2014 was a banner year for country music albums. In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists! Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014. Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been. #20 Jennifer Nettles That Girl KJC #8 | LW #16 A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine. Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers. – Kevin John Coyne Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”
The countdown concludes with our top twenty singles of 2014. Check out the first twenty entries here, and look for our countdown of the year’s twenty best albums tomorrow. #20 “The Devil is All Around” Shovels & Rope LW #5 | JK #13 The soulful husband-wife duo that comprises Shovels and Rope delivers a no holes barred analysis of trials and temptations, which boils down to the idea that the devil is all around, which means that one must do what he can to push against such a devastating force. – Leeann Ward
Updated: Best Country Duo/Group Performance The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad” Little Big Town, “Day Drinking” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, “Raise ‘Em Up” Best American Roots Performance Greg Allman & Taj Mahal, “Statesboro Blues” Rosanne Cash, “A Feather’s not a Bird” Billy Childs featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas, “And When I Die” Keb’ Mo’ featuring the California Feet Warmers, “The Old Me Better” Nickel Creek, “Destination” Best Country Solo Performance Eric Church, “Give Me Back My Hometown” Hunter Hayes, “Invisible” Miranda Lambert, “Automatic” Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water” Keith Urban, “Cop Car” Best New Artist includes last year’s actual best new artist! Iggy Azalea Bastille Brandy Clark (!!!!) HAIM Sam Smith Best Americana Album Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread John Haitt, Terms of My Surrender Keb’ Mo’, Read More
“Mean to Me” Brett Eldredge Written by Scooter Carusoe and Brett Eldredge Winning a major award seems as good a time as any to pay closer attention to an artist. Brett Eldredge collected his New Artist award at last week’s CMA Awards while his current hit, “Mean to Me”, was already ascending the charts. Let’s get real here. We know going in that nothing can happen in 3 minutes and 50 seconds to make us say, “Hey, he totally deserved to win over Brandy Clark.” But “Mean to Me” does indicate that he’s a lot closer to Dierks Bentley or Kip Moore than he is to any of the interchangeable C-list acts that are singing about drinking and girls with their bare feet on the dashboard.
Despite the Grammys and even the ACM’s demonstrating more consistent taste over the past few years, the CMA’s remain the most significant industry awards that honor country music. This year’s slate of nominees gives the organization an opportunity to build on the credibility of last year’s George Strait victory. His win for Entertainer saved a dismal show in its closing minutes. Here’s our take on this year’s contenders: Entertainer of the Year Should Win: Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara, Ben Keith Urban Will Win: Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait – Jonathan, Kevin, Tara, Ben Keith Urban Kevin: I’d settle for a Miranda Lambert victory, as she had an amazing year. But my first choice is George Strait, who deserves a fourth trophy for that record-breaking final concert. The rest of these nominees have either won before or still seem to Read More
This year’s CMA nominees are the best in years, with multiple nominations for Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Brandy Clark. Country radio may still be shunning women, but their embrace by CMA voters suggests that the industry knows who is really leading the way in the genre these days. Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait Keith Urban Who’s In: Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban Who’s Out: Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift George Strait, a surprise winner last year, is nominated again in a year that includes his record-shattering final concert. Miranda Lambert’s domination of this year’s nominations extends to the big category, where she competes for the first time since 2010.
For the second year in a row, our seven writers – Kevin Coyne, Leeann Ward, Dan Milliken, Tara Seetharam, Ben Foster, Jonathan Keefe, and Sam Gazdziak – individually listed our twenty favorite albums and singles of the year. It’s a diverse crop of singles, some of which dominated country radio, while others were primarily heard in the Americana, bluegrass, and alternative country worlds. Today, we present the first half of our singles list, with the conclusion to follow tomorrow. Share your favorites in the comments!
“Someone Somewhere Tonight”
Individual rankings: #16 – Ben; #19 – Tara
A sweeping power ballad anchored by an intimate chorus and Pickler’s pleading sincerity. – Tara Seetharam
As reflected by the title of our web site, our choices for Top 40 Albums of 2012 span the farthest reaches of the country music universe. In previous years, the Country Universe staff has counted down twenty albums and forty singles, but this year our album picks included such a wide variety that we were able to stretch our Top Albums countdown to a full forty slots. What did we miss? That’s where you, our readers, come in. Please join in the discussion, and share which albums you had in heavy rotation over the past year.
The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake
Martha Redbone Roots Project