There was no shortage of country albums released this year. Looking back, it seems as if every week at least one country artist was dropping a new project — not that we’re complaining! As 2017 wraps up, Sounds Like Nashville looks back on some of the biggest releases of the year. While Tim McGraw and Faith Hill finally revealed the joint project fans have been anxiously waiting for, Danielle Bradbery also released her first album in four years. Meanwhile, newcomers Midland, Brett Young and Luke Combs also let their major label debut albums see the light of day. Below are our 20 favorite albums of 2017.
20. Danielle Bradbery — I Don’t Believe We’ve Met
Her first album in four years, Danielle Bradbery shows immense growth as a vocalist and songwriter. Her debut as a songwriter, she penned seven of the album’s ten tracks and each song showcases immense honesty and vulnerability. The heart-wrenching “Human Diary” coupled with the relatable “Potential” impress while the beat-heavy “Messy” and soulful “Worth It” showcase Bradbery’s powerful pipes. Ready to open a new chapter of her career, the shy winner of The Voice is emboldened on I Don’t Believe We’ve Met.
19. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill — The Rest of Our Life
Country fans have long been hoping for a joint album from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and in 2017 that wait was over. Songs like the upbeat “Telluride” showcase the couple’s fun side while the emotional “Break First” and Ed Sheeran-penned single “The Rest of Our Life” highlight the power of each singer when they come together. A memorable release, Tim and Faith prove that some things in life are well worth the wait.
18. Old Dominion — Happy Endings
Old Dominion returned with their sophomore album, Happy Endings, and the release continues to showcase the band’s knack for writing catchy and memorable songs that stick with the listener. While the fun remains on tracks like “Be With Me” and “Shoe Shopping,” there is added depth on songs like their single “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” and “Written In the Sand.”
17. Brett Young — Brett Young
Brett Young’s emotive vocals were introduced to country fans last year with his first No. 1 hit, “Sleep Without You.” He’d follow up with the equally memorable 2x Platinum hit “In Case You Didn’t Know,” another chart topper. His self-titled debut further displays Young’s powerful vocals and vivid storytelling as can be heard on the mesmerizing “Olivia Mae” and striking “Mercy.” Now headlining tours of his own, this is just the beginning for the singer.
16. Luke Combs — This One’s For You
Luke Combs’ major label debut was praised by critics and fans. The singer penned all of the album’s 12 tracks, including his back-to-back No. 1 singles “Hurricane” and “When It Rains It Pours.” Influenced by Eric Church, the North Carolina native showcases his impressive songwriting chops on the release accompanied by his whiskey soaked vocals. Songs like the unique “Beer Can” and nostalgic “Memories Are Made Of” demonstrate Combs’ versatility. With a debut release this strong, we can’t wait to hear what’s in store for the singer/songwriter.
15. Brad Paisley — Love and War
His most ambitious record yet, Love and War had Brad Paisley enlisting the help of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members Mick Jagger and John Fogerty, Country Music Hall of Famers Johnny Cash and Bill Anderson as well as R&B producer and artist Timbaland. Paisley is one of few artists who can pull off such a versatile and seamless project as he segues effortlessly from a rocking number with Jagger to a poignant ballad like “Dying to See Her,” co-written with and featuring Whispering Bill Anderson. While his collaborations are impressive, so is his insight. Love and War is a roller coaster ride of emotions that blends the good and evil of our society.
14. Chris Janson — EVERYBODY
Chris Janson proves that he’s so much more than the “Buy Me a Boat” guy on EVERYBODY. One of the most memorable country releases this year, EVERYBODY shares Janson’s prowess at writing catchy songs that have meaning. While title track talks about the culture of cutting corners to get what you want in life, he cleverly turns it into a love song singing of how “I just want to make you mine.” Later, on the standout “Drunk Girl,” Janson broaches the subject of picking up a girl at a bar and taking care of her. “Take a drunk girl home / Let her sleep all alone / Leave her keys on the counter, your number by the phone / Pick up her life she threw on the floor / Leave the hall lights on, walk out and lock the door,” he sings.
13. Zac Brown Band — Welcome Home
Zac Brown Band’s Welcome Home brings the band back to its roots and at times the album recalls earlier work like 2008’s The Foundation with its heartfelt lyrics and standout musicianship. Emotional single “My Old Man” has a young man hoping to bestow the lessons his father taught him upon his own son while the striking “Start Over” seamlessly blends ZBB’s influences between 1960s Motown, Jimmy Buffett’s island vibes and Spanish instrumentation. Those missing the storytelling and honesty from country music will no doubt find a permanent place in their home for Zac Brown Band’s Welcome Home.
Lee Ann Womack went back to her native of Texas to record The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone and rightfully so. Channeling the roots, country and gospel music she grew up on, Womack embraces the songs and storylines country music was built on. With covers by Lefty Frizzell (“Long Black Veil”) and George Jones (“Take the Devil Out of Me”) and seven songs co-written herself, the 14 tracks on Womack’s record ooze with emotion and loneliness. On each track, Womack’s pristine vocals bring the song to life as she channels a great sadness. All the while she brings sad country songs back to the forefront, a seemingly lost art that she conquers well.
11. Chris Young — Losing Sleep
Chris Young’s smooth baritone makes him one of the most distinctive voices in today’s country music and his memorable vocals captivate throughout the entirety of Losing Sleep. Young excels on the sexy songs as can be heard time and time again. On “Hangin’ On,” he croons about a girl who has him smitten and tongue-tied. Meanwhile, “Radio and the Rain” continues the seductive storyline with a tale of two backseat lovers embracing while a thunderstorm rumbles outside. On Losing Sleep, Young continues to prove his staying power as a fan of traditional country by combining it with a modern day flair.
Kelsea Ballerini wrote each of the album’s 12 tracks and shares the ups and downs of her past two years. Throughout Unapologetically, Ballerini’s relatable lyrics and captivating music keep the listener intrigued. The anthemic and beat heavy “Roses” has her looking back fondly on a past relationship even though it’s over while “Legends” also showcases this nostalgia. Whether it’s a ballad or an upbeat number, her vocals shine and her lyrics continue to strike a chord. The added production on each track is equally engaging and, as a result, continues Ballerini’s swift ascent as a powerhouse in the country genre.
9. Thomas Rhett — Life Changes
On Life Changes, Thomas Rhett showcases what he does best: blending sounds from the country, rock, R&B and even EDM genres for a versatile release. Rhett proves to be both a powerful storyteller and an artist willing to take risks as he continues to push boundaries with his music. Songs like the sultry “Gateway Love” blend R&B and slick beats while the album’s sweetest song comes in the form of album closer “Grave,” where Rhett sings of how his wife is his everything. As Rhett embraces new sounds and unpredictable production, he also allows a closer look into his personal life, all while showcasing some of the best songwriting within the country genre.
8. Midland — On the Rocks
Midland’s debut album, On the Rocks, is a memorable walk back in time. Blending classic country music from the ’70s and ’80s with their own flair, the release has Midland reinterpreting country sounds from decades prior while putting a distinct spin on their material with memorable musicianship and unique storylines. The standout “Burn Out” and the clever “Altitude Adjustment” showcase Midland’s talent as songwriters while “Check Cashin’ Country” and “Electric Rodeo,” both which detail the struggles of life on the road as a country band, are highlights. For those questioning where quality country music has gone, Midland is indisputably the answer.
7. The Cadillac Three — Legacy
While The Cadillac Three’s Legacy showcases the high intensity songs the band plays in concert, it also hints at a softer side to the Nashville natives. The album is a bold release that includes just as much hell raising as it does sentimental ballads. Well known for their blend of country, rock & roll, and Southern rock influences, the Cadillac Three also share their romantic side with listeners on Legacy. From the more sentimental “Hank and Jesus” to appreciating their country roots in “Ain’t That Country,” a softer image is showcased. With songs this good, the evolution of The Cadillac Three continues to impress.
Brett Eldredge released his most vulnerable album yet with his self-titled record this year. The man known for engaging Snapchat videos and hilarious impersonations gets serious on several songs including the deeply personal “Haven’t Met You,” “Brother” and “Castaway.” Meanwhile, his love for Frank Sinatra can be heard on the old soul throwback “The Reason” and soaring “No Stopping You.” One of the smoothest crooners in the genre, Eldredge stepped up his game on his latest project.
The Breaker merges the fun with the somber for a release that exhibits Little Big Town’s staying power. While the first half of the album proves to be the perfect summer road trip soundtrack with feel-good beats, nostalgia and positivity, the close of the record finds the band more introspective and at times somber. Highlights include the wistful “We Went to the Beach,” hauntingly beautiful “Beat Up Bible” with Kimberly Schlapman on lead and the guitar-driven “Rollin’.” While the nostalgic and upbeat numbers showcase Little Big Town’s fun side, it is their heart-wrenching ballads that are most memorable. All the while, the band leaves its mark as each track toys with the listener’s emotions.
Well known for their often powerful ballads, Lady Antebellum stretch outside their comfort zone on Heart Break with high energy songs that at times recall ’70s pop tracks. While lead single “You Look Good” features a horn section and pushes the band in a new direction musically, so does the powerful ballad “Hurt” with Hillary Scott on lead with her striking vocals set alongside soaring string accompaniment. A versatile release that demonstrates the trio’s ability to effortlessly tackle fun songs as well as the poignant ballads, Heart Break proves that sometimes a creative break for a band can yield to new terrain.
While Luke Bryan includes catchy party songs like “Drinking Again” and “Driving This Thing” on What Makes You Country, he also digs deep on the poignant “Most People Are Good” and the standout “Land of A Million Songs,” making for a well-rounded release that tugs on the heartstrings. Bryan co-wrote seven of the album’s 15 tracks and whether he’s singing about the life he hopes his sons will have on “Pick It Up” or how to treat a girl on “Like You Say You Do,” What Makes You Country reaffirms exactly why he’s one of the genre’s most sought after artists.
Chris Stapleton’s From a Room: Volume 1 and From a Room: Volume 2, both released this year, continue his country reign. Each project has Stapleton transitioning effortlessly from the touching ballads to the rollicking numbers. All the while, his traditional country influence never wavers, as can be heard on his powerful previous single “Either Way” and the twangy “Them Stems.” His penchant for blues is also showcased on “I Was Wrong” and “Midnight Train to Memphis.” Two engaging albums that bring as much grit as they do emotion, Stapleton proves exactly why he continues to win all those Album of the Year and Male Vocalist trophies year after year.
Kip Moore’s SLOWHEART is a versatile collection that leans heavy on country, rock and Motown influences. While the rock-tinged tracks are plenty, as can be heard on memorable kiss-off “The Bull” and gritty “Plead the Fifth,” so are the poignant ballads, including the soulful “Try Again” and nostalgic “Bittersweet Company.” Meanwhile, on lead single “More Girls Like You,” Moore reveals his willingness to tap into vulnerable territory. While each track gives a closer look into the psyche of the singer/songwriter, it’s on album closer “Guitar Man” that best showcases the singer’s depth as a songwriter and has Moore sharing the struggles life as a musician can bring. It’s a powerful song that will no doubt survive the test of time, and the anchor to an already standout album.