Below you will find Saving Country Music’s 2016 Essential Albums List—this site’s most inclusive and complete list of recommended albums released in 2016. This year the list has been expanded to 60 albums, along with additional lists of positively-reviewed albums, and other albums that are currently on Saving Country Music’s radar.
2016 was a difficult year to be a traditional country music fan in many respects, and not just from the death of so many legends. In independent circles, it was a year of having to settle for albums prefaced with explanations of why the artist decided to move away from their country influences, even if it was just slightly, or just on a temporary basis.
You certainly can find better bluegrass albums released in 2016, but it might be hard to find one more remarkable or historically significant. For generations now, the true devotees of the Grateful Dead have known that Jerry Garcia’s passion for bluegrass, old time, and country music was much more than some simple lark or a passing era in the legendary jam band’s lineage.
West Virginia is as good a place as any to find huddled masses of hard working folks who are constantly facing down hard times, or having to work jobs many of us would not wish on our worst enemies. Union Sound Treaty from Morgantown speaks to those burdens and fears better than most in their debut album called ‘Next Year.’
There’s no stopping the Turnpike Troubadours. The mainstream country music industry may continue to turn a blind eye to their regional and national success, but that won’t slow them down at all. As they continue to put on one of the most engaging live shows in country music, the crowds at their shows continue to swell.
Just like Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year candidates, this is not just about entertainment, this is about putting together words, music, and in this case, a visual representation, that can shake the viewer out of their daily routines and make them realize something that previously was either lost or never discovered about themselves or their world.
If 90% of mainstream country music is garbage, then it stands to reason that 10% of it is at least decent, if not good or great. That calculus hasn’t really changed much recently, even as mainstream country has improved. What has changed is that 10% is actually finding traction on radio, at awards shows, and is making fierce inroads into the 90%’s monopoly.
Chris LeDoux’s son Ned, who started playing drums in his father’s backing band Western Underground way back in 1998, has stepped up to take the reigns from his father. Though first a bit timid to take center stage in his father’s absence, he now sees it as his duty to introduce a new generation of country fans to his father’s music.
It’s hard to know if you should call Austin, TX’s Reckless Kelly Red Dirt, Southern Rock, Texas country, or something completely different. Part of the problem is they’ve been so damn good for so damn long, everyone wants to claim them in their cadre, and because they had a hand in forming nascent scenes that are now the standard bearers for country’s subgenres.
A song can change a life, and a song can change the world. And if you’re a real music fan, you know this to be true because you’ve felt it, and seen it yourself. We’re not looking for fanciful ditties that get stuck in your head here. There is a time and a place for those, but that’s not here. We’re looking for songs that barrel you over.
It has once again come that time of year for reflecting back on some of the best albums released in the last 12 months or so, not to treat country music as competition per se, but as an exercise undertaken with the intent of expanding your musical knowledge in hopes the gaps that formed due to the busy lives we all live get filled in with joyous little music projects.
Austin Lucas, Blackberry Smoke, Brandy Clark, Cody Jinks, Courtney Marie Andrews, Dori Freeman, Doug Bruce, Honest Life, I'm Not The Devil, I've Got a Way, Jack Ingram, Justin Wells, Kelsey Waldon, Like An Arrow, Lori McKenna, Luke Bell, Mark Chesnutt, Midnight Motel, Nick Dittmeier, Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters, Sturgill Simpson, The Bird & The Rifle, The Cactus Blossoms, Tradition Lives, Unsung, You're Dreaming
It doesn’t get more Texan than Gruene Hall or Gary P. Nunn, unless you combine the two, which is what happened when the venerable songwriter stopped by one of his favorite Texas haunts on Saturday, December 3rd celebrate 71 years alive and breathing on this mortal coil.
Once again Slim Cessna’s Auto Club have turned in an effort that touches parts of the musical palette you never knew existed, challenges the listener with adroit lyricism and structure, and offers a musical experience so unusual that it’s hauntingly riveting and hypnotic.
It was the recent events on Dolly Parton’s doorstep in Sevier Country that brought the story of the fragility of life, and the importance of taking care of each other at the core of ‘Circle of Love’ to the forefront, and once again proved that Dolly Parton is nothing shy of a divine figure of the Southern American experience.
Barry Zito has released an acoustic version of a song called “Secret to Life” that is supposedly going to be the first song released on an upcoming album of his. Not many know that when Barry Zito’s massive contract ended and his pitching production began to taper off again, he decided to re-up with the Oakland A’s and actually pitched for Nashville’s AAA club called the Sounds.
In the country music department, the amount of emphasis on Christmas releases in 2016 has been nothing short of astounding, and maybe even historic. And I’m not just talking about “Rascal Flatts Sing The Chipmunks” or whatever crap that’s out there. Even independent artists and country legends have showered the country music listening public…
It’s always worth a chuckle when you hear someone say that country music must “evolve” to stay relevant, or hear an artist bellyache about how constricting country music is to their creativity. And then you put on a record like this and hear just how much a true artist can do with a simple message and melody, and three chords and the truth.
It should be no huge surprise that Travis Tritt’s ‘A Man and His Guitar’ is worth its muster. He’s been doing these acoustic shows for many years, and even at other shows involving the full band he’ll make sure to take some time in the set to do a few songs by himself. If anything, one may wonder why it’s taken so long for a release such as this to surface.
If Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie are remembered for nothing else in music, perhaps they’ll be notable as the sires of the musical progeny Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie, known collectively as Folk Uke. A unique project to say the least, you might be surprised to hear that the 2nd generation musicians have been making music together for nearly 20 years now.
Whether one may ultimately settle upon ‘The Weight of These Wings’ with a more positive or negative take, what is next to indisputable is that it is a significant release. ‘The Weight of These Wing’s is the symbolic entry of Miranda Lambert—the biggest female country star for the last six or so years—into the Americana/independent/east Nashville mindset