February saw the release of Courtney Patton's marvelous third album "What It's Like To Fly Alone." Start to finish, this album is full of lush country ballads, shuffles, and heartbreaking lyrics. Patton's often plaintive vocals make the songs believable and cut directly to the heart. A voice that needs to be heard outside of the Texas scene, Patton is a torchbearer for modern country music. Standouts include the title track, "This Road To You," "Words To My Favorite Memory," and personal favorite "Round Mountain." Read the full review here.
Kacey Musgraves released her third major label album on March 30, a surprising mix of genres that is pleasing and easy on the ears. Never quite leaving country but exploring pop and blues, the songs each live in their own zip codes. Musgraves has a penchant for songs that are heavy but never sound as such, even with her broadening into pop territory. Favorite tracks include "High Horse," "Happy And Sad," "Space Cowboy," "Slow Burn," and the title track.
May saw the release of Red Dirt veterans Jason Boland & The Stragglers' stellar "Hard Times Are Relative." The ninth studio album is another in their mission to carry the torch for traditional country music yet listeners will hear this is more than regular fare. Boland and company often write songs that offer social commentary and doses of harsh reality, something that's sadly lacking on mainstream radio. Top tracks include "I Don't Deserve You," "Do You Remember When," "Going, Going, Gone," "Predestined," and the phenomenal title track.
Kenny Chesney released his 17th studio album on July 27 "Songs For The Saints." A beautifully written and sung production, every tune weaves a story with an island vibe and that's no accident. 100% of the proceeds benefit Love For Love City Relief Fund to aid in recovery of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. "Saints" is somewhat of a departure for Chesney, there is a maturity and depth not heard on previous outings. It's refreshing when a seasoned artist decides to do such an introspective collection, it allows for expansion into other genres such as Americana and Reggae. Key tracks include the first hit single "Get Along," "Ends Of The Earth," "Island Rain," "Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season" (with Jimmy Buffett), "Better Boat" (with Mindy Smith), and the title cut.
Jason Eady's "I Travel On" dropped in August and possibly his best to date. A heady mix of pedal steel, fiddle, and Eady's plaintive vocals (along with wife Courtney Patton's lovely harmonies) warmly envelop the lyrics. The music feels comfortable, like a worn in saddle, perhaps because Eady's style is straight up country. Some of the tunes feel like they could've been sung in the 70's and 80's but with modern content. Top tracks are "I Lost My Mind In Carolina," "Calaveras County," "She Had To Run," and the title cut.
Autumn is usually a release heavy season for records and this year was no exception. The Black Lillies dropped their remarkable new set on September 28. "Stranger To Me" is their fifth album and marks a slight departure from their typically bluegrass/country style. "Stranger" is full of edgier rock fare but still keeping in line with the Americana sound the band is known for. Lyrical depth abounds on this collection, story songs take a backseat this time for darker, enigmatic strains. It's hard to choose a favorite but some of the sublime tracks include "River Rolls," "Weighting," "Midnight Stranger," and "Ten Years."
Jamie Lin Wilson's "Jumping Over Rocks" arrived on October 26 full of the amazing lyrics and distinctive warble fans have come to love. An eclectic blend of Americana, folk, and country set Wilson's work apart as she often writes tragic tales and turns them into beautiful melodies. Favorite tracks include "The Being Gone," "Oklahoma Stars," "Run," "Death And Life," and the stunning Guy Clark cover" Instant Coffee Blues" featuring Jack Ingram.
After a five year absence, the Pistol Annies third album "Interstate Gospel" arrived on November 2. Fourteen solid tunes exuding sorrow, revenge, family secrets, and redemption are buoyed by the harmonies of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley. The three phenoms in their own right create a magical blend every time they collaborate on an Annies album. Pure country is at the heart of their sound, the Trio of modern music. Prime cuts include the title track, "Masterpiece," "Sugar Daddy," "5 Acres Of Turnips," and the gorgeous "Best Years Of My Life."