But July is a great time to reflect on the first half of the year, so here’s my Top 15 Favorite Country (or country-ish) Albums/EPs released to this point. I have excluded all deluxe albums, anything live and acoustic rereleases to just focus on new music that’s been put out.
Morgan Wallen – Dangerous
Even though I really believe Morganshould have trimmed this down to one album, it’s hard to argue with his record-breaking Number One run. And while there is quite a few overly-produced, pop songs, there’s also a handful of good songs that make up for a lot of the rest.
Dillon Carmichael – Hot Beer
Dillon Carmichael might be one of the best up and coming voices in all of country music. While I’d like to see a little more substance in his songs, I can’t not sing along to “Sawin Logs” or “Hot Beer.” Really looking forward to a full length release from him.
Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
If you love the Southern rock stylings of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, look no further than Blackberry Smoke. Roll the windows down and turn this one up loud… it might just be their best record yet.
The Steel Woods – All Of Your Stones
Released shortly after the death of guitar player, songwriter and founding member Jason “Rowdy” Cope, this album serves as a fitting tribute to a friend gone too soon.
My Favorite Albums of 2021… So Far
15. Riley Green – Behind The Bar
“That’s My Dixie” and “I Let A Damn Good Woman Leave” are the clear stand outs from this 7 song project from Riley Green. While I believe a song or two fell kinda flat (or we’ve heard before), these two give this short album just enough to make the cut.
14. Charlie Marie – Ramble On
Easily one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, Charlie Marie’s classic country sound is as endearing as anybody in the business right now.
13. Midland – Sonic Ranch
While I don’t think it’s the best album Midlandhas put out, there’s no denying the unique sound and style they bring to the table. This is a great solo road trip album, put it on and let the road take you where it pleases…
12. Cole Chaney – Mercy
Already drawing comparisons to the likes of the great Tyler Childers, the young Kentucky native captures the heart of Appalachia with colorful songwriting and simple but compelling instrumentation.
11. Alan Jackson – Where Have You Been
The legend himself returned in a big way with a 21 song album pretty much dedicated to bringing country music back. The sound is classic AJand the songs written for his daughter and momare downright beautiful.
10. Triston Marez – Triston Marez
Speaking of bringing back true country music, Triston Marez’sdebut album did just that. A very impressive start for 24 year old from Houston, and more proof that Texas is the real heart of country music. I look forward to some deeper lyrics in his songs. Combine that next layer with his sound and he’s in for a huge career.
9. Bishop Gunn – Gypsy Cadillac
Bishop Gunn finally let the fans hear what they recorded right before their early 2020 break-up and it was worth the wait. Unfortunately, the project is not going to get a lot of push, due to a complete stop of publicity and press from the group, but the songs themselves are great and keep Bishop Gunn reunion dreams alive, albeit on life support.
8. Vincent Neil Emerson – Vincent Neil Emerson
This is some of the best lyrical work we’ve heard in quite a long time. “Learnin’ To Drown” is a heartbreaking look into the past struggles Vincent Neil Emerson had to work through to be who he is today and “High On Gettin’ By” is a great look at the struggles of making it in a career with no one true established path to success and the hardships of a traveling musician.
7. Carly Pearce – 29
This was a big moment for Carly Pearce and she really stepped up to the plate. Anyone doubting her artistic abilities has no room to talk after this soul-baring, confession of an album. The title track is as transparent of a song as I can think of and helps you understand what it was like to be in the very public eye for a very public divorce.
6. Eric Church – Heart & Soul
I grouped all 3 albums from the Chief in one, since they pretty much flow together in one body of work (hence why it should be turned into a musical). The highs on this album are high, and there’s not many lows, just more solid work from the Entertainer Of The Year.
5. Lainey Wilson – Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’
This is my second biggest surprise on this list. I had never really been into Lainey Wilson, but after listening to this album a few times she’s absolutely hooked me. From bangers like “LA” to love songs like “Dirty Looks” to ballads like “Things A Man Oughta Know,” this album is pure country and solid gold.
4. Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram & Jon Randall – The Marfa Tapes
Stripped down and raw, these songs hit harder than almost any Mirandahas put out in her career. I dare you to not sing along to “Geraldine” or feel like a lost cowgirl listening to “In His Arms”. The trend of artists putting out bare-bones music peaked with this release and Miranda took a huge step up in a lot of people’s books.
3. Flatland Cavalry – Welcome To Countryland
My goodness, did Flatland Cavalry knock this one out of the park. From the upfront presence of the fiddle to the fantastic lyrics, the album is a great sign of things to come for this band… and country music as a whole.
2. Morgan Wade – Reckless
What more can you say about Morgan Wade? Her potential is endless and this album exemplifies that. A little edgy, a little folksy, a whole lot of brilliance. Morgan Wade is here to stay and I just want to say, I called it…
1. Red Shahan – Javelina
By far the biggest surprise on this list is Red Shahan and his masterpiece of an album, Javelina. Before this release I knew of “Men & Coyotes” and that was it. Now I’m completely sold on his genius.
This album is a masterclass in writing, an example of 10 songs becoming something bigger than the individual pieces. If you haven’t, I beg you to sit and listen to the whole thing front to back, I promise you’ll be blown away.
Did I miss anyone?
Let me know, I’d love to hear your opinions on the best music so far this year.