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

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

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

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

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

Album of the Year Candidates

Dave Cobb Super Compilation – Southern Family

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

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

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

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

Chris King AnimalChris King – Animal

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

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

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

Dori FreemanDori Freeman – Self-Titled

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

Aubrie Sellers – New City BluesAubrie Sellers New City Blues

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

More Highly Recommended Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon 

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle 

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side 

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind 

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost 

Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

William Michael Morgan – William Michael Morgan EP

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit 

Ryan Beaver – Rx 

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me 

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Speedbuggy USA – South of Bakersfield 

Harvest Thieves – Rival 

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History 

Album Review – Speedbuggy USA’s ‘South of Bakersfield’

“We’re on a mission to put the ‘western’ back in country & western music.” That’s how lead singer Timbo describes his band Speedbuggy USA. The five piece band calls Los Angeles home, and draw inspiration from the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, deeply rooting their music into the Bakersfield sound of country music. Speedbuggy USA is as authentic as you can get as a honky tonk band with twangy vocals and ringing steel guitars while keeping the guitars loud and audience on their feet. Joining Timbo is Seth Von Paulus (lead guitar), Brady Sloan (bass), Greg McMullen (pedal steel), and Christos Hansen (drums). South of Bakersfield is the band’s 8th studio record, and acts as a firm commitment to Speedbuggy USA’s Bakersfield sound.

Using the image of western horse buggies, I imagine the “speed buggy” as a synonym for a car. Combined with the album cover on South of Bakersfield, this album almost acts like a journey. A journey to temporarily leave Bakersfield to escape pain and return home. Or maybe the journey of band leaving home for a tour leg. The opening number, “Still Movin’ On,” sets the pulse pounding mood right away with the southern rock musical introduction. Timbo sings of jumping in his car and driving south of Bakersfield to move on from pain and escape sorrow. The driving song never lets off the pedal with the guitar notes rising through the solo until the final vocal note. The next song could work as a follow-up to the album opener. “1,000 Miles From Nowhere” finds the driver falling back into the habitual negative thinking. Tears are starting to come back, and the urge to drown sorrows at a bar returns. He tries not to lose his ground as he continues aimlessly driving. This song is more of a natural country song with the noticeable pedal steel making its way into the production.

Speedbuggy USA slow it down with “Wrong Side.” Joined by singer Bunny West, the song is a duet detailing the troubled relationship between the two. Continuing along the theme of a man on a journey, “Wrong Side” finds him struggling to maintain his relationship while spending time on the road and at the bars. The band slows it down for quiet, reflective verses and pick it up for the choruses where Timbo and Bunny West harmonize nicely. The band jumps into full-fledged country honky tonk with “Set ‘Em Up.” The steel guitar is ever-present and the production is undoubtedly Bakersfield. Timbo sings of spending too much time at the bar and drinking too much. As upbeat as the production is, a lyric like “happy hour ain’t happy no more” says it all.

The band’s re-recording of “Rusted Cars” comes next. The song was originally featured on their album Valle De La Muerte, a tribute album to the state of Louisiana (Timbo’s home state) and the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This re-recording has a more upbeat production with a fitting cajun influence. The song details a man who looks around at the flooding in the streets with water rising, cars rusting, and things floating in the street. The band slows it down again for “Liars, Thieves N’ Ramblers.” This country ballad deals with man who’s down on his luck. He compares himself to a train carrying hobos, wanting to know if the woman he loves is willing to get on board with him or walk out the door.

“Git Yer Wagon Rollin'” is a quick, exciting instrumental featuring electric guitars and banjos. It does a good job showcasing the skillful instrumentation of the band, but ends just a bit too soon at the one minute mark. The journey of South of Bakersfield comes to an end with the appropriately titled “Bakersfield.” While trying to return home after the last honky tonk, the truck breaks down much to the singer’s lament. The song balances between quieter verses and more upbeat, country two-stepping choruses. “Bakersfield” ends the album on a more solemn note, but keeps the beat and feel of the album going until the final note.

South of Bakersfield is a quick album with only 7 songs and 1 instrumental track, but it’s an effective album. Speedbuggy USA is committed to the honky tonk sounds of county and western music, and South of Bakersfield illustrates that commitment perfectly. The album flows nicely between the upbeat songs and more solemn ballads. The band grasps your attention and holds it from start to finish, but leave you wanting a song or two more. Speedbuggy USA’s instrumentation is spot on and the production of the songs are well-balanced. The melodies are present but not overbearing, and lead singer Timbo’s voice fits perfectly with the musical styles. Any fan of honky tonk country music and the Bakersfield sound will enjoy South of Bakerfield.

Grade: 8/10