As we get to the halfway pole in the musical year, it’s time to look back and asses the best albums that have been released in 2019 so far. At the moment, 2019 feels very top loaded with stellar releases. It has also been a very busy year for releases in regards to volume, though much more hit and miss when it comes to quality the further you go down the list compared to recent years.
The first albums highlighted should be considered early candidates for Saving Country Music’s “Album of the Year,” while everything else highlighted should be considered coming highly recommended. But of course over time, estimations can change. Some albums may eventually reveal themselves as not worthy for Album of the Year consideration, while others may rise to that recognition.
PLEASE NOTE: This only includes albums that have been reviewed by Saving Country Music so far. Just because an album is not included here doesn’t mean it’s not good, or won’t be reviewed in the future. Many released albums are still slated for review.
Recommendations and opinions on albums is encouraged, including leaving your own list of favorite albums in the comments sections below. However, please understand that nothing has been “forgotten,” and no list is “illegitimate” just because one particular album is left off, or a certain album is included. The point of this exercise is to expand the awareness of great music, and that is how it should be approached by all parties. Saving Country Music reviews a very large amount of material, but no critic or outlet can review every single project released in a given genre.
The albums are presented in no particular order.
Charlie Marie – Self-Titled EP
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, beautiful, gifted, and compelling classic country music performer. (read full review)
Ian Noe – Between The Country
Don’t regard Ian Noe (pronounced with a silent ‘e’) as just another Kentucky songwriter in the growing gaggle of them gaining national attention, or just the latest to roll down Interstate 65 into Nashville to corner Dave Cobb in his Studio ‘A’ for a couple of weeks, and get the critics swooning just because it all looks good on paper. The Beattyville native who now makes his home in Bowling Green might have all the pieces in place to woo the Americana crowd, but his perspective, sound, and approach to music is all his own and autonomous from whatever other names or regions might be involved, aside from borrowing heavily from the Overlords of American songwriting such as Prine, Dylan, and Guthrie. Folk and country could fight to claim primary rights for Ian Noe’s music, and his music and songwriting make a strong case for inclusion in both.
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.
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. As his fellow Kentuckians continue to ascend to places we never believed possible for those unwilling to bend to radio trends and label requisites, the ranks of up-and-comers continue to be replenished. The songs of Ian Noe may delve into dire subject matters, but it sure makes one feel thankful for the musical bounty Kentucky continues to provide. (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)
Taylor Alexander – Good Old Fashioned Pain
You’re gonna want to listen to Taylor Alexander’s Good Old Fashioned Pain. You’re gonna want to add it into your heavy rotation, where it will reside for many months and maybe years to come. If and when vinyl copies are made available, you’re gonna want to purchase one, even if it just sits on the shelf, simply to assure yourself it’s there, and if the digital music grid ever goes dark you know you’ve got a backup copy. Good Old Fashioned Pain is the kind of record that you hope and pray crosses your path as country a music fan. It’s the type of record that you crave will be delivered to you each Friday on release day to liven your spirits and satiate your country music soul. And undeniably, Good Old Fashioned Pain is country.
This record refuses to let you down. The songwriting is like the resuscitation of one timeless classic country theme after another, only even more smartly written from dedicate study of the medium, and sculpted to fit Taylor Alexander’s specific story. The record is about a struggling musician attempting to make a dream real, and having to live with the sacrifices of living on the road, getting by with less, trying to hold onto love, all while trying to stay focused and believing in one’s self. In one song after another, Alexander’s stories become allegorical troughs of wisdom, delivered in simple and relatable expressions, while his spirit and perseverance feel palpable, and result in an inspiring listen.
Completely unsigned and looking for a shot at the dream, Taylor Alexander and Good Old Fashioned Pain make as good a case as any for being foisted right to the front of the line from the talent, heart, and authenticity exhibited. (read full review)
Caroline Spence – Mint Condition
Caroline Spence enjoys that one-of-a-kind gift of making a sound that doesn’t just draw you in, in makes every word and note sound immaculate and sincere, immediately inspiring swells of empathy from within the audience. To hear Caroline Spence sing about heartache and loneliness is to be overcome with a feeling of tenderness. Sweet, feminine, inviting, yet infinitely sad, it’s the kind of voice a young child uses to ask for something, and is impossible to deny. It’s the kind of voice that makes you proud to count Caroline Spence as a member of the country and roots community.
A voice like Caroline Spence’s that demands compulsory attention for an audience is one thing. Writing songs to compliment it is another. Stiff debate could ensue about which attribute—singing or songwriting—is what makes Mint Condition stand out, with no wrong answer to be had. Spence had already presented herself as a preeminent songwriter of the independent Nashville scene with 2015’s Somehow, and 2017’s Spades & Roses. But Mint Condition is where a consistency emerges, offering no lulls in the enchantment of her storytelling and conveyance of emotions.
Unlike so many modern songs and records where composers utilize fairy tale notions of self-confidence in popular empowerment anthems addled by platitudes, Mint Condition is about Spence’s confidence to articulate her willingness to give herself to another, her fear at being alone, and an unapologetic need for companionship. This vulnerability is not an expression of weakness, it is an articulation of humanity, and when coupled with Caroline’s vocal qualities, has the ability to perforate the hardened protection around the most steeled of hearts. (read full review)
Ben Jarrell – Troubled Times
Wondering where the hell all the hard charging, kick ass, phase guitar and pedal steel-filled good ol’ Outlaw country music has gone in 2019, and without skimping on the songwriting, thank you very much? Well it all seems to have been sucked up and put to good use by Alabama native Ben Jarrell who just unleashed his debut LP Troubled Times, and it’s one hell of a ride boys and girls. Either you’re paying attention to this thing and telling all your friends and co-workers about it, hitting up that second cousin of yours who can’t stop listening to that Kane Brown mess, or you’re failing as a country music fan.
Troubled Times is the kind of record you wish some of your favorite country artists would release, but never seem to get around to. Good thing that Ben Jarrell did, because it’s red meat for hungry ears. Alive, vibrant, full-bodied and energetic, while in other moments intimate and heartfelt, it’s the kind of debut that doesn’t just fulfill your country music needs in the present tense, it announces your next favorite artist.
You always appreciate a good album, but you appreciate a good album from a new artist even more, expanding your arsenal to kill the pain of those long trips, lonely nights, or long and lame weekend tasks. Ben Jarrell’s Troubled Times is one of those records. (read full review)
The Steel Blossoms – Self-Titled
If you’re a closet fan of the kitschy country songs of Kacey Musgraves, or the unabashed attitude of Maddie & Tae, but just wish it could all be a little more country and organic, the Steel Blossoms have bloomed just for you. A cunning take on the classic country duo with songs that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think in a listening experience that covers a lot of ground, the two-part harmonies and harrowing tales of the Steel Blossoms are worth seeking out.
Sara Zebley and Hayley Prosser are two former elementary school teachers who met in Pennsylvania while playing in separate projects. Immediately noticing a musical kinship between each other, the Steel Blossoms were formed, eventually relocating to Nashville and spending ample time developing their songs and sound on the road and house concerts. Evoking the timeless sorcery of two-part harmonies is one thing. Penning songs that put this gift to good use is another. The Steel Blossoms possess both.
Whatever your mood or sensibility, the Steel Blossoms have you covered, and show a pretty unbelievable range and proficiency with whatever they choose to pen and sing about. Putting your finger on exactly what the Steel Blossoms are may be a little tough, but concluding that they’re enjoyable, engaging, and intriguing is quite easy. (read full review)
Matt Carson – No Regrets
If you really want to test your mettle as a country music fan, if you’re one who thinks they can handle songs of heartbreak one after another like shots of Jack lined up across the bar, if you want to put your emotional capacity through the paces and stress test your country music heart to see if you can compete with the big boys of pain tolerance via country tunes, Matt Carson’s No Regrets is the album for you. This is not for the amateur sad song connoisseur out there. Neophytes to this most severe side of country should start first with records that mix a few sad songs in with other stuff to steal them for what they’ll experience here. This thing should come with a warning label for how heart-rending it is.
With the self-expressed mission to “Make Country Music Sad Again,” Matt Carson makes some serious inroads into this stated objective by self-penning incredible tearjerkers that show no compassion in their conveyance of sorrow, and sings the hell out of some well-recognized covers as well. Completely blind from the time he was born, this South Carolina native doesn’t need to embellish his story to make you wholeheartedly believe his songs of loss, leaving, and regret. When Matt Carson croons about missing someone’s touch, and still smelling them in the hall after they’ve left for good, your own sense of smell and feel are heightened to the emotional toll this man has felt.
And it all has a happy ending of sorts. Matt Carson has moved on from the heartbreak of youth, and is now married with four kids. But that history, and the stories he can compose in his mind without the distraction of the visual world make him a unique and valued songsmith, and one who doesn’t have to pass his works off to some other singer to record the definitive rendition, he can handle that all himself. (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.
Old News gives you a lot to chew on, and though it’s difficult to question any track, being a bit more austere might have meant more attention for its most potent moments. But you may need to invest in the double vinyl version of this album and hold it in your hands to really understand this album’s scope and impact. They included a lot of covers as both an homage to the past, and because they blew them all out of the water, and couldn’t whittle them down. 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)
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 review)
Other Albums Highly Recommended
Molly Tuttle – When You’re Ready (read review)
Weldon Henson – Texas Made Honky Tonk (read review)
Joshua Ray Walker – Wish You Were Here (read review)
Dee White – Southern Gentleman (read review)
Gabe Lee – Farmland (read review)
Reba McEntire – Stronger Than The Truth (read review)
Tom Russell – October in the Railroad Earth (read review)
Randy Houser – Magnolia (read review)
Rhiannon Giddens – there is no Other (read review)
Yola – Walk Through The Fire (read review)
Roger Alan Wade – Simmering Rage (read review)
Tylor and the Train Robbers – Best of the Worst Kind (read review)
Alice Wallace – Into The Blue (read review)
Hayes Carll – What It Is (read review)
Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue (read review)
The Randy Rogers Band – Hellbent (read review)
Tim Bluhm – Sorta Surving (read review)
Cody Johnson – Ain’t Nothin’ To It (read review)
Leo Rondeau – Right On Time (read review)
Flatland Cavalry – Homeland Insecurity (read review)
The Cactus Blossoms – Easy Way (read review)
David Quinn – Wanderin’ Fool (read review)
Dale Watson – Call Me Lucky (read review)
Aaron Lewis – State I’m In (read review)
George Strait – Honky Tonk Time Machine (read review)