A Year In Review: BORN Country Presents The 30 Best Country Albums Of 2016!
Dolly Parton went on her first major tour in 25 years. Don Williams announced his retirement from country music. The Dixie Chicks made their long-awaited return to the live music scene in the United States. We lost a number of artists, including: Sonny James, Merle Haggard, Jean Shepard, Guy Clark, Ralph Stanley, Glenn Frey and Joey Martin Feek.
We’ve seen some highs and lows throughout 2016 in the country music community, but amongst the losses, we are slowly seeing a turn for the better in the ongoing “tug-of-war” between the contemporary sounds of today’s country music and the traditionalists.
To close out 2016, I’d like to present what I believe to be the 30 (okay, 31) strongest albums released this year, within the country music genre. You’ll notice that while yes, BORN Country is a dedicated source to 90’s and classic country music that we all loved and some grew up on, I have included albums from more recent artists along with those that we typically discuss here. I chose to do this in order to somewhat layout the “playing field” of the genre today. I listened to approximately 150 records throughout the year in order to put this list together. Let me tell ya, it wasn’t easy!
Please feel free to leave comments as I’d love to hear your thoughts! Remember, this countdown is all based on one man’s opinion. You may agree or think that I glaringly omitted something. I’m all ears!
With out further ado, I present to you BORN Country’s “Best Albums Of 2016!”
Okay, I’m already breaking the rules right off of the bat. Originally, I wasn’t going to include any EP’s on this list of my favorite country albums of 2016. However, as I got down to it, I just couldn’t resist sharing these two introductory releases for Shelley Skidmore and Ned LeDoux.
I want to be clear that if this were a full length album from Shelley Skidmore, you wouldn’t be reading about it here until we reached the Top 10 albums. The five tracks from Skidmore’s debut EP are completely solid in this listener’s opinion. If you love the women of 90’s country, give this gal a chance. In fact, the final track on this self titled EP includes back up vocals from Deana Carter, Matraca Berg, Kathy Mattea and Brandy Clark!
Standout Tracks: “White Picket Fences”; “Back In The Saddle”
The son of the late Chris LeDoux, Ned, is no doubt making his father proud. This is very likely the most “cowboy” country release throughout this entire list. In fact, if you didn’t know that this was Ned LeDoux’s debut EP, you might just think that someone found unreleased material from his father! Sure, Ned’s sound will likely keep him away from mainstream success, but I have a feeling that just like his father, that probably won’t bug him too badly.
Standout Tracks: “Brother Highway”; “Forever A Cowboy”
Released: August 26th, 2016
Label: CDC Records
Just months before his 80th birthday, Charlie Daniels released his 30th studio album, Night Hawk. I had the opportunity to see Charlie Daniels perform live twice in 2016, and at 80 years old, this country legend sounds just as good today as he did on the records that he recorded in the 70’s! Night Hawk is no different in that respect, as Daniels tackles classics of the cowboy country genre, some of which he had previously recorded earlier in his career. If you’ve loved anything that Charlie Daniels has recorded throughout his long, Hall Of Fame career, Night Hawk will be no different.
Standout Tracks: “Billy The Kid”; “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky”; “Big Balls In Cowtown”
Released: May 20th, 2016
Label: Warner Music Nashville
This may be an unpopular opinion amongst the majority of BORN Country readers, but I admit that I am a big fan of Blake Shelton. Sure, nothing that he has put out lately touches the likes of “Austin” or “Ol’ Red,” but the guy’s personality just makes him so dang likable. Sure, a lot of If I’m Honest doesn’t necessarily scream country, but there are certainly a few gems here. Most notably, legendary group The Oak Ridge Boys make an appearance, backing Blake on “Doing It To Country Songs,” and “Green” which shows similar characteristics to his early radio success. This is far from Shelton’s best work, but one can sense that his true country roots are still in there somewhere and it’s only a matter of time before they are unleashed once again.
Standout Tracks: “Green”; “Doing It To Country Songs”; “She’s Got A Way With Words”
Released: September 9th, 2016
Label: Blue Cadillac Music, LLC
Billy Ray Cyrus has put together a package of songs that acts as a tribute to his country music heroes in his latest record, Thin Line. Kristofferson, Waylon, Merle and Willie all receive due respect, but the cover track that stands out the most for me is Billy’s take on the Don Williams’ classic, “Tulsa Time.” Amongst all of the covers, an appearance by his daughter Miley, and the theme to his Elvis Presley themed television sitcom, Still The King, the title track, featuring Shelby Lynne, is the most telling. Cyrus truly loves the country music genre. Though he will likely never get beyond the insane success of Achy Breaky Heart, it’s great to know that he is still out there attempting to perfect his craft.
Standout Tracks: “Thin Line”; “Tulsa Time”; “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”
Released: September 16, 2016
Label: Dot Records
Back in 2011, I had heard that the lead singer from the rock group Staind had released an EP of country music. Having not been much of a fan of Staind outside of a few radio singles, I found this idea to be somewhat intriguing. A year later, Lewis released his first full length country album, The Road. Having truly enjoyed both projects from Lewis, I was absolutely thrilled to hear that he had another record coming in 2016. In September, Lewis delivered Sinner, which featured another line up of exceptional country music. It’s no surprise that the first single “That Ain’t Country” has seen little or no support from country radio, as the song directly points out the fallacies of the format. I can’t imagine that Aaron Lewis would want it any other way. Make sure you check out the final track, featuring Aaron’s daughter covering the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier!”
Standout Tracks: “That Ain’t Country”; “Whiskey And You”
Released: January 29th, 2016
Label: New West Records
Whether it be recordings on his own, with wife Julie or his previous album with Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller receives no where near the credit that he deserves. With his latest release, Cayamo Sessions At Sea, the selection of guest artists just goes to show that Miller is well respected not only within the country music world, but music in general. Lee Ann Womack, Kacey Musgraves, Kris Kristofferson, Nikki Lane, Shawn Colvin, Brandi Carlile, among others join in on this incredible adventure, all recorded in the bowling alley of a cruise ship at sea.
Standout Tracks: “Love’s Gonna Live Here”; “Wild Horses”; “Someone I Used To Know”
Released: March 18th, 2016
Label: New Elektra Records
Dave Cobb has become the most sought after producer in country music. Looking at the list of artists that he has worked with, (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, Corb Lund, to name a few) it is certainly no wonder. This year, Cobb put together a compilation of incredible performers and fantastic songs titled Southern Family. Even if you aren’t familiar with a lot of the involved artists, this record is absolutely worth your time. A few mainstream artists take part, such as Zac Brown and Miranda Lambert, but the true magic comes with recordings by Morgane Stapleton, Brent Cobb and Jamey Johnson. Be forewarned, this album will only make you want to buy MORE music by the artists involved. It’s just the beginning of a deep, but worthwhile rabbit hole!
Standout Tracks: Morgane Stapleton – “You Are My Sunshine”; Miranda Lambert – “Sweet By And By”
Released: April 29th, 2016
Label: NASH Icon
What else is there to be said about Martina McBride that hasn’t already been said countless times over her over a quarter century recording career? In my opinion, McBride (along with Carrie Underwood) is hands down the top female vocalist in country music over the past three decades. While I may not personally be able to relate to the majority of McBride’s subject matter, her talent never comes into question. I will continue to listen to and enjoy anything that Martina records and I highly suggest that you do the same if you haven’t already.
Standout Tracks: “Reckless”; “That’s The Thing About Love”
Released: September 16th, 2016
Label: Sony Legacy
I could probably just leave this at Willie Nelson and move onto the next album. However, this is not just ANY Willie Nelson album. Country Music Hall Of Famer, Ray Price had been backed by a number of legends in their own right throughout his career. Johnny Paycheck, Roger Miller and of course, Willie Nelson were among the few. It’s only fitting that Willie would be the one to put together a tribute album for his former mentor. If you love Willie, Ray Price or just need some of that classic country sound, For The Good Times is the one for you… and your good times.
Standout Tracks: “Heartaches By The Number”; “Crazy Arms”
Released: October 7th, 2016
Label: New Elektra Records
It’s hard to classify this incredible record from Brent Cobb, the brother of the previously mentioned producer, Dave Cobb. While it sounds unreachably different from anything else in the country music world today, it also doesn’t quite sound like classic traditional country either. All that matters is that Shine On Rainy Day is just plain easy to listen to. Heck, it’s even in the title. This album feels like a relaxing rainy day listen, without even requiring the rain. This is one artist to definitely be keeping an eye on as his career continues to grow.
Standout Tracks: “Shine On Rainy Day”; “Solving Problems”
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