Country Music Minds’ 25 Essential Albums Of 2016

Author: Leon Blair

I’m an album guy – always have been and always be. Here at Country Music Minds, we take the concept of an album very seriously, so much so that you could say we have higher (or stricter) standards than other blogs. That being said, 2016 had a lot of great albums, more so than we could fit in with our album of the year candidates. Therefore, we wanted to put together a list of what we considered to be the top 25 albums of this year. They aren’t ranked in any particular order. All they are is proof of how great 2016 was from a musical standpoint. 

Please note, OUR ALBUM OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES ARE NOT HERE. THEY ARE LISTED RIGHT HERE! However, these other eleven albums are also considered to be among the best that 2016 had to offer. Without further ado, here they are –


‘Poker All Night Long’ by The Royal Hounds

This is probably one of the most fun, energetic albums you will hear this year. That’s reflected in all areas of this album from the fast paced rhythms as well as the comedic lyrical content. It’s Rockabilly, it’s Country, it’s Surf, hell, it’s just a damn good time. While comedy isn’t exactly a unique niche in music, The Royal Hounds make it their own with their brand of zany, crazy, humorous antics. Move over Wheeler Walker Jr., there’s a new sheriff in town. 


‘Upland Stories’ by Robbie Fulks

Is it as good as 2013’s masterpiece, Gone Away Backward? Well, no, but what it is is another damn great album from one of the most underrated lyricists in Americana today. “Alabama At Night” is a brilliant opener, and through it, we get an album full of warm, rich stories that transcend brilliancy and are accentuated by intimate acoustic production. Songs like “A Miracle” and “Never Come Home” came extremely close to making our “song of the year” list, and if anything, this is another fine addition in the Robbie Fulks catalog. 


‘Heart and Soul, Blood and Bone’ by Jim and Lynna Woolsey

*Also up for “Song Of The Year” with “Freedom”

So we were pretty bad about covering Bluegrass music this year, and we’re looking to change that in 2017. However, if there was one album that we’re damn glad we covered, it’s the latest album by Jim and Lynna Woolsey. There’s many great songs here, some of which are personal to the Woolsey family. Overall though, it’s an incredibly gripping collection of songs that have an old dusty traditional feel to them while maintaining some sharp lyricism. 


‘Animal’ by Chris King

Chris King took quite a different turn in sound for his latest album, but that’s not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the fact that this is an album with a grand scope, one that tells a story and really comes together as an album. “Love” is a word that’s so hard to define, and while our protagonist (anti-hero?) on Animal never really finds that answer, he at least confronts his demons and finds his own answer. Definitely a little different from our other candidates here, but different in the best possible way. 


‘Big Day In A Small Town’ by Brandy Clark

*Also a candidate for “Song Of The Year” with “Three Kids No Husband”

​A lot of people have criticized this album for not being as good as 2013’s ‘12 Stories‘ but really, I’m willing to argue that this is Brandy’s best work yet.Where the production on 12 Stories could cause attention to scatter at times, this album really gripped me with the more, I’ll say it, mainstream touches as well Brandy’s lyricism, something that’s only improved. Of all the candidates here, this was the closest to being the last candidate on my “album of the year” list, however, don’t take away the fact that this is an excellent album, and another example of why Brandy is receiving all of the acclaim she has. 


‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ by Sturgill Simpson

What? Sturgill isn’t a candidate?!? Well folks I’ll say this, I’ve had a weird relationship with this album. I’ve loved it, I haven’t loved it. I’ve went back to loving it and then back to not loving it only to repeat the process over and over. I’ll say this, the concept behind the album is brilliant, and the execution definitely sticks the landing. We here at Country Music Minds don’t want to debate its country merits, but we do want to say that it is a fine piece of art, and it’s nice to see this have just as big of an impact as Metamodern did. 


‘Dori Freeman’ by Dori Freeman 

Another tough album to leave off the candidates list. Overall, I think this is exceptional work for a debut album, and I think Dori has it in her to have a shot at my top list for many more years to come. In the cold lull that was Februrary of this year, Dori’s album was a welcome fit, especially since it was the first album of the year that I truly loved. Nice job Ms. Freeman, I’m looking forward to more. 


‘Volume VII: Cowboy Songs – High Stakes’ by Michael Martin Murphey 

Who? If you asked that, I understand, but it’s a damn shame. Michael Martin Murphey’s seventh collection of cowboy songs is one that’s adventurous and fun all at the same time. The production work is absolutely stellar, some of the best I’ve heard all year even. It also proves that even at this point in his career, Michael can still create some solid albums. 


‘Tradition Lives’ by Mark Chesnutt

Speaking of artists who can still create some damn solid albums, we come to one of my biggest surprises of 2016. I mean, we’ve been disappointed before by albums from returning legends in country music, but this album was far from that. The material present won’t change your world, no, but there are some smarter songs here than I ever could have imagined. “So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore” alone is worth the price of admission. 


‘Behind This Guitar’ by Mo Pitney 

This might be an album that surprises all of you. While many people were turned off by Mo’s corny lyrical nature, I always looked at it as more of a feature than a flaw. I think the production and instrumentation didn’t get nearly enough credit either, especially with the ghostly swell of the bluegrass inspired, “Take The Chance”. Regardless, it’s nice to have a mainstream album make this list. I’m definitely looking forward to Mo’ Mo (okay, bad pun, I know…)


‘The Weight Of These Wings’ by Miranda Lambert

*Also a candidate for “Song Of The Year” with “The Tin Man”

​Did this need to be a double album? Probably not. Are there filler tracks? Uh huh. Was I still hooked by this album anyway? You betcha. Miranda’s latest album definitely showed her stepping out of her comfort zone into one that explored her personal life and the darkness within. It’s not an easy listen, not at all. However, it is a damn rewarding one. Miranda isn’t playing the mainstream game anymore, and I couldn’t be anymore excited about how that will play out down the road. 


‘Heart Of A Flatland Boy’ by Erik Dylan

*Also a candidate for “Song Of The Year” with “Fishin’ Alone”

Erik Dylan’s latest blended country and rock in the best way possible. His rougher, grittier vocal style is perfect for these tracks, and in terms of pure enjoyment, this album ranks high on my personal list. Erik is a killer songwriter, and now that he’s finally gaining some deserved attention, I’m excited to see where he goes down the road. 


‘Stay Gold’ by Butch Walker

Quite a far cry from his last album, Afraid Of Ghosts, Butch Walker’s latest effort Stay Gold finds the singer in a more cheerier, heartland rock realm, and quite frankly we’re all better for it. This album is loaded with tons of atmospheric production that harkens back to the glory days of Springsteen and Mellencamp. It’s quite easily one of Butch’s best albums if I do say so myself. 


‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’ by the Randy Rogers Band

This album has been criticized for playing things too safe, but I thought Nothing Shines Like Neon ​was a great return to form for the Randy Rogers Band. If anything, this album proves the boys are back in action and are proud to be in the minor leagues rather than pretend and be something they’re not in the major leagues (I’m sure some of you get the reference). 


‘I’ve Got A Way’ by Kelsey Waldon

Admittedly, I’ve cooled a bit on this album since I initially heard it, but at the end of the day it’s still a great record. In many ways, I’ve Got A Way feels like a personal album for Kelsey, channeling some inner demons such as heartache and independence and turning them into great country songs. 


‘The Bird and the Rifle’ by Lori McKenna 

Before this year, I’m sure many of us probably didn’t know Lori McKenna outside of some songs she wrote, and that’s for those who even pay attention to those things anyway. I’m glad that changed this year, because The Bird and the Rifle is yet another fine addition in Lori’s expansive collection as an artist. It’s a songwriter’s delight. 

But hey, these were just MY favorites of the year! How about yours? Leave your thoughts down below!

3 thoughts on “Country Music Minds’ 25 Essential Albums Of 2016

    1. I don’t know if you saw, but Cody Jinks and Southern Family are two contenders we have for “album of the year” (candidates aren’t listed here )
      I’ve never heard of Bradley Walker but I’m excited to check him out over the holidays!
      I hear you on Sturgill. Personally I’m not a fan of his arrogance. I appreciate the message he’s stating, I just don’t like the way he’s saying it. Honestly, my favorite album of his is still High Top if only because it was a straightforward easy to enjoy country album.
      Zack had a review for Dustin’s album but it’s since been deleted. He says he’s going to work on bringing back all the old posts over break.
      I’ve heard Barnyard Stompers and Dwight. Admittedly we just don’t have the time to cover as much as we’d like. Most of these albums had reviews attached to them at one point but like I said, they’ve been deleted unfortunately. Andy and I didn’t have time to cover them but they come highly recommended!
      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment by the way!


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