When it comes to top-tier releases in the country and roots realm, 2019 was a year like we’ve never seen before. Though it feels like we say that every year, 2019 truly was exceptional. The albums selected to be considered for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year are so elite, all of them should be considered the winners. All of them could, and likely would have won on previous years. As a matter of tradition, we’ll try to whittle it down to one. But make no mistake, all nominees deserve top commendation, with the ultimate winner being the country music fans who’ve been able to bask in such quality this year.
There have been as few as three, and as many as 10 nominees in a given year. This year, eight albums have pulled away from the rest to be considered for Album of the Year. Even then, it feels borderline criminal that multiple albums ended up on the bubble. These are albums that in previous years would have probably been considered major nominees. However, these albums and many more will be highlighted in Saving Country Music’s upcoming and more-expansive Essential Albums List that will be published near the end of the year. At the top of the list are always the “Most Essential” albums that should be considered right up there with the Album of the Year nominees as some of the best releases all year. Albums that are not nominees here, but still deserve your utmost consideration and attention are:
Erin Enderlin – Faulkner County
Jason Hawk Harris – Love & the Dark
Caroline Spence – Mint Condition
Michaela Anne – Desert Dove
Croy and the Boys – Howdy High-Rise
Tyler Childers- Country Squire
Shane Smith & the Saints – Hail Mary
Aaron Watson – Red Bandana
Yes, that means great titles like Country Squire by Tyler Childers didn’t even make it, though that is in no way a rebuke of the quality of that record as much as a sign of how tough the field of contenders was in 2019. Also of note: the executive decision was made to combine the two Cody Jinks releases The Wanting and After The Fire together, since they were released on successive weeks, and splitting them up would essentially make Cody Jinks compete against himself, while potentially pushing another important record out of the nominee list. Nonetheless, if you feel one Cody Jinks record is superior to another, don’t be afraid to pipe up with that opinion below.
As always, your feedback isn’t just requested, it will be considered in the final calculations of the eventual winner. So if you have an opinion, please leave it below in the comments section. However, this is not a straight up and down vote. Your opinion will count, but it will count even more if you put the effort out to convince all of us why one album deserves to be considered above the others. And please, no “You Forgot!” comments. You think something has been unfairly omitted? By all means utilize the comments section to inform us of the oversight, and please understand the upcoming Essential Albums list might include your favorites.
Ultimately this isn’t an effort to make music into a competition, and Saving Country Music is not an autocracy. The purpose of this annual exercise is to expand the knowledge base of great music that we all think is the year’s best for the benefit of everyone.
Without further ado, here are your 2019 nominees for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year.
Charlie Marie – Self-Titled
Fine gentlemen of country music, guard your hearts as you foray deep into the music of Charlie Marie, for the very real possibility of falling head over heels in love with this chanteuse is a clear and present concern when partaking in this incredible channeling of country music’s dulcet tones and classic styling. Ladies of country music, lose yourself in the astonishing pain and deeply personal stories that Charlie Marie spins in the timeless fashion of Patsy Cline, and in such an incredibly haunting manner you feel like you’ve fallen into an immersive suspension of 50’s country musical goodness.
All the people of country music, rejoice that despite all the woes about whatever is supposedly endangering the genre on a given day, in the hearts of gifted entertainers still lies such incredible passion and talent for this music, it has the ability to make the spine tingle, the heart swoon, and the mind spark with wonder and nostalgia like it did the first time you heard your first country song, and you knew it was the style of music that spoke to your soul most personally. Listening to Charlie Marie’s new self-titled EP is falling in love with country music all over again, reminding you why you got wrapped up in caring about this music in the first place, and finding yourself thankful for being alive in an era when an artist like this can still be discovered despite the oppressive media regime that disallows someone like Charlie Marie from being broadcast to the masses.
The old soul is rendered sated in the presence of Charlie Marie’s self-titled EP, with the only hope being that the future affords even more music from this brilliant, gifted, and compelling classic country music performer. (read full review)
Cody Jinks – The Wanting & After The Fire
Just as the current generation of true country fans looks back with envy at the era when artists like Willie, Waylon, Haggard and Jones were in their heyday, and fans of the 70’s reminisced back on the time when the likes of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, and Patsy Cline reigned supreme, so will future generations reflect back on the present day when a group of independent performers rallied together to mark an incredible year for country music, and Cody Jinks didn’t just release one career-level record, he released two of them in successive weeks that went on to challenge for #1 in the charts. And Jinks did it not as an independently-signed artist, but as an artist not signed to a record label at all.
During an era when we search for heroes and better alternatives, but the letdown and heartbreak you often feel as a true country music fan seems to linger around every corner, Cody Jinks has risen to become the artist who uncompromisingly delivers on the promises of his potential. In a period when it seems like performers are looking to make excuses of why they no longer want to be considered country, Cody holds firm to his roots, and disproves the notions you can’t be creative within country’s confines.
With The Wanting and After The Fire, Cody Jinks, his songwriting collaborators, and his musical accomplices in the Tonedeaf Hippies do what is very difficult in this crowded day and age of music, which is deliver a double dose of something that keeps you interested and engaged throughout, while also helping to define this era’s top offerings from artists who don’t believe country music is a limiting creative experience, but that it’s a timeless art form for sharing joys, drowning sorrows, and conveying troubles with others for collective commiseration and understanding. True country music is there for you, always, and so is the music of Cody Jinks. (read full review)
Chris Knight – Almost Daylight
Never has wisdom sounded so simple, and truth rung so true as it does in a Chris Knight song. In his sharp Kentucky accent and plainspoken language, this anti-star can impart learning on the level of the Dalai Lama if you listen. If you were worried he’d lose his fastball from waiting a full seven years since his last studio album, you misspent some grey hairs. Almost Daylight is just another Chris Knight record, which means a menu offering of meaningful songs that draw upon setting with severe cunning and insight, and establish character in a manner other major song smiths only wish they could master.
Chris Knight makes you realize things about the common struggles and simple pleasures of life that would have otherwise passed you by. He can turn the trite and obvious into moments of magic and epiphany that reset your entire perspective on the world, all while relying on the most colloquial of vocabulary as his medium. An entire catalog of self-help material can’t help motivate and embolden your worn down spirit as much as the message in his song “Go On.” This hole we’ve dug for ourselves with all this left and right stuff is so deep we can’t even see over the edge to the eternal truths of life, but Chris Knight’s “The Damn Truth” brings it all back into perspective for everyone.
It’s uncanny how Chris Knight takes such simple notions, and turns them into exaltations for the common man, their common struggles, and imparts solutions to everyday dilemmas. He’s the headwaters of erudite knowledge served in plainspoken terms that all other country songwriters seek. Almost Daylight is a roadmap to find them; a textbook into their truths. But even the most studious will still be pupils, while Chris Knight proves once again he’s the master. (read full review)
Mike and the Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
If this all had played out like it should have, The Moonpies would have mashed down on the accelerator with a new record and released something with even more hard charging honky tonk country songs to fuel new their intense live shows for the next year or so, and sent this thing into the everloving stratosphere. And so what do they do? They fly to London to record an album of mostly understated and nuanced material at Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony. Risky? You bet. Out of left field? No doubt. Bold? To put it mildly. Successful? Speaking to anyone who has heard it, the answer would be most resoundingly “yes.”
The Moonpies navigated themselves out of their comfort zone on purpose, wrote and recorded a record taking a holistic approach to everything involved in it, and worked without a net. Where many bands and artists probably think, “Shit, wouldn’t it be cool to fly to Europe and record at Abbey Road?” Mike and the Moonpies actually did it. They called their own bluff like many of us wish we had the guts to do.
One thing it’s easy to settle upon when listening to Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold is that Mike and the Moonpies are one of the most interesting and unexpected bands in all of country music at the moment. And their efforts should not just be resigned to the Austin honky tonk mindset. From London and all the parts in between, Mike and the Moonpies should be considered on of the preeminent projects in all of country music, and so should Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold. (read full review)
Emily Scott Robinson – Traveling Mercies
With stunning insight, masterful use of character and setting, and tastefully sparse but complete and fulfilling arrangements, a journey through Traveling Mercies makes you a changed human with lessons learned, perspectives expanded, and moments cherished, not dissimilar to the experience of taking a long road trip across the country following a loose itinerary of friends to visit and places to see.
A travel record at heart, with stories that enchant your perspective similar to the heightened senses that speeding down the highway and taking in new scenery imparts, songs like “Westward Bound” and “White Hot Country Mess” make for enjoyable listens. But this is just the canvas that Emily Scott Robinson stretches taut to create space for her most brilliant master strokes of expression, including in moments where her songwriting becomes so cutting, cunning, poignant, and resonant, it’s only fair to characterize it as authoritative in quality.
Not dissimilar to how you often recall your most warmest or touching memories in quiet moments of reflection, an open heart will entrust similar moments to pondering the stories of Traveling Mercies. Because in an era full of noise and ever-present distraction and priority, this is an album worth slowing down for, reflecting upon, and cherishing fondly. (read full review)
Ian Noe – Between The Country
On Between The Country, people die, and the light of the world is clouded out by the gloom of hard times, broken hearts, and unsettled minds. The American dream is forgotten in the forlorn struggle for everyday survival, where death isn’t always regarded as a catastrophic outcome, but is sometimes seen as sweet relief from earthly burden, and one marks themselves fortunate if they even receive a proper grave or a marker upon it when the Master calls. There’s no mistaking that the moribund pall that hangs over some of the hills and valleys of some of Kentucky’s most depressed regions fuel such harrowing accounts of life and death, whether it takes shape as a murder ballad similar to those in the historical past, or an account of meth addiction that’s all too real today.
But there’s also a strange comfort to Ian Noe’s music, with the stories of tough times and tragic characters resetting one’s perspective on many of the silly concerns of much of modern life, while the arcane nature of these songs offers a warmth and familiarity amid the constant march of progress. Ian Noe’s own story is just now beginning to take shape. But the promise and excitement he sows in the ten songs of Between The Country is something that’s inescapable. (read full review)
Charles Wesley Godwin – Seneca
When you hear an artist like Charles Wesley Godwin sing, there is no need to power cycle your sense of disbelief. The sinewy roots of West Virginia’s hardscrabble existence seem to be intertwined with Godwin’s synapses and muscle tissue, almost as if he’s a construct of the land itself, like a scrub tree clinging to life on the ridge side of an especially steep holler.
Seneca is the name of this project, as well as a 20-mile creek that feeds into the Potomac in Pendleton County. And though you may want to stop short of calling it concept record, Seneca certainly encapsulates the West Virginia experience in a capacity where all the songs work greater than the sum of their parts, and impart both a love and history of the region along economic, geographic, familial, and romantic lines for Godwin personally. It is a love letter to West Virginia and the bloodlines from whence he came, and that sense of everlasting love and appreciation is something everyone can relate to, regardless of the setting of their own personal stories.
Just like Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, and others from the depressed regions of Kentucky and West Virginia who took those inspirations to large crowds across the country, Charles Wesley Godwin’s stories are forged through the authenticity of a local experience, but are worthy of being enjoyed by a national and international audience. (read full review)
The Steel Woods – Old News
The Steel Woods have arrived ladies and gentlemen, and with them a whole new legacy of Southern rock to enjoy in the present tense, and look forward to for the foreseeable future. The band’s first album Straw in the Wind smartly took the Southern rock template, modernized it, and put a signature stamp on it by bringing a metal attitude to the music, and texturing the songs with dark chords and themes that could chill you to the bone. But you also got these sense that this was a project still trying to find its footing and could have used a little variety. It was manned by accomplished artists from other projects moving forward with a solid concept, but they were still feeling themselves and each other out, and interested to see how their unique brew of music might be received by the public.
With Old News, they lay it all to bear, leave nothing to chance, throw out their best shots, and scream for rightful consideration right beside bands like Blackberry Smoke and Whiskey Myers as the best Southern Rock the here and now has to offer. 15 tracks go from pure Southern rock, to stripped down country, to country metal hybrids, and a bunch of covers that are hard to quit hitting repeat on, and that all come together for what will go down as a career-defining record.
This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill sophomore release from an up-and-coming band. The Steel Woods set out to press a Southern Rock opus with Old News, and though it’s always prudent to sit on such lofty proclamations until time has made its own determinations on an effort, this record is certainly a candidate for such an “opus” distinction. (read full review)