Before we count down the seconds before the ball drops and a new year begins, we’ve got to count down the top 10 best albums of 2014. Pucker up, it’s time to find out who got dropped and who’s on top.
10. Montevallo by Sam Hunt
The boundary-pushing production on Montevallo will likely make people scratch their heads and ask, “Is this really a country album?” But make no mistake, it is. The detail-rich songwriting and Sam’s killer vocals—indebted as much to ’90s R&B as to George Strait—lay the foundation for a country album that’s not afraid to tap into the stylings of rock and R&B. Sam’s debut album has certainly put the music industry on notice that he means business.
9. Long in the Tooth by Billy Joe Shaver
The Texas legend’s first album of original music in more than six years was definitely worth the wait. Billy Joe displayed his trademark humor and finely detailed observations throughout the album, hitting a particular nerve with the title track, which takes a well-deserved aim at the contemporary record business.
8. Remedy by Old Crow Medicine Show
Bolstered by Darius Rucker’s No. 1 hit version of their signature song “Wagon Wheel,” Ketch Secor and his merry band of music makers put together their finest effort yet. Don’t be fooled by the whole “old-time string band” thing: OCMS tunes may be tempered with fiddle and banjo, but those traditional instruments are wrapped around whip-smart songs like “O Cumberland River” with some impeccable pop (meant as a compliment) melodies. For an often joyless, factory-produced music landscape, Remedy was the perfect cure.
7. Everlasting by Martina McBride
The relationship between Motown and Music City became a little closer when Martina released this collection that did for soul and R&B classics what her Timeless album did for country standards. Martina didn’t ditch the one that brought her to the dance, but rather gave her Kansas-farm-girl spin on songs that helped her cultivate the big voice that makes us proud to call her one of our own. Everlasting further solidifies her as one of the best female vocalists . . . in any format.
6. The Way I’m Livin’ by Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann drifted nicely out of the comfort box to record songs by such out-of-the-mainstream artists as Mindy Smith and Hayes Carll, and did justice to all. This was easily Lee Ann’s finest album to date, from song selection to sequencing and production. Keep an ear out for Lee Ann’s stirring take on Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend,” a much sweeter version but no less poignant.
5. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson
Don’t let the philosophical nomenclature of Sturgill Simpson’s new album scare you into the abyss. It should only take one listening for you to come to the realization that Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is meta-awesome. Juxtaposing Waylon-esque wailing with progressive songwriting, Metamodern is country music’s deepest offering in 2014, and it helped Sturgill win Americana’s Emerging Artist of the Year award. While Metamodern doesn’t answer the meaning of life, it sure makes it more enjoyable, and we can’t wait for Sturgill’s post-metamodern offering.
4. The Outsiders by Eric Church
In today’s bro-centric-country-music-loving cosmos, Eric Church probably feels like a Martian, so maybe that’s why he dubbed his fourth studio album The Outsiders. Melding the sounds of Merle and Metallica, the 2014 record was a welcome throwback to the days of the concept album, and fans agreed. Selling more than 750,000 copies, the rowdy outlier reached No. 1 on both the all-genre Billboard 200 and the Billboard Top Country Album charts. Now, that’s out of this world.
3. Pain Killer by Little Big Town
Little Big Town’s sixth studio album, Pain Killer, mixed things up a bit with more of a rock-infused sound, but it never lost sight of those sweet harmonies that put the foursome of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet on the country music map. The evolution of their songwriting and the dominating vocal performances from Karen ensure this album will dull the sharpest of pains.
2. Riser by Dierks Bentley
With his seventh major-label release, Dierks Bentley reveals even more depth and talent than ever before. Raw from the intense low of losing his father in 2012, to the emotional high of welcoming his third child—and first son—in 2013, Dierks’ channeled his feelings into a collection of songs that represented heartbreak, joy, love and an affinity for airborne cocktails. As personal as Riser is, it connected to country music lovers who embraced both the humanity and the pure country music goodness that it represented.
1. Platinum by Miranda Lambert
No country artist reached farther or deeper in 2014 than the endlessly creative Miranda Lambert. Her fifth album, the ambitiously named Platinum, managed to perfectly unify the many sides of her artistry: the trash-talking crazy child, the vulnerable porcelain doll and the nostalgic thirty-something all show their faces and the music thrillingly spans radio country, dusty Americana, Western swing, Southern rock and everything else in between. Even though lead single “Automatic” seemed to rail against CDs and MP3s—the methods by which most people were hearing Platinum—what she was really talking about was the value of hard work. With a sprawling masterwork like Platinum to her credit, Miranda is clearly taking her own advice.