Saving Country Music’s Best Albums of 2014 So Far
2014 so far has been an interesting year for album releases for sure. Some names we were hoping big things from like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Eady delivered in big ways. Other dark horse names we’d never heard of like Karen Jonas came out of the woodwork to stun. Some names like Don Williams and Charlie Parr put out surprising albums that have to be considered high water marks of their career. And once again the women have put on a strong showing.
PLEASE NOTE: This list only includes albums that have already been reviewed by Saving Country Music. There are many other excellent albums sitting in the review que. No order to the list below was intended or should be implied, aside from the first ten highlighted albums below should all be considered strong candidates for Saving Country Music’s “Album of the Year” consideration in six months, though any of the albums listed come highly recommended, and could rise through time to become a contender. Time, as always, is the greatest judge of music. And please feel free to leave your opinions and suggestions about what the best albums of 2013 so far are down below.
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
Destined to be unfortunately overlooked by country fans because of its folky exterior, Stay Gold is nonetheless a powerhouse performance that only gets better with more spins, and should be considered a serious candidate for Album of the Year in 2014.
“‘Stay Gold’ captures First Aid Kit fearlessly unburdening their fears, confiding in the listener very personal matters of self-doubt and worry that are exacerbated by a world of constant change, endless travel, and the inherent travails of navigating life as a young woman amongst prying eyes and directionless paths. The honesty in the songwriting, and the sentiment that bleeds over demarcation lines of gender or situation to find sympathetic ears with most who have the patience and disposition to listen make Stay Gold a songwriting feat before any discussion is broached about the music itself.
“And when talking about the music, Johanna and Klara Söderberg put on a melody-crafting clinic, endowing ‘Stay Gold’ with one rich, fulfilling composition after another full of soaring, frothy vocal exhibitions that run circles around the modern age’s garden variety mainstream singers. One of the reasons First Aid Kit can concoct such astounding melodies and match them so well with story is because their range and adeptness allows them a vocal pasture much wider that most have access to.” (read full review)
Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery
The ultimate dark horse in a year of dark horses, Karen Jonas positively stuns and screams for wider attention.
“Karen Jonas, whether she knew it or not, heeded the advice of the great Ray Wylie Hubbard to all songwriters: don’t just listen to ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. How do we know this? It’s not just from the wisdom interwoven in the lyrics, it’s from the amount of pain Ms. Jonas is able to capture in her performance. This isn’t just an inflected interpretation, but the very evocation through herself of the troubled ghosts of the story not just wrapping herself in their clothes, but walking a mile in their shoes, and then conveying the pain she knows they felt from the aching of her own blisters.
Similar to how the settlers of Oklahoma toiled at the yoke without a thought of rest, Karen Jonas, after putting her pair of young children to bed every night, tip toes to the other side of the house, takes the guitar in hand, and digs, hoping to unearth the riches of song. And lucky for her and the rest of us, the ground that she tilled ended up to be quite fertile, and the result a verdant display of artistic release.
If music was a lottery, then Karen Jonas hit big. But this is no fortune to be chocked up to sheer luck. The toil, the heart that Karen Jonas put into this music and this record is eminently palpable. And it is not just the result of talent, but talent honed and refined through cutting self-criticism, study, discipline, and work.” (read full review)
Don Williams – Reflections
Folks, don’t fool yourself into thinking this is here from sympathy or from some other gaming of the system. Don Williams has put out a towering album with a great feeling and a thematic vision, and deserves the highest of praise.
“‘Reflections’ is much more than just the easy listening country it may appear to be on the surface. It’s an album with a message, and leads by example. Instead of whining about the state of country music, it does something about it.
The laid back, gentle-of-mind ease drips from this album like the sweetness of sun-drenched dew. Sometimes it’s simply implied, and other times it’s directly spoken, like in the appreciative and well-written ‘Working Man’s Son’ or the song that ties the entire theme of ‘Reflections’ together, ‘Back To The Simple Things’. Enough can’t be said either about the Townes cover ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’. Like when Willie and Merle took ‘Pancho & Lefty’ to another level, Don Williams’ touch on this song immortalized it, and in a different time it would have been a super hit.
“‘Reflections is the album we needed right here, right now. Not just from the perspective of saving country music, but the perspective of saving ourselves from the overwhelming onslaught of ensnaring technologies that rob the preciousness from life.” (read full review)
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Make no assumptions that this is the runaway Album of the Year. We still have six months to got, it faces strong competition, and Saving Country Music founds a few warts with this album. Still without question, Metamodern Sounds is a clear frontrunner.
“With ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’, Sturgill Simpson doesn’t just capture our ears, he captures our imaginations. However misguided the notion is, most every disenfranchised country music fan harbors the idea that at some point some true country artist is going to come along that is so good, it is going to tip the scales back in the right direction. What ‘Metamodern Sounds’ does is it gives the true country music listener hope beyond the happiness the music conveys. It resolves that ever-present conflict between sticking to the traditional sound, but progressing forward.
It’s not time yet to be making comparisons to ‘Red Headed Stranger’, or even to ‘Phases & Stages’. But Sturgill Simpson, and Sturgill Simpson alone, defines the pinnacle, and what is relevant in the here and now of independent country music. And he’s done it from the sheer strength of this album.” (read full review)
Charlie Parr – Hollandale
It’s going to be a little to fey for many ears, but Hollandale is a brilliant, musical masterpiece.
“‘Hollandale’ is like nothing you’ve heard, from Charlie Parr or anyone else, at least not like anything you’ve heard for a very, very long time, and with this amount of body and clarity behind the recording itself. Whatever you were expecting from this album, you are probably wrong, and in its stead you get an in-depth exploration into what it means to be alive, to be human, to feel pain and to yearn and reflect, without a single word being spoken on the entire work.
“‘Hollandale’ is a victorious moment for Charlie Parr, and shouldn’t just make it into your home’s music collection, but is one of those works you could hear being secured in the Smithsonian’s archives of important American instrumental music works. Charlie Parr has set the bar of creativity and originality that all folk, blues, and country musicians will be measured against throughout 2014 and beyond, and did what every musician would love to do 12 releases into their musical journey: make an impact larger than themselves.” (read full review)
Matt Woods- With Love From Brushy Mountain
A dark horse that is one of the most well-rounded albums released so far this year. Don’t overlook this one.
“‘Brushy Mountain’ is as complete of a country album as you will find, with excellent songwriting throughout, a great sound that is country at heart, but with sprouts of rock & roll that endow the project with spice and originality, and there’s something for every mood here. In other words, it lived up to the expectations of ‘Deadman’s Blues’, and even adds a few more exceptional song offerings that downright rival that song’s indelible impact.
“Matt Woods is no fluke, no one trick pony. Not even close. He’s a force of songwriting nature who can match his stories with inspired performances.” (read full review)
John Fullbright – Songs
When it comes to songwriting performances so far John Fullbright sits atop the mountain, and it will be hard to push him off.
“If you see someone roll up in a rig with Oklahoma license plates claiming to be a songwriter, you’d be smart to pay a little bit closer attention these days. whatever the chemistry is, Oklahoma is hatching one landmark songwriter after another. And not one songwriter in Oklahoma or anywhere else may loom as large at the moment as the fresh-faced farm boy originally from Bearden, Oklahoma named John Fullbright.
“For a 26-year-old who must feel the pressure of fulfilling the expectations his first album set, Fullbright is positively fearless in “Songs”. This is a songwriter’s album, and songwriters and people who study the craft and have patient, attentive ears will be singing the praises of this album for the rest of the year and beyond.” (read full review)
Zoe Muth – World of Strangers
“Take a Pacific Northwest songwriting gem and refine her with the finest of care by some of Austin, TX’s best master craftsmen, and the result is the 3rd and defining studio album from Seattle-based songbird Zoe Muth called ‘World of Strangers’. They call Zoe Muth the “Emmylou Harris of Seattle”. Then maybe Emmylou Harris is the Zoe Muth of the rest of the world. Either way, Emmylou is fair company for comparison to Muth as a way to express the measures of country, folk, and Americana Muth purposes for her music, and for the positive, and sometimes haunting way the music resonates with an audience. Ranging from downright alcohol-soaked honky-tonk to spatial spiderwebs of subtly and string sections, Zoe Muth and World of Strangers dazzle with range and adeptness at capturing the mood present at the genesis of a song.
“Like the faces of children, each song on World of Strangers has something hard not to be endeared to.” (read full review)
Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark
“If you were asked to populate a list of current country music artists that with no frills and no variations lay down country music as country music was meant to be, Jason Eady would very have to be at or near the top of your list. And if you found yourself beset on all sides by ravenous legions of flesh-eating pop country music fans whose only bane was the authentic sound of true country music being blared in their general direction, Daylight & Dark just might be your ideal go to to win your ultimate escape.
As a followup to Jason Eady’s 2012, critically-acclaimed country offering ‘AM Country Heaven’, here comes a new one that picks up right where the old one left off, unflinchingly immersed in the traditions of country music, taking aim and hitting the bulls-eye at the heart of what country music truly is.
Sure, when you get this deep into the essence of true country music, you’re going to leave some folks behind. But ‘Daylight & Dark’ isn’t for them, it’s for the folks that were left behind by what they now call country music many years ago.” (read full review)
Joseph Huber – The Hanging Road
“Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Huber started out as one of the founding members of the formidable .357 String Band from Milwaukee, WI from which three stellar albums emanated between 2006 and 2010 before foundering under the weight of its own talent and forming the basis of three very earworthy solo projects from its respective members. Huber was known for his breakneck banjo and as one of the primary songwriters for the project, but when he went the solo route, suddenly his deftness as a composer shined through with such blinding insight and poetry, he abruptly elevated himself from a superstar picker with some cool songs to something worthy of great acclaim.
“The now married Huber who also spends his time as a woodworker in Milwaukee is one of those country roots gems with potent tunes that impact the open heart with such resonance and penetration, it remains with the listener much after the music stops. ‘The Hanging Road’ is an exposition of Huber’s multi-talented musical skill set, engaging and vibrant, yet humble and rootsy as he takes his country, folk, bluegrass and blues influences into heavy account.” (read more)
More 2014 Top Albums So Far:
- Ags Connolly – How About Now (read full review)
- Willie Watson – Folk Singer Vol. 1 – Very strong album (read full review)
- John Howie Jr. – Everything Except Goodbye – EXCELLENT pure country album (read full review)
- Moot Davis – Goin’ In Hot – Another one you can’t overlook (read full review)
- Dierks Bentley – Riser – Best mainstream album so far? (read full review)
- Doug Strahan – Coal Black Dreams & Late Night Schemes – Best produced (read full review)
- Hellbound Glory – LV ep – (read interview)
- Red Eye Gravy – Dust Bowl Hangover (read full review)
- The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down (read full review)
- The Ben Davenport Band – Slow Start (read full review)
- Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits – A great one (read full review)
- Revered Horton Heat – Rev (read full review)
- Nikki Lane – All or Nothin’ (read full review)
- Bobby Joe Owens – Liquor, Love & Laughter (read full review)
- Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread – One of the best Americana offerings (read full review)
- Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else – A lot of people love this one. (read full review)
- Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Live At Billy Bob’s Texas (read full review)
- Bob Wayne – Back to the Camper – (read interview)
- Whiskey Myers – Early Morning Shakes – Good Southern rock (read full review)
- Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars (read full review)
- The Urban Pioneers – Addicted to the Road – This is a fun one (read full review)
- Robert Ellis – The Lights From The Chemical Plant (read full review)
- Hank Williams – The Garden Spot Programs (read full review)
- Beck – Morning Phase (read full review)
- Scott H. Biram – Nothin’ But Blood (read full review)
- Left Lane Cruiser – Slingshot (read full review)
- Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line (read full review)
- Sundy Best – Bring Up The Sun (read full review)
- Dex Romweber Duo – Images 13 (review pending)
- Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke (review pending)
- Hurry For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes (review pending)
June 16, 2014 @ 9:57 am
I’ve got my homework cut out for me Trigger . Thanks for this list . I’ve listened to a few of these records and yes …very much worth the attention of any serious roots/country fan . In particular the Don Williams record ( and his release from last year ” And So It Goes ” ) . You couldn’t have described it more eloquently . Don’s current work is RICH with lyric for anyone and everyone who isn’t a 17 year old female country music fan. The voice is mesmerizing , as its always been , the lyrics and arrangements hang together like they should ….consistent in mood and in the wisdom of their observations
and never leave any question this is a COUNTRY album . There is a surprising freshness in the traditional sound of Williams’ new record but this is not territory he isn’t familiar with . Don has always found songs that say the most with the least effort lyrically . This new collection does exactly that once more but with the inclusion of a lifetime’s worth of wisdom and palpable conviction in his observations. Certainly THIS as much as any other factor is what defines and sets country music apart from other genres : the believability factor…the honesty with which a theme , a story or a performance is delivered and the emotional response it elicits .
June 16, 2014 @ 10:54 am
I feel liker with older artists, we tend to get into a listening pattern where it’s like “Okay, I love this guy, so I’ll buy the album and tap my foot along to the music.” But what Don Williams did here I truly think is something very special, and very relevant with this album. I truly regard it as an “Album of the Year” candidate.
June 16, 2014 @ 9:59 am
Great list, Trigger. I did my list over the weekend and is coming out tomorrow, although it isn’t nearly as extensive as this one. I’ll be shocked if another album tops Sturgill Simpson’s album. Two albums I’m looking forward to releasing soon are Lee Ann Womack and Blackhawk’s new albums. Both of their singles from their albums were great and I hope they’re indications of the quality of their albums.
June 16, 2014 @ 4:18 pm
I was so happy to hear new music from Blackhawk! That really took me back. They sound great and I’m looking forward to the album. Weird how they used to be so popular, and now they’re like the opposite of what you hear on the radio. 🙁
I need to check out some of these artists, since the only one I’m familiar with is Don Williams lol. My tastes generally run to the more commercial stuff, which these days means I listen to the commercial stuff from 20 years ago cause it’s mostly unlistenable now. Guess it’s time to look a little deeper.
June 16, 2014 @ 9:59 am
Good list. “Daylight & Dark” has been an absolute favorite of mine since it came out. Some omissions (Maybe you just haven’t listened/reviewed them yet) that deserve recognition is Robert Ellis “Lights From The Chemical Plant” Jeremy Steding “My Own American Dream” Kelly & Bruce “Our Year” Matt Hillyer “If These Old Bones Could Talk” and Will Kimbrough “Sideshow Love” Keep up with the great reviews and promotion of true country. I look forward to reading the stories on SCM.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:46 am
Robert Ellis is on the list (no worries, lots of names here), and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are high in the review cue. Will have to check out the others. Can’t go wrong with Will Kimbrough.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:01 am
Yeah, not a lot here that surprised me all that much – I’d probably swap out Sundy Best for Matt Woods, but that’s just me.
I am a little surprised you consider Dierks Bentley’s ‘Riser’ as one of the best mainstream country records of the year, especially considering Eric Paslay’s self-titled release which was a real dark horse candidate for me in melodic composition and songwriting – probably will end up as one of my favourite records of the year. And of course, I’d give huge props to Lucy Hale as well for her debut album ‘Road Between’, but that’s probably a little too pop in composition for you, even though I’d make the argument the songwriting redeems it.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:51 am
What I meant by “mainstream” is an artist that regularly receives radio play, plays arenas, etc. Will probably get around to reviewing Eric Paslay eventually.
To me, Sundy Best needs to decide if they are fish or fowl. Are they a party band, or a singer/songwriter duo? I felt this from their album, and seeing them live solidified that concern. There’s some real good songs there, but when you chase them with pop medly’s, you’re going to turn off the same crowd you’re appealing to.
June 17, 2014 @ 6:28 pm
Really great list. I was quite a bit let down by Dierks’ album, but understand why it’s included. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on Jon Pardi’s album “Write You A Song” at some point, as far as mainstream goes. It hasn’t had much radio play aside from the single “Up All Night” (worst song on the album IMO), but it’s a strong, fun album if you ask me, especially as commercial country goes.
November 26, 2014 @ 1:44 am
I agree. Would love to see trigger review this album. Really enjoy the songs “Love you from here” and “that man.” Pretty good for a mainstream artist
June 16, 2014 @ 10:11 am
The one record that I keep going back to is Daylight and Dark. Can’t go a week without listening to it, pretty much every song is relatable.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:32 am
Glad to see that I’m not the only one that can’t stop playing Daylight & Dark. Despite listening to a lot of CDs in the interim, I keep coming back to Eady and Lydia Loveless’ Somewhere Else.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:24 am
I’m really enjoying the Sturgill Simpson record and I’m pretty fond of the Whiskey Myers also(which I bought upon this site’s recommendation)….haven’t heard the First Aid Kit record yet, but I own all of their other albums and love them….pretty sure I’ll dig the new one…
June 16, 2014 @ 10:25 am
So many albums I still need to check out so far this year. Especially the Karen Jonas album, I have read and heard so much good stuff about her.
June 16, 2014 @ 11:01 am
Not a bad year for music so far, all things considered. 🙂
Among my personal faves:
Rodney Crowell, ‘Tarpaper Sky’
Rosanne Cash, ‘The River and the Thread’
Hurray for the Riff Raff, ‘Small Town Heroes’
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, ‘Our Year’
Laura Cantrell, ‘No Way There from Here’
Carlene Carter, ‘Carter Girl’
Suzy Bogguss, ‘Lucky’
Lake Street Dive, ‘Bad Self Portraits’
June 16, 2014 @ 11:06 am
What!!!! No Outsiders by Eric Church or BG’s new album!!! You people don’t know squat!!! Y’all just a bunch of old farts and jackasses bahahahaha
June 16, 2014 @ 11:46 am
(Gentle tap on hands with rolled up newspaper.)
(In soft, yet firm voice.)
June 16, 2014 @ 2:47 pm
Whew! Thanks Charlie I needed that haha.
June 16, 2014 @ 11:54 am
My vote is for Don Williams, no question. It’s hard to put a meter on how much I love and respect Reflections and the man for putting it out. Those ten songs, covers or not, were so heartfelt and wonderfully presented that it was enough to change me from a doubter and indifferent listener to a full blown Don Williams fan. I even tracked down And So It Goes to add to the collection and was equally impressed with that work, even if I still like the former better. There’s a beauty to these two albums that only someone like Don, who has been through the ringer and done his share of time on the earth, could muster. I like these songs infinitely more than anything else the man put out during his younger years. There’s less sappy balladry and more of a philosophical bent, which is infinitely more effective and downright powerful. My personal bias against his older work still remains, but Reflections was so surprising that I went back and decided to give his older work another chance and came out on the other side a fan of that as well (though, as stated, to a lesser extent and with caveats). At times in the past, I’ve wondered if I like “real” country music given who my favorites are and their reputations in some circles, but Don confirmed it for me. Thanks again for covering the album here, Trigger!
June 16, 2014 @ 3:38 pm
Speaking of Don’s older work, I’ve noticed that like a lot of country singers, for most of the CD era, the only Don Williams music that has been available on CD is his greatest hits. The Essential Don Williams, The Definitive Don Williams, and so on. But in the last couple of years, two British record labels, Hux and BGO, have started reissuing his old LPs on CD, with two or three albums included per CD package. I highly recommend checking the old albums out. “Expressions” is probably my favorite one so far. I just think Don Williams has one of the finest song catalogs in classic country music. Besides the hit songs, of which there are many, these old albums are chock full of quality songs that easily *could* have been hits. And the warm 70’s analog production on the old albums sounds glorious.
So much classic country music is so underrated in our culture, and it seems like some artists completely fall through the cracks. In Don Williams’ case, when publications like Rolling Stone or even Saving Country Music do a list of the Greatest Country Songs of all time, not a single Don Williams song is included. Fortunately, I think his late career resurgence as a recording artist is helping to keep his name visible, and hopefully that will lead to more people checking out his older recordings too.
June 17, 2014 @ 2:47 pm
You’re right about older country getting the shaft when it comes to reissues. I don’t think a single one of Jerry Reed’s studio albums are available on a modern format (though there’s certainly a cavalcade of compilations). That said, I think it’s simply the nature of the beast for country music. Country, as we all know, is much more geared towards the radio and singles than say, rock, which became very album-based in the late ’60s and ’70s. With that, many rock artist’s “essential” work is on many of these albums and thus are reissued, whereas a compilation or two typically does a country artist’s popular songs justice. In addition, despite however one may feel about the idea, many older country artists simply released albums too often. Yes, modern country artists waiting four years between releases and then only issuing the same album as a “deluxe” edition with three new tracks is a load of B.S., but the opposite extreme is putting one out every year (sometimes more than one a year, as many legacy acts did in their prime). I love buying whole albums for my collection almost as much as I love listening to them, but as a college student in his early 20s, thirty to fifty albums of work from a singular artist is simply too much money and time to invest. I know that many readers (as well as Trigger) and others abroad hate compilations, but with discographies this expansive the game changes from convenient to downright necessary. I have Don’s 2007 double disc release called Gold (not to be confused with his debut), which was originally released in 2000 under the moniker of Anthology. It has forty of Williams’ best known singles and hits and serves my listening purposes nicely. Unfortunately, when taking all of this in, it puts me into a corner. I don’t have the money nor the time to sift through Don’s career, however much I might or might not want to. In addition, there really isn’t any other way that I could experience them without buying them, since they’re not on any streaming services (or at least they weren’t the last time I checked). Another artist I love very much but consider to be in the same boat is Johnny Paycheck. I’m a huge fan of his music but it just isn’t economical for me to seek out his individual albums (many of which aren’t even available anymore) when I can just listen to the two thirty song compilations I own.
On another note, the few times that I have binge purchased and listened to certain legacy artists, I wasn’t overly impressed. Sure, one does not speak for the whole pack, but in my own personal but admittedly limited experience with artists that release albums almost every year, I find the filler-to-killer songs ratio to be much more weighted towards the lesser half of the scale. Sometimes putting time between releases helps the artist to compile their best work. On another note, it’s been stated but not confirmed by various artists that record labels tend to issue filler on albums and spread the golden tracks across multiple releases. Given that this trend was probably more prevalent in the golden age of album sales as opposed to the age of iTunes and illegal downloads, I rest my case. Also, in the specific case of Don Williams, I’d probably have to pass just on principle. I like his older work, but there’s an element to the material that I’ve heard that still just doesn’t click with me. Part of the reason I enjoyed And So It Goes and Reflections so much is because they were coming from someone with a type of charisma and atmosphere that only comes from being Don’s age and in the twilight of your career. Even the titles say it all: he’s looking back, not forward as he was in his prime. He made these two albums simply and purely because he wanted to, not to pay the bills. I just don’t think I’d have the same appreciation for his older work no matter how good it is because it would naturally lack these elements that are intrinsic to his later work.
And please don’t take my dissertation as anything resembling criticism or negativity; I genuinely appreciate your response to my comment and suggestion, I just don’t think it’s in the cards for me at the moment. Perhaps you could suggest specific songs that you’re thinking that I could find on YouTube or something as opposed to albums?
As for Don and others falling through the cracks, you’re completely right. As has been covered here and elsewhere, a lot of legacy artists (particularly in country) aren’t treated with the respect they deserve. Once you quit making hits, your career is essentially done by most record labels’ points of view (unless you happen to pull strong numbers in album sales, like Willie, but that’s of course the exception to the rule). Classic country and country/southern living in general are all underrated and downright reviled in too many circles. I’m not really a country boy myself but I consider myself to be country-inclined and I personally love the culture. It irritates the heck out of me when people act like it’s an ignorant or petty lifestyle (not that I myself am above taking good-natured pot shots at it every now and then). As for Don not typically being included in pools of the “greatest” country has to offer, I think that’s because he’s so passive. His music is always pleasant but also never offensive nor controversial, which keeps him in the “safe” category of music, which is typically light on praise. Plus, most of his popular songs are simply love ballads, which get to be a bit faceless in a whole sea of them, so I be that’s why he doesn’t usually come up in such discussions. He never really pushed the envelope in any substantial way; he was perfectly content to reside within it and he became a master at it. As for analog, I myself am not an audiophile; I prefer CDs to vinyl and rip uncompressed files to my computer, but that’s about as far as my preference goes. The Loudness War is annoying, but after having researched the two formats I personally find CDs to be the better option for versatility and sound. Even if it’s too loud a lot of the time, it has been mathematically stated that vinyls have only about half of the dynamic range capability of a CD (ironically this is the reason they’re typically free from the Loudness War, go figure) and that CDs almost always reproduce a recording closer to how it sounded in the studio than a vinyl. With all of this and my personal ignorance of sound in mind, I really don’t think I have the capacity to appreciate a recording simply because it’s analog, but I appreciate the information nonetheless. On another note, I don’t really want to gather an appreciation of the format because if I start hearing the difference and think it’s better, I’ll suddenly be irritated with a lot of the music I currently enjoy. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. 🙂
June 17, 2014 @ 5:50 pm
Hey, thanks for the reply to my comment. I should have specified that I meant my recommendation of classic Don Williams albums for anybody that might be reading, not just you in particular. I thought Don Williams fans might not be aware of the reissues, since they were released overseas labels with little publicity. (I didn’t know they existed until recently.) Your comment about Don just reminded me to mention them. For a casual listeners of Don’s early work, I would say the Gold compilation is an excellent choice.
Also, I agree that many country artists’ careers are more oriented towards singles than albums, and I would actually consider Don Williams to be one of these. I just think he has a lot of quality songs that don’t make it onto greatest hits collections, which is why the album reissues are nice thing for big fans. Personally, I do think compilations can be the best representation of certain artists’ careers. For example, George Strait is mostly a singles artist, and the box set “Strait Out of the Box” is a great summary of Strait’s career up through the mid nineties, when it was released. Maybe that’s what some label should release for Don Williams: a box set that compiles great songs from his many albums, but is more comprehensive than a “greatest hits.”
Also, when I mentioned analog sound, I was referring to the way Don’s old albums were recorded. As I’m sure you know, music back in the 70’s and 80’s was recorded on tape rather than digitally, which gave it more of a warm sound which I happen to enjoy, that’s all.
By the way, I’m glad you’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of Don’s most recent albums.
June 18, 2014 @ 3:14 pm
I would like to add that I appreciated your comment and agreed with many of the points you made. What I was trying to say was, I wouldn’t expect you or anyone else to shell out a boatload of cash to buy a bunch of old albums of an artist of which you are more of just a casual fan. Trust me, I know music is expensive! (Especially for a college kid I’m sure.) Also, kudos to you for going the legal route in acquiring your music. There are a lot of people around your age who would just fire up the ol’ Bit torrent and steal some artist’s entire discography, which is lame considering there are so many legal alternatives these days. Also, I concur that some people go a little overboard with the vinyl worship. (And records are pretty expensive too.)
I agree that Don Williams probably falls through the cracks because he didn’t draw attention to himself, didn’t “push boundaries,” and wasn’t associated with the infamous outlaw movement. But I think (and you might agree) that there’s a place in this world for artists who consistently make finely-crafted, solid music, even if they don’t have a flashy style. If anything I would say that there are plenty of rock and pop artists who don’t have anywhere near the amount of good songs that a guy like Don Williams has who are better known and receive more critical attention than he does. (This is true of many country artists, not just Don.) I personally believe this is due to a general stigma against country music, which is a real shame.
June 16, 2014 @ 12:53 pm
James House – Broken Glass, Twisted Steel
Hear the first single “Every Time It Rains”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW0RDPJZXy8
June 16, 2014 @ 1:25 pm
As shown by the number of review up there,
You’re a one man music blog army. Your output/quality is amazing.
Gave your site name to my daughter and son in law, who are always looking for new country music, and weren’t aware of scm.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:52 pm
I appreciate the kudos Mark. It’s a little bit funny to me because in certain circles you will find plenty of people to tell you Saving Country Music no longer supports music, doesn’t talk about independent and underground bands anymore, and just talks about pop country. The simple fact is every year since I started this site, I’ve reviewed more albums than the year before. That doesn’t mean people always read them or see them because of the way Facebook’s algorithm is set up and other factors, but I am spending more time listening and reviewing music than ever, and this list doesn’t include the multiple vintage album reviews which I’ve started trying to do more of again, or the song reviews I’ve done, or the negative reviews I’ve written. Saving Country Music is steadfastly committed to being about the music first. Sometimes that truth gets buried because bigger articles get the lions share of the attention. But if you look beyond the popular stories, the music coverage is still the foundation, and always will be.
June 16, 2014 @ 2:43 pm
I haven’t heard all the mentioned albums.. yet.
My list currently includes Lydia Loveless (top contender), Sturgill Simpson, Drive-By Truckers, Jason Eady, Karen Jonas, John Fullbright and Robert Ellis.
June 16, 2014 @ 3:47 pm
I think that Write You A Song by Jon Pardi should be listed as a favorite among mainstream artists. I’d like to see him break through because he still has a traditional Bakersfield sound and writes his own stuff.
June 16, 2014 @ 3:50 pm
Good list, I will have to check out some more of these. But some of my favorites were: Don Williams, Jason Eady, Sturgill Simpson and Jackson Taylor albums.
June 16, 2014 @ 3:57 pm
Great list. I’ll have to give a couple albums another spin (First Aid Kit and Karen Jonas). I’m not sure how I missed your Joeph Huber review, but I’ll have to give that a listen.
Here’s my top ten in order:
1. Sturgill Simpson – “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”
2. Joe Purdy – “Eagle Rock Fire”
3. Jason Eady – “Daylight & Dark”
4. Bob Wayne – “Back to the Camper”
5. Scott H. Biram – “Nothin’ But Blood”
6. Drive-By Truckers – “English Oceans”
7. Old 97’s – “Most Messed Up”
8. Parker Millsap – “Parker Millsap”
9. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Small Town Heroes”
10. Left Lane Cruiser – “Slingshot”
So unrelated but kinda related, I received an email notification today that Sturgill Simpson is playing in my area (Pittsburgh). I researched it and sadly he’s opening for the Zac Brown Band. So, I’m guessing he’s touring with ZBB? I really want to see him, but not in that setting.
June 16, 2014 @ 4:23 pm
I believe Sturgill is only opening for Zac Brown for two dates. It’s not like he’s an opener on the tour or anything.
Aside from a few longer runs here and there, Sturill has mostly been hopping from one show opportunity to another, as opposed to a more traditional tour schedule where a band gets in the van for 6 weeks and drives from one club to another. Though this type of scheduling can be grueling, it can also be the best way of taking advantage of opportunities to get in front of new and bigger crowds. Eventually I expect to see Sturgill get some opportunities on some much bigger tours before maybe graduating to the theater circuit like Jason Isbell for example. But until then, we’re probably going to see a continuing of his hodge podge touring. Also, his wife either is about to, or just had a baby, so he’s not in the best position to be gone for long periods.
June 16, 2014 @ 8:31 pm
I don’t understand this mentality. And I’m not picking on you, I’ve heard it many times before, but I really don’t understand it.
I’m the kind of person that wants everyone to hear my favorite band/artist. I want my favorites to succeed. Though it may not make sense as a bill, I’m glad to see my favorites get exposure to a wider audience.
Personal preference be damned, I’m happy to see them get their music out to an audience that otherwise may never hear them.
Trig has said it here before, Halestorm opening for Eric Church on select dates is HUGE for Halestorm. Sturgill Simpson opening for Zac Brown is HUGE for Simpson.
Look at it as a win for your preferred artist/band. Would you prefer to see them in a smaller venue/more intimate setting? Of course. But look at it in the macro and not the micro.
June 16, 2014 @ 9:57 pm
Oh, yeah! If Sturgill got 200 new fans by doing this one show, by all means .. do it! I want Sturgill to be profitable at making music for a long, long time.
My comment wasn’t the disappointment of his billing, just the fact that it’s not a setting I’d go see him in.
The venue his a huge (20k capacity) amphitheater in the middle of no where – Farm Aid was held there in 2002. Let’s say I get 2 tickets for $55 (Livenation has tickets from $30-$140), parking if applicable, 4 beers at $8 and I’m out $142 for 30 (maybe 40) minutes of Sturgill Simpson. I’m so neutral about ZBB, they don’t move the meter either way for me, that I wouldn’t stay for their set.
Plus, the 15k fans to see ZBB pouring in during Sturgill set would be distracting.
I’d rather save my money and see Sturgill in a smaller setting as a headliner.
June 16, 2014 @ 10:25 pm
Sorry, I misunderstood your previous comment.
June 18, 2014 @ 9:03 pm
Trig, thank you for bringing Zoe Muth to my attention. I missed the original review, but saw it on your list and bought it this morning. Been listening to it all day! Another great SCM artist to add to my collection. Thank you!
June 18, 2014 @ 10:08 pm
Thanks for reading hoptowntiger.
June 16, 2014 @ 4:09 pm
What awesome music we’ve had so far this year! First and foremost Sturgill Simpsons latest offering absolutely blew me away as expected! I also have always had a hard time not liking Dierks Bentley, his albums are just well rounded listens every time, even if they are a little pop infused.( Still waiting on an Up On The Ridge Vol. 2.) I guess my 3rd would go to Out Among The Stars by the man in black! It was just a feel good album and sounds really good blaring out my pickup really loud, highly underrated I feel. And from what I’ve sampled, you might as well make room for Willies Band of Brothers, I think he’s gave us another Heroes, maybe even better. Thanks, wish I had the money for more of these selections! Dang kids!!!lol
June 16, 2014 @ 6:05 pm
Triggerman- what song is Charlie Parr doing on HBE’s tribute to Johnny Cash? been waitin on that record awhile too..is that gonna be a 2014 end of the year contender?
June 16, 2014 @ 8:25 pm
I’m not sure what song Charlie Parr is doing, but I know he’s contributing to that project, and so is William Elliot Whitmore, and a bunch of other cool names. I don’t think there’s any guarantees it will come out this year. I know Hillgrass Bluebilly is being very selective of who and whats songs they put on it.
June 16, 2014 @ 6:07 pm
Hey Trig, I know its an EP and not an album but I would love to know what your thoughts are on Zac Browns’ “The Grohl Sessions”, more specifically All Alright. Definitely a unique sound but personally I think it’s great
June 16, 2014 @ 8:35 pm
Still need to put a good ear on it. For the longest time, I couldn’t obtain a copy.
June 16, 2014 @ 7:58 pm
For me the best is “Hanging Road”… Then kagain I have felt like his two previous solo efforts were the best in the years they were released. Karen Jonas’ album is excellent as well. Now I like Simpson and all but sometimes he can come across as a bit overly dramatic to me, such as he does in his lead single. But I still do like him, just not as much as others. I need to get the rest of the Eady album cause the couple songs I have bought I really enjoy.
June 17, 2014 @ 12:34 am
Excellent stuff! I look forward to hearing the ones I’ve not already listened to.
I’m also very impressed by the new Willie Nelson that arrived with me yesterday.
June 17, 2014 @ 12:47 am
Good list.But Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison should be on that list.
June 17, 2014 @ 4:27 am
count me in as a fan of Karen Jonas. probably my most played album on the list it gets better with each spin.
June 17, 2014 @ 9:10 am
Sturgill Simpson and Matt Woods have been on constant rotation for me. Whether I’m at home or in the car, those have been my “go-to”.. “With Love from Brushy Mountain” is rock-solid with great songs that stick with you and as for “Meta Modern Sounds”….well, that one took me a couple of listens but has since become an obsession. I also hope Red Eye Gravy gets some more attention because “Dust Bowl Hangover” is fantastic.
June 17, 2014 @ 10:56 am
“Dust Bowl Hangover” is definitely going too underrated. That’s a great album. If people like underground country that doesn’t sound like it was recorded by a high school garage band, they should check them out.
June 17, 2014 @ 9:49 am
My top five so far:
Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans
Jimbo Mathus – Dark Night of the Soul
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery
Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap
Other gooduns from: John Fullbright, Matt Woods, Zoe Muth, Kelly Willis / Bruce Robison.
Just got the Willie Watson album, but haven’t listened to it yet.
Looking forward to new albums from (in order of release): Jim Lauderdale, Dom Flemons, Bille Joe Shaver, Justin Townes Earle, Marty Stuart.
June 17, 2014 @ 10:25 am
Love the list and a bunch of the albums. I especially love Sturgill’s album… WOW! I noticed that Jamestown Revival’s album, Utah, was not on the list though. Its is one of the best albums of the year for any genre. I’m assuming you just haven’t had time to listen to it yet. It’s definitely worth a listen. Keep up the good work Trigger!!
June 17, 2014 @ 10:51 am
Jamestown Revival is in the listening cue.
June 17, 2014 @ 3:28 pm
I like a lot of these. In my mind Rod Melancon’s Parish Lines should be on any short list, if for its diversity of tracks if for no other reason. I play the heck out of it. Like others, I also love Utah from Jamestown Revival. I still feel like Lydia Loveless has made the best female solo album this year, with Zoe Muth, Karen Jonas, Bettysoo, and Amelia White all turning out outstanding records. And no Angela Perley, or am I crossing genres too much? Good list. There is just so much to listen to right now! I have a new music radio show, and I feel your pain!
June 17, 2014 @ 7:33 pm
Trigger…What’s the latest on the Boomswagglers?
June 18, 2014 @ 12:14 am
The Boomswagglers are actively working on a new album. Spencer has had a fresh bout of legal issues (he’s nothing if he isn’t authentic) and so that has delayed some things.
June 18, 2014 @ 5:42 am
Wouldn’t expect anything less. Can’t wait for that release.
June 17, 2014 @ 10:21 pm
I have to say that without this site, you and your lists, my interest in country music wouldn’t have grown the way it has. Thank you for all you do and for opening my eyes and ears to some good country music.
June 17, 2014 @ 11:09 pm
Thanks for reading Bill!
June 18, 2014 @ 7:26 am
Any new albums coming from Wade Bowen, Aaron Watson, Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams or Turnpike Troubadours?
June 18, 2014 @ 8:46 am
Ryan Adams is the only one from that list I have seen announce anything. The others recently released albums except for Turnpike, but they tend to take extra time between releases. The next Turnpike album could be HUGE for them.
June 18, 2014 @ 11:56 am
Had no idea who Jason Eady was until I read this. He’s probably my favorite from this list along with Don Williams. Karen Jonas is really good, too. I like her.
June 18, 2014 @ 12:06 pm
Of the albums mentioned Jason Eady’s “Daylight & the Dark” is my favorite “indie-country” album. The title track “Daylight & the Dark” and “Ok Whiskey” are my two clear favorites from the album. I’ve also been enjoying Rodney Crowell’s “Tarpaper Sky” and Rosanne Cash’s “The River and the Thread’ on an almost weekly rotation since they were released.
Mainstream wise Jon Pardi’s “Write You a Song” is a good guilty pleasure of mine. The songwriting, to which Pardi is apart of on all but one song, is respectable enough. Most of all though, his arrangements are country in the vein of 90’s style country music. Sure, he over exaggerates his accent ala Justin Moore, but unlike Moore, he has some decent tracks on his album and a country sound.
June 18, 2014 @ 12:11 pm
I haven’t had the chance, well taken the time, to listen to Karen Jonas’ new album. I’ll be “Oklahoma Lottery” a listen sometime this week and/or this weekend since it seems so highly regarded here.
June 19, 2014 @ 6:49 am
My vote for number one is Don Williams. I can’t get enough of that album, you hit the nail on the head: no crying or whining, just good country music.
June 19, 2014 @ 8:53 pm
I know this album was released last year, but Jeff Woosley’s “Last Night In Town” was one heck of a good true country album. If you haven’t heard it yet, I suggest you do ASAP!!! It is as twangy and rooted in tradition as you can possibly get.
June 23, 2014 @ 8:50 pm
Not sure where to post this, but it looks like Rolling Stone has done yet *another* story about Sturgill Simpson.
I was just at the local supermarket flipping through the Rolling Stone on the magazine rack (the newest issue, not the one with Miranda Lambert on the cover) and lo and behold, I run into a story called “Sturgill Simpson, Hard Luck Country Hero” near the front on the magazine. Rock musician David Byrne is quoted talking about how he is enamored with “Metamodern.” Very interesting. I looked the story up online, but apparently it’s “locked” so non-subscribers can’t get to it.
November 19, 2014 @ 12:50 am
What a fantastic list of brilliant music! One of a kind.