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”
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List The Poet of the Common Man. Merle Haggard emerged from the Bakersfield music scene in the mid-sixties, and over the course of time, became the greatest man in the history of country music. Born during the height of the Great Depression, the son of a honky tonk fiddler and a church-going mother, Haggard’s life was a hard one from early on. When he lost his father at age nine, he rebelled to the point that much of his youth was spent in juvenile detention centers. His only positive outlet was country music, and he listened to and studied obsessively the work of his heroes Bob Willis, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell, all of whom would shape his singing and his songwriting.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List He started out as an unconventional songwriter trying to be a conventional artist. But when Willie Nelson let his hair down, he became a country legend for the ages. Nelson was raised by his grandparents in Texas, who encouraged him to play the guitar and to write songs. When his sister Bonnie married fiddle player Buddy Fletcher, Nelson joined his band as the frontman, staying with him until he graduated high school and did a brief stint in the Air Force.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Lefty Frizzell just may be the most influential vocalist in country music history. His signature honky-tonk style has been the foundational template for several generations of traditional country vocalists, smoothing out the twangy edges just enough to please the ears of mainstream audiences without compromising its hillbilly roots. Frizzell was born in Texas, but moved to Arkansas at a young age. He earned the nickname Lefty in a schoolyard fight at the age of fourteen, and it followed him from that point on. Though he was singing on the radio in his teens and performing locally, run-ins with the law sidelined his music career in the mid-forties.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Waylon Jennings was the very embodiment of the country music outlaw movement in the seventies, demonstrating that legendary music can be made if artists are liberated to create it in the way that they want to. Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas, and was playing the guitar and singing on the radio by the time he was twelve years old. Jennings dropped out of school at age fourteen, and picked cotton while pursuing music in his spare time. When he moved to Lubbock, he became friendly with rising rock star Buddy Holly, who took Jennings under his wing. Holly produced a single for Jennings and had him fill in as a bass player in the Crickets.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List One of the few traditionalists who was able to successfully transition into the smoother Nashville Sound style, Ray Price was a defining artist in two completely different eras of country music history. A small town Texas native, Price moved to Dallas as a child and learned how to play the guitar. After a stint in the Marines, Price returned to Texas and became popular on local radio as the Cherokee Cowboy. By the early fifties, he was ready to pursue a major label deal in Nashville, landing with Columbia and scoring his first hit in 1952 with “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes.”
Dolly Parton Blue Smoke A big step up from her last few projects, Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke is her most balanced album since Backwoods Barbie. While it lacks cohesion due to so many different styles being used, there’s a solid entry from every kind of Dolly – country Dolly, pop Dolly, mountain Dolly, gospel Dolly, duet-with-fellow-legend Dolly. While it isn’t likely to be anyone’s favorite Dolly Parton album because of this, it’s also unlikely that any fan of hers won’t find something here that reminds them of why they became a fan in the first place.
This year’s ACM Awards were mediocre and broverwhemingly male-centric, despite women winning most of the major awards. As with last fall’s CMA show, the best moment was the final one, when George Strait won Entertainer of the Year.
Here’s a rundown of all the major winners:
Entertainer of the Year
George Strait winning at the ACMs this year was even more surprising than at the CMAs last year, given how the fan-voted element of this award has favored stars with young fanbases in previous years. King George, indeed. – KJC
While it’s disheartening to see Strait’s mainstream support dwindling, it’s great to see the fans come through for King George. – BF
Even if Strait did unintentionally but hilariously leave Miranda Lambert hanging on her attempted hi-five, it was nice to see the genuine support for Strait’s win among the other artists in attendance. Too bad radio seems to have turned their back on him. – JK