Though we’re only seven months in to 2021, some of country music’s best albums have already made themselves known. On this multi-generational list, you’ll find genre-bending artists carving out their own spaces in the expansive landscape of country music. Carrie Underwood’s debut gospel album My Savior is just as stunning as Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall and Jack Ingram’s acoustic The Marfa Tapes, while Miko Marks and Allison Russell breathe new life into the genre with their stunning albums Our Country and Outside Child, respectively. Legends Loretta Lynn and Alan Jackson sit alongside the new generation of stars including Thomas Rhett, Jimmie Allen and Carly Pearce, all of whom put out excellent work this year.
Here are our 10 best country albums of 2021 so far (in no particular order).
Our Country - Miko Marks
While Miko Marks’ Our Country introduced her to a whole new audience in 2021, she’s long been working in the country sphere as a voice that deserves to be heard. With her first studio album in 13 years, Our Country immediately proved to be a standout, addressing a range of issues plaguing the nation from systemic racism to the water crisis in her native Flint, Michigan. Marks does it all with poise and grace, her undeniable voice glistening throughout as she becomes a truth teller on “Goodnight America,” a revivalist on “Ancestors” and takes us on a personal voyage in the haunting “Travel Light.” With Our Country, Marks solidifies herself as one of the most compelling songwriters and artists country music has to offer.
My Savior – Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood offered fans a double dose of excitement when she released two albums back-to-back with her 2020 holiday album, My Gift, and companion project, My Savior, that arrived in time for Easter Sunday in 2021.The latter serves as the country superstar’s gospel debut that could’ve simply been a covers album featuring the hymns she grew up singing in church in Oklahoma. Instead, the faith-based singer pours her heart and soul into each cherished number, whether serving as a gentle, guiding spirit on “Softly and Tenderly” and “Just As I Am,” or embodying the awe-inspiring message of “How Great Thou Art” and trading breathtaking vocals with gospel legend CeCe Winans on a stellar rendition of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” One can truly feel Underwood’s spirit throughout My Savior, making it one of the year’s best.
Outside Child - Allison Russell
Known as one-fourth of Americana Awards nominated supergroup Our Native Daughters and one-half of folk duo Birds of Chicago, Allison Russell proved herself to be just as notable as a solo artist with Outside Child. Here, Russell crafts a collection of 11 songs that weave together stories of trauma, fear, healing and redemption, all told through thought-provoking lyrics from the searing “All of the Women” to the light and inquisitive “Joyful Mother*******.” With its magnificent presence, Outside Child demonstrates how Russell is an artist who is as riveting as her work, embracing her voice that demands to be heard.
Country Again: Side A - Thomas Rhett
Like many people, Thomas Rhett used the forced downtime of the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect and go inward, and Country Again: Side A is the engaging result of that. With 11 songs that cover topics ranging from the reflective tribute to a late friend who passed away too young on “Heaven Right Now,” to a warning shot “To the Guys That Date My Girls,” Country Again follows Rhett’s foolproof formula of offering arena-filling hits alongside heartfelt stories. The soothing fiddle on the title track is enough to pull the listener into the project that will just as easily leave you in tears with the sentimental closing number “Ya Heard” that proves the power of our words and the sense gratification that comes when dreams come true. It’s a solid country record, and one of the best of 2021 so far.
The Marfa Tapes – Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall & Jack Ingram
No one can blame Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall and Jack Ingram for retreating to the remote town of Marfa, Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic. It only makes sense that the ACM Award winning collaborators were drawn to the small, desert town in west Texas known for its arts community, serving as an ample source of creativity that lead to The Marfa Tapes, a collection of acoustic songs recorded in the elements. Each artist gets a moment to shine on the record, including the sounds of nature that make their presence known throughout, whether it’s the crackling campfire matching Lambert’s smoky voice on “Geraldine,” or hearing a gentle breeze on “Ghost.” The Marfa Tapes proves to be among the most unique country albums to come out of 2021 with its touching lyrics, calming natural elements and reflective nature from both the great outdoors and the humbled artists.
29 - Carly Pearce
Carly Pearce turned her heartbreak into heroismwith 29. With just a handful of songs, Pearce manages to take the listener on an emotional journey that chronicles the pain and growth she endured following her marriage and divorce from ex-husband, Michael Ray. But the album also shows how much she’s grown as an artist, demonstrating her lyrical prowess with the tongue-in-cheek “Next Girl” and clever “Liability,” to leaning into the reality that life doesn’t always turn out how we pictured it on “29,” yet giving herself grace and coming out on the other side a stronger and wiser human being on the reaffirming “Day One.” With just seven songs, Pearce demonstrates a true sense of growth and maturity that makes for her best project yet, and one of the best country albums of the year.
Still Woman Enough - Loretta Lynn
Even at the age of 88, Loretta Lynn is still putting out attention-worthy records. The 46th studio album in the legend’s storied catalogue proves that her crisp country voice still holds the power to cut through the noise. Lynn brings a modern flair with all-star collaborators Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Margo Price, who appear on the resilient title track that serves as the ultimate country woman’s anthem, while re-recordings of her 1960 debut single “Honky Tonk Girl” and classic hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough” offer refreshing notes, alongside a recitation of the timeless “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” With Still Woman Enough, Lynn proves she’s just as timeless as the lyrics she crafts, marking the album as one of best in 2021 in country music.
Where Have You Gone - Alan Jackson
Much like his peer and friend Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson also released a standout record in 2021. The 62-year-old honors his traditional country roots on Where Have You Gone with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar, alongside a collection of tear-in-your-beer lyrics, as demonstrated in the mournful ode to the genre he loves on the title track to being the romantic shoulder to lean on in “I Can Be That Something,” and tugging at the heartstrings with the wedding song he wrote for his daughters, “You’ll Always Be My Baby.” With Where Have You Gone, the country legend presents songs that continue his legacy in the genre he’s so passionate about.
Heart & Soul - Eric Church
When Eric Church announced he was releasing a triple album born out of a writing and recording retreat in the mountains of his native North Carolina, fans and industry members alike knew it would be a noteworthy effort. Church delivered on this notion, releasing three projects that feature songs that have a distinct way of opening up the listeners mind. From the scathing “Stick That in Your Country Song” to the poignant “People Break,” Church delivers a diverse, thought-provoking collection that is easily one of the most memorable country albums of 2021.
Bettie James Gold Edition - Jimmie Allen
Jimmie Allen had already packed a ton of star power into his Bettie James EP released in 2020, and he only elevated that magnitude with 2021’s Bettie James Gold Edition. What makes this project particularly special is the way Allen naturally weaves genres together, whether singing with Keith Urban on the country love story “Boy Gets a Truck” to immersing flamenco vibes into “Flavor” with Pitbull, teamwork. and Vikina, and uniting Little Big Town with R&B singer Monica on the sobering “Pray.” The EP flexes Allen’s experimental side, and it certainly pays off, showing off new facets of his artistry that make for one of 2021’s best country albums.
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