This time last year I didn’t feel much like sharing, so went without a run down of top country music albums of 2012. Looking back now, that was probably a wise choice as the musical year seemed epitomised by Lionel Ritchie, yes ‘that’ Lionel Ritchie’s truly, truly terrible Tuskegee. No link because, ‘Sail On!’
Tuskegee starts well enough with Blake Shelton’s brave attempt at ‘You Are.’ Shania Twain is in good voice for ‘Endless Love’ and Jennifer Nettles can do no wrong, ever, even with ‘Hello,’ but nothing can forgive Ritchie’s patronising commentary — “Thank you Willie (Nelson)” or his no-where near country, no way Jose ‘All Night Long’ with Jimmy Buffett.
Tuskegee was bad, but there wasn’t much else in the year to get excited about. It wasn’t that the albums were bad, there just wasn’t anything really good. On to 2013 and I was hoping for better and I got it. So here are this englishman’s top five country music albums of 2013. Listen and enjoy.
I haven’t always been a fan of Lady Antebellum, but they’ve grown on me over the last few years and this album, ‘Golden’ is perhaps my favourite so far. Production seems a little lighter and a little more raw than their previous albums and I like it for that. It’s also a consistently good listen from the start with ‘All For Love’ which seems like classic Lady Antebellum through to the title track and onto ‘Nothin’ Like The First Time.’ It’s a good album, but not a great one. And that’s why it’s my number five.
Justin Moore’s last album ‘Outlaws Like Me’ made it to my top five in 2011 and his latest offering deserves its place here this year. His southern twang’s as strong and his songs as full of ‘Beer’ and dirt roads and just like last time that makes for a fun and funny listen.
Miranda Lambert slows things down and lends her distinctive vocals to ‘Old Habits’ but doesn’t dominate. In fact her own drawl compliments Moore’s perfectly. ‘I’d Want It To Be Yours’ swings along, the title track stands up but it’s ‘Big Ass Headache’ that sums up what’s great about ‘Off the Beaten Path:’
Y’all I ain’t kidding this son of a bitch hurts.
Where the hell are my pants must be with my shirt?
I still got my boots on but make no mistake,
They can’t help me kick this big ass headache.
Updated: ‘Off the Beaten Path’ isn’t available on UK iTunes.
The Pistol Annies’s (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley) debut album ‘Hell On Heels’ was my number one album in 2011 and while I knew it would take some beating, it was so short that it left me wanting more. More is exactly what we got this year with their follow up ‘Annie Up.’
As with the previous album, this starts slowly with ‘I Feel a Sin Coming On’ It’s a track that to me sums up the entire album. The Annies sing well separately and sound great together. It goes from finger snapping and builds to a rocking full band sound, but sadly never goes anywhere. ‘Hush Hush’ gets things back on track and is reminiscent of ‘Hell On Heels’’ ‘Takin’ Pills,’ but after that the pace literally slows to a buzzkill with ‘Blues, You’re a Buzzkill.’ Fortunately, even though the fun of ‘Hell On Heels’ doesn’t show up again, there are some brilliantly written and beautifully sung songs towards the end of the album. ‘Dear Sobriety’ is four minutes of classic Annies’s country and the final track ‘I Hope You’re the End of My Story’ is the perfect ending.
I hope that ‘Annie Up’ isn’t the end of the Pistol Annies’s story. No, this second album doesn’t live up to the promise of the first, but the Pistol Annies’s chemistry is still there and I’m looking forward to a third album. It couldn’t be any more difficult than this.
If Ashley Monroe with The Pistol Annies didn’t stand out this year, her second solo album ‘Like a Rose’ more than makes up for it. This was my number one album for almost the entire year until it was so narrowly beaten into second spot. As well as being a wonderful singer, Ashley Monroe’s a phenomenal songwriter who worked on every one of the nine tracks on this album.
There’s not a weak song on this album. The title track starts as the album means to go on:
Sitting in this diner with a coffee in my hand
Waiting on a bus to some promised land
I got a one way ticket as far as it goes
And I came out like a rose
‘Two Weeks Late,’ sounds as if it belongs on the stage of the Grand Ol’ Oprey, and ‘Weed Instead of Roses’ is a track you’ll play again and again. If any song on this album should’ve been a Pistol Annies track, this could be it, but somehow I’m glad that Monroe sings it on her own. The pace of this album is perfect, slowing down for ‘The Morning After,’ speeding up for ‘Monroe Suede’ before (almost) concluding with the desperately sad but hauntingly beautiful ‘She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind.’ I say almost because the final track is a fun Dolly Parton inspired duet with Blake Shelton. But the album really didn’t need it and should have ended with ‘She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind.’
I love this album. If you’re new to country, this would be a fabulous introduction and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
So if Ashley Monroe’s ‘Like a Rose’ is so damn good, how come it’s not number one. Truth is, I fell in love with Kacey Musgraves and if you give this album just one listen, I think you will too.
We saw Kacey Musgraves on tour in Manchester earlier this year too and she was brilliant, so if you get a chance to catch her live anytime you should make sure you do.
‘Same Trailer, Different Park’ is Musgraves’s first mainstream album and it’s twelve no nonsense, brilliantly written, all by Kacey Musgraves herself, and performed contemporary country tracks. They don’t take themselves too seriously and there’s so much to like.
‘Silver Lining’ starts things off on what would have been side one if this album ever saw vinyl. ‘My House’ is the song that hooked me first. Maybe it’s because we love our RV road trips? The song even talks about camp grounds we’ve stayed in and US states that we love:
In Washington, in Idaho
In Oregon and away we go
To Tennessee and Arkansas
No we won't stop ’til we’ve seen ’em all
’Til we’ve seen ’em all
‘Merry Go ’Round,’ ‘ Dandelion’, ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Step Off’ will all keep you singing before the poppy ‘Follow Your Arrow’ brings things to a near close. Finally it’s up to ‘It Is What It Is’ to say what I love so much about this album and country music in general. It’s a story, a melancholy one, beautifully written and perfectly performed.
But I ain’t got no one sleepin’ with me
And you ain’t got no where that you need to be
Maybe I love you
Maybe I’m just kind of bored
It is what it is
Till it ain’t
Updated: ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ isn’t available on UK iTunes, but it is available on Amazon UK MP3.
So there you have it, this Englishman’s top five country music albums of 2013. I hope y’all like ’em. Y’all have a blessed day now and a very happy Christmas.