2013 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

December 3, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  160 Comments

saving-country-music-album-of-the-year-20132013 has been self-proclaimed by Saving Country Music as the “Year of the Songwriter,” and this list of candidates for SCM’s Album of the Year reflect that dynamic of an elevated bar of songwriting excellence that these 8 artists have set. There is no arbitrary number of slots for candidates for this award. Nominees are chosen only if they have a legitimate chance of winning, whether that number is 2 or 12, and as we start the process of deciding who will win, the field is wide open.

One album you will not see on this list, but one that is at the very top of my personal list is Possessed by Paul James‘s There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely. But since I had a small hand in the making of that album, I have recused it from consideration here, and from all of the end-of-year accolades. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered in yours.

Lindi Ortega‘s Tin Star, and Austin Lucas‘s Stay Reckless are both valiant efforts that very easily could have made this list of candidates if it was stretched out a little farther, but something tells me you might see these names on the Best Songs list coming up shortly. Jayke Orvis‘s Bless This Mess, Valerie June‘s Pushin Against A Stone, and Eric Strickland‘s I’m Bad For You were also right on the bubble, and so was The White Buffalo‘s Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways, and you will see these albums and many more on the much more expansive “Essential Albums” list that is coming up shortly. So if you don’t see an album you love, don’t freak out, it still may be up for an end-of-year distinction yet.

2013 Saving Country Music Song of the Year Nominees

Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations or opinions below in the comments section. This is not simply an up and down vote though. I make the final decision, so it is your job to convince me why the album you feel deserves to win is the right pick.

Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In

caitlin-rose-the-stand-in2013 is the Year of the Woman, and the Year of the Songwriter in country music, and this puts one Caitlin Rose right in the sweet spot of the relevancy arch. What elevates The Stand-In to “Album of the Year” status is that her songwriting deftly avoids all the well-worn grooves and modes that many songwriters tend to lean on when looking for ideas and inspiration. Also, whether The Stand-In wins or not, this is the most well-produced album of 2013. The production squeezes every bit of potential out of every song just as classic albums like The Beatles Rubber Soul and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors do.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Caitlin Rose has arrived. It may take some time for the rest of the world to wake up to this realization. But they will. The strength of ‘The Stand-In’ assures it. The Stand-In is frighteningly good. It’s an enterprise in the evocation of rich human emotions, interwoven with delicious hooks and intelligent riffs, stirring vocal performances delivering meaningful, elevated lyricism, and a towering production performance that may go down in the history books. Just simply… Wow.” (read full review)

Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain

sturgill-simpson-high-top-mountainAs far as a Country album with a capital ‘C’, Sturgill Simpson takes the crown hands down with High Top Mountain. No frills, no gimmicks, just straight down the middle honest to goodness country music. High Top Mountain is fair to consider a front runner, but the field is heavy this year on the fringes of the country genre, and Sturgill will have to fend off stiff competition if he is to win. And despite how great High Top Mountain is, the case can be made that Simpson still has some upside potential.

“Real country fans are just going to have to get comfortable with the new reality that their favorite music is on a surprising uptick. No more mopey faces, no more plotting midnight graffiti runs to Music Row as retribution for keeping your favorite artists down. Regardless of what kind of filth is still transpiring on country radio, a new spring of vibrant, independent country music is blooming and finding surprising support, and there may not be a better example of this new season than Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson and his breakout album ‘High Top Mountain.'” (read full review)

The Mavericks – In Time

mavericks-in-timeWhen talking about sheer enjoyment one can get from an album, The Mavericks and In Time take the cake in 2013. I mean this album has you dancing around your living room or doing the Latin shake while you’re behind the wheel like nothing else. Is it a country album? That’s up for debate, but The Mavericks and Raul Malo are certainly more country than what you hear on country radio these days, and deserve to be considered as strong contenders here. Every day you do not have this album in your life is a day you’re missing out on that much more enjoyment. This is the Album of the Year if you throw out considerations of genre.

“Take the West Coast country coolness of Dwight Yoakam, the haunting tremolo of Roy Orbison, the sweaty rhythms of Los Lobos, and what you get is Miami’s indescribable and enigmatic throwback old-school all-things-to-all-people house band for America known as The Mavericks. They’re like some strange Central American fruit you purchase in South Texas that once you cut open the rind a bounty of greatness starts gushing out. Its taste is both exotic and warmly familiar, and its supple membranes are revitalizing to both the body and spirit.” (read full review)

Brent Amaker & The Rodeo – Year of the Dragon

brent-amaker-the-rodeo-year-of-the-dragonWho and the who, and the year of what? That’s right, this dark horse nominee from the Pacific Northwest rides smack dab into the middle of this distinguished company from the sheer creative brilliance and sonic innovation Year of the Dragon displays. Every year there is an album that pushes boundaries and sets a precedent for the progression of the genre in a manner that still respects its roots, and this bold project with a futuristic scope and vibe leads the pack in 2013. Brent Amaker & The Rodeo are no anomaly. They could win this thing.

“If someone asked me to pony up an example of how in 30 years from now when we all have jet packs and flying cars, how country music could still respect and represent its roots, but still offer a relevant sound, I would hand them over a copy of ‘Year of the Dragon.’ It strikes that always-elusive balance between substance and wide-ranging appeal. Though the appeal will be hidden from some for the aforementioned reasons (monotone lyrics and similar rhythms between songs), once you delve beneath the surface, this album offers succulent melodies and catchy moments that make it downright addicting beyond the intellectual appeal of the artistry and lyricism.” (read full review)

John Moreland – In The Throes

john-moreland-in-the-throesI’ll be honest with you, this is the one candidate that I am not 100% on. Though John Moreland’s songwriting effort here is world class and easily competes with any other album listed here, to be an SCM Album of the Year winner, you must bring a complete package, and the production and recording effort with this album leaves room for improvement. It is one thing if you’re going for the lo-fi vibe, but John Moreland’s songs are too good to bring anything less than a superlative effort to recording them for release out into the big scary world. At the same time, out of respect for Moreland’s world-class songwriting, and so many people who put this album on the top of their 2013 lists, it’s being included it here, and who says I can’t be convinced that despite whatever warts, it still deserves to win from the caliber of Moreland’s songwriting performance.

“If John Moreland was a boxer, he’d be a bruiser, a punnisher. No fancy footwork, no bobbing and weaving here. Every single line John Moreland throws out is like a lyrical haymaker meant to score an empathic knockout punch right between the eyes. Even the most emotionally-fraught songwriters tend to give you a short breath somewhere from the morose moments, but not Moreland. He is relentless in how he unburdens his soul without any worry of exposing his vulnerabilities, or how the emotional fortitude of the listener will handle such despondency delivered with such honesty.” (read full review)

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

jason-isbell-southeasternTo become a Saving Country Music Album of the Year, you effort must be at a career-caliber level, and that’s what we get from Jason Isbell and Southeastern. This is the album, and 2013 is the year that Isbell emerged to have an impact well beyond the in-the-know crowd of Americana to become a voice of leadership in re-instilling substance and tireless attention to the craft of songwriting into the wider music world. Jason Isbell has arrived, and revealed himself as one of our generation’s legacy songwriters and performers.

“On ‘Southeastern’ Isbell goes right for the gut with an elegiac knife, thrusting and stabbing in a morose and unrelenting ritual of emotional evocation. Southeastern is downright suffocating in spots in its weight. It is bold, and merciless in how in preys on the faint-of heart, and can make a faint-of-heart out of even the most devout Stoics. Completely unfair Isbell, completely unfair. And selfish too. You should have saved some of these songs for others.” (read full review)

Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward

robbie-fulks-gone-away-backwardIn a nominee field with a few dark horses, Robbie Fulks’ Gone Away Backward might be the album worth characterizing as the most criminally-underrated record in all of 2013. Because of the humble, non-commercial nature of this guy, he will never get the recognition his legacy of wisdom through songwriting should afford him. A true treasure of our time, this traditional country record with an epic songwriting effort is a must-have.

“With a gift for poetry like Townes Van Zandt, and a penchant for the whimsical, progressive approach to bluegrass akin to John Hartford, Robbie Fulks releases a stunningly entertaining, brilliantly-balanced, deep, yet instantly-engaging comeback album called Gone Away Backward through longtime associates Bloodshot Records. Steeped in the roots of bluegrass and old time, this sparse, acoustic-only album offers a traditional sound that is brought up to modern-day relevancy by the staggeringly-cunning use of wit in Robbie’s verses. This is one of those albums you can cull a litany of quotes from, while not giving anything away sonically. Buoyed by one amazing line after another, songs like “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine” and “Where I Fell” speak right to the heart of folks who take their music like medication.” (read full review)

Brandy Clark – 12 Stories

brandy-clark-12-storiesIn a year of inspiring success stories, Brandy Clark’s might be the biggest. A pure songwriter who strikes the perfect balance between appeal and substance, Brandy Clark’s breakout album 12 Stories tells the tale of how in 2013, women and songwriters are leading the charge to save country music.

“The hidden dystopia seething under the smile of sweet suburban life, and the general dysfunction plaguing any and all affairs of the heart is the broken-minded madness that Brandy taps into with this album, following fed up and frustrated fraus who are willing to medicate themselves and match the misdeeds of their men sin for glorious sin. Frail, turbulent, vengeful, but still somehow empowered and held together by the strength and perseverance of womanhood, the heroins of Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories are as inspiring as they are shameful, and tragic as they are real.” (read full review)

160 Comments to “2013 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees”

  • High Top Mountain. Hands down.

    • yup. easy choice.

      hard times + soul + musical / lyrical ability + determination + honesty


      Sturgill Simpson, High Top Mountain.

  • Jason Isbell, imo. That album is perfect.

    • Both are awesome (Isbell & Sturgill) was just playing both albums for my dad today while we were in the truck….he thought both were amazing

      • Fun fact: Same guy (Dave Cobb) produced both albums. Also, Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star. Quite the year.

  • Jason Isbell would get my vote… great album.

  • What a wonderful year for music this was. I think Sturgill edges out Isbell for me. Either way, two of the best albums I’ve ever owned. Moreland’s album was incredible as well.

    The albums not on this list I enjoyed the most were Dark and Dirty Mile and Tin Star.

    • Jason Boland’s Dark & Dirty Mile is a good one. Will definitely be on the Essential Albums list.

  • It’s a close run thing between Caitlin Rose and Jason Isbell – both great albums, bit I’ll go for Caitlin on a tie break!

  • “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely” is tied for my favorite album in 2013. I understand why you aren’t putting it up for consideration, but I still have to mention it because that is just a perfect album. I had been wondering why you never really gave it a full review.

    My other favorite is one that I know no one else would even consider as top album, because not only is it really “nichey”, even within that niche it seems a lot of people view it as lesser compared with his previous album. The album is “Ghost Ballads” by Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks. For what that record is, it is perfect. The artwork, the sound, the lyrics, everything about it is exactly what it should be. If you didn’t know better you could think that album could have been released in the ’50s, ’60s, etc. It easily could have been a record that I checked out from the public library as a kid. It’s varied just enough to keep everything interesting, but everything is still similar enough to make sure you know you are listening to a true album. I know it’s not an album that anyone else would ever really consider as album of the year, but it is just an album that has connected with me in a way that few others have.

    Of the ones you have nominated … I gotta say The Mavericks, that record is just great.

  • Of the nominees (I’ve listened to all of these records including the ones on the bubble), I think the top 3 are 1. Jason Isbell 2.Sturgill Simpson 3. Brandy Clark. You have two that I would rank higher than Brandy Clark on the bubble with Austin Lucas and Eric Strickland my top 5 would be and one write in with Dale Watson’s El Rancho Azul… my top 10 would be 1. Isbell 2. Strickland 3. Watson 4. Simpson 5. Lucas 6. Clark 7. Rose 8. Moreland 9. Hank3 10. Steeldrivers. Beverley’s new one is extremely good but probably too new for the list.

  • 2013 saw no releases from Jason Boland, Chris Knight, Bob Wayne, James McMurtry, or Corb Lund, so it was a little disappointing for me. However, the Sturgill Simpson album was great, and the Robbie Fulks album was good, as well.

    • Boland released “Dark & Dirty Mile”.

      It’s an excellent album for a band that just keeps it real with everything they do.

      • Oh, you’re right. I thought that came out at the end of 2012…

  • The Stand-In is a pretty great album. Still isten to it at least once every three days.

  • Isbell gets the nod from me. Southeastern is one of the most honest albums I’ve heard in a long time; so good that he may never top it.

  • Good list. It includes all the albums that make my top three of 2013. ‘Southeastern’ and ‘High Top Mountain’ will have to duke it out for my No. 1 spot, and, in a lot of ways, I consider them opposite sides of the same coin.

    Both albums feature top-notch songwriting, tasteful production and powerful lead vocalists who possess a range and dynamism that’s too often overlooked. But where ‘Southeastern’ is more subdued and atmospheric, ‘High Top’ stomps and rollicks and crackles with energy.

    In the end, I think I’ll keep coming back to ‘High Top’ because of that infectiousness. So here’s one vote for Sturgill Simpson, with honorable mentions for Jason Isbell and Brandy Clark.

  • Speaking of White Buffalo, don’t forget Jimbo Mathus’s album of the same name when compiling your essential albums list. It was released toward the beginning of the year and you gave a two guns up, I believe. Excellent album.

    I don’t think Stay Reckless was ever reviewed here, was it?

    I have to say Jason Isbell’s album is my favorite. Been a fan of his since DBT’s Decoration Day album, when he blew me away with the title cut and Outfit. With this one,he has hit the home run that I (and a lot of others, I think) was hoping he had in him.

  • Mavericks probably win the best “country” album of the year. I see a pretty distinct difference in their sound from people like Isbell.

    • Mavs tend to recycle melodies-not as original as one would think

      • I cant say summarily about any recycling, some yes but not a lot. All that really matters to my heart and my ears is the over the top exuberance I feel when listening to their music. It is simply amazing that The Mavericks re-did a Springsteen song and lo and behold for all of us who love the Springsteen version we also went nuts over the Mavericks fantastic rendition. There is no denying that. I like your music choices too BL.

  • I gotta say, I’m a bit disheartened to see Alan Jackson omitted

    • “The Bluegrass Album” is definitely an excellent album and a great effort, and certainly will be on the “Essential Albums” list. But I personally wouldn’t say it reaches that career-caliber level an album must in 2013 to compete with the stiff competition this year. At the same time, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who said it is their favorite this year.

      • I can live with that reasoning, and definitely agree it should be on the “Essential” list. IIRC isn’t this the album Jackson has wanted to make for a long time?

  • Sturgill Simpson definitely gets the nod from me. Excellent singing, great songs, and all straight from the heart. Isbell made an incredible record- freakin’ unbelievably good- BUT, this is called Saving Country Music, and “High Top Mountain” is undoubtedly, unquestionably country.

    • Second

    • Amen. High Top Mountain is pure country and absolutely timeless. I could imagine Hank Sr, Jr, Waylon or many others cutting those songs. It is honest, authentic and expertly written, played and sung (and produced, for that matter).

  • Jason Isbell would be my pick.

    I’d submit The Black Lillies’ Runaway Freeway Blues for an honorable mention

    • I really really like the latest Black Lillies album but it’d have to be at least fourth on my list of great Albums of 2013.

  • Caitlin Rose, hands down. She’s a legend in the making.

  • Great list, my personal favorite albums of the year were Slaid Cleaves “Still fighting the war” and Jackson Taylor “Crazy again”

    • Two more great albums. Can’t argue with those picks.

  • Let’s not forget about The Statesborough Review.

  • Damn. That’s a good selection. I would have to say Sturgill Simpson. Jason Isbell and Robbie Fulks are definitely tied for a close second though

  • Just listened to an album by Shane Smith & the Saints called Coast. Excellent album everyone should check it out. It was released at the beginning of this year.

  • If it were me it would be Dark and dirty Mile all the way but from this list high top Mountian 100%

  • Isbell is #1 in my book. Southeastern is a tremendous album and certainly his best work yet. John Moreland’s album is close behind––”Gospel” is probably #2 or #3 on my favorite songs of the year list. I love all the other nominees as well, especially Brandy Clark and Sturgill Simpson. Personally, I would add Drew Kennedy’s Wide Listener to this list.

  • Despite FGL and all that 2013 was another great year and that this is a hard list to pull together, and with alot of good suggestions above, is a great thing. My only additions would have been the very solid outings from Guy Clark, Devils Make Three and Holly Williams.

    On the nominees I think I’ve enjoyed the Sturgill album the most but I feel it is an album of great songs rather than a great album (if that makes any sense), but in thinking though the one that is the strongest album, in terms of the strength of its voices and the songwriting, would have to be Jason Isbell and, no disrespect to any of the other nominees, I’m not really sure it is even close.

  • One Quick Question Please.

    Did you deliberately focus the list to reflect Singer / Songwriter releases or did that just happen by random chance?

    • Sturgill Simpson is singer Songwriter?

      • Dunno. I was asking, not answering.

        He sings, he wrote all the songs, he plays guitar. I’d be willing to bet he could do excellent versions of his songs even if he was all alone on the stage.

        Did he hire studio musicians to fill out the sound, or is that his touring band?

        • Songwriting is always one of the most important elements in choosing nominees, but nobody was excluded or picked because they were a singer-songwriter. It was a bumper year for singer-songwriters, and that is why they are featured so prominently. All that said, The Mavericks in my opinion put out the most enjoyable album, and Brent Amaker & The Rodeo the most innovative.

          Sturgill used both studio musicians and elements of his live band on the record.

          • Thanks Trigger, you know I’m a bluegrass guy, so my questions are sometimes kinda basic, but I respect your opinions so I’m here, checking this stuff out!

            I’m currently out listening to samples of the releases on this list that I don’t already have.

            It probably doesn’t count for your list, as it is an anthology of alternate takes and demos, but … disk two (the solo acoustic demos) of Townes Van Zandt – Sunshine Boy is stunning.

          • If bluegrass is your thing first and foremost, I would really recommend the Robbie Fulks album. Not bluegrass necessarily, but an acoustic album with a bluegrass heart. Very John Hartford-esque. Also as native Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson will tell you, bluegrass is a huge influence on his sound.

          • Thanks for the Heads Up, I’ll definitely check out the Robbie Fulks release.

          • Whoa! Finally found a copy of “Bless This Mess”. I like having physical copies of CD’s and Amazon wants $30 (wtf).

            Bless this Mess is really good, and it shows tener cojones to start with an instrumental. And “Lead Me Astray” should be required listening, I will put that into my top songs of the year.

  • Good list; Brandy Clark is my favorite of the bunch. :)

  • A lot of great music here.. Sturgill Simpson takes the cake.. None of the other albums grabbed me like High Top Mountain did. Quite honestly there hasn’t been an album or artist in the last 5 years that stood out to me like Sturgill Simpson has.

  • I love how you say in Caitlin’s write up that 2013 is the Year of the Woman, and yet two months ago you wrote that country music is sexist and keeping women from the charts and objectifying them. Which one is it with you Trig? Is country music keeping women down, or is it the year of the woman?

    • It is both, and where they meet is the culture war. In mainstream country music, it is male-dominated and chauvinistic, both sonically and logistically. But in the independent realm, it is dominated by strong women having breakout years.

  • Umm… What about the Civil Wars self titled album or Same Trailer Different Park?

    • Two good albums, but neither I believe to be the best either artist can achieve. I’d have a little trouble handing this award to a defunct duo anyway, but I would if I thought their album was the best. If Kacey Musgraves had included her best songs on “Same Trailer, Different Park,” she probably would have ran away with this. Instead we got a good album, not great one in my opinion.

      • What do you consider to be Kacey’s best songs? Are they “Undermine” and “Trailer Song”?

        In my opinion, neither of them matches “Merry Go Round”, “Follow Your Arrow”, “Silver Lining”, or “It Is What It Is”. “Undermine” is rather generic, and “Trailer Song” is meant to be a funny song.

        • I think “Trailer Song” would fit perfectly on an album called “Same Trailer, Different Park.” It’s witty, and would have been better than some of the album’s weaker tracks.

          • I agree, but I still think that one song does not make the difference between a good not great album vs Album of the Year.

      • Also, it’s possible that “Undermine” was not on the album because Trent Dabbs (the other writer on this song) wants to record it.

  • Dark & Dirty Mile and Crazy Again are awesome but of what is listed High Top Mountain, but I honestly didn’t listen to several of these.

  • Beer or whiskey…Strugill Simpson or John Moreland? Both are incredible albums. I would have to pick John Moreland and Jim Beam.

  • A bunch of great nominees, Sturgill has the best country record of the year, but for me personally Jason Isbell “Southeastern” is the best. I feel emotionally drained after listening to that record, it kills me in the best way. Songwriting and his voice are unmatched this year.

  • The problem is that there’s too much dang music released every year, and a lot of it’s great. It’s overwhelming, especially when one is discovering a lot of these artists for the first time.

    The comments section seems to be a two horse race between Jason and Sturgill.

    At least so far.

    • I agree. There’s too much music for any listener to really dig deep into any single project and appreciate it like we did the classic albums of our youth.

  • Sturgill HTM

  • I am divided between “Southeastern” and “12 Stories”. “12 Stories” has more sonic variation, and in my opinion 4 of the songs from that album (“Just Like Him”, “What Will Keep Me Out of Heaven”, “Hold My Hand”, and “In Some Corner”) beat any of the songs from “Southeastern” sonically. However, overall I would say that the two albums are of similar quality, with the lyricism probably somewhat better on “Southeastern”.

  • Top two are easy picks to me. Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell released two of the best albums I’ve heard in some time. I had the privilege of seeing both guys perform this year and both were great. If I had to pick one I would have to take Southeastern. The songwriting is absolutely top notch. I think his ability to fuse words to make each song a story is unparalleled right now in music. Not only that but I think so many people took notice of what he did this year and it can do nothing but help spread the word. He’s selling out shows now and for good reason. Any other year and I think Sturgill would win this easily.

  • Southeastern.

  • Have to throw in a comment for High Top Mountain. I’ve gotten to see him live several times this year and going back to the SV days. Simpson is the complete package and I have no doubt that HTM will stand the test of time.

  • There will be nights when I am lonely should be considered. I understand your position. Maybe you could have someone else help you rate it? It is definitely hovering at the top of my list. Maybe your could do a vote for the top spot?

    • If someone else wanted to do a review, I may run it on the site, but I still don’t think I would consider it for an SCM award. And it’s not like I have ignored the album or PPJ, I’m just recusing myself from giving public opinions on its content.

  • Man, what a great list. It is way too tough for me because I love the people I have discovered this year Caitlin Rose, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, and one of my all time favorites, The Mavericks. Thanks for everything you do.

  • I have to go with Isbell. His album opened up a whole new group of artists for me that I had never listened to before. The fact that I have even half of these albums is because of his. One of my favorite albums.

  • I’m a huge Sturgill fan, but I wouldn’t mind if Caitlin Rose’s album wins. It’s pretty damn good.

  • Southeastern is my choice for top album no question. I agree with you on The Mavericks. “In Time” should win for fun album of the year. It is my number 2 choice. Those two got the most plays from me. I have to think about #3.

    I just don’t get the Caitlin Rose love. I saw her live this year too and that usually ups my interest.

    Personally I thought 2012 was a better year for music. Much deeper to me.

  • Jayke Orvis hasn’t even got a shout out. Bless This Mess was amazing! My other favorites of the year are Dark & Dirty Mile by Jason Boland and Southeastern by Jason Isbell.

    • I gave Jayke Orvis a shout out in the introduction, and have seen a few others mention him here in the comments. Good album, and can’t argue with anyone who says it’s their favorite.

  • These lists are one of my favorite parts of the holidays! Nothing like a good compilation of great music. The list looks good Trig. My two cents: Southeastern for the win but I probably listened to Caitlin Rose the most.

  • I was just putting my end of the year list together and commenting to a friend that you, Trigger, had a hand in 4 of the albums in my top 20 – Devil Makes Three, Eric Strickland, Valerie June, and Jakye Orvis. I probably would have missed those albums if I didn’t read Saving County Music on a daily basis, So, Thank You!

    However, I don’t share the love for the Mavericks. If it were the 90’s, you’d find “In Time” in that ‘WORLD’ section at the back of the store next to Celtic Women. Just keeping it country!

    Ashley Monroe’s ‘Like A Rose’ is going to land in my top 5. “Two Weeks Late” is in all likelihood my single of the year. It’s an unapologetic, brutally honest song I can imagine Dolly Parton singing in the early 70s. “You Ain’t Dolly” reminds me county music can be fun and ‘tongue and cheek’ a la “Your The Reason Are Kids Are Ugly.” The only knock on the album is with two throw away tracks (‘You Got Me’ and the remake of ‘Used’), only 77% of the album is great.

    Holly Williams’ “The Highway” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Feeling Mortal” are other albums that rank high on my end of the year list.

    Otherwise, I couldn’t agree more with the nominations of the Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell albums; the latter being my album of the year. Dismissing it as too personal and bored by its spare production, it took me some time to warm up “Southeastern.” Now I can’t get enough of it. Even the weakest songs on the album have amazing, unforgettable lines – “Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin” and “and the piss they call tequila even Waylon wouldn’t drink.”

    On a side note, I was looking last night at Jason Isbell and Holly Williams tour dates. After noticing they were both playing the same cities and venues, I realized they were touring together!

  • Sturgill Simpson wins everything! Suck it everyone else.

  • Dinosaur Truckers

    • Great, underrated album.

  • Southeastern, and it isn’t even close.

    The ones not on your list that I spent the most time listening to:
    Brennen Leigh/Noel McKay – Before the World Was Made
    Lindi Ortega – Tin Star
    The Black Lillies – Runaway Freeway Blues

    • The Brennen Leigh / Noel McKay almost made this list. Love that album.

  • Son Volt, Caitlin Rose, and Ashley Monroe are Top 3 on my list. Women won 2013 by a large margin, if you count the mainstream.

  • Love Jason Isbell, Sturgis and all but I will stand up for BAR!! It is about time the Rodeo gets some respect.
    I would also like to mention Sons of Perdition “Trinity”. But that is not really country…at all.

  • Damn autocorrect. Sturgis, lol!

  • Stripped To The Root. High Top Mountain is pretty good too… And I loved Hank3’s album as well.

  • Since other folks brought it up, PBPJ will not leave my brain. I go to bed singing it and wake up singing it. Ive been in bars, at parties , and have seen entire patrons shouting the words. Im forever effected by this work of songs, game changer. Pound for pound, There will be nights when im lonely.

  • Cool, but where’s “Copper and Coal”?

    • Good album for sure. Will definitely be on the “Essential” list coming up.

      • Great! Good news! Thanks!

  • Trigger, You’d have to be weird, and grow you a beard just to see what the rednecks would do and you’d have to be crazy, plum out of your mind… not to make High Top Mountain your album of the year. Do it son.

  • I have never been motivated to purchase every album off someone’s list before. But this time I just might. That is a very strong field, even from my perspective on the fringe, here. Thank you.

    Strictly speaking, the album that does the best job (by far) of ‘Saving Country Music’ from this bunch is ‘In Time’.

  • one missed…

    The Howlin’ Brothers – HOWL. Reached #6 on the Americana Radio Chart and was the highest charting album by a new act on that chart this year. Their new EP – The Sun Studio Session, was #2 Most Added on that same chart this week.

    They are the real deal and are workin’ it hard. They’ll officially end their HOWL Tour on the Ryman Auditorium stage Dec 18th opening for (and then participating in) the Brendan Benson & Friends concert.

  • From this list I have to say “Southeastern”, because it is the only one I own (so far), and it is a fantastic album. I want to mention Reckless Kelly´s “Long Night Moon” – after all, these guys have made me discover Country Music (and it is a great album).

  • As far as this list goes in my opinion, Sturgill takes it hands down. As far as personally, he is still up there, going right against holly williams new album, can’t go 2 days without hearing either of those 2

  • Isbell and its not particularly close for me. That is a masterpiece.

  • the answer is Sturgill

  • 1. Sturgill Simpson 2. Dale Watson 3. Brandy Clark 4. Eric Strickland 5. Vince Gill/Paul Franklin 6. Jackson Taylor Essentials: Amber Digby, Wayne Hancock, Ashley Monroe, Robbie Fulks, Jason Boland, As for the Jason Isbell album, I’ve enjoyed it, its fabulous. But in trying to “Save Country Music”, it doesn’t qualify IMO. Its by FAR the best Americana album of the year though.

  • Sturgill Simpson pressed the reset button on contemporary country music with High Top Mountain. Whether your personal taste is more Americana, or honky tonk, or bluegrass, when talking country music, his album alone established a new true north for the genre. He did it the way it should be done when it wasn’t the popular thing to do. That takes guts. He has my vote.

    BTW…He’s playing with Isbell the 13th and 14th in Alabama. Not sure if there will be tickets, but I thought y’all should know.

  • In my opinion, it’s a race between Isbell, Moreland, and Simpson. I love “Into the Throes.” It’s probably my personal favorite of ’13 right now. On songwriting alone, it’s right there with “Southeastern,” but the production value leaves a little something to be desired.

    “Southeastern” is a flawless album. The songwriting, musical and vocal performances, production value, and pacing are perfect. It’s Isbell’s finest piece of work to date. Not to mention, his performance at The Ryman this year was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was the first time I’ve ever seen someone receive a standing ovation in the middle of a song (“Cover Me Up”).

    That said, there is no other album recorded in ’13 or recent years that is more essential to saving country music than “High Top Mountain.” If you’ve listened to the album, it speaks for itself. It’s the way Nashville should sound. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Sturgill live several times and he is the real deal. He is humble, personable, and deserving. “High Top Mountain” takes SCM Album of the Year, hands down.

    SCM Not Album of the Year potential, or even country music, but I think Will Hoge’s album deserves an honorable mention.

  • The Mavericks, hands down. In Time is probably the album of the year of all genres, in my opinion. I can’t pick a favorite tune, but When You Get to Heaven stands out.

  • Don’t forget Daniel Romano, Come Cry With Me

  • HELLO the MAVERICKS!!!!!!!!!

    • Couldn’t agree with you more! Not even close!

      • perhaps in the nineties, yes, but not now

  • Great selection. Just add Hank 3 “Brothers of the 4×4″
    Je voudrais développer un peu mais mon anglais est limité :-)
    My english is poor, just want to say Hank is best.

  • Caitlin Rose and Jason Isbell are my favourites and that kind of makes it hard for me to pick one as a potential winner. Though ‘the Stand-in’ leans a bit more towards Countryrock / rock, it’s still a very refreshing thing compared to what’s popular in both genres. I discovered Jason Isbell thanks to ‘Southeastern’, and it has been amongst my favourite albums of all-time ever since! The way his songs are written convey deep emotions and stories that are hard to find these days, they’re honest and the only word that aptly describes this album is masterful. On top of that, I saw him and Amanda live in Brussels last week and he really is a fine guy too! Somebody recorded 5 of the songs he did during that concert so be sure to take a look on Youtube.

  • High Top Mountain is tops for those you listed; Although a do agree with a few others, I give my own personal AoTY award to Dark and Dirty Mile.

  • The Mavericks album isn’t the Country Music Album of the year, It is THE Album of the Year regardless of category!

    • very well said.

      • After listening to the preveiw on Amazon I find it real hard to place The Mavericks in a catagory for “album of the year”…unless your talking “yester year”. Shoud’nt they be put in a “Shoulda Been” catagory…I liked their sound…yesterday, 1984.

    • Absolutely d’accord avec you, The Mavericks LP is one of the greatest LP of the year or maybe the last five years in any styles of music.
      My girlfriend and me, we’re dancin’ all the time on it.

  • I’d have to go with Isbell, Boland, Simpson, and Dale Watson as my favorite albums of the year. Other albums that got heavy airplay time are: Reckless Kelly’s “Long Night Moon”, Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis “Cheater’s Game”, Statesboro Revue “Ramble on Privilege Creek”, Quaker City Nighthawks “Honcho”, Jimbo Mathus “White Buffalo, Javi Garcia “Great Controversy”, Chris King “1983”, Holly Williams “The Highway”

  • 1. Sturgill
    2. John Moreland
    3. Reckless Kelly
    4. Isbell
    5. Randy Houser
    6. Blake Shelton
    7. The avett brothers
    8. Jonathan Parker
    9. Will Hoge
    10. Florida Georgia Line
    11. George Strait
    12. Randy Rogers Band

  • Mavericks “In Time” – best album this year or best album ever!

  • The Mavericks “In Time”!!!! An amazing album full of energy and awesome songs! Nothing can beat seeing them live…this will do a good job of holding you over until you can. Something magic happens when these guys get together!

  • Kinda criminal that Daniel Romano’s “Come Cry with Me” album didn’t even get a mention, when it should’ve been in the Top 5 at least. His “Middle Child” single from it beats anything on the boring new album by Robbie Fulks.

  • The Mavericks In Time album is unquestionably my favorite album of the year. It has brought me so much joy and no matter how many times I listen to it I dance, dance, dance and dance. The melodies are beautiful and sometimes I can hardly believe I have the privilege of hearing such a rich and beautiful voice as that of Raul Malo. I love this album.

  • The Mavericks! Their In Time CD is timeless!! I am working on wearing out my 2nd one.I have let 4 different age groups in my family listen and they all love it!!

  • In Time by The Mavericks has to be the best album of the year. I NEVER tire of it. When I play it (which is probably daily) I smile and sing and dance. I don’t think I have ever had an album lift my spirits like In Time does. Absolutely THE album of the year, if not my lifetime. This is definitely a MUST BUY. Loving me some Mavericks!!!!

    • Very Nostalgic, but welcome to 2013.

  • It’s clearly not going to win since there have only been a handful of mentions here, but I’ll say my piece for Brandy Clark anyway.

    I have very few country records I truly love post-1990 that aren’t bluegrass or “outsider”/underground records. Nashville simply does very little for me – too much bland rock influence and not enough honky tonk soul. 12 Stories convinced me that mainstream country (if not in sales or radio play, unfortunately, but in style) was worth paying attention to – even if most of it still feels like empty calories, there’s something real and personal about what is being written about in country music that isn’t available in any other genre, or even in a lot of outsider country.

    I think The Stand-In and Southeastern are both excellent records deserving of praise (although if I can be nerdy for a second, Rose’s record is horribly mastered – especially compared with Isbell’s record, which is impeccable), but they feel like they are running parallel to country, not storming the castle. High Top Mountain might be the most COUNTRY record on this list, but unfortunately its sound has been left behind by most listeners. Artists like Brandy Clark have the best chance to drag the genre back to where it belongs, and 12 Stories is an incredible representation of her power as a songwriter.

    Anyway, two cents, but thanks for all the great music rec’s this year!

  • Oh, let me ponder this for a moment – NOT!! The Maverick’s. Love the Maverick’s. love the changes in moods and music. the emotion. the high’s and low’s. dancing around and singing. wanting to go on long drives in the country and crank it up. love to play the air guitar and my imaginary piano. love to feel the pain of (Call me) when you get to heaven. my husband and I have Danced in the Moonlight many times, with the music cranked for this one. Saw them in concert in April, 2013. fell more in love with them and the music. they are a daily, truly, a daily part of our lives. at home, in the car, at work, on vacation. never tire of their music.

  • Gotta be Sturg in a landslide. And thanks for introducing me to Robbie Fulks. Excellent!

  • In my book it’s between John Moreland and Jason Isbell. Such a tough call.

  • Sturgill Simpson hands down!!

    Other great albums that are right up there in my opinion are:
    Possessed by Paul James
    Ashley Monroe
    Holly Williams
    Kacey Musgraves
    Corb Lund
    Lincoln Durham….although I guess you would consider this rock/blues
    Jason Eady
    Jason Boland
    Pistol Annies
    Jason Isbell
    Seasick Steve…although this is blues also
    Valerie June
    Eric Strickland
    Jaida Dreyer

  • The mavericks are the best live band touring today…I see 20 – 25 concerts per year and have for many years. No band gets a crowd on their feet like these guys. The sound these guys put out is incredible, raul has the best voice around and the energy of their concerts is second to none…In Time…great

    • Just checked out the schedule of my favorite music venue (Birchmere – Alexandria, VA) and the Mavericks will be there on 3/2. That’s a few days after Los Lobos will be playing there. I’m a long time Los Lobos fan and now a new Mavericks fan after In Time. Also, picked up a two CD anthology that’s largely excellent. I’m going to both shows, damn it!

  • That Moreland record is amazing! I think the production on the record fits it very well, any more polish and it’d detract from the songs which are of course the thing. Not to mention he’s got such a great voice. I dug the Isbell record a hell of a lot too but “In the Throes” is just about as close to perfect as an album can get.

  • “The Mavericks”…..cause it don’t get better than them!

  • The Mavericks In Time of course. In Time has more than surpassed expectations for their reunion cd. In Time grabs hold of your senses and heart and won’t let go. In Time, and The Mavericks, can change your life. They changed mine. Music doesn’t get any better than The Mavericks and In Time

  • Well, like most people Sturgill takes the award for me as well. Gotta give props for the traditional sounds and nostalgic 70s vibe it envokes. Sounds just like an old waylon record firing up. I have also enjoyed new albums from the likes of Dale Watson, The Mavericks, Shooter, Band of Heathens, Fifth on the Floor, and Brett Detar. Great selections all down the line though!

  • It seems obvious, Sturgill Simpson is the type of musician that this site was created to support, and his record is very good. Pretty much a no brainer for the “Saving Country Music” album of the year. Sturgill Simpson deserves it. But it is not the best on the list.

    My own favorites, from the list, are just as predictable. Robbie Fulks and John Moreland. However, neither of them seem to have put everything they had into their CD’s. Robbie Fulks starts extremely strong with “I’ll trade You Money For Wine” but then shifts to songs that seem unfinished. John Moreland reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, and I suspect this will be the CD I listen to most. But again, my favorites are not the best on the list.

    That honor goes to Brandy Clark. 12 Stones is a work of art beyond its musical attributes. Each song paints a unique picture. I felt like I had looked through an albums of photographs. Each one portraying a unique moment in a life. It is a masterpiece. It doesn’t sugar coat anything. Every detail of every picture is clearly drawn. And it doesn’t let up, 8 songs into the cd and “Take a Little Pill”, “Hungover”, “Illegitimate Children” and “The Day she got Divorced”. Each a little masterpiece. This is a stronger concept album, than The White Wolf’s cd. And the clincher is the last song “Just Like Him” where she admits all the little pictures she just painted are going to happen again, because she’ll be getting another man “Just Like Him”. This is the Masterpiece on the list, and Brandy Clark is going to have a very hard time ever living up to this CD again.


  • Mavericks mavericks mavericks – like nothing else!

  • I was almost expecting Lindi Ortega on this list since you raved about her album. I’ll write in Kellie Pickler – The Woman I Am, Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park, and Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose. Kellie’s has the best vocals, music, and most outstanding songs.

  • The Mavericks “In Time” is the best.

  • Southeastern. I don’t remember the last time I played an album out like I did with that when it came out. Constant rotation for months before I had to give it a rest. Well done Jason.

  • Can’t go wrong with Southeastern or In the Throes, like High Top Mountain as well. One album I would have also liked to have seen on this list is Old Excuses by The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. Willy Tea and Chris Doud really pull out all the stops on that one…

    • “Old Excuses” was officially a 2012 release, but an excellent one nonetheless and one of the best of that year for sure.

  • “I’M A STRANGER HERE” by THE DEVIL MAKES THREE! My favorite listen this year. The closest I ever been to goin to church . . . with a pint in my back pocket!

  • Apparently The Mavericks Fan Club has found your site Triggerman. Though I would rather hear “them” than the drivel they play on pop country radio…I really don’t hear them holding a candle to JB Beverly, Whitey Morgan, Lucky Tubb, Hellbound Glory, Wayne Hancock or any of the other countless independant artist that are trying to save country music…not re hash it!

  • If the comments are any indication it does look like Southeastern and High Top Mountain are the top contenders. Just based on SCM reviews, coverage, etc. it would not surprise me if this was indeed the case.

    Without being disparaging, I will just say that – in my opinion – there are better versions (older/live) of songs on High Top Mountain than the ones that appear on the album. Second, I bet Sturgill releases an even better album in the future.

    On the other hand, I think Southeastern is unimpeachable. I think it will end up being Isbell’s Blonde on Blonde. I do not know if it can ever be topped. And I’m talking about everything from lyrics to vocals to sound quality. That album is simply an all-time classic.

    I would be remiss if I did not proudly admit that my favorite album of the year was written and sung by a girl in her early 20s based in Nashville who just went through a bad break up and decided to write an album about these experiences that veered much more toward pop than anything she’d been a part of in the past… Of course I’m talking about Hayley Williams of Paramore, who did you think? If you think all pop music is bad, hypersexualized, provocative, impersonal nonsense their self-titled album will prove you wrong. If you’d told me in 2012 that my least favorite album-by-a-Williams in 2013 would be from Hank3, my favorite artist of all time, I would not have believed you. But Holly and Hayley proved me wrong.

    • Big A – I agree with you. I have and enjoy the Simpson album but I do see it as someone who is still finding his way. I can’t name it album of the year.

      “Southeastern” on the other hand is a career defining album. If Isbell does top it then wow that would be an all-time great album.

      “Southeastern” stands out to me as Album of the Year on so many levels.

  • Mavericks are the BEST group out there today. No one can touch them. Their live shows are undeniably AWESOME!

  • I would have to go with High Top Mountain based purely on my own personal taste. Seriously the most (my kind of) country sounding album on the list.

  • High Top Mountain hands-down. Lots of good stuff this year, but Sturgill is #1!

  • The Paul James record WAS better than any of these. That’s too bad about it’s exemption status.

  • Always looking forward to your year end lists, Lindi Ortega (seeing her tonight!) is definetly one of my very favorite album this year, others not on your list are Daniel Romano, The Sadies and Casey James Prestwood “honky tonk bastard world”

  • Yes Romano deserve his spot but that Robbie Fulks album is also excellent!

  • J.D. Beverley a true trail blazer in real country music

    • J.B. that is, damn stubby fingers

  • In Time – Mavericks

    Just a perfect album with not a bad song on it.

  • Only one person threw in Hank 3’s “Brothers of the 4×4″? That’s by far his SECOND best effort. If he would picked the best 10 songs on that album that would no question be on this list.

  • Even Sturgil Simpson said today on twitter, the best record of the year, regardless of genre, “Southeastern” is the best record of the year…. couldn’t agree more

  • Man, give it to Sturgill. That album is badass. He deserves it.

  • Sturgill and Isbell were definitely two of mine.

  • 1. Brandy Clark
    2. Kacey Musgraves
    3. Jason Isbell

  • Dunno if it has been said, but John produced that record with gear that he pawned, borrowed, and gigged for. I would like to put any of these great artists on a $200 mic and see if it is any better than “In The Throes”. The amount of blood that Moreland put into this record and the sound of its outcome is astonishing.This record is Great. It should be top two.
    PS- Love SCM and its readers. Y’all are the gooduns.
    Chris Porter

  • This is a little off topic, but I said something on another page about how I thought NPR actually did a pretty good job of covering country this year. I noticed NPR rock critic Ken Tucker put out his top ten year end list and I thought it was interesting.:

    1. Jason Isbell, ‘Southeastern’
    2. Brandy Clark, ’12 Stories’
    3. Superchunk, ‘I Hate Music’
    4. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, ‘Bakersfield’
    5. Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’
    6. Tegan And Sara, ‘Heartthrob’
    7. Ashley Monroe, ‘Like A Rose’
    8. The Mavericks, ‘In Time’
    9. Robbie Fulks, ‘Gone Away Backward’
    10. Kacey Musgraves, ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

    A lot of country and a good bit of crossover with this list.


    Also, it seems like not many publications outside this site have even heard of Sturgill Simpson.

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