- Brandi Carlile - “The Joke” (By The Way, I Forgive You)
- Parker Millsap - “Fine Line” (Other Arrangements)
- Cowboy Junkies “Shining Teeth” (All That Reckoning)
- Brian Fallon - “My Name Is The Night (Color Me Black)” (Sleepwalkers)
- Ashley McBryde - “The Jacket” (Girl Going Nowhere)
- The Wind And The Wave - “Follow Your Heart Around” (Human Beings Let You Down)
- H.C. McEntire - “A Lamb, A Dove” (LIONHEART)
- The Revivalists - “Future” (Take Good Care)
- Mariel Buckley - “I Wonder” (Driving In the Dark)
- Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band - “Poor Until Payday” (Poor Until Payday)
To me, an album of the year is one for all seasons. It doesn’t have to be the one that pushes the most boundaries -- though Buckley’s odes to the plains of Alberta do push back against the region’s social mores. To me, an album of the year is the one that can make your soul vibrate whether it’s you’re having a tough time or want to be in company with people riding a particularly high wave of life. Buckley’s voice -- literally and lyrically -- will remind you of Sarah Shook. The two have a shared affinity for whiskey-fueled honky-tonk. On Driving in the Dark, we see Buckley transcending despair and asking herself, the characters in her songs, and her listeners how we survive and what it is we’re living for.
2. HC McEntire -- LIONHEART
HC McEntire, whom you may know as the lead singer of North Carolina’s Mount Moriah, excels at mapping epic mythologies onto the natural beauty and human ugliness of her home. Growing up evangelica and queer in the South, McEntire’s oeuvre is driven by reconciling these experiences. On LIONHEART, McEntire finds things to celebrate about seemingly oppositional identities. The album is as sonically weighty as anything McEntire has produced, but it’s softened by strong instruments. LIONHEART feels as if countrypolitan took a left turn at bluegrass and then stumbled across punk. It’s as confident and self-assured an album as you’ll hear all year, produced by a fierce soul who is approaching peace.
3. Ashley McBryde -- Girl Going Nowhere
This is one I let slip past me -- probably for the same reason it wasn't on your radar. It wasn't marketed as Americana. But, frankly, it is. McBryde's bold assertiveness and sure-handed would make her equally at home at a dive bar playing with Sarah Shook as she is on Music Row. You definitely want to give the album a listen -- I picked two of the lower-tempo songs for the podcast so you could process her songwriting, but Girl Going Nowhere is, in fact, a party -- one you can't be too late to. It well deserves the Grammy nod.
4. Cowboy Junkies -- All That Reckoning
This is one of the year’s most underrated albums. Don’t let the prevailing ominous tone of Reckoning scare you away. This is very much an album of our time, asking us all to consider the pain we’ve received and the pain we’ve caused and what to do about it. The Cowboy Junkies point to the origins of that pain, from the macro level of our society down to our most intimate relationships.
5. Brandi Carlile -- By The Way, I Forgive You
I don't think there's a whole lot to add that hasn't already been said. I thought The Fire Watcher's Daughter was a total turd and I'm so happy to see Carlile not only return to form but thoroughly exceed it.
6. Kacey Musgraves -- Golden Hour
I've been a stan of Kacey's for a while now. Similarly, not much to add that hasn't already been said. Whatever genre you want to put it in, this album will make you look at the world in a new way -- and that's no small feat.
7. Courtney Marie Andrews -- May Your Kindness Remain
Andrews gives a career-defining performance on here. It was the balm for the soul that we all needed as we are firmly ensconced in the current president's vision of the world. This is another example of an album that holds a big place in my heart, but the music speaks so much for itself that there's no need to add words to it.
8. Hawks and Doves -- From a White Hotel
Kasey Anderson wasn’t sure if he was going to return to music, but From a White Hotel is a triumphant come-back. Anderson serves up Springsteen-inspired Americana along with the best of them. Anderson’s stirring indictment of racism and sexism, “The Dangerous Ones,” thoroughly knocks the stuffing out of colleague Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World.” But his more tender songs, like “Geek Love,” will also stick with you. Anderson’s had a vivid life thus far and his songs reflect those experiences accordingly.
9. Erin Rae -- Putting On Airs
Erin Rae’s debut, Putting On Airs, may have suffered a bit from being released in the spring. The album’s dreamy, spacious feel was season-appropriate, of course, but it means that it’s not top of mind as much as it should be. Not only does Rae successfully write gentle and nuanced songs about her characters’ mental health struggles, each song inexorably builds an album that condemns -- quietly -- the social structures that hold women back.
10. Austin Lucas -- Immortal Americans
Austin Lucas has one of the best voices of our time. On Immortal Americans, it’s even richer. Lucas’s lyrics dig deep into the heart of things -- taking a darker turn than his previous albums, Lucas touches on mortality, hatred, substance abuse, questionable patriotism -- and of, of course, the fine line between love, lust, and obsession. Having quit smoking, his literal voice has a more resonant quality than before, allowing Lucas to hit his most angelic highs and menacing lows yet. As long as we have Lucas, the future of country and Americana is bright indeed.
Rachel wrote a comic! Check it out here! Send us music via SubmitHub. Send us money via Ko-fi or Patreon. Contact Von via linktr.ee/vonreviews and say hi to Rachel on Twitter @adobeteardrops