and Beyoncé. It’s obvious that, to some degree, the purpose of Lemonade’s surprise release was to boost sales and interest in the streaming service. In the wake of Lemonade’s release, Tidal saw a huge increase in downloads and online searches. This is only a part-time victory for Tidal, as Lemonade also became available through Apple Music only a day after its release to Tidal. But I also believe that message spoken loudly in Lemonade was also part of Beyoncé’s honest motivation for creating the album.

I’m a big proponent for albums and singers/songwriters using their artistic ability to tell stories and spread messages through the album format. I would love to see more of it in country music. For the most part, country music tends to build albums with songs not generally connected by a theme. It’s not a bad thing, and there are some great albums (Traveller, for instance) that don’t necessarily follow a theme or concept. Albums like Sturgill Simpson’s latest two albums, Southern Family, and Red-Headed Stranger are fantastic examples of concept albums in the genre.

The beauty of devoting a whole album to a story and message is seeing an artist stretch his or her creativity beyond other albums. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth both showcase Sturgill Simpson stretching the genre of country music and his own personal musical prowess, exploring different avenues for the songs’ production. Beyoncé’s Lemonade shows the pop star letting outside genres influence certain songs or chapters of the story, including a country/western influence on “Daddy’s Lessons.”

Unfortunately, mainstream country is too controlled by Music Row who wouldn’t dare risk any loss of revenue by experimenting with a concept or visual album. Artists working independently have the creative freedom to create such an album if they so choose, which is why we see Americana artists release more theme-oriented albums. Now these independent artists don’t necessarily have the same resources as Beyoncé to create a visual representation of their album, but I would like to see more creative visual representations of the music from these artists.

Dierks Bentley is doing a smaller version of a visual album with his own four-part mini-movie over the course of four songs from his upcoming album Black. While this is as much of a marketing ploy for Black as it is a creative display of his music, it’s still something different and I respect the effort from Dierks. While the Black mini-movie isn’t as symbolic as Lemonade, it’s nonetheless a visual representation of the songs – a creative music video that goes beyond three minutes. As music continues to move toward the digital medium, away from radio, and away from music videos on TV, mini-movies for the albums would be a good move forward that I’d be excited to see more of from my favorite artists.

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s The Things That We Are Made Of will be released tomorrow.
  • Cindy Lauper‘s Detour will also be released tomorrow.
  • Also released tomorrow is Ryan Beaver‘s Rx.
  • Jennifer Nettles’ newest album, Playing With Fire will be released next week on May 13.
  • Americana singer/songwriter Michaela Anne‘s newest album, Bright Lights and the Fame will also be released on the 13th.
  • We’ll soon have a review for the Elephant Revival‘s Petals, released last month.

Throwback Thursday Song

“That Ain’t No Way to Go” by Brooks and Dunn. Hearing Brooks and Dunn perform last Sunday at the ACCA’s was a treat. Ronnie Dunn’s voice is one of country’s best. This 1993 number one hit was released on their album Hard Workin’ Man.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Tweet of the Week

A milestone always worth mentioning.

iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.35.33 PM

This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s newest single “H.O.L.Y.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Music – March 2016

March 2016

Time to take look at the best of March! If you’re not familiar or just started reading the blog, here’s the drill: Each month Derek and myself will take a look back on the month that was and share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of March!

Josh

The year of 2016 in country and Americana music just continues to get better with each month. March managed to top both January and February, as two very strong album of the year contenders emerged. The first of those contenders is Chris King’s Animal. This album knocked me flat on my ass and it’s one of the truest albums I’ve ever reviewed. Every song on this album connects to tell the story of a man who loses it all and finds redemption the only way he knows how to find it. Along the way he learns a lot about himself and does some introspection on his life. “Never Make It Last,” “Take It Down” and “Martinez Social Club” are the standout songs, but you need to hear this whole album.

The other album of the year contender to emerge was the much hyped Dave Cobb-produced project Southern Family. This album full of an all-star lineup of talent not only delivered what we expected, but kind of exceeded it. I expected the high quality, but what I didn’t expect is smooth and flawless the artists and songs mesh together to create a cohesive and deep album. It’s very hard to pick the favorites on this one, but if I have to choose one it’s Morgane and Chris Stapleton’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s hauntingly beautiful. Just like King’s album, you need to hear the entirety of Southern Family. It has something for everyone and it’s going to be on a lot of year-end lists.

If these two perfect albums weren’t enough to whet your music appetite, there was even more quality music. Loretta Lynn at the young age of 83 delivered the amazing Full Circle album. She doesn’t sound much different from what she did in her prime and if it’s indeed her final album of original music, she went out with an absolute bang. On the flip-side of the age spectrum, up and comer William Michael Morgan delivered a solid self-titled EP with the kind of music that every artist on a major label should be making. “Lonesomeville” was the standout of this EP for me, as the broken heart ballad is reminiscent of the music you would hear from Strait and Jackson in the 90s. Finally, the much-anticipated Margo Price released her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and she reminded me so much of…Loretta Lynn (pretty ironic they both released great albums in the same month). Derek is writing a review for this one, so I don’t want to spoil it. However when listening to this album be ready from the start, as I find the best song on it is the first one, “Hands of Time.”

Derek

March was a fantastic month for country and Americana music! It’s still early in 2016, but March may have produced three of the best albums of the year. Firstly, Chris King’s Animal showcased a great concept of getting over a broken heart. The entire album is fantastic from start to finish, but songs like “Never Make It Last” and “Take It Down” are two of my favorites. Dave Cobb’s highly anticipated superstar album Southern Family didn’t disappoint. Bringing in the hottest Americana stars with a few of mainstream’s more quality artists, Cobb produced a solid album with songs about family life in the south. It wasn’t one story, but a collection of stories meant to paint a picture of southern families. Zac Brown’s “Grandma’s Garden” is one of his best songs he’s released. Brandy Clark’s heartbreaking “I Cried” proves why Clark is held in high regard as a songwriter. But it was Morgane Stapleton’s stunning rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” with husband Chris on guitar and harmonies that ended up being the album’s best song.

Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent traditional country album. “Hands of Time” and “Four Years of Chances” are two of the album’s top songs. Country legend Loretta Lynn also released another album to add to her large catalog. Full Circle had a little bit of everything from old songs to new songs, and several great cover songs. Lynn’s rendition of “Always on My Mind” is excellent, but it’s the final song from the album, “Lay Me Down”, a duet with Willie Nelson, that will be a favorite for years to come. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention William Michael Morgan’s EP. A great record that captures the traditional sounds and values of country music but gives them a relevant spotlight in 2016. “Lonesomeville” and “Back Seat Driver” are my two favorite songs from the 22-year-old singer.