Studies surveying two different radio charts through 1989 revealed that 2014 was a year that the percentage of singles sung by women in the Top 100 country songs fell to the lowest rating in almost 20 years. Since then, the country music community started to take meaningful action to bring on positive change. Leading industry executives Leslie Fram, Tracy Gershon and Beverly Keel formed Change the Conversation to improve the environment for women in country music. And women released some of the most transcendent country music of the year. George Strait closed his final tour in front of a record-breaking crowed of 105,000 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. And Sam Hunt introduced the world to a little Alabama town called Montevallo. Here are the country albums that defined 2014.
10. The Way I’m Livin’ by Lee Ann Womack
Her first album since 2008’s Call Me Crazy, Womack’s The Way I’m Livin’ embodied the dichotomy of the living the sin of a Saturday night and the redemption of Church on a Sunday morning. Although she didn’t write any of the songs, as an iconic songbird, she sings each emotive line as if they were her own. The collection was Grammy-nominated for best country album.
Presley’s 12-song debut American Middle Class pulls heavily from her Kentucky upbringing and paints a vivid portrait of desperation in small-town America. Listeners feel the pain of losing a loved one to addiction in “Pain Pills.” Then in “Blessing and a Curse,” she gets real about the work it takes to nurture a love that lasts.
Pardi’s full-length debut showed his commitment to being a torchbearer for country music traditionalism while still writing captivating hits for modern country tastes. Featuring “Up All Night,” “Missin’ You Crazy” and “What I Can’t Put Down,” the album built Pardi a loyal following that only grew larger as the decade progressed.
To say that Anything Goes was highly-anticipated was an understatement. The sophomore release solidified Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley’s reputation as reliable hit-makers who consistently deliver fresh interpretations of perennial country themes that resonate with millions of fans every time. Highlights include “Confession,” “Dirt,” “Sippin’ on Fire,” “Sun Daze” and the title hit.
Following the death of his father and the birth of his first son, Bentley dove deep and mined the life-changing experiences that shaped him for album seven. The characters on Riser find strength in family and home in “I Hold On” and “Say You Do.” “Drunk on a Plane” offers escapism and levity to balance the collection’s retrospective feel. The album earned a 2014 Grammy-nominated for best country album.
Platinum won Lambert a Grammy for best country album, plus ACM and CMA awards for album of the year. Lambert co-wrote eight of the collection’s 16 tracks, including the lead single, “Automatic.” Other Platinum gems include the Carrie Underwood collaboration “Somethin’ Bad,” “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” featuring Little Big Town and “Little Red Wagon.”
Little Big Town showed that they are country music’s answer to Fleetwood Mac and Sly and the Family Stone all at the same time with the release of Pain Killer. The album had the band evolving their signature sound by incorporating reggae on the title track, vintage girl group soul on the Grammy-winning “Girl Crush” and swampy Southern funk on “Stay All Night.”
Church continued to expound upon his hard country sound by releasing The Outsiders. The double-platinum album features fan favorites “Talladega,” “Like a Wrecking Ball,” “That’s Dame Rock & Roll,” “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “Cold One.”
Hunt was pretty much inescapable throughout 2014 due to Montevallo’s back-to-back hits “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time,” “House Party” and “Break Up in a Small Town.” Since its release, the album has gone on to become a certified platinum hit.
The underground success of Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music showed there was an underserved audience that craved a sonic return to the hardcore country from the ’70s outlaw movement. Standouts include “Life of Sin,” which has Simpson self-medicating a hardcore country lifestyle, a resurrection of an old Buford Abner song, “Long White Line,” and an intimate rendition of When In Rome’s “The Promise.”