Does it seem like country music is sounding better? You could easily divide country music into multiple sub-genres – cowboy/western, pop, rap, traditional, rockabilly, and more. However, in looking at our top picks of albums, songs, and more, it appears the pendulum has swung back to the more traditional side of things.
Recently I was asked to provide input into the Nashville Scene Music Poll for 2017. Now I won’t tell you what I picked in every category, or how I rated them. I will tell you who my best picks are overall.
Best Country Music Album Picks: I truly believe that 2017 was a standout year for females in country music releasing music that we have wanted to hear. Dare I say – country music for adults going through whatever life may bring them? Sunny Sweeney’s “Trophy” album truly showcased her powerful vocals with songs like “Pills” and “Better Bad Idea,” while her songwriting skills were explored with “Grow Old With Me” and “Bottle By My Bed.” However, the ending “Unsaid” truly left one speechless as they listened to the album. I also feel that Angaleena Presley is grossly underrated by commercial radio. Her song “Cheer Up Little Darlin’” with Guy Clark is simplicity, yet a wonderful masterpiece that personally helped me during the passing of my grandfather. Several artists released stellar albums, including Tyler Childers, Erin Enderlin, and The Steel Woods giving the world a great introduction to them. Willie Nelson and Marty Stuart proved that their music is timeless even as they age. In no particular order, my picks for Best Country Music Albums in 2017 include:
Sunny Sweeney – Trophy
Angaleena Presley – Wrangled
Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1 and Volume 2
The Steel Woods – Straw in the Wind
Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier
Tyler Childers – Purgatory
Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
Margo Price – All American Made
Marty Stuart – Way Out West
Ray Scott – Guitar for Sale
Top Country Music Songs of 2017: We can all say that 2017 was an interesting year in country music. My top two songs, Cheer Up Little Darlin’ by Angaleena Presley & Guy Clark, and Sturgill Simpson’s “All Around You,” embrace the notion that we all need love and hope to get through this journey we call life. Chris Stapleton also provided the uplifting spirit with “Broken Halos.” Then you have Montgomery Gentry’s “Better Me” released shortly after Troy Gentry’s passing. The powerful message is something that we should all strive to be. Sunny Sweeney and Cam pulled heartstrings with their songs, “Bottle By My Bed” on the subject of infertility, and “Diane” on the subject of being the other woman. JD McPherson released the catchy tune “Lucky Penny” that caught my ear with its funky little riff. Brothers Osborne catchy “It Ain’t My Fault” is hard to listen to without clapping and singing along. Ashley McBryde had all of the dreamers and heart breakers attention with her song about the dive bar in Georgia. 2017 should be the year of Love and Hope. In no particular order, my picks for Best Country Music Songs in 2017 include:
Angaleena Presley & Guy Clark – Cheer Up Little Darlin’
Sturgill Simpson – All Around You
Montgomery Gentry – Better Me
Sunny Sweeney – Bottle By My Bed
Cam – Diane
JD McPherson – Lucky Penny
The Steel Woods – I’m Gonna Love You
Chris Stapleton – Broken Halos
Brothers Osborne – It Ain’t My Fault
Little Big Town – Better Man
Ashley McBryde – Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega
Erin Enderlin – Ain’t It Just Like a Cowboy
Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing
Best Overall Country Music Acts of 2017: I was only allowed to pick 3 people, but I will elaborate on even more of my top picks. Margo Price is not one bit afraid to speak her mind, whether it is political, environmental, ethical, and then some. One of the most emotional moments is to hear her perform at Farm Aid knowing that her own parents lost their family farm years ago. Hopefully one day she will be able to buy it back.
Chris Stapleton has staying power on the charts with all his albums. He remains humble to his success and attention. Sturgill Simpson has proven that he can reach beyond the boundaries of country music and explore other delicacies of other musical styles. Between his vocals, songwriting, and guitar picking, he is a force to be reckoned with. Sturgill can maintain longevity in the business despite not being recognized with awards beyond the Grammys and Americana Music Association Awards.
When it comes to vocal groups, the Oak Ridge Boys still maintain a strong presence on the stage and in recordings. They are a standing tradition at the Kentucky State Fair and Renfro Valley and a pure treasure to see perform.
Favorite Interviews of 2017: I have been very fortunate to have interviewed several people throughout 2017. I’ve always treated an interview of more of a conversation between friends, frankly to make us both feel comfortable. It was good to sit down and discuss not only music, but our friendship with Wayne Mills when I interviewed Jamey Johnson in June. In August, I got to speak with Mo Pitney, who was not afraid to let people know of his Christian faith. I also got to explore the love of Little Jimmy Dickens and Merle Haggard with Erin Enderlin over lunch during a visit in Nashville.
In Memorial of 2017: It is always hard to look back of the names that we have lost in country music over the last few years. Some have been personal friends or someone that I had met/seen in concert. When we got the news of the deaths of Mel Tillis, Glen Campbell, and Don Williams, I began to wonder, who is going to fill their shoes? Finally, with Troy Gentry’s sudden passing, it hurt us all in multiple ways. However, the healing would begin with the release of “Better Man,” a song that truly reflected on his career.
Finally, must we not forget the tragedy of Las Vegas with the shootings during the music festival. It is a terrifying world when one cannot have fun and enjoy the music they love without fear of violence.
As we turn the page on another year, let us provide love and hope for our neighbors into 2018. We are never promised tomorrow, so be sure to make the best of today.
Jessica Bray is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. Jessica has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite country music singers. She is a Kentucky Colonel, as well as a collector of Volkswagen and Gnome items. Most recently, she was named Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients for 2018.