The 10 Best Country Albums of 2017: Critics’ Picks
You hear a lot about newcomers every year on the country busic, but the seasoned performers had a solid artistic year in 2017, netting the lion’s share of Billboard’s Top Country Albums list this year.
That’s not to say we didn’t have love for a few newcomers to our rankings, our top two LPs even being debut projects.
Take a look at our full look back at the year in the albums below.
10. Sara Evans, Words
One of country music’s most beloved artists of the past two decades has rolled the dice and created her own record label. Its initial release was an ensemble that could easily keep up with some of the best work of its RCA years.
Highlight: “Let yourself go. If you can get through this song about a child leaving home without a few tears in their eyes, you are a bigger person than us.
9. Lee Brice, Lee brice
The singer-songwriter has enjoyed his share of success over the years, but at the same time, has never achieved his true measure of respect from the industry. This album deserves to be the one to take it to that next level – with a variety of tracks and vibes that showcase its incredible range.
Highlight: “Story to tell.” As you can imagine having Warren Haynes and Edwin McCain on a track certainly gives that track some attention, but listen to the soulful track, and we think you’ll agree it’s well deserved.
8. Kelsea Ballerini, Shameless
?For her second album, the Tennessee-born singer upped the ante, delivering an album that showed deep and personal growth as both a singer and songwriter. Here is a first prediction for 2018: Ballerini for singer of the year at ACM or CMA, if not both. We have the impression that we are betting quite heavily on it.
Highlight: “I hate love songs.” Simply put, if Black River released the track as a single, watch it become their biggest hit to date.
7. Lady Antebellum, Heartbreak
You know, it might not be a bad idea for an act to step away from the spotlight a bit. It definitely worked in Lady A’s case, as the trio released their best album in years with a record that showed them a little more loose and energetic than they had been in a while. Probably the best highway cruising record in 2017!
Highlight: “To injure.” Ballads have always been a hallmark of Lady Antebellum’s sound, but this mind-blowing ballad deserves a chance to become single at some point in the album cycle.
6. Chris Stapleton, From a bedroom, volume 1
The reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year’s second solo project was a bit more introspective and whimsical than the vast Traveler, but still – Stapleton singing the plumbing section in the yellow pages would be enough to make this list. The singer-songwriter has once again delivered the goods on an album that shows just how respected he is as he is.
Highlight: “Until No Good Livin.” For all of his blues styles, this traditionally sounding track conjures up memories of some of the best work of Hank Williams, Jr. or Merle Haggard.
5. Lee Ann Womack, The lonely, the lonely and the party
Her style might not be in demand on Country Radio these days, but the singer demonstrates an ever-sharp creative flair – with an album that proves her style of music remains timeless. Newcomers, beware: this is how it is done.
Highlight: You could say the whole album, but “Hollywood” has such a late 1960s Capitol Records / Hollywood vibe that you can’t deny. You can almost see the yellow and orange on the vinyl print!
4. Brantley Gilbert, The devil does not sleep
Gilbert continues to make music that resonates with his target audience – and I hope those numbers continue to grow over the coming year. It’s easy to look at tattoos and chains and dismiss it, but the new dad is more than you see. What you hear is sometimes quite captivating and may surprise you.
Highlight: “Three feet of water.” An inspirational song by one of the country’s “bad boys” can be a tough sell, but somehow Big Machine has to think of a way to get this song – and its performance – attention. well deserved. It’s a jaw-dropping cut that just might open people’s eyes to Gilbert’s vastly underrated depth as an artist.
3. Darius Rucker, When was the last time
Since he started making country music a decade ago, it’s safe to say that no artist has been as consistent as the frontman of Hootie & the Blowfish. This certainly goes for the singer’s latest album – which withstands a major musical statement, in favor of continuing to do what the Grand Ole Opry member does best – at a very high standard.
Follow from When was the last time which must be heard: “Twenty Something. The singer reflects on the passing of time and how priorities change over the years. Although he didn’t write the song, Rucker makes you feel like he identifies with every line.
2. Midland, On the rocks
Take away the fact that one of the members was a role model at one point. Take away the fact that someone else is a successful music video producer. Take away the fact that they are dressing up the role of 60s / 70s country rockers from California. This album would still be on our list, just because of the music. The trio could very well be one of the most important new artists to come in a decade, with a sound that is sure to influence others to record in a retro style.
Highlight: “Burnout.” The harmonies and production of this track are undeniable, and it feels like it could have been a George Strait album cut from # Where Ocean front property. Needless to say, this is a pretty cool thing!
1. Lindsay Ell, The project
After searching for a signature sound for the past several years, Ell turned to Kristian Bush to lead the musical ship from the producer’s chair – and the Sugarland member wisely stepped aside and simply let Ell present his music as she always has. wanted to. The writing and performance was top notch, but listen to these guitar riffs – they’re not from seasoned Nashville players, it’s the artist herself. There are few actors as deserving or as hardworking as Lindsay Ell, and she deserves this moment in the spotlight.
Highlight: “Space.” Walking the fine line between loneliness and lust is a tough place, but on this out of the ordinary track Ell makes it seem effortless.