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Best Country Sounding /Rock/Pop/Rap Albums 2018

Best Country Albums Of 2018 – Sounds Like Nashville

2018 saw no shortage of amazing music from the Nashville community so SLN gathered our favorite country albums of the year.

Newcomers ruled 2018 with standout debut releases from Devin Dawson, Jordan Davis and Jimmie Allen. The year also brought the much anticipated comeback of Sugarlandand the Pistol Annies. While females struggled at country radio throughout 2018, they inarguably delivered some of the strongest projects of the year with both Kacey Musgraves and Ashley McBryde receiving Best Country Album nominations by the Recording Academy. Whether you prefer traditional country music or are a fan of the genre embracing slick beats, pop influences and swagger, 2018 offered up a mixture of both.

Below are our favorite albums of 2018.

Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves; Album cover art

Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves released one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year with the striking Golden Hour. The singer penned all 13 of the project’s heartfelt tracks, which spans traditional country, pop influences and even disco flavors. Her vulnerabilities are showcased on powerful ballads like “Butterflies” and “Mother,” both of which highlight her ethereal vocals. Meanwhile, standout track “Space Cowboy” shows her prowess as a vivid lyricist and the feel-good “Velvet Elvis” demonstrates her fun side. With 13 tracks that span her influences, Musgraves more than delivered on Golden Hour. Fittingly, the project was nominated for two Grammy Awards in both the Best Country Album and all-genre Album of the Year categories.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood; Photo Credit by Randee St. Nicholas

Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty

Carrie Underwood returned in 2018 with her most dynamic release yet. The country powerhouse co-produced her album for the first time with producer David Garcia, and the project blends country and pop elements for a truly memorable compilation. While the title track showcases Underwood’s unwavering ability at vocal gymnastics with belts that leave the listener’s jaw on the floor, other songs like the sultry “Backsliding” with forward-thinking production, demonstrate her penchant for trying something new. Pop-tinged tracks “Southbound” and “End Up with You” highlight Underwood’s crossover ability while the timely “Love Wins” and poignant “The Bullet” channel the country genre’s powerful songwriters. All the while Underwood continues to prove why she’s one of the industry’s most revered vocalists.

Kane Brown

Kane Brown; Photo credit: Joseph Llanes

Kane Brown’s Experiment

Kane Brown made history with his sophomore album, Experiment, as the first male country artist in 24 years to have his second project debut atop the Billboard 200 in its opening week. The album includes many of the old-school instruments that country music is known for — the dobro, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and steel guitar — mixed in with a “new cool sound” according to Brown. Tracks like the traditional sounding “Short Skirt Weather” coupled with the sultry R&B and urban rhythms of “Weekend” exemplify this diversity. “Lose It,” the album’s lead single, has gone on to become the fastest rising single of Brown’s career and third-consecutive No. 1. As he continues to break down boundaries as a biracial artist in the industry, Brown also made one of the most enjoyable albums released in 2018.

Brothers Osborne

Brothers Osborne; Cover art courtesy Universal Music Group Nashville

Brothers Osborne’s Port Saint Joe

On Port Saint Joe, Brothers Osborne prove why they’re the reigning ACM and CMA Vocal Duo of the Year. Their standout musicianship and powerful lyrics make for a memorable record that continues to grow with each listen. Additionally, Port Saint Joe spans a broad spectrum of sounds and musical influences. While writing the country waltz “Tequila Again,” Brothers Osborne envisioned Willie Nelson cutting the tune for Red Headed Stranger. Meanwhile, “A Little Bit Trouble” evokes an old R&B and soul flavor, one of the many sounds they grew up listening to. Brothers Osborne are well known for bringing the guitar slinging to their rock-fueled tracks, but their sensitive side is also showcased on songs like the ode to lifetime love, “Pushing Up Daisies,” and powerful album closer “While You Still Can.”

Eric Church

Eric Church; Cover art courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media, LLC

Eric Church’s Desperate Man

Eric Church has a long history of bucking trends, and his sixth studio album Desperate Man is no different. The 11-track project finds the singer once again pushing boundaries as well as himself. The album reflects a man trying to find his place in society, and while at times he’s unsure of his footing, he remains solid in his conviction and in his roots. The rollicking and bluesy throwback “Hanging Around” highlights Church’s mesmerizing falsetto alongside hand-clapped rhythms and sultry piano accompaniment. While “Desperate Man” and the bluesy “Solid” showcase Church’s steadfast nature, it’s the heartbreaking “Jukebox and a Bar” and the reflective “Some of It” that illustrate his soft side. It’s this raw vulnerability coupled with stellar musicianship and the element of surprise that has Church on an entirely different playing field from his contemporaries.

Pistol Annies

Pistol Annies; Cover art courtesy of RCA Nashville

Pistol Annies’ Interstate Gospel

Pistol Annies’ superb harmonies are at the forefront of Interstate Gospel as is their candid storytelling. With a unique take on divorce (“Got My Name Changed Back”), heartbreak (“Masterpiece”) and marriage (“When I Was His Wife”), the acclaimed trio, made up of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, don’t hold anything back. Much of the album comes from real-life experiences the women have faced, but they’re not revealing to which singer. That, they leave up to their listeners to ponder. A powerful force, Pistol Annies prove that women have songs that need to be heard and stories that need to be told. While the genre seems to be leaning more and more towards pop production and hip-hop elements as of late, Pistol Annies stand firm in tradition with country instrumentation, witty songs and honest storytelling that makes the listener stop and think.

Ashley McBryde

Ashley McBryde; Cover art courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Ashley McBryde’s Girl Going Nowhere

Ashley McBryde’s honest songwriting is highlighted throughout Girl Going Nowhere, and the singer puts the listener in the song on tracks like “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” and the unique love song, “American Scandal.” On “Andy (I Can’t Live Without You),” McBryde shows her vulnerabilities when penning a song for her best friend and guitar player. The standout moment, though, is the album’s title track, which has become an anthem for both the singer and country fans alike. Inspired by an algebra teacher who told the Arkansas native she should have a backup plan when she shared her dream of moving to Nashville to write songs, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is a powerful and heartfelt ballad that has McBryde proving her naysayers wrong. And with a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album McBryde is getting the last laugh now.

Devin Dawson; Cover art courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Devin Dawson; Cover art courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Devin Dawson’s Dark Horse

Devin Dawson blends country, Motown and rock influences for a memorable debut album. The California native had a hand in writing each of the 12 tracks on Dark Horse, and whether he’s lamenting of the end of a relationship on “Secondhand Hurt” or singing of treating his lady right on the sultry “I Don’t Care Who Sees,” his unique blend of country songwriting and musical swagger impress. Standout song “Asking For a Friend” further showcases his talent as an adept songwriter. On closing track, “Dark Horse,” Dawson opens the curtain and shares who he is as a person. His unique storytelling partnered with Jay Joyce’s standout production give Dark Horse it’s appeal, which is surely just a taste of Dawson’s promising career.

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley; Cover art courtesy The Greenroom

Dierks Bentley’s The Mountain

Dierks Bentley returns to his roots for his ninth studio album, The Mountain. The singer wrote and recorded the project in Telluride, Colorado, after attending Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Throughout the album, Bentley’s appreciation for the genre and musical and lyrical authenticity shines through. The Mountain kicks off with the standout “Burning Man,” featuring Brothers Osborne, where Bentley sings of life’s struggles and triumphs. This introspection is heard throughout the majority of the project, particularly on the reflective “Living” and album closer “How I’m Going Out.” Never afraid to switch gears or push genre lines, Bentley proves a master at finding inspiration within his surroundings. As a result, his talent as a songwriter and distinct musical influences merge on The Mountain for a release that will serve as a timeless addition to his catalog.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis; Cover art courtesy MCA Nashville

Jordan Davis’ Home State

Jordan Davis proves his staying power on his superb debut album, Home State. The Shreveport, Louisiana, native worked with producer Paul DiGiovanni for the 12-song collection. All co-written by Davis, Home State blends slick production and thoughtful lyrics for a unique project. Standout ballads like “Slow Dance In a Parking Lot” and “Leaving New Orleans” emphasize his sentimental side, while “Take It From Me,” “More Than I Know” and debut single “Singles You Up” showcase his undeniable country swagger. A standout debut that highlights Davis’s ability as both a vocalist and a songwriter, Home State marries big sounds and production with the vulnerability of his lyrics for a truly enjoyable listen.

Keith Urban

Keith Urban; Photo credit: Mark Seliger

Keith Urban’s Graffiti U

Keith Urban’s ninth studio album, Graffiti U, continues where his adventurous 2016 release Ripcord left off. While slick production and Urban’s familiar vocals are heard on each song, Graffiti U pushes the singer’s music into new territory. Though the guitar-driven songs display Urban’s undeniable talent, Graffiti U also showcases his innate ability at singing emotional ballads. His voice soars on songs like the poignant Ed Sheeran penned “Parallel Line,” which includes a sample of Coldplay’s “Everglow,” as well as “Same Heart,” where he sings of trying his best to move on at the end of a relationship. Urban excels at pushing genre lines and, despite a bevy of producers putting their fingerprints on Graffiti U, the beloved singer never strays from the guitar shredding and vocally captivating country artist that he is.

Sugarland

Sugarland; Cover Art Courtesy of Big Machine Records

Sugarland’s Bigger

Sugarland marked their return in 2018 with the triumphant Bigger, their first collection of new music in seven years. Well known for penning songs with a message, the duo’s Bigger is no different. On the 11-track album there are songs that touch upon the countless school shootings throughout the nation (“Tuesday’s Broken”), female empowerment and the #MeToo movement (“Bigger”) and an all-encompassing love (“Mother”). The duo penned 10 of the 11 songs with the exception of their current single, “Babe,” co-written by Taylor Swift and Train’s Pat Monahan. A versatile release, Sugarland’s powerful messages alongside forward-thinking production make Bigger an essential listen.

Cole Swindell

Cole Swindell; Cover art courtesy Schmidt Relations

Cole Swindell’s All of It

A versatile mix of heartfelt songs, party starters and arena anthems, Cole Swindell continues his upward climb within the genre on All of It. The infectious “Love You Too Late” kicks off the project and sounds like something Luke Bryan could have recorded. An arena-ready anthem with soaring guitar parts, heart-pounding beats and polished production, “Love You Too Late” has Swindell singing of a relationship that ended before he realized what his girl meant to him. While “Somebody’s Been Drinkin’” brings the feels, standout album closer “Dad’s Old Number” leaves the greatest mark. A poignant song, it’s the sequel to “You Should Be Here” and has Swindell confessing that he still calls his dad’s phone number in hopes that he’ll be on the other end. Throughout All of It, Swindell furthers his reach within the genre.

Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe; Cover art courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Ashley Monroe ‘s Sparrow

Ashley Monroe’s descriptive songwriting is at the forefront of her latest release, Sparrow. Working with producer Dave Cobb, Monroe enlisted the help of a string orchestra which brings each song to life. The striking musicianship heard within opening track “Orphan” alongside Monroe’s haunting vocals make it an album standout. The introspective tune has the singer questioning how she can make it through the world alone. It’s this vulnerability that is heard on every track and continues to illustrate why Monroe is such a cherished songwriter within the Nashville community. Heartbreaking piano ballad “This Heaven” stuns while the sultry “Hands On You” leaves the listener mesmerized by Monroe’s ethereal vocals and the song’s steamy storyline. With a blend of traditional country and singer-songwriter appeal, Sparrow was one of 2018’s most treasured releases.

Superstar Alan Jackson Makes Plans For 2019 Tour

Alan Jackson Makes Plans For 2019 Tour

Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson announces more exciting tour dates

Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson has announced a dozen new tour dates for 2019. Kicking off January 25 in Louisville, KY, the singer will trek across the United States through most of the year before wrapping his run on September 21 in Jacksonville, FL.

Joining Jackson out on the road will be rising country star William Michael Morgan, with Randy Houser filling in on select dates. In addition to Morgan and Houser, Jackson has invited several of the artists that play in his downtown Nashville honky tonk to perform at the shows. Giving aspiring singer/songwriters a moment in the spotlight is something Jackson has always strived to do, as he’s welcomed many of country’s now-biggest names out on their first major tours (Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Young, and more).

Tickets for most of his 2019 dates are already on sale, with more dates to be added soon. For more information about tickets, of the CID Entertainment VIP experiences, visit alanjackson.com.

Alan Jackson’s 2019 Tour Dates (Dates Already On Sale, Unless Otherwise Noted):
Friday, January 25 – Louisville, KY (KFC Yum! Center) – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, January 26 – Greenville, SC (Bon Secours Wellness Arena) – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, February 22 – Madison, WI (Alliant Energy Center) – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, February 23 – Grand Rapids, MI (Van Andel Arena) ** – with William Michael Morgan
Sunday, March 10 – Bossier City, LA (CenturyLink Center) ** – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, April 12 – Oklahoma City, OK (Chesapeake Energy Arena) ++ – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, April 13 – Omaha, NE (CHI Health Center) – with Randy Houser
Friday, April 26 – Fort Wayne, IN (War Memorial Coliseum) ** – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, May 10 – Columbus, OH (Schottenstein Center) ** – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, May 17 – Winston-Salem, NC (Veterans Mem. Coliseum) ++ – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, May 18 – Hershey, PA (Giant Center) ++ – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, August 9 – Rogers, AR (Walmart AMP) – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, August 10 – Wichita, KS (Intrust Bank Arena) ++ – with William Michael Morgan
Friday, August 23 – N. Charleston, SC (N. Charleston Coliseum) – with Randy Houser
Saturday, August 24 – Charlotte, NC (Spectrum Center) – with Randy Houser
Friday, September 20 – Orlando, FL (Amway Arena) ++ – with William Michael Morgan
Saturday, September 21 – Jacksonville, FL (Veterans Memorial Coliseum) ++ – with William Michael Morgan

** Tickets on sale Friday, December 14

Sounds Like Nashville 188 Best Singles of 2018

Sounds Like Nashville 188 Best Singles of 2018

While artists like Brett Young and Luke Combs enjoyed their fourth consecutive No. 1 singles in 2018, others including Jordan Davis and Abby Anderson released their debut singles to country radio. This year also marked the return of the Pistol Annies as well as several standout collaborations. Miranda Lambert joined Jason Aldean on “Drowns the Whiskey” while David Lee Murphy and Kenny Chesney collaborated on the feel-good “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” And we can’t forget the massive crossover hit and 50-week No. 1 “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha.

Here are our favorite songs of 2018 (in alphabetical order):

Brett Young – “Mercy”

Brett Young’s emotional vocals on this stirring ballad evoke the pain a breakup often brings. His slowed singing style alongside delicate piano accompaniment struck a chord with listeners and it’s easy to see why. A standout song, “Mercy” is the last single off his debut album. A two-week No. 1 hit, the track also became Young’s fourth consecutive chart topper.

Carrie Underwood – “Cry Pretty”

Carrie Underwood made her triumphant return to radio earlier this year with the spellbinding single, “Cry Pretty.” The touching ballad has the singer in a vulnerable state as she explains that no one — not even her — can cry pretty. With notes that showcase her ability at vocal gymnastics, this is the best we’ve heard Underwood sound on a single to date.

Dan + Shay – “Tequila”

A song that had country fans and artists alike praising, Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” pulls on the heartstrings. “Tequila” has a man admitting that he can’t taste the spirit without thinking of a former lover. Soaring harmonies from Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney further impress and showcase the duo’s evident staying power. The song became such a smash that pop radio has embraced it, making it a multi-genre hit.

David Lee Murphy feat. Kenny Chesney – “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”

David Lee Murphy catapulted back onto country radio this year with the infectious “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” The lighthearted tune, which features Kenny Chesney, asks the listener to take a deep breath and don’t hit the panic button. A sentiment we all need. Murphy’s first solo chart topper since 1995’s “Dust On the Bottle,” the song was also named Musical Event of the Year at the 2018 CMA Awards.

Dierks Bentley feat. Brothers Osborne – “Burning Man”

The second single off Dierks Bentley’s latest album, the standout “Burning Man” has the vocalist singing of life’s struggles and triumphs. With a thumping beat, white-hot guitar accompaniment (from John Osborne) and added vocals from Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” promises to be a highlight in Bentley’s live show. Penned by Luke Dick and Bobby Pinson, Bentley makes the song uniquely his own with slowed vocals and striking musicianship.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Bebe Rexha – “Meant to Be”

Holding strong at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for an unprecedented 50 consecutive weeks, “Meant to Be” was a crossover smash for Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha. The infectious lyrics and hand-snapped beat made the track an immediate ear-worm and it’s relatable lyrics had us all singing, “If it’s meant to be it’ll be, it’ll be / Baby just let it be” all year long.

Jason Aldean feat. Miranda Lambert – “Drowns the Whiskey”

This heartbreaker has Jason Aldean lamenting of how he can’t seem to get over an ex no matter the amount of whiskey he consumes. “Whiskey’s supposed to drown the memory / I’ve gone from one to one too many,” Aldean croons. Miranda Lambert assists throughout the song and provides striking backing vocals that manages to enhance the hurt within the song’s lyrics. A standout duet, their collaboration went number one and is sure to become a modern classic.

Jordan Davis – “Singles You Up”

“Singles You Up” launched Jordan Davis onto the country music scene late last year and the debut single also became his first chart topper in April. The catchy track showcases Davis’ ability to combine vivid lyrics with slick beats for a memorable song, but don’t let this feel-good track fool you as there’s also plenty of depth on his album, Home State.

Kacey Musgraves – “Space Cowboy”

One of the best written songs released this year, Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy” paints the picture of a relationship that’s on the rocks. Instead of staying bitter, the country starlet urges her man to leave if he wants his space with colorful imagery. “Sunsets fade and love does too / Yeah, we had our day in the sun / When a horse wants to run ain’t no sense in closing the gate / So you can have your space, cowboy,” she sings on the chorus.

Kane Brown – “Heaven”

Kane Brown proved his staying power this year with his second No. 1 single. “Heaven.” The track showcased the singer’s more sentimental side as he sings of how he can’t imagine anywhere he’d rather be than laying next to his girl. While the song highlights his booming vocals and knack for clever songwriting, its success also helped Brown become the first artist to top Billboard’s five country charts simultaneously when it debuted at No. 1 on the publication’s Country Digital Songs chart.

Luke Bryan – “Most People Are Good”

Luke Bryan is well known for his party songs, and his sentimental ballads sometimes get overlooked. His three-week No. 1 hit “Most People Are Good” was a welcome addition to his catalog. The song sees Bryan singing of how he believes kids should stay kids as long as they can and the importance of working hard for what you want in life. “I believe you love who you love, ain’t nothin’ you should ever be ashamed of / I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks,” he sings on the uplifting chorus.

Luke Combs – “She Got the Best of Me”

Luke Combs garnered his fourth consecutive chart topper with this four-week No. 1 hit. A fan favorite, “She Got the Best of Me” has Combs singing of slowly getting over an ex with the help of an old trusty guitar. Written by Combs, Rob Snyder and Channing Wilson, “She Got the Best of Me” showcases the singer’s rich vocals alongside soaring guitar parts tailor-made for a singalong (and air guitar performance).

Maren Morris – “Rich”

This tongue-in-cheek track has Maren Morris singing about a man she can’t rely on. If she made money from all the lies he has told her over the years, she’d be rich with a “Benz in the driveway, yacht in the water.” It’s a unique take on a relationship that begs the listener to sing along with its infectious chorus. The final single from her debut album (which peaked at No. 2 on the charts), it also marked the end of Morris’s “Hero” era, as the singer noted on Twitter, saying, “Super bittersweet but who am I kidding? It’s way more sweet than bitter.”

Old Dominion – “Written In the Sand”

Old Dominion are well known for their songwriting chops and this is best evidenced on “Written In the Sand.” A No. 1 single penned by the band’s Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi with Shane McAnally, the song has a man trying to figure out where his relationship is headed. “Are we just a backseat, trying to get it while we can? / Are we names in a tattoo, or just a number on a hand? / Are we last-call kissing or will we be reminiscing with each other for the next 40 years? / Are we written in the stars, baby, or are we written in the sand?” they sing wistfully on the chorus.

Pistol Annies – “Got My Name Changed Back”

It has been a long five years since the Pistol Annies have released new music and “Got My Name Changed Back,” the lead single off their latest studio album, proved that some things are well worth the wait. The upbeat divorce party song has the three women singing triumphantly of a marriage gone awry alongside memorable guitar picking (and Miranda’s washboard playing). “Well I got me an ex that I adored / But he got along good with a couple road whores,” they sing. The ex-wife isn’t sad, though. In fact she and her girlfriends celebrate her newfound freedom together at the DMV. “Got My Name Changed Back” is the divorce song we didn’t know we needed.

Scotty McCreery – “Five More Minutes”

Scotty McCreery knew he had a hit on his hands with the nostalgic “Five More Minutes.” In fact, he bought back the publishing rights of the song after losing his first record deal and decided to release it independently. He was right. The heartfelt song struck a chord with listeners and became the singer’s first No. 1 hit earlier this year. “Out of every song that I was willing to bet my career on, ‘Five More Minutes’ was that,” McCreery told Sounds Like Nashville at his No. 1 party. “This one was special from the moment we wrote it.

Thomas Rhett – “Marry Me”

On this heartbreaking piano ballad, TR sings of a girl who has her whole wedding planned out. At first it seems like he’s the groom, but as the story develops there’s a twist. Rhett has said he wrote the song from the perspective of what would have happened if he never told his wife Lauren how he felt about her years ago. The heart-wrenching song leaves a lasting mark on the listener and urges them to think twice as to not wind up like the man in the story.

New Country Music Releases Coming In 2019

New Country Music Releases Coming In 2019

Florida Georgia Line, Maren Morris, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw are four artists

with new country albums slated for 2019 but how long are they goin’ to make you wait

Very few release dates have been announced for the year’s biggest albums, but country fans are amped for albums by Texan Cody Johnson and hitmaker Randy Houser, both slated for January. Carly Pearce, Old Dominion, LoCashand Aaron Watson are a few more with new albums coming, and we’re hearing rumblings from Brantley Gilbert’s people … but we’re not supposed to talk about that yet.

Artists who may be due to release new music but haven’t shared specifics include: Miranda Lambert, Chris Youngand Thomas Rhett. Luke Combs also revealed that he’s hard at work on new music, as is newcomer Riley Green. Which of these albums will be the surprise album of 2019? Take a look at our list so far and then share which album you’re looking forward to in the comments section below.

New Country Music Releases for 2019:

January: Randy Houser, Magnolia
Jan 18
: Cody Johnson: Ain’t Nothin’ To It
Jan. 18: Ronnie Milsap, Ronnie Milsap: The Duets
Feb. 15: Hayes Carll: What It Is

TBD: 
Aaron Watson
Brad Paisley
Carly Pearce
Florida Georgia Line
LoCash
Maddie & Tae
Maren Morris
Old Dominion
Riley Green
Thomas Rhett
Tim McGraw

Here Are the Best Albums of 2018, So Far

Broken Bow Nashville

No. 10: Jason Aldean, Rearview Town

The best songs on Aldean’s eighth studio album come after the halfway point, when he digs into more nourishing stories about love and heartache. “Drowns the Whiskey” (with Miranda Lambert) and “Better at Being Who I Am” are two songs that even those opposed to the way the ACM Entertainer of the Year has stretched the format will concede are as pure as country songs from any era. At 15 songs, the album overflows with ideas and themes, creating a few skip-ahead moments like “Gettin’ Warmed Up” that tarnish an otherwise strong effort.

Warner Music Nashville

No. 9: Michael Ray, Amos

In recalling his grandfather’s name and legacy on AmosMichael Ray puts forth a far more personal album than his 2015 debut. Progressive, beat-heavy tracks like “Forget About It” stay far away from the edges of country music to make more meaningful ballads like “Her World or Mine” more believable. In the end, we’re convinced the latter is more where Ray would like to live.

Monument Records

No. 8: Caitlyn Smith, Starfire

Several of the songs on Starfire can be found on Smith’s impressive EP from 2016, but new genre-crossing tracks like the orchestral “East Side Restaurant” and acoustic “St. Paul” round out an album that cares more about song craftsmanship and lyricism than what genre it falls into. “Contact High” is a song that you need to see performed live ASAP.

Big Loud Records

No. 7: Morgan Wallen, If I Know Me

Quietly, Morgan Wallen has released one of the better debuts of 2018. If I Know Me proves the “Up Down” singer’s vocal range, but mostly showcases strong songwriting and song selection instincts. There’s more rowdy (“Whatcha Know ‘Bout That,” “Happy Hour”) than hurt, but great hooks, attention to detail and a familiar, yet unique redneck country sound define him.

Warner Music Nashville

No. 6: Devin Dawson, Dark Horse

Devin Dawson‘s debut project is a songwriter’s album filled with heartbreak poetry over minor chords. “Asking for a Friend” is the best of them, but “Secondhand Hurt” and “Symptoms” are just as universal. It’s a dynamic project from a singer with deep rock roots. His favorite song is the title track, an autobiographical ballad that closes his live show.

Sony Music Nashville

No. 5: Lanco, Hallelujah Nights

Maybe it’s their boyish charm or maybe it’s their plucky, dynamic hooks and clean country themes, but Lanco are easy to cheer for. Hallelujah Nights is an exercise in sonic diversity, yet no two songs clash. The anthemic “Long Live Tonight” and acoustic “Greatest Love Story” on the same album? Sure! Jay Joyce helms this project and his guidance is every bit as crucial as singer and lead writer Brandon Lancaster’s lyrics.

UMG Nashville

No. 4: Keith Urban, Graffiti U

No one has pushed the sound of country music further toward pop and EDM than Keith Urban, and while some argue Graffiti U takes it too far, there are several great songs among the 14. “Drop Top” with Kassi Ashton is a built-for-summer jam while “Texas Time,” his Don Williams tribute, might be the most “country” thing he’s done in years. Both should be singles. Songs like “Female” and “Gemini” have sparked some debate, but great art rarely comes without controversy. It’s impossible to overlook this one.

UMG Nashville

No. 3: Brothers Osborne, Port Saint Joe

The follow-up to Pawn Shop is a more well-rounded album that still challenges the listener with thoughtful lyrics and second or third-level musicianship. One finds himself exploring guitar solos (there are many, thankfully) and drum licks when not contemplating one-off lyrics like those found in “Slow Your Roll” and “Drink Like Hank” and the bigger picture importance of songs like “While You Still Can.” It’s the kind of album that leaves you wanting the next one immediately.

UMG Nashville

No. 2: Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Our review of Golden Hour gives you all you need.

Warner Music Nashville

No. 1: Ashley McBryde, Girl Going Nowhere

Ashley McBryde looks country tough but gives anyone who listens to her major label debut a big ol’ hug on Girl Going Nowhere, the best country album of 2018 (so far). Her vulnerability throughout the 11-song project is stunning and universal. Nothing panders to radio, yet very few songs feel unfit for mainstream audiences. If given the chance she’ll win the masses, much like Chris Stapleton did with Traveller.

 – TasteOfCountry

Listen To Brad Paisley’s New Single ‘Bucked Off’

Listen To Brad Paisley’s New Single ‘Bucked Off’

Brad Paisley pays tribute to his hero George Strait in “turbo honky-tonk, reminiscent of ‘80s and ‘90s country” single, “Bucked Off”

While pulling off hosting duty at the CMA Awards 2018, Brad Paisley took the time to introduce fans to his brand new single, “Bucked Off.” The song, which Paisley describes as “turbo honky-tonk, reminiscent of ‘80s and ‘90s country but futuristic,” tells the story of a man comparing the feeling of getting dumped by his girlfriend to that of getting bucked off a bronco and getting the wind knocked out of him.

“This ain’t my first rodeo / Someone’s gonna get hurt whenever someone says we need to talk / Feels like there’s a number pinned onto the back of my shirt / Cause this is where the cowboy gets bucked off,” Paisley sings.

“There was a time in country music in the ‘90s, ‘80s when songs were rodeo metaphors. They were stories of cowboys and so much fun to listen to on the radio with the production and the twang and the heart and all of that great George Strait, Garth Brooks music of the time,” the West Virginia native shared. “It’s something that I’ve not done much of. I haven’t done a whole lot of that kind of rodeo, sort of analogy kind of music. This was something that’s kind of my tip of the hat to my hero George Strait with a bit of a modern twist.”

The tune was penned by Paisley with Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace, with Paisley and Dunn Huff producing.

“Bucked Off” is the first taste of new Paisley music since 2017’s Love and War, featuring “Last Time for Everything” and “Heaven South.”

Dolly Parton Kicks Off the Christmas Season

Dolly Parton Kicks Off the Christmas Season At

Dollywood’s “Smoky Mountain Christmas” Celebration

Dolly Parton kicked off the holiday season with her annual Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., on Nov. 9. In addition to a performances by Dolly with her brother Randy and several nieces, Dolly opened the park’s newest expansion, Glacier Ridge, a “frosted version of the Smoky Mountains” that features a 50-foot-tall animated Christmas tree, a walk-through version of the Northern Lights and a variety of other light shows set to classic holiday tunes. Glacier Ridge pushes the park’s total count to more than 5 million twinkling lights.

“Christmas is so important to me for so many reasons,” says Dolly. “I’m so thankful that it’s a time when our family comes together to share stories, remember old times, and make new memories we’ll take with us through the next year and beyond. There’s a lot of laughin’ and a whole lot of love when we all get together. I want those folks who come to experience Christmas with us at Dollywood to feel like they’re part of the family, making those memories and sharing those special times. I know the fun they’ll find in Glacier Ridge will help them create brand new memories and traditions.”

Most of Dollywood’s signature rides and attractions also operate in this merry environment, with rides racing along just above the 5 million twinkling lights. Smoky Mountain Christmas is open now through Jan. 5, 2019. Check out the photo gallery, courtesy of Curtis Hilbun, AFF-USA.com.

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George Strait One Night Only Concert in Atlanta

George Strait Announces One Night Only Concert in Atlanta

For one night only the King of Country will take over Atlanta for a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience. On March 30, 2019 George Strait will head to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to perform for fans. Joining the legendary singer will be CMA and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Chris Stapleton, as well as rising stars Chris Janson and Ashley McBryde. The performance will mark Strait’s first show in Atlanta since his Cowboy Rides Away Tour at the State Farm Arena in 2014. It was during that tour that the hitmaker announced his retirement from touring and that he’d only perform for select appearances.

The announcement of Strait’s performance in Atlanta comes hot on the heels of his reveal that he’d be returning to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for two shows in February. Scheduled for February 1 and 2, 2019, the Texas native will take to the stage to perform many of his hits. McBryde is scheduled to open for each of the shows. The Strait to Vegas concert series began with six shows in 2016 and extended with 10 more the following year. He will play his final shows of 2018 at the T-Mobile Arena on December 7 and 8.

Pistol Annies’ Interstate Gospel Reviewed

It has been five long years since the Pistol Annies released new music and Interstate Gospel picks up where 2013’s Annie Up left off. The trio has lived a lot of life since their last project — two weddings, a divorce, a baby and another on the way — and all of this is showcased on the 14-track album.

Pistol Annies’ memorable harmonies are at the forefront of Interstate Gospel as is their honest storytelling. With a unique take on divorce, heartbreak and marriage, the acclaimed trio, made up of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, don’t hold anything back. Much of the album comes from real-life experiences the women have faced, but they’re not revealing to which singer. That, they leave up to their listeners to ponder.

Several tracks featured on the project are about regret, sometimes of marriage and other moments love. On the slowed ballad “Best Years of My Life” the three women sing of settling down into married life too soon. Unhappy, they set aside a day for some recreational drugs, alcohol and reruns. “I was looking forward to / Staying here forever / ‘Cause you asked me to / Didn’t think that I could do better / So I settled down,” Lambert laments on the track.

Each song on the project embodies traditional country elements and hints of bluegrass with acoustic instrumentation, soaring pedal steel, delicate percussion and the occasional electric guitar riff. The bluesy “When I Was His Wife” began the Annies third project as Lambert initially texted Presley and Monroe a verse to the song. Ten minutes later Presley responded with another verse, as did Monroe and the song became one of the album’s most memorable moments. “When you’re blinded by diamonds and driven by lust / Hon, you can’t build a mansion with the pieces all dust / Holy matrimony, best day of your life / I said that too when I was his wife,” they sing on the song, which looks back on the fall of a marriage.

Pistol Annies follow the mourning of marriage on “When I Was His Wife” with the yearning “Cheyenne.” On this moving story song with added piano, fiddle and electric guitar accompaniment, the trio sing of a woman named Cheyenne who’s “fast like a train ” and wanting to embrace love more like she does without getting hurt. “If I could treat love like Cheyenne / If I could be just as cold as the beer in her hand / If I could move men and mountains with a wink and a grin / Oh if I could treat love like Cheyenne,” they sing on the chorus.

The infectious first single “Got My Name Changed Back” picks up the pace and will likely become the most talked about track on the record. The upbeat divorce party song has the three women singing triumphantly of a marriage gone awry alongside memorable guitar picking. “Well I got me an ex that I adored / But he got along good with a couple road whores,” they sing. The ex-wife isn’t sad though. In fact she and her girlfriends celebrate her newfound freedom together at the DMV. “I don’t wanna be a Mrs. on paper no more / I got my name changed back . . . Well how to win when you play the fool / That’s something they don’t teach in school / I played to win, lookin’ back is funny / I broke his heart and I took his money,” they chant in unison.

While the funky, feel-good “Sugar Daddy” brings each woman’s personality to life, “Leavers Lullaby” is a striking country song about loss. With haunting lead vocals from Monroe and soaring horn parts, the song details a woman telling her lover to leave because it’s not worth the time spent to change her.

Album highlight “Milkman” discusses the regret some may have of a life not fully lived while the project’s standout song “Masterpiece” looks back on love gone wrong due to years of being in the public eye. “Baby, we were just a masterpiece / Up there on the wall for all to see . . . We were talked about / Once you’ve been framed / You can’t get out,” Lambert sings at the song’s start. Written in 2015 after her divorce from Blake Shelton, it’s a song of moving on and regret on which Lambert vulnerably sings lead. “Maybe we were just a country song / I’m still doing time / The king is gone / I tried to stand by my man / We were making plans / We were making plans,” she later sings, her voice cracking.

Interstate Gospel combines country, bluegrass and Americana influences alongside honest storytelling and impeccable harmonies. A powerful force, Pistol Annies prove that women have songs that need to be heard and stories that need to be told. While the genre seems to be leaning more and more towards pop production and hip-hop elements as of late, Pistol Annies stand firm in tradition with country instrumentation and witty songs and storytelling that makes the listener stop and think. Three women unafraid to lay it all out in the open, Pistol Annies once again prove why they are one of the genre’s most beloved acts. While fads come and go, Pistol Annies will stay true to their roots–which are firmly planted in the country genre

Who Passed On Alan’s ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’

Remember Who Passed On ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’

Country beach king Kenny Chesney also passed on the song, wanting to not do so much beachy stuff anymore

Alan Jackson scored one of the biggest hits of his entire career when he recorded “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Jimmy Buffett in 2003, but he was not the artist the songwriters had in mind when they wrote the song. In fact, the song didn’t come to him until several other artists had passed on it. Jim “Moose” Brown and Don Rollins co-wrote “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and Rollins tells the Boot that their original demo was “very island-ly,” framed by acoustic guitars and punctuated by steel drums. “It was definitely that ‘Margaritaville’ feel.”

The song was inspired by an old phrase Rollins used to hear from a colleague when he was a band teacher, and Brown signed on immediately when he floated the idea. They wrote the song quickly, Rollins recalls, and the name-check of Jimmy Buffett was there from the beginning, long before Buffett became involved in the recording. “It was me being sarcastic, poking a little fun at the ‘What would Jesus do?’ bumper stickers,” Rollins relates. “It happened to be exactly the right thing for that situation.

That was the way they brought Buffett into the song, it turned out to be the thing to make the song work for that situation.”

Brown and Rollins had intended the song for a newly signed artist named Colt Prather. Brown was playing piano on an album he was cutting for Sony at the time, and the label had specifically requested beach-y material with a Buffett vibe, but they passed on “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” immediately after it was completed and pitched.

Country beach king Kenny Chesney also passed on the song. “I think they wanted to not do so much beachy stuff anymore,” Brown revealed in an interview in 2010. “If we had gotten it to him three years earlier, he probably would have jumped on it, but the timing wasn’t right.”

When the songwriters got the word that Jackson had placed the song on hold, they were initially surprised. “The idea that someone as country as Alan Jackson might be interested in that song never even occurred to me,” Rollins admits. “Then I got wind that he was wanting to do a duet with Buffett, and it made a little bit more sense at that point.”

Released on June 2, 2003, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” ended up topping Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart for eight weeks, and it crossed over to the mainstream Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 17. The song went on to win a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year.

– TasteOfCountry

Dillon Carmichael Keeps it Classic in New Video

Dillon Carmichael Keeps it Classic in New Video for ‘What Would Hank Do’

Shooting it straight. Dillon Carmichael would make Hank Williams proud with his new track “What Would Hank Do.”

The single’s minimal chords get a dramatic left hook from Carmichael’s powerful vocals, which are showcased in the pared down clip, which features Carmichael and a backing musician playing the song in the studio.

“I wrote this song only a couple of weeks before my album was recorded with a couple great songwriters and friends of mine. I was telling them that throughout my whole career, I would ask myself “In this situation, ‘What would Hank do?’ And there it was. We did like writers do and wrote that bad boy!” said Carmichael.

This ‘out with the new, in with the old’ attitude is what influenced the creation of Carmichael’s new Dave Cobb-produced LP Hell on An Angel. Each song is rich with lyrical and vocal power, Williams-style soul and truth. And it wasn’t just one Hank Williams that inspired the song and LP, Carmichael and a team of writers, Jordan Rager and Houston Phillips, told stories and took notes from the influence of Hank Sr and Jr.

Williams’s signature country-rock, straight shooter, don’t-take-no-shit attitude is how he carried country into the modern era and created a legacy that is still influencing young country stars today. His distinguishable drawn singing voice can be heard in Carmichael’s execution of “What Would Hank Do,” giving Williams more credit than just helping Carmichael write his songs from the hereafter.

Check out our exclusive video premiere for “What Would Hank Do” below.

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