Best of 2018: The Ballot

It’s been a banner year for fans of country music, particularly if your tastes trend away from the mainstream.  Whether it was legends returning to the studio or newer artists reaching creative peaks, we’ve got plenty to choose from for our end of year lists, which will be published next week.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your personal picks from 2018.  Here are the ballots that Country Universe staff are selecting from.  What are your favorites from the lists? Did we leave anything out?  Sound off in the comments!

Best Albums of 2018: The Ballot

Artist Title
Amanda Shires To the Sunset
Amos Lee My New Moon
Anderson East Encore
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin’ Nowhere
Ashley Monroe Sparrow
Beth Neilsen Chapman Hearts of Glass
Brett Young Ticket to L.A.
Brothers Osborne Port St. Joe
Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty
Cole Swindell All of It
Courtney Marie Andrews May Your Kindness Remain
Dan + Shay Dan + Shay
David Lee Murphy No Zip Code
David Nail & The Well Ravens Only This and Nothing More
Devin Dawson Dark Horse
Dierks Bentley The Mountain
Dolly Parton Dumplin’ Original Soundtrack
Eric Church Desperate Man
Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast
I’m With Her See You Around
Jackie Greene The Modern Lives Vol. 2
Jason Aldean Rearview Town
Jason Eady I Travel On
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Live at the Ryman
Jim Lauderdale Time Flies
John Conlee Classics 3
John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness
Josh Turner I Serve a Savior
Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
Kane Brown Experiment
Kasey Chambers & The Fireside Disciples Campfire
Kathy Mattea Pretty Bird
Keith Urban Graffiti U
Kelly Willis Back Being Blue
Kenny Chesney Songs For the Saints
Kieran Kane & Rayna Gellert The Ledges
Kim Richey Edgeland
Kristy Cox Ricochet
LANco Hallelujah Nights
LeAnn Rimes It’s Christmas, Eve
Lindi Ortega Liberty
Loretta Lynn Wouldn’t it Be Great
Lori McKenna The Tree
Lucero Long Way Back Home
Mandy Barnett Strange Conversation
Martina McBride It’s the Holiday Season
Mary Chapin Carpenter Sometimes Just the Sky
Mary Gauthier Rifles & Rosary Beads
Meghan Patrick Country Music Made Me Do It
Michael Martin Murphey Austinology – Alleys of Austin
Montgomery Gentry Here’s to You
Morgan Evans Things That We Drink To
Neko Case Hell-On
Oak Ridge Boys 17th Avenue Revival
Old 97s Love the Holidays
Old Crow Medicine Show Volunteer
Pistol Annies Interstate Gospel
Punch Brothers All Ashore
Rhett Miller The Messenger
Rhonda Vincent & The Rage With Bluegrass Legends: Live at the Ryman
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis Wild! Wild! Wild!
Rodney Crowell Acoustic Classics
Rodney Crowell Christmas Everywhere
Rosanne Cash She Remembers Everything
Ruston Kelly Mockingbird
Shawn Colvin The Starlighter
Shenandoah Reloaded
Shooter Jennings Shooter
Southern Halo Just Like in the Movies
Sugarland Bigger
Tami Neilson SASSAFRASS!
Tellico Woven Waters
Terri Clark Raising the Bar
The Brother Brothers Some People I Know
The Jayhawks Backroads and Abandoned Motels
The Mavericks Hey! Merry Christmas!
The Wood Brothers One Drop of Truth
Thompson Square Masterpiece
Various Artists Come See About Me: A Benefit for the IBMA Trust Fund
Various Artists Johnny Cash: Forever Words
Various Artists King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
Various Artists Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound
Various Artists Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Whitey Morgan & The 78s Hard Times & White Lines
Will Hoge My American Dream
Willie Nelson Last Man Standing
Willie Nelson My Way

Best Singles of 2018: The Ballot

Artist “Title”
Alejandro Escovedo Sonica USA
Amanda Shires Leave It Alone
Amy Ray Sure Feels Good Anyway
Anderson East Girlfriend
Anderson East This Too Shall Last
Ashley McBryde Radioland
Ashley Monroe Hands On You
Asleep At the Wheel (f Avett Brothers) Willie Got There First
Avett Brothers No Hard Feelings
Brandi Carlile Hold Out Your Hand
Brandi Carlile The Joke
Brandi Carlile f Sam Smith Party of One
Brent Cobb Ain’t A Road Too Long
Brent Cobb King of Alabama
Brothers Osborne I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)
Brothers Osborne Shoot Me Straight
Caitlyn Smith Contact High
Caitlyn Smith Starfire
Caleb Caudle Lost Without You
Caleb Caudle NYC In the Rain
Calexico Under the Wheels
Cam Road to Happiness
Carly Pearce Closer to You
Carly Pearce Hide the Wine
Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty
Carrie Underwood Love Wins
Chris Stapleton Millionaire
Cody Jinks Must Be the Whiskey
Courtney Marie Andrews Kindness of Strangers
Courtney Marie Andrews Took You Up
Dierks Bentley Woman, Amen
Dierks Bentley (f Brothers Osborne) Burning Man
Dolly Parton Girl in the Movies
Dolly Parton & Sia Here I Am
Dwight Yoakam Pretty Horses
Eric Church Desperate Man
First Aid Kit Fireworks
Gretchen Peters Arguing With Ghosts
I’m With Her Crescent City
Jason Eady That’s Alright
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Cumberland Gap
John Prine Knockin’ On Your Screen Door
Kacey Musgraves Butterflies
Kacey Musgraves Slow Burn
Kacey Musgraves Space Cowboy
Kasey Chambers Goliath is Dead
Kasey Chambers The Campfire Song
Kathy Mattea Mercy Now
Kathy Mattea Saint Teresa
Kelly Willis Back Being Blue
Kelly Willis Don’t Step Away
Kim Richey Pin a Rose
Kim Richey (feat Chuck Prophet) Whistle on Occasion
Leon Bridges Bad Bad News
Lera Lynn What Is Love
Lindi Ortega The Comeback Kid
Loretta Lynn Ain’t No Time to Go
Lori McKenna People Get Old
Lucero Long Way Back Home
Lukas Nelson (Forget About) Georgia
Luke Winslow-King You Got Mine
Maddie & Tae Friends Don’t
Maggie Rose Smooth
Mandy Barnett Strange Conversation
Maren Morris Rich
Margo Price A Little Pain
Marlon Williams What’s Chasing You
Midland Burn Out
Midland Eastbound & Down
Midland Make a Little
Miranda Lambert Keeper of the Flame
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Hey Mama
Old Crow Medicine Show Flicker and Shine
Parker Millsap Let a Little Light In
Patty Griffin I Do Believe
Pistol Annies Got My Name Changed Back
Punch Brothers It’s All Part of the Plan
Ray Lamontagne Such a Simple Thing
Rhett Miller Total Disaster
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis Till Death
Rodney Crowell Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight
Rodney Crowell Shake Your Moneymaker
Rosanne Cash Not Many Miles to Go
Ruby Boots Don’t Talk About It
Runaway June Buy My Own Drinks
Ruston Kelly Mockingbird
Ryan Adams Baby I Love You
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Good As Gold
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers New Ways to Fail
Tami Neilson Devil in a Dress
Tami Neilson Manitoba Sunrise at Motel Six
Tami Neilson Stay Outta My Business
Trampled By Turtles Kelly’s Bar
Trampled By Turtles The Middle
Wade Bowen So Long 6th Street
Watson Twins Hustle & Shake
Whitey Morgan & The 78s What Am I Supposed To Do
Will Hoge Stupid Kids
William Elliott Whitmore Busted
Willie Nelson Fly Me to the Moon
Willie Nelson Vote ‘Em Out


  1. I am shocked you guys didn’t even list Lauren Alaina “Ladies In The 90s” as one of the singles since it is still climbing the charts, I imagine people forgot/no one here besides me likes the song.

    Anyways, I will also disagree the mainstream was bad this year. I actually thought it was solid, there was no outright horrible songs besides Walker Hayes and “Meant to Be” and I felt like country radio while doing horrible at their women problem had a pretty solid year quality wise.

  2. I’ve been a big fan of Canada’s the Western Swing Authority since I discovered them in a March 2015 article in Country Perspective. They released their 4th studio album “Big Deal” on October 26, 2018. It would be on my list of Best Albums of 2018.

  3. @Raymond

    The ballots definitely aren’t exhaustive: I’ll admit that I was far more lax in maintaining them this year than in years past. But the Crew can vote for anything they like that meets our nebulous definition of a single, which would include Alaina’s latest. Also, with as unreasonably slow as turnover is, anything that is still actively climbing the charts now would still be fair game for next year, too.

    I think it was a great year for country music literally everywhere except for country radio. That includes mainstream acts who released singles that radio didn’t embrace and includes a ton of women who were making the genre’s best music overall.

  4. “Ladies in the 90’s” by Lauren Alaina isn’t something I would recommend, but at least it is not aggressively offensive like “90’s Country” by Walker Hayes. That thing is the country music equivalent of saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards to summon Satan.

  5. For me country radio did have some gems that did hit like “Break Up In The End” by Cole Swindell and “Hide The Wine” by Carly Pearce is a guilty pleasure. I’d also add “Cry Pretty” by Carrie Underwood, and “Most People Are Good” by Luke Bryan.

  6. @Raymond,

    “Hide the Wine” made my personal singles ballot, and I like that Bryan song well enough.

    I don’t think there’s any real defending the state of radio: “Hide the Wine” took over 40 weeks to crawl to a top 15 peak, and “Cry Pretty” was the lowest-peaking single of Underwood’s career to date. By an overwhelming margin, what radio played in heavy rotation was all within a couple of degrees of the same mediocre song by a legion of interchangeable post-Bros, while they either balked at or completely ignored better offerings by mainstream stars or by acts who certainly could fall within the purview of the mainstream.

  7. I didn’t find too many albums that I really liked the majority of this year. I’ll admit to not having heard quite a few of these, but the usuals for me didn’t have albums that I connected with well consistently (Kelly Willis, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Brandi Carlile, some others). I need to make time to sort through Jason Eady’s music some day. Eric Church’s Desperate Man album is pretty strong throughout. Singles I loved include Manitoba Sunrise, People Get Old, and Cumberland Gap. I’ll have to look up the Marlon William’s single.

  8. @Jonathan Keefe

    Hopefully mainstream can get better in 2019 both with the women problem and the quality problem. Maren Morris will have a new lead single soon, “Love Wins” is picking up steam on the chart finally, and if MCA Nashville could think for a second they should start promoting “Die From a Broken Heart” by Maddie & Tae since that song is actually connecting. That and the latest singles from Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini, and Lauren Alaina are off to solid starts.

    Hopefully one of the major labels can sign this one female country singer I recently saw online on my recommendations on YouTube called Lacy Cavalier. She is very pop country, but girl is both very talented, and has a decent sized fanbase for an independent artist (over 28,000 youtube subscribers and her song “Cheatin’ On U” has been viewed over 1.2 million times in the past 2 months). She is someone I see as a total star, and hope a label signs her.

    I do remain hopeful in 2019 for the mainstream but radio has so many problems between interchangeable male artists and lack of females and I wonder if radio even realize the issue and how bad of a look it is in 2019 to be so blatantly sexist.

  9. My picks for Album and Single are both by Lindi Ortega: Liberty, and “The Comeback Kid”. Lindi just had one of the best albums of the year in any format, bar none, in Liberty, a great concept album rooted in the parched landscape and mythology of the American Southwest and northern Mexico, and mixing country, rock, Western film music elements, and Mexicana.

  10. @ bob:

    The interesting thing about Lindi is that she is Canadian by birth (she was born in 1980 in Toronto), but her father is originally from Mexico, which is how Lindi came by her Mexican roots. It also helps that Lindi has named Linda Ronstadt as a sizeable influence, particularly Canciones De Mi Padre, on the approach she took on Liberty. Liberty was arguably the most purely cinematic album released in 2018 by anyone (IMHO).

  11. I’m so behind on 2018 singles, which is why I didn’t participate in the 2018 rankings this time around. I’ve just listened to both of the Nineties themed songs mentioned on this thread and that Walker Hayes song is an abomination for just the production alone! I’ll admit that the Lauren Alaina song is ajam though.:)

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