The Best Mainstream Country Albums of 2019
All country albums, regardless if they emanate from a major label or receive radio play, are considered for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year nominations. But not every year does a mainstream album make it. Even though one didn’t make it to the top of the heap in 2019, we had a bumper crop of quality mainstream country releases nonetheless, and it’s worth running them down and giving them their opportunity for recognition.
“Mainstream” doesn’t just mean from a major label. Tyler Childers is on a major label, but probably doesn’t qualify for what we consider mainstream country music, at least not yet. Kalie Shorr is not on a major label, but her music includes those pop sensibilities regularly associated with mainstream country. In previous years, Cody Johnson would have been considered more Texas country. But now that he is signed to a major label and receiving radio play, he’s most certainly a mainstream participant.
As we can see from the selections below, mainstream country continues to turn a corner, and if nothing else, has become much more twangy in the last couple of years in the continued implosion of Bro-Country. So let’s celebrate these titles and hope they go on to influence and strengthen this trend heading into 2020.
11. Justin Moore – Late Nights and Longnecks
Just like we’ve seen from many mainstream country performers recently, from Blake Shelton, to Reba McEntire, to Jon Pardi, to Randy Houser, making your album more country is the hot thing at the moment. Of course this is all relative since the baseline from where many of these performers started at was not very country at all aside from symbolic gestures and lyrical dog whistles. But Justin Moore might be the one of those to overhaul his sound the most, and aside from a few moments of contemporary styling, delivers a pretty damn solid country music album cover to cover in Late Nights and Longnecks.
But perhaps the greatest compliment to be paid to Late Nights and Longnecks regardless of the regular appearance of critical faux pas is you feel like this record is the real Justin Moore. It may not be great, and it’s downright bad in some spots, but you can take Justin Moore at his word when he says this is the kind of record he wanted to make, and saw it through. That in itself is admirable, and an achievement.
Almost irrespective of anyone’s personal taste on the outcomes, if the artists under control of Music Row were allowed to just be themselves and call their own shots, the music would see a marked improvement across the board. Justin Moore’s Late Nights and Longnecks is a good illustration of that and probably the best album of his career, even if it falls a bit short of being a good illustration of great country music, beyond comparing it with its peers in the mainstream. (read review)
10. Miranda Lambert – Wildcard
This new Miranda Lambert album is terrible, until it’s excellent. It might simultaneously be Miranda’s worst and best album ever. It includes some catastrophically bad moments to the point where you feel downright embarrassed for listening, along with some of the best tracks she’s ever recorded. Wildcard is just that—a spin of the wheel and a roll of the dice, because you just don’t know what you’re gonna get dealt when you cue up the next track. But there’s too much good stuff here to cast it off as just another mainstream country pop record. You have to be willing to dig a little to get to the gold. But it’s ultimately worth the patience and effort.
Saving Country Music takes the stance that country should sound like country, and quality songwriting should trump all other concerns. That is why Wildcard ends up being regarded here more positively than negatively. Nonetheless, it is important to point out the album’s shortcomings, not only to offer constructive criticism to the creative process in hopes for more positive outcomes in the future (which is the real way to “support” women or any artist), but to also warn those traditional country fans, independent country fans, and Americana fans that you may be turned off by the first few tracks from this record, but it’s worth persevering and finding the better material. Because in the case of Wildcard, that perseverance is handsomely rewarded. (read review)
9. Midland – Let It Roll
There should be no forgiveness for Midland and their naked plays to piggy back off the authenticity of actual Austin honky tonk bands until they ask for it, and the marketing run up to the release of Let It Roll was not much better than with their debut record. But if country music is ever going to be saved, the mainstream must also be conquered, and it’s going to take savvy marketers like the ones behind Midland to help do it. It’s time to bury the hatchet, to be the bigger people in the room, to recognize the good they’re doing and the quality behind their efforts beyond the qualifiers, and say, “If you want to help make classic country cool again, fine by us.”
Midland will never be the authentic Austin honky tokers they tout themselves to be. But they can be authentic to themselves, which is the challenge we all face when trying to find ourselves, when trying to win acceptance from the world at large, while also trying to carve out our unique place in it. And if they did, it would allow their music to reach an even wider audience of true country fans who want to like their music through all the trepidation. Because the music is there. (read review)
8. Luke Combs – What You See Is What You Get
Luke Combs is not the William Faulkner of country music. He’s the Grisham, or the Clancy. Ripe for mass consumption, easy to get into, riveting in moments, it’s a much more healthier alternative to a People Magazine or some trashy romance novel for a long flight, but it’s not exactly material for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s country, it’s easy on the ears, it’s above average quality for its weight class. But most importantly, it’s the undisputed most popular thing in American country music during this the streaming era.
You are kind of surprised just how country this record is—probably more country than Luke’s breakout album This One’s For You. You still definitely have some of that post Bro-Country list-style lyricism lingering on a host of these songs, but not enough to make you switch it off. For the toughest country connoisseurs out there, Luke Combs will remain on the outside of their listening rotation, and for fair reasons. But for a greater number of general listeners every day, Luke Combs is who they prefer over Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. He is the biggest country music artist in 2019, and will hold that title into 2020 barring unforeseen circumstances. And regardless of what you think personally about him, that assessment bodes well for the future of country music. (read review)
7. Cody Johnson – Ain’t Nothin’ To It
If anything, Cody Johnson’s major label debut Ain’t Nothin’ To It is just as country as his previous records, if not more. And it may be just as well-written, if not better. That’s the other concern you have when a Texas country artist finally gets his shot at the big time, especially if they already have a bevy of releases under their belt like Cody does. Did they shoot all their best bullets off getting there, only to arrive with nothing left in the chamber? That’s definitely not the case with Ain’t Nothin’ To It.
Blessed with a good variety of songs that fit many specific moods and tastes, if there was any specific takeaway from Ain’t Nothin’ To It, it’s that Cody Johnson is maturing at the right time. Some of his earlier albums were anchored by songs that were a little too self-ingratiating. This album is anchored by songs that speak to life and love. Better albums were released in country music in 2019. But just appreciate that Cody Johnson’s Ain’t Nothin’ To It is a mainstream release. It went to #1 in all of country music. Cody’s got a songs doing well on radio. This is the moment that a truly independent Texas music artist went to Nashville, did it his way, and succeeded. It’s country, and cool, and twangy. And all of country music is better off for it. (read review)
6. Kalie Shorr – Open Book
Open Book a standout in the usually cotton candy world of country pop. It’s always sunny in Nashville, at least west of the Cumberland River, or unless you’re eliciting for alligator tears in some sappy, formulaic radio ballad. But Kalie Shorr isn’t having any of that. Open Book is just that—an unabashed revelation of bad decisions, naked sin, sadness, anger, personal issues, and self-loathing, making her persona more dark and manic than most of the Americana artists on the east side of town who love to lie about the pathetic nature of their lives to give their songs “soul.”
What Kalie Shorr has also done in Open Book is what every true artist wishes to do whenever the make a record, which is capture raw emotions in bold strokes that resonate deeply with an audience and connect us with our shared humanity. Even when she’s doing wrong, you want to root for her, because you’ve been there too, but didn’t have the guts to put it out there for public consumption like she does. (read review)
5. Randy Houser – Magnolia
Whether you think Magnolia by Randy Houser is any good depends on your perspective. But from the perspective of an album released in the mainstream where often you’re just happy to get through most of the songs without suffering a drum machine, it’s pretty great.
Randy Houser not only co-writes all twelve tracks of Magnolia, he sings the shit out of them. You’re almost caught off guard by the power, soul, and potency in his voice in songs like the emotional “Good Place to Cry,” and the warble and control he exhibits in “What Leaving Looks Like” is spellbinding beyond the quality of the lyrics and story.
Magnolia might not be great for you. But it’s great for Randy Houser, and great for a mainstream release, which means it’s great for country music, even if it may not be great for you. The trend of country music reverting back to quality continues, and now Randy Houser has contributed his exemplary voice to this movement. (read review)
4. Vince Gill – Okie
Vince Gill and Okie come completely out of left field in both the power and scope this project contains. We had a sense it would be one of Gill’s most personal records to date, and it most certainly is. And now that the Hall of Famer doesn’t need to hassle with recording radio singles or keeping the suits happy, he can write and record whatever he wants. All twelve of the tracks on Okie were co-written by Gill, and eight were written all by himself. His faith is at the forefront, his concern about the tempest-tossed nature of today’s societal upheaval is sincere, and his wisdom is sharp and biting in a record that speaks to our time poignantly and surprisingly free of judgement. In short, a 62-year-old with grown kids who is well past his commercial prime has released the album that we needed right now, and not because it leans on popular platitudes about social causes, but because it avoids them for the cool and calming nature of eternal truths that regardless of religious affiliations, have always been universally true.
When you first heard about Okie, perhaps you expected Vince Gill to compose some rag tag version of country music tunes evoking the early sounds of Merle Haggard and notions of Grapes of Wrath, especially when he told you he had sheathed his Telecaster completely for this effort. That still might be there under the surface, but the experience of Okie is much more involved, spiritual, and important. In a time when everyone is engrossed in the here-and-now battles of everyday polarization, when winning in the short term is sacrificed for long-term gains and understanding, Vince Gill tries to exercise prudence and foster understanding. And if approached with an open heart and mind, he succeeds in Okie. (read review)
3. George Strait – Honky Tonk Time Machine
It seems strange to characterize George Strait’s latest record Honky Tonk Time Machine as a return to his roots. After all, this is George Strait. But nonetheless, it’s a fair accreditation to make, and a welcome conclusion to settle upon when you appreciate the authority with which George Strait can deliver a honky tonk heartbreaker, or a barroom boot scooter, which he does on numerous occasions on this album.
You get everything you want out of a George Strait record in Honky Tonk Time Machine, from some great mid tempo stuff that’s perfect for Saturday night, along with few serious tear jerkers, to the point where you don’t feel uncomfortable telling people you believe this might be one of Strait’s better efforts in the latter half of his career.
Debate upon what country music is and who is allowed to make it will continue into eternity. But if tasked with describing country music in two words, a damn good answer would simply be “George Strait.” (read review)
2. Reba McEntire – Stronger Than The Truth
From albums of adult contemporary songs to multi-season sitcoms bearing her name, Reba McEntire’s celebrity has swelled well beyond the borders of country, and her financial well-being has long since been secure. Her spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda is minted, and she’s one of the few entertainers commonly allowed to use “queen” alongside her name. Reba McEntire has nothing to gain by making a strong country record at this point in her career. But she did it anyway because she wanted to. And that sense of deliberate passion and artistic freedom comes through in the twelve inspired songs of Stronger Than The Truth.
Even with all of the musical meandering that Reba McEntire has done in her career, there’s still something immediately familiar and comforting about hearing her voice. From the strong efforts of her early career, to the apex of her commercial fame with “Fancy,” and irrespective of her more contemporary efforts, Reba McEntire immediately reminds you of an era in country music where everything made much more sense. Stronger Than The Truth is an album worth doting on not just because it might be Reba McEntire’s most country record to date, but because it very well may be one of her best. (read review)
1. Jon Pardi – Heartache Medication
It’s a good thing that Jon Pardi is a big guy. Because bravely, and with little regard for life and limb, he’s chosen unilaterally to use himself like a human bulwark against the invading hordes of pop, hip-hop, and EDM descending from the surrounding hillsides like unwashed hordes of undead looking to consume every last bit of roots and twang still left clinging onto the picked-over carcass of mainstream country, and he’s doing so by releasing an album that actually sounds like country music cover to cover. My God, give this man a medal of honor, and pray for his soul.
The resurgence of more country-sounding material in the mainstream in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse that was Bro-Country is real and resounding, and Jon Pardi has been a spearhead of that movement. He’s not out there hard cussing his fellow performers. He’s leading by example and being a gentleman about it, proving that strong country sounds can still be successful to wide audiences if they’re just given a chance, and opening doors for other performers to do the same.
Some will criticize it simply because it is from the popular side of country, while others may laud it too much simply because it’s head and shoulders above its mainstream competitors. But no matter where it lands in your little country music ethos, it’s undeniable Jon Pardi is putting himself in a leadership position towards returning twang to country in all its forms with Heartache Medication, and that should be universally applauded. (read review)
December 10, 2019 @ 11:48 am
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Reba’s album. Cody Johnson’s is my favorite and most listened to from this list.
December 10, 2019 @ 11:49 am
Trig you ever thought about including stuff released in December 2019 in best of 2020 lists? Or what about following the Jewish calendar and doing year end lists based on that? Cheers
December 10, 2019 @ 12:05 pm
1) The album release cycle severely slows down in December, and most everything that will be released I’ve been able to at least preview. So if I thought there was some landmark album in the offing, it would be included.
2) I don’t post my Essential Albums list, or announce Album of the Year and Song of the Year until right near the end of the year, if not the first couple of days of the next one. That not only gives me time to consider December releases, but for the public to do so as well.
3) Though the releases have definitely slowed down over the last few weeks, there’s still be some great albums coming out, and I will continue to review them, while still trying to catch up with stuff that I missed from earlier in the year. The Marfa project, Country Side of Harmonica Sam, Shane Owens, Nick Shoulders, Elijah Ocean, and some others have been some late year releases worth checking out.
December 11, 2019 @ 12:15 am
McKay & Leigh just released a terrific album, FYI.
As to this mainstream country stuff, it’s important, given your role, for you to be familiar with it and to review it. Nonetheless, as a plain old listener, there is too much beauty on our side of the fence for me to spend time on these releases. I tried Pardi and had to switch it off.
January 1, 2020 @ 6:53 pm
Why didnt you enjoy Pardi? He’s very traditional, and while it doesnt sound like soemthing from 20 years ago or longer, it’s still very country. Truth is, music should evolve, and he has showed what country should sound like evolved, he keeps traditional. Theres a damn good amount of fiddle and steel in there for me to listen. But I listen to Jason James, Turnpike, Tim Culpepper, Jason Eady, etc more.
January 1, 2020 @ 9:06 pm
I hear what you’re saying and will give Pardi another shot. The truth is, though, between this site and Instagram, I am in a constant state of bliss at the incredible, unbelievable, magical music that gets added to my life every day. This week alone, I finally listened to Kathryn Legendre and Jamie Lin Wilson. That should be more than enough for a lifetime’s worth of blessings, right? But add to that Weldon Hensen, the amazing Will Beeley, Black Lillies, Daniel Norgren, Leslie Stevens, Austin Meade, Uncle Lucius, Jason Boland, Sons of Bill, The Sons of Rainier, Chris Knight (yes, that was a big hole), and even more in just the past two, maybe three weeks….
So with this seemingly-unending surfeit of riches–Trig’s “Essentials” list for this year alone has dozens I haven’t tried yet!– I’m not terribly motivated to put much effort into finding a way to like a guy such as Pardi who has even a noticeable tinge of poppiness to his music. I’d rather listen to Vincent Neil Emerson’s album a few more times, or Croy and the Boys’ album for the thousandth time (it is a gem and truly never gets old). I just started listening to Flatland Cavalry a month ago, and hadn’t even paid careful attention to Mike and the Moonpies until shortly before that. And I’ll out myself here and now: I don’t know jack about the Turnpike Troubadours yet! I haven’t given American Aquarium much of a spin yet, either. Buddy, I have a lot of work to do! 🙂
So with all of this, I listened to Pardi with a skeptical ear to begin with and it didn’t take much for me to decide it wasn’t worth bothering. I’ll try again, though, based on your encouragement.
December 10, 2019 @ 11:52 am
Unless Kalie is hiding something extra under her dress my vote goes to King George.
December 10, 2019 @ 1:41 pm
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
December 10, 2019 @ 9:19 pm
What? George Strait had a solid record this year…
December 12, 2019 @ 1:47 pm
long time listener, first time commenter…this comment has me laughing uncontrollably
are you talking about dong?
December 14, 2019 @ 7:43 am
I can’t be the only one thinking it hehehe
December 10, 2019 @ 12:05 pm
I totally agree with this. My mainstream favorites were (in order):
1. Jon Pardi
2. Randy Houser
3. Aaron Lewis
4. Cody Johnson
5. The Highwomen
6. George Strait.
7. Tanya Tucker
I was not very thrilled with Midland’s latest one.
Justin Moore, Reba, Miranda, Vince Gill, and Luke Combs were decent.
Haven’t heard of Kalie Shorr, so I’ll have to check that out.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:08 pm
Kyle, I’m curious where Aaron Lewis would have fell on your list? I know he and Eric Church don’t get much love on this site it seems.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:23 pm
I think Eric Church has received quite a bit of positive press here over the last few years as he’s matured a lot. If I included Aaron Lewis here, I’d probably put his record mid pack or so. It’s a fine album, but I think there’s probably better. I did consider him here, but I just think a lot of what he’s doing is sort of anti-mainstream, so it felt weird to include him. Here’s my review of his record just in case you didn’t see it:
December 10, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
Just for the record, I didn’t really consider either The Highwomen or Tanya Tucker as mainstream releases, though I can totally understand why someone would. Since they weren’t on major labels and didn’t receive mainstream radio play, it just didn’t fit with what I was going for here. But I also can see with Tanya’s history and Maren’s involvement in The Highwomen, they could be considered on the bubble.
I also didn’t consider Aaron Lewis or Aaron Watson, though I can definitely see how some would consider that mainstream as well. Though Aaron Lewis is on Big Machine, he’s definitely working the independent channels. Aaron Watson is more independent, and though he has received some radio play, that really hasn’t happened for him yet with “Red Bandana.”
All these were good projects and will be highlighted on the “Essential Albums” list, but weren’t exactly what I was going for here. Also, Vince Gill was a gross oversight, and has been added.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:59 pm
Sometimes frame of reference comes into play with respect to what is mainstream, what is not, and what is on the bubble. Basically, I mean geographically. In Georgia, particularly my market of the metro Atlanta area, The Highwomen, Aaron Watson, and Aaron Lewis are definitely not mainstream because of the subpar country stations that I rarely, if ever, listen to. Tanya Tucker might be considered mainstream because of her history, but the reality is, she is not anymore. I would suspect that all of these artists could be considered mainstream in Texas, or at least on the bubble, but definitely not in Georgia. So, I would assume that labeling someone mainstream would consider a national view and not just local.
My hometown of Monroe, which is sort of the metro Atlanta, but really outside that area, has a local station that plays the classics (mostly 80s and 90s) and a few mainstream artists. But you still won’t hear Turnpike, Cody Jinks, or even Jon Pardi. They played Whitey Morgan on their special Saturday night show and I almost ran off the road.
December 12, 2019 @ 3:29 pm
Kyle thanks for explaining the thought process on this. I was just curious and I get your viewpoint on it. I think in regards to the negative viewpoints toward Church or Lewis it’s probably not so much your articles but the comments that I remember in the past. I also might have overlooked some of your more recent articles on their albums.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:32 pm
I always chuckle to myself when I see that George Strait album cover. They really had to crop the hell out of the Broken Spoke image to keep the condos from view! Hehe.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:57 pm
You can still see a little bit of one of those condo balconies creepin’ in on the right. If I were in charge of the album cover I would’ve photo-shopped that right out. Though, maybe it would’ve been more ironic/funny, and poignant, to actually include more of those condos on either side, with the diminutive Broken Spoke building squeezed in the middle. That image would speak volumes.
Side note, check out the 2016 documentary “Honky Tonk Heaven” about the Broken Spoke, if you haven’t already. A few good cameos in there, including Mike and the Moonpies. I think it’s streaming for free on Amazon Prime right now. Worth a watch.
December 12, 2019 @ 3:35 pm
I thought that documentary on the Broken Spoke was great! I have never been there, being from Illinois, but it is on my list to visit someday along with Gruene Hall, Billy Bobs, and Floore’s. Hopefully they will still be around by the time I get the chance. By the way, assuming you’re from Texas, do you recommend any other dance halls that are a must visit for anyone visiting Texas?
December 12, 2019 @ 5:35 pm
I’m not from Texas, but I’ve got family and friends there. I live in DC. My handle is the name of a character from a silly 80’s cartoon I used to watch.
December 10, 2019 @ 1:10 pm
I think they shouldn’t have cropped it. Showing the encroaching surrounding buildings would have only reinforced the album title’s theme. Would’ve even echoed of the Alamo a bit.
December 11, 2019 @ 11:12 am
Reminds me of the Station Inn in Nashville. Even though I can’t recall it being used for a mainstream album cover, and it’s more iconic for it’s bluegrass history instead of country. It’s slowly being encroached by condos and other businesses as well.
December 10, 2019 @ 12:47 pm
Some of the lyrics on Pardi’s album are dumb as rocks (though I enjoy a good pun – “Tequila Little Time”? well played), but gotdamn if those songs don’t stick in your head and make you wanna move. It’s rare a country album amps me up like this one. Credit were it’s due. It’s definitely my favorite mainstream country album of the year. Unfortunately there are at least ten “indie” country albums that I like better, so it didn’t make my overall top ten. Definitely on my top ten runners-up list though.
December 11, 2019 @ 9:18 am
Pardi was hurt by having way too many songs on his album. It’s nearly impossible to record 14-16 songs and not have some dudes. Pardi should have stuck with just 10. I can say the same thing about Luke’s album. Too many songs.
December 11, 2019 @ 9:40 am
Agreed. Just about all my favorite albums this year came in under 40 minutes apiece, most hovering around 30 minutes. I love an album full of bangers that gets to the point quickly, and leaves you wanting more when it’s done.
One of my favorites, Charles Wesley Godwin’s Seneca Creek, comes in at 50 minutes (same as Pardi’s album) which is a bit long and could’ve benefited from some trimming. However, I get it. He’s a young, new indie artist and it seems like he wanted to release an opus while he had the chance. The album does have an epic quality to it, so I can’t blame him. I still love it.
December 10, 2019 @ 1:03 pm
really digging the Kalie Shorr album since you first reviewed it.
You’re review was pretty spot on: too pop for americana, to blunt for radio.. musically not always but jam – but lyrically it’s unabashed and brutal, which i’ll take any day
December 10, 2019 @ 1:25 pm
YES Yes Yes. I Stan. I Stan. I Stan. I’m a Pardi fan!!!
December 10, 2019 @ 1:27 pm
Will Pardi be winning album of the year at the ACMs & CMAs?? I hope so
December 13, 2019 @ 11:25 am
I honestly think he’ll win it at one of them.
December 10, 2019 @ 1:47 pm
Gina Jeffreys – Beautiful Tangle (Best Mainstream Album of the Year)
George Strait – Honky Tonk Time Machine
Reba McEntire – Stronger Than The Truth
Hayley Marsten – Spectacular Heartbreak
Lee Kernaghan – Backroad Nation
Cody Johnson – Ain’t Nothin’ To It
Tanya Tucker – While I’m Livin’
James Lann – Everydayers
Jon Stork – Radio Cowboy
Jon Wolfe – Feels Like Country Music (Best Mainstream EP of the Year)
Cornell & Carr – We Go Way Back
Grant Gilbert – Loud & Clear
December 10, 2019 @ 1:53 pm
Also, the article photo is of Cody Johnson on the right… Shouldn’t it be of Jon Pardi to feature your top 3 albums..
December 10, 2019 @ 3:56 pm
Didn’t want to show my full hand with the title image. Pardi got his due.
December 10, 2019 @ 2:49 pm
He’s independent but I would consider Aaron Watson to be closer to the mainstream now, I don’t know much about her other that glancing at your review but he seems more mainstream than Shorr. Red Bandana has its flaws but definitely deserves recognition with these if you feel like it fits into the mainstream picture.
December 10, 2019 @ 2:51 pm
Midland or Reba would be my pick out of these.
Even though I’ve been a loud voice against many of these albums, I appreciate seeing the mainstream industry shift toward at least pretending to show that they care about real music.
December 10, 2019 @ 3:10 pm
kudos to you ,trigger, for listening to , processing , evaluating the merits , the artistry , the popularity and the intent of all of the records above . you’ve done a stellar job in selecting these and in promoting the efforts of the artists responsible for trying to right the ship .
with the exception of only one artist above , who I wasn’t familiar with and cannot comment on , I think you’ve compiled a list that is justifiably unassailable.
December 10, 2019 @ 3:16 pm
How did I know Lambert would make your list. An album that has dropped off. That is her worse release. And no. A couple of good songs doesn’t save this. If this had been Carrie, Maren or any of that group you would have ripped it. You always handle her with kid gloves. But others you criticize. It’s perplexing. I’ll leave you to it. Hope they pay you well.
December 10, 2019 @ 4:04 pm
Yeah, the Lambert camp backed up the Brinks truck to my front door so I could give her a 6.5/10 rating and place her mid pack in mainstream releases for the year. The fix is in.
Meanwhile the Miranda fans are out there telling everyone I’m attacking her because I hate women. Being a Stan must be tiring.
December 10, 2019 @ 5:07 pm
re miranda . IMHO her good stuff on this album is as good as it gets no matter the genre but I hear the country in it …at least in terms of writing . should be required study for the wannabes who think they are writing fresh COUNTRY song lyrics . of course she’s always had the gift of writing…( yes ..she’s cranked out some crap too ) …but when you put that together with her one-of-a-kind vocal performance its all greater than the sum of the parts . I’ll take half of a miranda record over 3 full vince gill or midland records .
December 10, 2019 @ 7:22 pm
Stick to your guns Trigger
December 10, 2019 @ 3:27 pm
I sure would like to see Canadian ” country’ radio follow suite in getting back to some REAL country music . it seems that there’s some GREAT stuff by Tenille Townes …..then there’s everything else and it is just God-awful at the moment ….generic , poppy, bro-like , cliche and soulless .
December 10, 2019 @ 4:32 pm
Canadian country derailed completely.
I like the new Tenille Arts track “Nothing To See Here”.
A new album is in the pipeline: Love, Heartbreak & Everything In Between (01/10).
The James Barker Band with “Slow Down Town” is a “guilty pleasure” track.
The funny (well…) thing is…canadian country is releasing “i am so supa dupa country” tracks every week right now:
#10 – Steven Lee Olsen – “Hello Country”
#16 – Reklaws – “Old Country Soul”
#27 – Jess Moskaluke – “Country Girls”
#43 – Washboard Union – “Country Thunder”
(Source: Billboard Canada Country National Airplay – 12/07)
December 10, 2019 @ 4:56 pm
canadian mainstream ‘country music ‘ …its totally fake …totally enamored with the success of the WRONG american ‘country ‘ music ….the inauthentic ‘country’ for people who ‘never knew they liked country’. that’s all we’re chasing up here . so sad cuz some of these folks are extremely talented but have no vision . saying that …there are so many gifted writers and singers in canada who can’t get the time of day and who REALLY do represent roots canada …..authentic ….REAL …..traditional …… it makes the commercial thing even less palatable and more disheartening.
December 10, 2019 @ 4:15 pm
I guess it’s up to me to discuss what’s really important: the album covers.
It’s a Marlboro ad.
I am a book written by a committee for strategic placement on the “teens” shelf.
Feminine product packaging.
My kid drew like this in grade school, just like your kid did.
Metal, casual, and Texas: yeehaw it’s Country Jesus!
This is not your average librarian on Playboy.
In a word, “The Seventies.”
Nothing here will ever be in bad taste, because Amy.
What you see is what you get. Like this bar.
I am stronger than my silk camisole, but no, this is not really my bar.
I may not be Waylon, but I’m tryin’.
North Woods Country
December 10, 2019 @ 6:16 pm
Yeah, that Shorr cover is so obvious. I mean, come on. Make an effort other than “she’s hot, so let’s take a tease picture.”
North Woods Country
December 10, 2019 @ 5:05 pm
Flash back to 2016, tell all your music loving buddies that in 2019, Jon Pardi is going to release an album that is superior to the album that Sturgill Simpson releases in the same year.
December 10, 2019 @ 8:00 pm
Really glad Jon Pardi was at number one. I think he should have explored more “themes” in this record, but the music is undeniably country and the songs are so dang catchy. It really was the best of the mainstream by far, at least to me… and to you!
December 10, 2019 @ 8:58 pm
Not in any particular order but out of these the ones that are still hangin around my rotation
Justin Moore – (Target version minus the 2 songs I couldn’t stand). Has really grown on me.
Midland – It’s ok but not grabbin me like the debut album. They’re trying though.
Jon Pardi – again, not blowing me away like California Sunrise but still real solid.
Luke Combs – the latest songs aren’t as good as the first 5 (Prequel) maybe I’m just kind of getting sick of him and not really giving em a chance. Still happy for him and it’s better than 90% of the garbage on the radio.
December 11, 2019 @ 1:55 am
It is all a matter of personal taste but it would be hard to disagree with most on that list. Shorr, a Taylor Swift soundalike but not as good (? My opinion) would not make mine (is she country?). Miranda Lambert maybe not? Undecided. I agree with your comments. Bad and good……she is yet for me to make a consistently good album but when she is good, she is very good. Really enjoyed Midland’s new album. Great follow up to their debut. Strait’s album was superb. Gill’s quietly brilliant. McEntire’s was as good if not better than anything she has ever released. A year with lots of good music from the majors and the independents.
December 11, 2019 @ 3:37 am
Since country radio is non-existent in my country, I’m actually looking forward to check these albums out.
December 11, 2019 @ 5:52 am
‘But if country music is ever going to be saved, the mainstream must also be conquered, . . . ‘
Disagree. Fuck’em. Let’em dry up and whither on the vine. Sun Tzu said, “in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.” There is no reason to take on Nashville like some doomed German attack on Stalingrad.
My hope would be that more rising artists stay independent, use the channels that are available to them, and retain control of and profits from their efforts. If enough do that, vacant offices in the ghost town that will be music row will be had for cheap.
‘And now that the Hall of Famer doesn’t need to hassle with recording radio singles or keeping the suits happy, . . .’
So–I’m not sure how that qualifies this Vince Gill release as mainstream?
And this Jon Pardi thing that I simply don’t get, with his DX-7 sawtooth vocoder vocal patch. SMH
Still and all the mainstream being more traditional does tend to open the market for traditional artists. The key will be to maintain that opening for the long term, without needlessly selling out to a doomed, outdated paradigm that will only withdraw whatever support it offers now as soon as the next ‘big thing’ rears its ugly head.
December 11, 2019 @ 11:16 am
The Vince Gill album was released on a major label. He’s a well-known artist from years of radio play and awards recognition. I agree he sits on the bubble of what might be considered “mainstream” as do some of the other artists included, and others that weren’t. But I think Gill fits well into the spirit of this list.
P.S: Posting lists has become such a mine field these days, I’m not sure how much more of it I will be doing. The effort is to inform the public about music they may like, while much of the public these days just looks at them as things to tear down because they don’t reaffirm their feelings. I respect everyone’s opinion. My lists are just mine meant to help turn people on to music they may like.
December 11, 2019 @ 10:20 pm
Please don’t stop posting lists! They are 98% appreciated. Don’t be dissuaded by the 2%.
December 12, 2019 @ 3:47 pm
ditto to what what Matt says. Don’t stop posting your year end lists! I may not catch every review or article you post throughout the year but the year end review is where I eventually catch up. I actually enjoy the comments, not so much as disagreement, but as to what people feel is not on the list and their recommendations to other albums/artists not listed to check out.
December 13, 2019 @ 3:57 pm
Long time reader, first time posting.
I also agree with Matt, your lists are great! Sometimes I miss a review, and the lists are a great reminder.
I haven’t stopped listening to Charlie Marie from you list the other day …
All I can say to your lists, and all of you work and efforts; thank you, thank you, thank you.
December 13, 2019 @ 3:59 pm
Thanks for reading Lowgas.
December 11, 2019 @ 5:54 am
I just cannot stand Justin Moore. That goofy Southern accent… it has got to be a put on.
I bought Honky Tonk Time Machine on vinyl. I love “Heartache Medication” and “Mr. Lonely.” There was a lot of good in the mainstream this year compared to the Bro Country era. I hope 2020 keeps trending that way!
December 11, 2019 @ 6:30 am
Jon Pardi is awful in my opinion. He sounds like Florida Georgia Lines singer, no matter how country the music is supposed to be. Pass, always.
And a good album should never have any bad, terrible, or embarrassing moments..
December 11, 2019 @ 8:25 am
I agree. ‘Call Me Country’ is horrible for it’s name dropping. Pardi is awfully presumptuous to be singing ‘we’. Also it’s ‘needle on the record’ , Jon. ‘Heartache Medication’ would be better done by Midland in their sexy style.
December 11, 2019 @ 8:45 am
Kalie Shorr, nope. I agree with the rest of the list. Carry On!
December 11, 2019 @ 11:06 am
One think I like about the Pardi record (aside from him being from my home state) is it is just so damn fun. I think it is harder than people realize to make a great record that is also just damn fun because the “artist” side can get in the way.
A you’re right if Pardi is the gateway drug for people who can really complain.
December 11, 2019 @ 1:56 pm
Jon Pardi? Now, I haven’t listened to a ton of Jon Pardi, but he occasionally pops up on my Pandora or whatever. From what I’ve heard he’s just another mainstream pop country act that’s indistinguishable from most of the other mediocre music that comes out. Anytime he comes up around here it leaves me scratching my head. Can someone please educate me on what I’m missing here? Maybe links to specific songs? The ones I’ve heard sound straight out of the recycled Nashville machine. Why do people like this guy so much?
December 11, 2019 @ 9:09 pm
Happy to help…
Head Over Boots, That Man, Love You from Here, She Ain’t in It, Just Like Old Times, Love Her Like She’s Leaving, Starlight, Ain’t Always the Cowboy, Call Me Country….
The thing I love about Jon is his instrumentation – his band is unbelievable!! Jon’s voice is unique, raw, and twangy, I love it!!! His lyrics are like Alan Jackson or George Strait… They aren’t too revealing or deep.. His song lyrics are just supposed to be fun or relatable. But “Starlight” is pretty deep for Pardi, it’s a tribute to his late grandmother.
December 11, 2019 @ 8:21 pm
You NAILED this freaking list. Perhaps the only artist/albums I would add would depend on whether or not they even fall in this category, and that would be Riley Green and Whiskey Myers. Otherwise, this is basically a list of my favorite “mainstream” albums from this year.
December 12, 2019 @ 11:37 am
Good list. I probably would have flipped Reba and Pardi, but can’t find a single thing to complain about here.
December 13, 2019 @ 10:11 am
George may have taken the title if he had left off the last two songs on the album. I completely agree with Heartache Medication being #1.Tons of fiddle and lots of solid dance songs. The last third of the album shows a side we have yet to see from him that sadly has gone unnoticed by most on this site and in general. Bold prediction – Heartache Medication wins either the 2020 ACM or CMA for album of the year!!
December 13, 2019 @ 2:40 pm
Call Me Country, Just Like Old Times, Love Her Like She’s Leaving, and Starlight.. Quite a lineup to wrap up an outstanding album.
Fun fact, “Just Like Old Times” and “Starlight” were cut from the California Sunrise album in 2016 & Jon very much wanted those songs to appear on Heartache Medication!!
December 13, 2019 @ 2:22 pm
Did nobody like the Trisha Yearwood album? Great list and a great year for country music.
Atomic Zombie Redneck
December 14, 2019 @ 10:30 am
Agreed, and then some.
Wildcard is growing on me, though I still hate it as much as I love it.
December 15, 2019 @ 2:00 pm
This list is pretty spot-on in my view, especially the top 3.
December 25, 2019 @ 11:41 am
That Jon Pardi album is excellent. That guy really stepped up and made a great, pure country record. I remember Trigger reviewing the title track and saying “he’ll probably come out with something to pander to radio later” and I would have agreed, but he really didn’t in the end. No bro country, no snap tracks, no “I’m from a small town” pandering.