So why top 9 and not top 10? Well, still being relatively new to the country music scene I spent a lot of 2013 listening to albums that didn’t actually come out last year. So as much as I might have played Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert a lot, neither of their albums came out last year and are thus not valid. But Eric did have an album out last year I hear you cry! Yes, but I don’t have Caught In The Act, yet (that may change by the end of this article), it was Chief I was referring to.
There were then albums such as Annie Up by The Pistol Annies which I just didn’t find worthy a place in a top list. It was okay, but not a patch on their Hell On Heels album, and nowhere near the quality of the albums I have placed. So, now we have that sorted, let the countdown commence!
9) Pioneer – The Band Perry
The first time I heard the second album from this Perry family trio I wasn’t impressed, and that disappointed me. I loved their debut album and Better Dig Two was one of my absolute favourite songs of the year. I was all ready to throw my toys out of the pram, and CD out the window, when I had a change of heart and decided to give it another chance. Do you know what? It grew on me. Better Dig Two is by far the stand out track, but the title track Pioneer is a cracking song, with Don’t Let Me Be Lonely not far behind. Mother Like Mine still irritates me, in that Kimberley isn’t the only one in the band whose Mother that is. A great pop country album with tons of cross over appeal.
8) Woman On The Wheel – Gretchen Peters
I love live music albums, and after seeing Gretchen Peters live in June, getting her live CD/DVD combination was a given. Woman On The Wheel contains live versions of the songs on her latest album Hello Cruel World, with 3 bonus tracks. One of those extra tracks is Wild Horses, which was originally by The Rolling Stones, and not The Sundays as Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans might think! If you’ve never heard Gretchen before then please check her out as there are few people in music that put as much passion into their music as she does. The album comes presented in a hardback book format with a stack of photos, and a DVD with it. For shame I’ve not yet watched the DVD, but as well as an hour long look back at the tour, it also includes music videos for several of the songs.
7) The Other Life – Shooter Jennings
If Vickye from For The Country Record needs a partner in her crusade against Bro-Country then she need look no further than the son of country legend Waylon Jennings, Shooter Jennings. There are a few tracks on this album that are used as a vehicle for Shooter to vent his frustrations, but none more obviously than Outlaw You, which declares “Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat, You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat, Country ain’t just about where you’re at, It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside”. Now I’m not against Bro-Country, and that’s something I’ll discuss at a later date, but Outlaw You is easily one of the best country songs of 2013. The album is a showcase for what a fantastic song writer and musician Shooter Jennings is, and proves that not every male country singer of a certain age is shying away from the more traditional roots and only thinking about beer and trucks…not that there is anything wrong with that, not in my eyes (and ears) anyway.
6) Like A Rose – Ashley Monroe
If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have even known that a) Ashley Monroe was a member of The Pistol Annies, and b) she had a solo career and an album out last year. Along with a certain Kacey Musgraves, I heard a lot of buzz about her album and so decided to check it out, and thank goodness I did. Here was a young lady who knew what kind of record she wanted to make and didn’t feel the need to compromise in any way. A traditional country album in essence, but with modern influences and a good dose of beguiling attitude. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the sassy attitude shown by Ashley on her album, on Annie Up, where I was expecting it. Weed Instead of Roses was one of the songs of 2013, without a doubt. We just need her to tour in the UK, please.
5) Spitfire – LeAnn Rimes
I feel like this should be higher, and if this was based on live performances she most certainly would be, but for now a top 5 spot is pretty damn good. In 2013 I went from not knowing much about LeAnn to seeing her live at Country 2 Country, getting this album, and then seeing her live again in October. It was her performances of songs from her new album at C2C, especially Borrowed, that made me a fan, and I was particularly delighted when I won tickets in a ukCOUNTRYmusic.NET competition to see her for a second time. Spitfire is an eclectic mix of songs showing all sides of LeAnn’s personality, from the aforementioned tear inducing Borrowed to the foot tapping Gasoline And Matches. That last song featured none other Ron Thomas and Jeff Beck – how about that for a superstar lineup! Spitfire is one of those albums that I always chastise myself for not listening to again sooner whenever I do play it.
4) The Music of Nashville Season 1: Volumes 1 and 2
You can’t have compilation albums in this list! Says who? This is my list, on my website – I say what goes, and these get included, together as one entry no less! As a show Nashville is fun, but a little too soap opera for my liking, but the music is tremendous. Like many I became a huge fan of Scarlett played by Clare Bowen, and her duet with Sam Palladio’s Gunnar of If I Didn’t Know Better was the highlight of the album. We also got the absolutely enchanting Telescope from sisters Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella, which was also done by Hayden Panettiere. It was Volume 2 that I actually preferred, and a lot of that was to do with Panettiere and especially her rendition of Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again, which at one time I couldn’t stop playing. We don’t have a start date for season 2 yet here in the UK, but I for one can’t wait for some more CDs of great songs from an interesting mix of actor come singers.
3) Wheelhouse – Brad Paisley
Mr Paisley was one of my discoveries of 2013, and I actually became a fan of his before Wheelhouse came out. That meant I could actually look forward to the new album and even had it pre-ordered. You can read my full review of it here , but like the two albums that make up the number 1 and 2 spots, this is one that I listened to repeatedly and still listen to regularly now. Brad is the act at the upcoming Country 2 Country that I am most looking forward to seeing play live. Aside from Accidental Racist with LL Cool J, it’s an almost flawless album which combines humour, with a good does of emotion, memories, and the all important guitars.
2) Two Lanes of Freedom – Tim McGraw
When I started writing this article last weekend I didn’t even own a Tim McGraw album and couldn’t have named you one his songs if my life depended on it – thankfully it didn’t! Then I played Two Lanes of Freedom, again and again, to the point where I must have listened to it more than 10 times in the last 7 days. Every time I listen I get something new out of it and gain a new appreciation for the songs included in this masterpiece of an album. It really does have everything, and I’m still not sure whether I prefer the very touching and beautiful Annie I Owe You A Dance and Friend of a Friend, or the pulsating Truck Yeah, or maybe even the star studded Highway Don’t Care. You can read the full review I wrote of Two Lanes of Freedeom here, and just know that this album from Tim McGraw came within a whisker of getting the top spot in this countdown.
1) Same Trailer Different Park – Kacey Musgraves
The first time I listened to Kaceys Musgraves’ debut album I was blown away. Such an incredible mix of great song writing, beautiful vocals and all bundled up with that charming attitude that only she can pull off. There’s a dose of traditional, a handful of modern, but quintessentially, it’s Kacey Musgraves, a name and voice you will hear for many years to come. Filler is something quite alien to this album, as every song is pure gold, and Follow Your Arrow was my song of 2013, and like the album, is in my top ten of all time. The fact that in the same year I discovered her, I saw Kacey Musgraves play live twice (April and August), is just the icing on a very special cake. For a debut album it’s a very bold one, as she doesn’t shy away from singing about exactly what she wants, no matter how controversial that may seem. However, she’s been received as well as by the critics as by us fans, and is undoubtedly the breakout star of 2013. There’s only one thing that can come to close to Same Trailer Different Park, and that’s the prospect of a second album.
So there we have it, my top 9 country music albums of 2013, and having just received Drinks After Work by Toby Keith and Caught In the Act by Eric Church, I could well be adding a 10th album to this list very soon. I have only listened to the Brandy Clark and Holly Williams albums once, and have releases from Lindy Ortega, Darius Rucker and Keith Urban still to get, to name but a few. 2013 for me was a year in which I discovered more great music, new and old, than any other in over a decade, and 2014 promises to be every bit as good, and maybe even better.
12 months ago I said Getting into country is like opening the wardrobe to Narnia – an amazing world of music and people that I never knew existed, and wow, is that ever an under-statement. I love how varied the genre of country music is and how it includes so many great artists and styles. There really is something for everyone, and I’m trying to consume as much as I can – it’s a buffet of excellent music I can’t and don’t want to stop going back for more.