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

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

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

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

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

Album of the Year Candidates

Dave Cobb Super Compilation – Southern Family

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

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

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

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

Chris King AnimalChris King – Animal

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

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

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

Dori FreemanDori Freeman – Self-Titled

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

Aubrie Sellers – New City BluesAubrie Sellers New City Blues

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

More Highly Recommended Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon 

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle 

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side 

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind 

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost 

Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

William Michael Morgan – William Michael Morgan EP

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit 

Ryan Beaver – Rx 

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me 

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Speedbuggy USA – South of Bakersfield 

Harvest Thieves – Rival 

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History 

Country Perspective’s Best Music Reviewed in April

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Normally we publish our best of monthly playlist with our thoughts in this spot. But most people didn’t seem to care about it, so it’s scrapped. So instead for the few who actually appreciated it we’re running instead a monthly recap post of all the great albums we reviewed on the blog in case you missed it or just came across our humble, little blog. So check this music out if you haven’t already.

10/10

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter 

 

9/10

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

 

8/10

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me

Album Review – Sunny Ozell’s ‘Take It With Me’

Sunny Ozell Take It With Me

What is Americana? This is question I see posed fairly often and it can be a tough one to answer. Americana after all isn’t a concrete sound like (actual) country, rock or hip-hop. Americana is a melting pot of different genres that come together to create a true vision of artistry and music. But really I think the best answer to this question is this: you will know Americana when you hear it. And I can certainly hear it with Sunny Ozell. Not a big surprise when she says two of her biggest influences are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, two Americana stalwarts. Ozell lived and breathed music from an early age, receiving classical voice training, studying the Suzuki method of classical violin and having music loving parents who listened to the likes of The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Janis Joplin. Ozell has been involved with various music projects in various genres throughout her life, playing a lot of jazz. But on her new album she wanted to explore everything, hence why it’s strictly covers of some of her favorites. It’s to lay the foundation for her next album.

“I’ve always written songs…and bits of songs,” Ozell says. “This first project represents me pulling together a band. It’s a very collaborative effort, and we really found our footing as a unit. It gave me a platform for my voice. I’m putting together the scraps and the ideas for the next album. The ideas I’m writing come in snapshots. I’ll have a phrase or rhyme scheme and build around that.”

Ozell really truly loves and has a passion for music, as her whole life revolves around it. Of course a lot of people know her as the wife of actor Sir Patrick Stewart. But as she embarks on her music career she’s trying to be known for her music too. If her debut album Take It With Me is a good indicator of what’s to come, then she’s well on her way to being known as an Americana artist too.

The breezy and easy-going Leon Russell song “Manhattan Serenade” opens up the album. The song is very much in the bluesy, jazz sonic range and allows Ozell to really show off her more bubbly side. One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Family Tree.” The Julian Velard song really suits Ozell’s voice well and allows her to flex her vocal range. The inclusion of the xylophone in the bridge really adds an appropriate reflective tone to the song. This is definitely one of the songs you must hear off the album. Next is “Move Along Train,” one of the iconic songs of well-known American Soul and R&B artist Pops Staples. I can see why Ozell would choose the song, but it doesn’t really seem to suit her style as well as other songs on the album. This song is more suited for an artist with a lower register. Ozell’s performance isn’t bad, but not one of the better ones on the album.

The softer “Louisiana 1927” is more in Ozell’s range. While I’m not that fond of singer-songwriter Randy Newman, I find this is one of his best songs and I’m glad Ozell chose it. For those not familiar, “Louisiana 1927” is about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. I really applaud Ozell for taking a country approach to the song, as the steel guitar throughout really goes with the lyrics perfectly. Up next is one of two original songs on the album, the Aaron Lee Tasjan-written “Git Gone.” Ozell tackles the song written by the folk rock artist with absolute gusto. It’s an upbeat, fun song that has a carefree nature that will easily hook you in. The dreamy “Kill Zone” follows. T Bone Burnett and Roy Orbison wrote this song together, weeks before Orbison died, and is believed to be the last song he wrote. Again Ozell takes a more country approach, as you can hear plenty of steel guitar throughout combined with the piano. This is one of Ozell’s best vocal performances on the album.

“Number One” is another Tasjan-written song. The song is about struggling to live with a spouse who spends more time doing stuff like smoking than loving their significant other. It’s a heartbreak ballad that slowly unwinds itself and the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve enjoyed it. It’s one of those songs that take time to grow, but once it does you can really connect with it. Ozell goes in a more pop direction on “Only in the Movies.” It’s a David Mead song, a pop artist based out of Nashville. The song is about how relationships in real life don’t make sense and end how they should, only in the movies. It’s a pretty straightforward song. The same can pretty much be said for “No One is to Blame,” a song by English soft rock artist Howard Jones. The song is about being attracted or in love with someone, yet you can’t do anything about it. Your attitude towards this song will probably be dictated by your feelings towards new wave music of the 80s, which most people either love or hate.

Ozell tackles the Hank Williams song “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You” next. British folk/alt-country artist Teddy Thompson joins her on the song. Thompson is the son of Americana artist Richard Thompson. As someone who has never heard a Hank Williams song he didn’t like, I of course enjoyed Ozell’s version. Once again this country/folk sound really suits her well and I think I would like to hear more from her in this vein. Take It With Me closes out with the Tom Waits song and album’s title track. “Take It With Me” is a soft, somber love ballad that really can tug at your heartstrings. It’s a Waits song, so of course it cuts deep. It’s a beautiful song that suits a beautiful voice like Ozell’s.

Take It With Me is the kind of album any music fan can pick up and enjoy. Ozell really does a great job picking some of the masters of each genre to cover on the album and proves to be up to the task in doing the songs justice. It should be noted too that the album has two bonus track worth checking out, Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby” and Hanks’ “I Saw The Light.” You might not like every song on this album, but when an album jumps around to a lot of genres this tends to be the case. There’s something for everyone on this album, but really I thought Ozell shined best on the folk/country-driven tracks. I hope on her next album with original material that she goes in this direction, as her voice has that smooth, yet earthy tone that goes well with steel guitar. Sunny Ozell may be well versed in classical and jazz music, but she fits like a glove with Americana.

Grade: 8/10