The best country albums from any given year are timeless, and 2017 is no different. The top spots go to artists with a long history of making great country music, even if mainstream fans are just starting to learn their names.
Few will be surprised to see Chris Stapleton on this list of the year’s top releases, but the From A Room album duo aren’t No. 1 on this collection of great projects. Projects from Kelsea Ballerini, Kip Moore, and newcomer Brett Young get mad respect.
Fan and critic opinion were weighed heavily in the making of this list, but sales, awards, and the number of hit radio songs also played a role. It’s difficult to ignore an album that charts two or three hit songs in any given year, right?
Here Are the Best Country Albums of 2017:
No. 10: Brett Young, ‘Brett Young’
The country newcomer and Taste of Country RISERS act released an album full of love songs without finding two that sound quite the same. Every expression feels genuine and original. The pop-friendly collection of musings from the California native’s heart and songbook is at its best when he leans into life’s highs and lows. He makes it look easy.
No. 9: Old Dominion, ‘Happy Endings’
Happy Endings shows a different side of Old Dominion‘s artistry. The 12 songs are as a whole deeper and more patient than those found on their debut album. “Shoe Shopping” is one that recalls the wry wit fans fell in love with on Meat and Candy. The laid-back, cheeky lyrics are reminiscent of the group’s breakthrough hit “Break Up With Him.” After that it’s poetry (“Written in Sand“), true love songs (“Stars in the City”) and boozy regret (“A Girl Is a Gun”).
No. 8: Angaleena Presley, ‘Wrangled’
Angaleena Presley stays true to her roots on Wrangled, but expands with even more rootsy stories that don’t lack for detail. The artist and album are not for the demure country music fan. Her vivid characters nearly stand on the speakers during songs like “Only Blood.” Through it all she weaves various genres into the soundscape.
No. 7: Kelsea Ballerini, ‘Unapologetically’
It’s cliche to compare Kelsea Ballerini to Taylor Swift, but her second studio album is reminiscent of the now-pop star’s sophomore effort in the way she builds emotional songs of love and love lost around narcotic melodies. This album is pure candy until you dig in to find thoughtful, emotional observations about a relationship that just ended and one she’s just beginning. Each song is 100 percent accessible, something Swift struggled with as her love life became tabloid fodder. Ballerini relies on details, but there’s no over-the-top sentiment or dig at an ex that comes across as specific to her situation. This may be the most important album of 2017, as with so few females poised to become stars, Ballerini shows she’s capable.
No. 6: Lindsay Ell, ‘The Project’
The Project is an essential album for fans who like their brand of country music black and blue. Lindsay Ell‘s longtime coming debut album is genre-less a la Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt. Deep blues licks and aching vocals that refuse to be boxed in are signatures of the 12 songs on the album. There’s not another active female in country to compare her to — the newcomer all but forced her way onto this list of the best country albums of 2017.
No. 5: Walker Hayes, ‘Boom’
Hayes admits that without Sam Hunt, his music would bounce off the radio like polka, but we live in a post-Hunt era and Boom is the first album that’s come since Montevallo that feels equal. The singer goes deep into his personal life and reveals scars like they’re badges of honor, even though he’s still very much working his way out of addiction and near-bankruptcy. The melodies and Beck-like production will grab your attention, but strong lyrics make this one of the best albums of 2017.
No. 4A & 4B: Chris Stapleton, ‘From A Room’ Albums
Stapleton provides once again. The follow-ups to Traveller. don’t surprise like his solo debut, instead relying on the strength of his vocals and songwriting. That’s a great bet when you’re Chris Stapleton. He’s a a postman, dropping notes of blues, soul, pain and sorrow into your mailbox. Both are moody, nine-song albums that reinforces all we know and reintroduce special covers.
No. 3: Kip Moore, ‘Slow Heart’
Kip Moore‘s Slowheart is a Southern rock-inspired country album that would sound just fine played front to back at his live show. The singer simplified his approach, even if the result is a more textured project than Wild Ones (2015). Gone is that veil of sadness that tied his sophomore album together. Instead, you sense that Moore’s band was as free to rock out in studio as they felt necessary. Everyone is having a lot more fun on Slowheart, even if the lyrics don’t always support the party.
No. 2: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, ‘The Nashville Sound’
Great artists will make great albums, and Jason Isbell is a great artist. There is nothing pretentious about the Nashville Sound, a project that finds the 400 Unit once again getting co-billing. It’s not coincidence that the best albums on this list come from artist who worry nothing for radio success.
No. 1: Aaron Watson, ‘Vaquero’
Aaron Watson’s Vaquero album is a rich collection of cowboy poetry. Every verse touches two or more senses. The best songs clip the soul. The Texan is a rambler, a lover, thinker, statement-maker and romantic on this dynamic mix of pure country themes. Through it all is a thread that’s so rare in today’s country music. “They Don’t Make Em Like They Used To” should have been a hit this year, but at least the album will leave a mark as No. 1 on our list.
Do you agree with our list? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments below!