With the upcoming CMA Awards and the short, cool days of autumn setting in, it’s a great time to sit back and reflect on this year’s hottest albums and the bands that made them happen. This year’s nominees have a variety of sounds. Some harken back to country’s roots, while others continue to push the boundaries of what country is.
Little Big Town
Little Big Town is a band that actually began in the late ’90s, but you likely didn’t know much about them until their 2005 The Road to Here went platinum with four Top 20 singles.
According the AllMusic.com, the band began in Homewood, Alabama. It consists of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook. Karen and Kimberly began singing together in college, until Jimi Westbrook joined to make them a trio. Philip was the last to join, completing them in 1998.
From the outset, the band has focused on multiple lead vocals and harmonies. Following their 2005 success, the band released four more albums and several hit songs, including “Pontoon,” “Girl Crush” and “Day Drinking.”
Their newest album, The Breaker, is now nominated for Album of the Year. In it, LBT continues to expand the boundaries of country music.
Its standout track, “Lost in California,” isn’t really pop or country. It’s a bit more easy-listening, with a distinct indie feel. This is true of other tracks, as well, though some are more uptempo.
The band continues to experiment with vocal mixes, which may not be appealing to country music listeners who still revel in the sounds of 90s country. However, this crossover has definitely added to the band’s success, as they’ve taken home a few Grammys.
If you want a less traditional country album, this one is for you.
Stapleton is on-track again to be a darling of the CMA Awards with multiple nominations. A Kentucky native who spent his first years in Nashville writing hit songs for other artists, Stapleton is now putting his own voice to his words.
From A Room: Volume I is the record that puts him in contention for Best Album. This is definitely an album that hits every note of Stapleton’s genius. The lyrics are heart aching. The notes are pitch perfect. The richness of his voice comes all the way home.
What doesn’t flow seamlessly is the order of the tracks. Stapleton takes you into despair with “Either Way,” in which he describes the acceptance of a loveless marriage. This track is followed by “I Was Wrong” and “Without Your Love.” Both of those are soft, with “I Was Wrong” producing a particularly bluesy feel. However, “Them Stems” comes on and almost jerks the listener from their wistful daydreams.
If you enjoyed his break-out record, Traveller, the this should satisfy your Stapleton craving. It definitely blends country, rhythm, blues, and rock, and keeps an unadulterated, authentic sound.
If you’re looking for something more traditionally county–don’t mind that you may need a few tissues for a track or two–this is the record to put on.
According to allmusic.com, Lady Antebellum played dive bars their first year and rose to stardom the next. Similar to Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum focuses on harmonies and alternating lead vocals.
Created in 2006, the trio includes Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood. Their 2010 album, Need You Now, went platinum, and the track with the same title peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This is another band that enjoys crossover into other genres. The’ve scored big on the country and pop charts, and also had a fair share of country awards and Grammys.
Their newest album, Heart Break, is a bit more country than Little Big Town, but it shares a similar feeling of being contemporary.
Reminiscent of previous albums, there are plenty of ballads that live on nostalgia and longing. Despite this consistent thread of listening for the Lady Antebellum fan base, it still seems original.
It’s also a good choice if you enjoy The Band Perry. The track “Hurt” definitely brings “If I Die Young” to mind, and “Teenage Heart” could be billed as a remixed “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.”
“Heart Break” has beautiful lyrics set against rhythms that make this an excellent choice for road-tripping.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell’s first success was with the Drive-By Truckers, a band he recorded and performed with from 2001-2007. He launched his solo career that same year, reaching a reasonable amount of success.
2015 was the year he hit the spotlight, making a splash on the country, rock, and folk songs charts.
His newest album, Nashville Sound, comes on the heels of that success. Like his previous work, this record has a Southern-rock-meets-folk-meets-country mix that is quite easy on the ears. It’s a great listen if you’re a looking for the pure quality of Chris Stapleton with a more natural, softer sound. He also has some of Stapleton’s lyric genius.
This is the record for cooking, uncorking a bottle of wine, and chilling in the kitchen enjoying rich autumnal dishes.
Miranda never seems to stay far from front-page country music news, though it isn’t always for her music. The star has publicly lived her tumultuousness marriage and divorce, but she has also made it back to the top of the charts. You will hear Lambert’s name several times if you tune in to the CMA Awards on November 8.
Lambert’s nominated album, The Weight of These Wings, definitely retains the country sound that made her fans fall in love.
In addition to classic country twang and some Southern-revival rhythms (“You Wouldn’t Know Me”), you can also expect to hear sounds that pay homage to the likes of early country (“Ugly Lights” immediately brought Loretta Lynn to mind).
There’s also a good mix of tempo the record. One minute you want to take off Thelma and Louise-style, the next you want to close your eyes and sway.
“Tin Man” is a standout track that is particularly beautiful (and also nominated for Single of the Year).
Do be aware this album takes a bit of commitment, given that it has 24 songs. But it’s worth it. This is just an all-around good country album that shows country girls don’t go down without a fight–if they go at all.
So Much to Hear
One of the best parts of 2017 is that it has thus far given us a host of country samplings. From classic to contemporary, Southern rock to rock ballad, highly stylized to almost acoustic, one can easily find a suitable playlist. The above-mentioned albums popular, but that are by no means all that country has to offer. So brush of your boots, grab a partner, and find your beat.