The Best Country Albums of 2016 So Far
With no disrespect meant to the albums highlighted below, which represent the exception and not the rule, 2016 has begun where the second half of 2015 left off, where it feels like country and roots music across the board is out of ideas, and the search for music that truly enlivens the spirit is becoming harder.
Late 2015, and early 2016 are also remarkable for the amount of independent country artists that just like in the mainstream, are succumbing to the allure of influences outside the genre, especially the whole Stax sound, with horns and R&B rhythms permeating a majority of projects, especially the ones emanating from east Nashville. The second half of 2016 could be where the turnaround is lurking. But for now, it’s fairly slim picking for groundbreaking projects in this calendar year.
Further complicating matters has been all the high profile deaths in music in 2016, casting a pall on the listening experience, and forcing our attention on the music and lives of passing greats as opposed to the newest records coming out.
All that said, there are still some excellent albums out there worth highlighting.
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.
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.
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 is “forgotten,” and nobody’s 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.
Also, the albums are presented in no particular order.
Austin Lucas – Between The Moon and the Midwest
What has never left Austin Lucas is the dedication and hunger that drives his music, and has kept his career skirting above disaster for so long. The fact that he was able to get folks like John Moreland and Lydia Loveless to appear on his record shows the respect he receives among his artist peers. The fact that he was ever signed to New West, or shared a stage with Willie Nelson shows that he has the material and acumen to make it at the next level. And Between The Moon & the Midwest proves that his best days, and best material aren’t behind him, but are happening in the here and now.
No review, no endorsement, no label deal or radio promotion or touring opportunity makes any artist. There are performers who’ve been given twice the opportunities and support of Austin Lucas, and they are waiting tables right now, or working at The Home Depot. Nobody knows the formula, or how to navigate the whims of music to steady and sustainable employment, or God-forbid a modicum of stardom. But what we do know is Austin Lucas is an artist worthy of being heard, whether the music industry agrees or not. (read full review)
Dori Freeman – Self-Titled
Sometimes the artists that are the best at tapping into those little currents of nerve tingling turns of phrases are not the ones that aspire to be the beneficiaries of mass media. And if it happens, it happens by accident. Dori Freeman was “discovered” by Teddy Thompson, who happens to be the son of British guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson. Next thing you know she’s recording in the studio with a set of hand-selected musicians and Teddy at the helm. If Dori Freeman’s debut album doesn’t accomplish anything else, it should go down as one of the best produced efforts in recent memory.
For the love of God just let the songs speak out and choose their own path, and that’s what happens in this self-titled release. The sentiments are so naked and pure, and as potent to stirring the spirit as the smell of a baby’s head that it awakens more than just an appreciation for music, it awakens an appreciation for life. (read full review)
Doug Bruce – Unsung
Unsung is no vanity project meant as something to be passed out at the next family gathering; far from it. Think of this album more like a time capsule that has been unearthed with some of the best music written during the golden age of country that never saw the light of day, so it’s still fresh and new to your ears. And by going through his uncle’s entire song catalog to find the best selections, it’s like a Greatest Hits collection from some long lost legend at the same time. Put an absolutely stellar band and perfect arrangements behind all of this, and all of a sudden you have an astounding country music album that is both incredibly fresh, yet entirely classic.
You come for the music, which is lavished with steel guitar and twang and traditional country tones in a perfect representation of the material, but you stay for the songwriting. It’s unreal how songs like “The Tears” and “Greatest Expert” were never super hits back in their day, and quite frankly I’m not sure songs like these could be written by modern songwriters even if they tried. It takes the perspective of the 50’s and 60’s to pen such authentic country sentiments, yet I can’t stress enough the magic in this music since you’ve never heard it before. It’s like hearing Hank Williams again for the first time. (read full review)
Dave Cobb – Southern Family (Compilation)
Today you make fun of somebody’s religion, creed, sexual preference, race, wealth, or social status, and you could lose your job and be blacklisted from society. But when it comes to the South and Southerners, it remains open season. The South has always been a favorite whipping boy for popular culture, and instead of shying away from stereotyping its residents in the new era of political correctness, it’s considered a sign of open mindedness and an intellectual exercise to blanket criticize the South at large, many times for trespasses perpetrated many generations ago.
When Dave Cobb announced this Southern Family concept album, it looked almost too good to be true on paper. Putting all of this talent in one place, even if one or two names may not suit your specific fancy, you still knew that joining them all together for one purpose and putting Dave Cobb in charge could only mean good things. It would bring out the best in all of the artists. It may even give a moment for some of the more commercially-oriented stars like Zac Brown and Miranda Lambert to cut material they normally may not.
Concept records aren’t supposed to just be elevated forms of creative expression. They hopefully say something about life that for whatever reason, words cannot convey, or if they can, few tend to listen to without the aid of melody. What it means to be “Southern” is something that is so difficult to express, but Southern Family makes great strides in that direction. And in a time of such turmoil and divisiveness, the need to understand that not just Southerners, but all people can identify with each other through their universal sense of home and family is a lesson needing to be heard. (read full review)
Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day
The Purcell, Oklahoma native has that rich, songwriting blood of the central plains we’ve seen in artists like John Moreland, John Fullbright, Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours, and so many more. And growing up in an evangelical community also imparts that indelible country gospel foundation to his music. But more than anything else Parker Millsap is a blues singer, which may seem a bit of a strange label to stamp on the forehead of the bushy-haired and doe-eyed songwriter … until he opens his mouth.
It’s hard to argue against On The Very Last Day as Parker Millsap’s defining moment, at least up to this point. Like Hank Williams did when he cut “Lovesick Blues,” Parker has identified his strengths, honed in on them, refined them, written or selected songs to favor them, and dedicatedly molded his craft until he’s become a master of his discipline. (read full review)
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a record Sturgill Simpson wrote for his young son who was born right as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was entering its “release cycle” as they say in the business. You don’t need anyone to tell you what the songs are about on this album; Sturgill pretty much spells it right out for you. He uses the record to directly impart wisdom and knowledge to his young son, as well as delve into a bit of his own history as a former member of the Navy, and his perils with drugs.
The personal nature of this record is almost startling. Sturgill can be hard to understand when singing, but if you lay out the lyric sheets to the songs, they read like the most intimate poems from a father to his son, and are nearly fearless in how they bare Sturgill’s feelings of guilt when leaving home, and missing out on important milestones in his young son’s life. This theme is reinforced when Sturgill re-imagines a song from his first band Sunday Valley called “Sarah” about similar guilt, only towards his lover.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a valiant follow up to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and is yet another solid offering in an impressive and growing musical career for one of America’s and roots music’s most unique, interesting, and diverse artists. (read full review)
Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters – Midwest Heart / Southern Blues
Songwriter and frontman Nick Dittmeier has seen the struggles from all sides. Living on the Indiana side of the Ohio River in the greater Louisville, KY area, he can pull inspiration from the evisceration of the coal economy, the dilapidation of the Southern small town, and the abandonment of the Midwest as the traditional American agrarian culture is replaced by the rise of urbanization and corporate farming.
The struggles of the people left in these areas who are clinging to life in the only homes they’ve ever known, this is the inspiration that goes into Midwest Heart / Southern Blues, marking a nexus for the heartbreak that criss crossses all of America’s forgotten corners. Similarly, the inspiration for the music is drawn from true country, Southern rock, Heartland sounds, and riverside blues. The struggling people of American may have been forgotten by many, but most all are represented on this album. (read full review)
The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming
Under the wide shadow being cast by Dave Cobb and his recent producership efforts, throwback rock and roll musician and songwriter JD McPherson has been putting together one fierce run of excellent albums himself. The Cactus Blossoms were flattered when McPherson called them and wanted to make an album, and the result was magic.
It feels like almost an insult, or at least a fruitless enterprise to entertain the idea that one could express in words what the harmonies of The Cactus Blossoms do for stirring the soul, so I won’t even try. But upon all the other accolades You’re Dreaming deserves, the tops might be the quality of singing evidenced, and not just in the close harmony style indicative of the Everlys and Louvins before them. Even in individual moments, both Jack Torrey and Page Burkum give such purity to the words and sounds, you have no choice but to go back 50 years to find comparisons.
A band like The Cactus Blossoms is still a niche enterprise for sure, and so the appeal won’t be felt by everyone. But the artistry is virtually unmatched, and the result is near perfection. (read full review)
Other Albums Highly Recommended:
Michaela Anne – Bright Lights and the Fame (read review)
Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was (read interview)
Nathan Kalish – Continental Breakfast of Champions (read review)
Al Scorch – Circle Round The Signs (read review) Blazing banjo and songs from the heart.
Cheryl Desere’e – Self-Titled (read review) Smoky, jazzy, sultry traditional country.
Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon (read review) One of the best in Texas country so far.
Jack Klatt – Shadows in the Sunset (read review) For fans of Pokey LaFarge and Wayne Hancock.
The Lumineers – Cleopatra (red review)
Jeff Shepherd and the Jailhouse Poets – Self-Titled (read review) Evolved underground country.
The Hackensaw Boys – Charismo (read review)
Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories (read review)
Rachel Brooke – The World’s Greatest Anchor (read review) Short, but very sweet.
Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (read review) True, neotraditional country from a rising star.
Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks (read review) The future of Texas country.
Husky Burnette – Ain’t Nothin’ But a Revival (read review) Deep blues at its dirtiest.
Willie Nelson – Summertime (read review) Willie sings the classics of the Gershwin brothers.
Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers (read review) New direction of stripped-down songwriting from Carll.
Ryan Scott Travis – The Guadalupe Breakdown (read review) Great songwriting and composition.
Wynonna Judd – Wynonna and the Big Noise (read review) The Big Noise is a big surprise. Fun album.
Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit (read review) Not for children.
Other Albums On The Radar, But Not Reviewed Yet:
Note: Just because an album has not been reviewed yet (or is not included here) does not mean it won’t be in the future. So chill.
- Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions
- Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen – Watch This (live)
- Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
- Gene Watson – Real Country Music
- The Golden Ponies – Unstabled
- Jackson Taylor & the Sinners – Which Way Is Up
- Western Centuries – Weight of the World
- Bo Outlaw – Lonestar State of Mind
- Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost
- Robert Ellis – Self-Titled
- The Honeycutters – On The Ropes
- Wade Bowen – Then Sings My Soul, Songs for My Mother
- Derek Hoke – Southern Moon
- Urban Pioneers – Feast or Famine
- The Carolyn Sills Combo – Dime Stories, Vol. 2
- McDougall – Reaching for Some Light
- Sweet GA Brown – Weapons
- Kirsty Lee Akers – Burn Baby Burn
June 7, 2016 @ 8:00 am
good list for sure, but I don’t see the Honeycutters, Yarn, The Harvest Thieves Ryan Beaver or Rob Baird in there anywhere.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:50 am
The Honeycutters are there. Ryan Beaver and Rob Baird are on the list to be listened to. Thanks for the suggestion of The Harvest Thieves, I’ll check them out. As I said above, it shouldn’t be implied that just because an album or artist is listed here, I don’t think they’re any good, they’re not on my radar, or they won’t receive a review in the future. Unfortunately I only have two sets of ears 🙂
June 7, 2016 @ 5:42 pm
I’ve been hoping you will review the new Rob Baird album. Glad to see you have it on your radar.
Two Sheds Jackson
July 12, 2016 @ 11:20 am
Two sets of ears? Most of only have ONE set. lol
June 7, 2016 @ 8:11 am
Any thoughts on making a “WORST COUNTRY SONGS SO FAR?” List for the year?
June 7, 2016 @ 8:56 am
I’m sure that’s on the way.
June 7, 2016 @ 10:42 am
It’s been a bad year for radio singles. I almost don’t want to see the list, it’s going to be so painful. I would rather see a list of best mainstream country singles for the first half of 2016, although I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t do one. It would take 10 times as long to search for songs as it would to write.
It’s been a bad year for country radio.
June 7, 2016 @ 11:06 pm
Every year since about 2008 has been a bad year for country radio; some would say every year since sometime in the mid-’90s.
June 7, 2016 @ 5:17 pm
I don’t think trig did a review of Thomas Rhett’s tshirt song but that one should definitely be close to the top of the list
June 8, 2016 @ 8:59 am
Just the other day I heard Kick the Dust Up and was reminded that it was the worst song I’ve ever heard. And then that TShirt song came on next. And I realized we may never find rock bottom.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:20 am
Definitely think Ryan Beaver should be considered. Also interested to hear what you think of Sam Riggs new album. I wasn’t expecting another “Outrun the Sun”, but still a solid project though it tends to stretch the country theme to rock, et al., but still fits within the Texas scene.
Also hoping when it’s released in a couple weeks that Jon Pardi will add an album from the (somewhat) mainstream to the list.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:36 am
Second on Ryan Beaver. One of my favorites of the year for sure.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:29 am
I got Dori Freeman, Southern Family, Sturgill Simpson and Randy Rogers. Next people on my list are Jack Ingram and Garth Brooks (hopefully)
June 7, 2016 @ 10:02 am
I forgot I had Wade Bowen’s Gospel Album and I just bought Randy and Wade’s “Watch This Album” last week.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:31 am
I always love these pieces
Here’s my list (all albums I consider either an 8 or higher)
My “album of the year contenders” which comprise everything I consider to be a 10 thus far:
Dave Cobb and others – “Southern Family”
Robert Ellis – self-titled
Chris King – “Animal”
The rest (in list order)
4. Michael Martin Murphey – “High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII”
5. Dori Freeman – self-titled
6. Austin Lucas – “Between The Moon and the Midwest”
7. Sturgill Simpson – “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth”
8. Brandy Clark – “Big Day In A Small Town”
9. Robbie Fulks – “Upland Stories”
10. The Honeycutters – “On The Ropes”
11. Doug Bruce – “Unsung”
12. Margo Price – “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter”
13. Tyller Gummersall – “Long Ride Home”
14. Caleb Caudle – “Carolina Ghost”
15. Randy Rogers Band – “Nothing Shines Like Neon”
16. Sammy Kershaw – “The Blues Got Me”
17. Wynonna and the Big Noise – self-titled
18. Flatland Cavalry – “Humble Folks”
19. Loretta Lynn – “Full Circle”
20. Aubrie Sellers – “New City Blues”
On the bucket list:
June 7, 2016 @ 8:37 am
Also, because I’m a nerd about this kind of stuff,
I’ve noticed that there are only 4 albums thus far to receive a full Two Guns Up rating (with two of those only being 9/10).
Dori Freeman (grade not given)
Doug Bruce (grade not given)
Southern Family (9)
The Cactus Blossoms (9)
Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that the lowest number we’ve had yet?
June 7, 2016 @ 8:52 am
Yeah, that’s a pretty low number. Of course all of this stuff is just my opinion. There may be some folks who’ve been blown away with the amount of great music so far this year, and that’s totally cool. I don’t want to act like a wet towel. But from my experience, stuff has really been down for the last 12 months, with exceptions.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:31 am
Oh I understand that. I wish more people realized that what a critic writes is solely their opinion.
Personally I think we’ve had a large quantity of great albums, but none that have stepped up to that next level. In other words, it’s between a battle of quantity over quality thus far for me.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:35 am
Yes, it does appear that just by sheer volume, 2016 is looking to set a record. But all that tends to do is choke out the projects that are worthy of being heard. I’ve been saying for years that there’s too much music. I’m having to listen to twice as much stuff to find half the quality.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:56 am
Since I haven’t seen others mention it, I’ll add in Casey Miller and the Barnyard Stompers for those who like Texas country.
June 8, 2016 @ 10:50 am
I love these pieces too. I discover so much good music through Trig’s list, and from the comments. I’ve been running through your list and streaming the ones that I haven’t heard yet.
Where in the world did you discover Tyller Gummersall?!?! I got three songs in and headed to Amazon to purchase the album. I’m in Denver (he is a Colorado kid) and I’ve never heard of him. This may be my favorite album since Eady’s Daylight & Dark. Thanks Zackary!
June 8, 2016 @ 10:54 am
Hey Phil! I’m a radio DJ and one day I had a guy request one of his songs. I was immediately impressed with the guy and checked out his album later that day.
That’s another reason why I love these pieces, we all discover great new music that we may have missed before.
Bigfoot is Real (lonesome, on'ry, and mean)
June 7, 2016 @ 8:36 am
So glad to see the Hackensaw Boy’s “Charmismo” listed. Ferde Moyse is my favorite fiddler player. Both Sickman and Moyse are great writer’s. This album is a little bit of everything that’s good. Best bluegrass-ish album of the year so far and my all-round current favorite of 2016.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:40 am
My top five, roughly in order, are:
Knocking on the door: Hayes Carll and Southern Family
Just ordered the Al Scorch album.
Anxiously awaiting the release of the new Elizabeth Cook.
June 8, 2016 @ 7:48 am
Oh. Forgot Hard Working Americans and John Doe. Two more good’uns.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:49 am
Yeah, so far this year there haven’t been many albums that have been able to keep my attention for more than a few listens. The only exceptions have been “Sailor’s Guide” and “Southern Family,” with “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” being an honorable mention.
Last year may have been light on the quantity of good albums, but I thought the best albums were really good, including “Traveller,” “Something More Than Free,” “Mr. Misunderstood,” “Turnpike Troubadours,” “The Firewatcher’s Daughter,” and “Hold My Beer Vol I.” I hope we get at least a few more albums that make a lasting impression. I’ll have to dig deeper into some of your recommendations here to see if anything stands out.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:59 am
2015 had some great records, but many of them were released in the 1st half of the year. And you’re right, the best of the best were stellar. There are only a few albums I would put in that category from 2016 so far.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:17 am
I’m really hopeful for the new Holly Williams album. “The Highway” was so good. But so far this year everything that I’ve looked forward to has been a bit of a disappointment, so I’m afraid to be too optimistic.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:51 am
I wish you would spread the word on PRAG I honestly think a lot of people have not caught on to this true country music he has. No lights or fancy shows. He is what Hank JR AND Walyon brought to us. He is Country music at its roots! For all of you who haven’t heard him do yourself a favor and go find him you won’t be disappointed. I will be going to catch his upcoming shows he has with Reckless Kelly just to see him take everyone back to school and teach them what country music is and what we all have lost. I am and always will be a fan you all should be too. Prag Padilla go find him and SavingCountryMusic go find him and give this guy his dues!
June 7, 2016 @ 9:05 am
As of March 2015, I had never heard of Chris Stapleton. You offered a link to listen to three of his songs on his new album, The Traveller. They blew me away and now I’m a fan for life and have seen him in concert 6 times and will see him again in August with Hank Jr. Thank you so very much. Can you do that again with some of the artists mentioned above? Offer a link to listen to a song or two?
While I may not agree with everything you write about, I do appreciate your insight and wit. Keep it coming.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:36 am
This article is just a list of all the records that have been reviewed so far. If you click on “read full review” or “read review” after each summation, that will take you to the full album review, and usually each review includes a couple of song examples at the end.
Hope this helps and happy hunting!
June 7, 2016 @ 9:13 am
Took a little bit to warm to Stitgill but I’ve grown to love it.
Richmond Fontaine’s final album is a corner and should be on your radar
June 7, 2016 @ 9:29 am
I have to go with the Sturgill album. The impact it has had and the broad acceptance and embrace of it can’t be understated. I know several people that have had it on constant repeat, which is kinda weird to me. LOL
I love Southern Family too. Great album..
The new Brandi Clark album is good too, but it needs to set in more with me..
These are the things I keep going back too all the time.
June 7, 2016 @ 12:32 pm
I hate living under a rock: aside from a few more “fans” entering the fold, what widespread impact has Sailor’s Guide had? Only one person I know has even heard it, and that’s because they were introduced to Sturgill with Metamodern like the majority. Whereas EVERYBODY I know has/wants a copy of Chris Stapleton’s album. Perhaps I just don’t have enough friends of the same level of musical involvement as other folks around here? Or is it just because Pitchfork reviewed the album?
As for me, it’s not country, but I’ve had Mark Tremonti’s Dust going in the car constantly since it was released on April 29. Here’s the opening track “My Last Mistake” if anybody is curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNAFE09qX_0 (pardon the advertisements, it was the only upload of the song). If you prefer one that’s a little more melodic, here’s the title track (bonus, both feature easy-to-decipher vocals!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HghPn3v4e4.
This is only relevant because I know plenty of people that are playing this record non-stop like you describe with Sturgill’s, yet the impact outside of these circles is negligible. That’s likely irrelevant to Sailor’s Guide, but I’m trying to iterate my perception (and no, I’m not really a metalhead; I tend to tune out songs that feature guitars screeching like a five car pile up, but slower and rawer stuff I can get behind. Mostly I just like Tremonti.)
June 7, 2016 @ 2:49 pm
I met Mark Tremonti and had lunch with him at a local radio station. DJ knew my wife was a fan and gave us an invite. It was when Alter Bridge first got together. Love that stuff.
I think Sturgill has gone from being on the top of critically acclaimed albums in country (metamodern) to being considered seriously for best album of year overall.
I also see more of a diverse fanbase latching on to the new material because of the message and how heartfelt it is.
Playing and selling out much bigger places.
I am actually hearing the new album on independent radio stations..
Things like that
June 7, 2016 @ 3:44 pm
He’s definitely a cool dude. Saw him at a club here in Arkansas back in October, and he stayed after the show and signed every piece of anything that anyone in line offered him (provided he was involved with the material, of course). I took my two Tremonti solo albums and my original Blue Collar Records version of Creed’s My Own Prison (of which the mixes and such were altered/re-recorded for wide release on Wind-Up Records, and the original only having been printed in a run of about 6,000 copies) and he signed all of it. When I handed him the Creed album he seemed giddy and pointed it out to his other band members who didn’t play on it but were aware of it. He then told me that HE didn’t even have a copy of this version (strange) and that he preferred it to the “official” release. He then started explaining to me the various differences between the mixes and, given that people were behind me, I didn’t want to take to long and just told him “I know, I’ve listened to it many times.” He smiled at that. Definitely one of the cooler experiences I’ve had at a concert. I tell this story a lot so forgive me if I’ve iterated it in some other comment around here before, it was just so neat.
As for Sturgill and his album, I don’t listen to independent radio. Come to think of it, I don’t listen to much radio at all aside from the times I want to torture myself with my local pop country station to assess the damage (typically in 10-15 intervals when I shower in the mornings). You say that you see is fanbase expanding because of the message and its sincerity; you’ll forgive my cynicism, I hope, but all I see is more fans latching on to a country artist’s non-country album, regardless of whether he meant it for his son or not. To say I’m bitter about this whole affair and how people are excusing it for him because it’s “good” music is increasingly causing bitterness within me whenever I see his name on anything.
June 7, 2016 @ 2:51 pm
Dust is a fantastic album Acca. Can’t agree with you more. I think it’s his best so far. I’m so looking forward to Alter Bridge’s new album. I’m hearing a September release for that one.
June 7, 2016 @ 3:34 pm
Yes, I recall us speaking about this before when I brought up Tremonti in the Sturgill Tour Dates article. As I iterated then, I’m not as big on Alter Bridge as Tremonti solo, much less Creed, but I’ll still be buying it regardless. Their first few albums struck me as decidedly mediocre, but they’ve been getting better and better with each subsequent release. 2013’s Fortress was just short of being a masterpiece, in my opinion. I follow the guys on Facebook and Twitter so I heard about the probable release date as well, but I’ve taken the September prediction with a grain of salt. That’s also the month they originally said Fortress would drop (as I recall), and it ended up shipping in October instead. Not a big difference, but still not an accurate prediction.
I kind of feel bad for AB, even if most of my fandom is deferred to Tremonti’s other two efforts. Rock is pretty much dead as a mainstream entity, and the guys don’t care to play the Linkin Park pop crossover stuff that comprises the genre these days, they just want to keep it no frills hard rock. But there’s not really a market for that anymore, and each label they’ve signed with seems to want to make them into a different band, so they keep signing new deals for each new record. As I understand it, every time they sign a new deal they’ve had to buy themselves out of the old one, and that’s happened three times now. They’re really in this for the passion and not money, eh?
June 7, 2016 @ 7:56 pm
I saw Sturgill last week in Detroit. He played the entire album (ASGTE) at the end of the show and a lot of people left! I couldn’t believe it. Otherwise, it was a great show.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:02 pm
Really? Wow. Haven’t heard about that happening.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:27 pm
It was bizzare. I thought they were just going to the bathroom. But the floor got a lot more roomy and we were out of the venue in minutes.
He was in a great mood (he had off 9 days).
During Voices he called out The Grammys for putting Meta in the Americana category and said he’s going to cut his next album in Detroit.
Two of the band members (bass player and the pedal) are from Michigan. The bass player got a Yuge ovation when introduced.
June 7, 2016 @ 11:04 pm
While I don’t wish harm on the man nor his career, particularly not in the context of an album he cut for his son, but I’m selfishly glad to see it’s not just me that feels this way…
June 8, 2016 @ 8:20 am
Sturgill was a let down to me. Pure throwback album with super lazy lyricism.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:46 am
Southern Family and Flatland Calvary are the only ones that are getting a lot of time on my stereo out of these. Probably Parker Milsap, Sturgel, and Austin Lucas after that. Not a great year so far, but plenty of time left.
June 7, 2016 @ 9:59 am
My favorite has been Sturgill, but holy shit is that Margo Price album good!
June 7, 2016 @ 10:04 am
‘Southern Family’ may end up being my fave album of the year. 🙂
In the rest of your list, I especially liked Dori Freeman and the Cactus Blossoms — very nice stuff.
My own picks would also include Loretta Lynn’s ‘Full Circle’ and Lucinda Williams’ ‘Ghosts of Highway 20,’ and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘The Things That we Are Made Of.’
June 7, 2016 @ 10:06 am
Sturgill and Margo Price are my favorites so far, but I still have a lot to listen to. I find myself going back to Eric Church’s album a lot, that one has real staying power for me. Southern Family is next up. Thanks for the suggestions!
June 7, 2016 @ 10:15 am
Have you heard the new Daniel Romano yet? I didn’t even know it was out til I saw an iTunes thingy. Any thoughts?
Also, after 1 promising single, Mickey Guyton bites dust & falls in line with the pop shop on new song
June 7, 2016 @ 10:25 am
My personal favorite so far this year is The Honeycutters – “On The Ropes”. I have the album on constant repeat. Love the lead singer’s voice, the lyrics and instruments. Great americana leaning toward the country side.
June 7, 2016 @ 10:56 am
I’m gonna have to check out the Cactus Blossoms’ album. They’re gonna be in my area for a free show at the end of next month.
Fat Freddy's Cat
June 7, 2016 @ 11:32 am
I see I have a bunch of reviews to catch up on. Sigh, looks like I’ll be spending more money on records…
June 7, 2016 @ 11:58 am
I made a playlist of all these albums. The only ones I had an issue finding were Rachel Brooke, Jackson Taylor and The Sinners, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s live album and Gene Watson. I think that was it. They have the rest of them on Spotify.
June 7, 2016 @ 12:38 pm
June 7, 2016 @ 3:40 pm
Went through the comments and also added some of the albums other folks mentioned.
June 7, 2016 @ 4:30 pm
For anyone curious the Randy/Wade live album is simply a straight recording of one of the shows they’ve been doing together. By and large it’s songs they’ve previously recorded with just a couple new songs mixed in. IMO still worth your time though even if you own the studio versions of the songs as there’s definitely a different energy to them done live with just the two of them and their guitars without their full bands.
I miss Steve Gaines
June 7, 2016 @ 12:16 pm
Another fine read on this wonderful web page, to bad so many people still have no idea about all of these bands, I absolutely despise fm radio and tv music award shows!
June 7, 2016 @ 12:17 pm
I was about to throw a hissy for the same reasons I normally do with everybody and their brother cutting Sturgill slack but nobody else, but you get some (worthless) points from me for noting the stylistic changes at the outset. Even if he’s not the only one moving away from hard country and even we’re not in agreement on the quality of his latest record, thank you for at least acknowledging this viewpoint as an aside. This is why I personally love your writing, even if I don’t always agree and sometimes use your comments sections as platforms for tangents (call me scatterbrained or ignorant, but whatever).
Well, he needs to learn to spell a little more clearly, then. Aside from a line here and there, specifically in the first track before the music crescendos, I can’t understand a damn thing the man says. He’s almost worse than Eddie Vedder, though I think it’s partly because of the recording style that Sturgill and Dave Cobb have always used for his vocals, so I won’t claim he’s necessarily at Vedderian levels of half-assed enunciation/gibberish just yet. Disclaimer: I have a hearing problem which no doubt compounds this issue, but by the same token I can understand other singers just fine.
Side note: how ironic is it that Sturgill covers a song written by Kurt Cobain, the king of slurred/nondescript and drugged-out vocals, but doesn’t sing it any more clearly than in the original song?
June 7, 2016 @ 1:26 pm
Because I love his other albums so much, I gave this a bit more time than I’d give other artists. It took me several listens to get some of the lyrics and I had to look others up. The man can just flat out write a song. Like you though, I wish the annunciation was better and the wall of sound was a bit thinner. Once I knew the words, it wasn’t as annoying… but I had to work for it and that’s something I know a lot of listeners aren’t willing to do these days (and I don’t much blame them).
June 9, 2016 @ 3:00 pm
That’s the thing, though: there’s a difference between working with an album and one that requires YOU to do all of the work. I think Sturgill being in his own little bubble for Sailor’s Guide didn’t really help anything; sort of like the problem with most of Hank3’s recent records. There are plenty of records I’ve worked for that gave me something eventually that I didn’t get the first couple of times through. None of Sturgill’s records are among those, and I’ve listened to his first two SEVERAL times at this point. Every time I read something about how “great” and “revolutionary” they are, I tend to try and go back and find what I’m missing. At this point, I’m fairly convinced that I’m not missing anything musical but that everyone else is just bringing something else to it that I lack. It’s not that I don’t think Sturgill’s first two albums are good, it’s that they aren’t great to my ears and never will be. My life was exactly the same from the first second of track one to the last second of track ten either time. With Sailor’s Guide, I didn’t come out the same on the other side, but that was chiefly because I was bored, frustrated with his mumbling and wondering just why the hell everybody thinks he’s so great and cuts him slack for making a Motown record (not to mention his contradictory statements about his own career and country music; hey, at least Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton are actually somewhat consistent). That his fans keep making excuses for him that they deny everyone else is causing me to become increasingly irritated and bitter about Sturgill.
To quote Mugatu from Zoolander (a film I LOATHE, by the way): “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
June 7, 2016 @ 12:22 pm
Best Album so far: Brenn Hill – How you heal
June 7, 2016 @ 12:24 pm
Loretta Lynn “Full Circle” is an excellent cd to listen to.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
June 7, 2016 @ 1:32 pm
Cody Jinks’ new album should be on the radar also
June 7, 2016 @ 2:07 pm
Just standing by for Cody Jinks to release his new album. That’s more my style. I’m pretty wore out on the deep folksy stuff, to be honest, I don’t even identify with most of it. Sure there may be some good lyrics, but if it doesn’t click, then who cares right? The whole struggling in Nashville things is very very old.
June 7, 2016 @ 3:33 pm
I’m pretty pumped to see Jackson Taylor and the Sinners on the list of albums to review. I didn’t realize there was a new one out.
June 7, 2016 @ 4:20 pm
It’s coming, don’t believe it has been released yet.
June 7, 2016 @ 4:21 pm
This was in response to Brian, regarding Jackson Taylor.
June 7, 2016 @ 4:43 pm
Yes, it has been released, but it’s not in every online outlet as of yet.
June 7, 2016 @ 5:52 pm
Thanks for that update. Trigger.
June 7, 2016 @ 6:16 pm
Available at jacksontaylorband.com
June 21, 2016 @ 7:24 am
Just got the new Jackson Taylor yesterday, it is very good, but short, only 8 songs. He covers 2 More Bottles of Wine, and Cheap Trick’s He’s a Whore. Fun album.
June 7, 2016 @ 4:32 pm
Not real impressed with a lot of the 2016 albums thus far, just more reason to hope Knight or Jamey Johnson surprise us with a new album before 2017. Also can’t wait for the new Jinks album, saw him with Whitey Morgan a couple weeks ago in Portland. The mood and energy in the room was excellent. Those two on the road together are a must see if they come around your area.
June 7, 2016 @ 5:55 pm
Definitely agree with all the albums I’ve heard. I would strongly recommend that everyone here should check out Carolina Ghost by Caleb Caudle. It’s probably my favorite album so far this year. Also, as someone else mentioned, Wrong Side Of the River by Rob Baird, is also excellent. A couple more albums that are some of my personal favorites, although not really country, are Magic Hour by Aoife O’Donovan and Weighted Mind by Sierra Hull. A couple great bluegrass releases are Familiar With the Ground by The Boxcars and City Painted Gold by The Brothers Comatose. I’m really looking forward to the new albums by Cody Jinks, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Whiskey Myers, and Jon Pardi. Haven’t had a chance to listen to Daniel Romano’s yet.
June 8, 2016 @ 5:26 am
Daniel Romano’s new album just confirmed the suspicion that he was a hipster poser all along.
June 8, 2016 @ 10:48 am
I have listened to a lot of it. I like some of the songs, but not enough to want to buy the album. Definitely not country, but I knew that going in.
June 7, 2016 @ 7:51 pm
I got 14 so far this year:
Top Tier – Excellent!:
Sturgill Simpson – ASGTE
Margo Price – MFD
Next Tier – Risers:
Al Scorch – CRTS
The Cactus Blossoms – YD
Hackensaw Boys – Charismo
Nick Dittmeier & the Sawdusters
Middle Tier – Middle of the Road:
Austin Lucas – BTM&TM
Parker Millsap – TVLD
Richmond Fontaine – YCGBITNTGBT
Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – LW
Last Tier – Honorable Mention (probably won’t make the list in January):
Grant-Lee Phillips – The Narrows
Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
Lucinda Williams – TGOH20
I’m higher on Margo Price than most.
Nick Dittmeier – I didn’t comment on this album at the time, but it reminds me of the old Corbin/Hanner albums of the 80’s – blue collar country music.
The one album on these lists I don’t get: Dori Freeman – sounds like something from Lilith fair.
Are you going to Willie’s 4th of July Picnic. I just bought my tickets. I’d love to buy you a beer!
June 7, 2016 @ 8:53 pm
Not sure if I will make it this year, but if I do, yes, let’s at least shake hands.
June 7, 2016 @ 8:18 pm
Don’t forget about Cody Jinks come August when his new album I’m not the devil hit the shelves. I hear there is new stuff from Whitey in the work also. Can’t wait for either one!!
June 7, 2016 @ 8:25 pm
Nice list. The Honeycutters are fantastic.
A few other strong ones from the year so far that haven’t been mentioned:
Eli West – The Both
Michael Daves – Orchids and Violence
William Tyler – Modern Country
Chuck Johnson – Velvet Arc
Malcolm Holcombe – Another Black Hole
June 8, 2016 @ 8:34 am
Glad to see some appreciation for Malcolm Holcombe. One of the best songwriters out there right now.
June 8, 2016 @ 4:41 am
I think it’s “Circle round the Signs.”
Very few albums excite me as much as that one did… maybe not as intimate, well-arranged or profound as “Sailor’s Guide…” (which I heard performed live in its entirety at the Sturgill show but still haven’t listened to the CD yet even though it’s on my shelf) “Sailor’s” is a lyrical masterpiece, whereas “Circle” is just fun jammin tunes that don’t require quite as much scrutiny…
June 8, 2016 @ 9:30 am
has anyone heard Michael Fracasso’s Here Comes The Savages?
June 8, 2016 @ 10:41 am
not a lot of love for Richmond Fontaine on here 🙁 a great band that released its best album yet, my favorite by far this year.
June 8, 2016 @ 10:47 am
others albums worth listing:
Pat Reedy – Highway Bound
Coral Lee – The Weather Vane
The Del McCoury Band – Del & Woody
The Lowest Pair – Uncertain as It Is Uneven
Cale Tyson – Careless Soul
June 8, 2016 @ 1:38 pm
My faves in no order:
Working through Ryan Beaver and looking forward to Jon Pardi and Cody Jinks. The Randy Rogers release was disappointing.
June 8, 2016 @ 1:50 pm
Where is Willy Tea Taylor’s Knuckleball Prime album.. overlooked by the look of it ??
June 8, 2016 @ 2:10 pm
Willy Tea’s “Kunckleball Prime” was released in 2015, was reviewed by Saving Country Music, and also ended up on the 2015 Essential Albums list. This only includes 2016 releases.
Also for the folks saying future albums are being overlooked, this list only includes records that have already been released, and more specifically, ones that I’ve either reviewed, or listened to enough to have an opinion on. There are still many reviews coming for both future albums, and albums already released.
June 8, 2016 @ 4:46 pm
Don’t forget Loretta’s “Full Circle” CD.In my book,Loretta is the greatest!
June 8, 2016 @ 5:41 pm
I can never keep up with all the new music. But these lists don’t stop me from trying.
June 8, 2016 @ 5:44 pm
I’d throw in Brian Fallon – Painkillers.
Absolutely love that album, not country, but I think this crowd would dig it.
Of course,I think every thing Fallon does (Gaslight Anthem, Horrible Crowes, etc) is fantastic, so I was always going to love this album,
June 8, 2016 @ 9:45 pm
Glad to see Dori Freeman here. I listened to her for the first time a few weeks ago (found her because Nadia mentioned her a few times.) She’s great, I love her vocals.
June 9, 2016 @ 2:22 pm
My favorites so far this year:
1. Austin Lucas
2. Sturgill Simpson
3. Sweet GA Brown
5. Dori Freeman
6. Hayes Carll
7. Robbie Fulks
8. Margo Price
9. Michael Daves
10. Western Centuries
June 10, 2016 @ 3:17 am
The best album so far is
WRONG SIDE OF THE RIVER – ROB BAIRD
give it a try!!!
June 10, 2016 @ 3:44 pm
Love some of the ones mentioned here (Sturgill, Parker Milsap, Hayes Carll, Cactus Blossoms) and still want to listen to some of the others (Dori Freeman). Two of my favorite albums this year not mentioned are John Doe “The Westerner” and Freakwater “Scheherazade”
July 14, 2016 @ 1:05 am
My only gripe is no Lucinda Williams. Ghosts of Highway 20 is exquisite. Otherwise, great recommendations. I’ve only heard about half of the albums mentioned up there. 2016 is shaping up to be pretty decent. Hopefully it’s as good as 2015 by December.
Bigfoot is Real (lonesome, on'ry, and mean)
September 30, 2016 @ 6:26 am
Glad to see The Hackensaw Boys on the list. Ferd Moyse is my favorite fiddle player currently. Also agree with some previous commenters that Malcolm Holcombe’s “Another Black Hole” could\should be on the radar.