There has been no shortage of standout country albums released in 2018. Now that we’re halfway through the year, we’re taking a look back at some of the most memorable projects released so far. In the last six months, both Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley returned with their ninth studio albums where they continued to push genre lines, while newcomers Jordan Davis, Devin Dawson and Ashley McBryde impressed with their equally striking major label debuts.
Here’s what we think are the eight best albums of 2018 (in alphabetical order):
Ashley McBryde’s Girl Going Nowhere
Ashley McBryde’s honest songwriting is highlighted throughout Girl Going Nowhere, and the singer puts the listener in the song on tracks like current single, “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” and the unique love song, “American Scandal.” On “Andy (I Can’t Live Without You),” McBryde shows her vulnerabilities when penning a song for her best friend and guitar player. The standout moment, though, is the album’s title track, which has become an anthem for both the singer and country fans alike. Inspired by an algebra teacher who told the Arkansas native she should have a backup plan when she shared her dream of moving to Nashville to write songs, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is a powerful and heartfelt ballad that has McBryde proving her naysayers wrong.
Brothers Osborne’s Port Saint Joe
On Port Saint Joe, Brothers Osborne prove why they’re the reigning ACM and CMA Vocal Duo of the Year. Their standout musicianship and powerful lyrics make for a memorable record that continues to grow with each listen. Additionally, Port Saint Joe spans a broad spectrum of sounds and musical influences. While writing the country waltz “Tequila Again,” Brothers Osborne envisioned Willie Nelson cutting the tune for Red Headed Stranger. Meanwhile, “A Little Bit Trouble” evokes an old R&B and soul flavor, one of the many sounds they grew up listening to. While Brothers Osborne are well known for bringing the guitar slinging to their rock-fueled tracks, their sensitive side is also showcased on songs like the ode to lifetime love, “Pushing Up Daisies,” and powerful album closer “While You Still Can.”
Devin Dawson’s Dark Horse
Devin Dawson blends country, Motown and rock for a versatile and memorable debut release. The California native had a hand in writing each of the 12 tracks on Dark Horse, and whether he’s lamenting of the end of a relationship on “Secondhand Hurt” or singing of treating his lady right on the sultry “I Don’t Care Who Sees,” his unique blend of country songwriting and musical swagger leaves a lasting mark. Standout songs like “Asking For a Friend” further showcase his talent as an adept songwriter. Meanwhile, on closing track, “Dark Horse,” Dawson opens the curtain and shares who he is as a person. His unique storytelling partnered with Jay Joyce’s standout production give Dark Horse a timeless appeal, which is surely just a taste of Dawson’s promising career.
Dierks Bentley’s The Mountain
Dierks Bentley returns to his roots for his ninth studio album, The Mountain. The singer wrote and recorded the project in Telluride, Colorado, after being inspired during a visit to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and throughout the album Bentley’s appreciation for the genre and musical and lyrical authenticity shines through. The Mountain kicks off with the standout “Burning Man,” featuring Brothers Osborne, where Bentley sings of life’s struggles and triumphs. This introspection is heard throughout the majority of the project, particularly on the reflective “Living” and album closer “How I’m Going Out.” Never afraid to switch gears or push genre lines, Bentley proves a master at finding inspiration within his surroundings. As a result, his talent as a songwriter and distinct musical influences merge on The Mountain for a memorable release that will serve as a timeless addition to his catalog.
Jordan Davis’ Home State
Jordan Davis proves his staying power on his superb debut album, Home State. The Shreveport, Louisiana, native worked with producer Paul DiGiovanni for the 12-song collection, all co-written by Davis, which blends slick production and thoughtful lyrics for a diverse project. Standout ballads like “Slow Dance In a Parking Lot” and “Leaving New Orleans” highlight his sentimental side, while “Take It From Me,” “More Than I Know” and debut single “Singles You Up” showcase his undeniable country swagger. A standout debut that highlights Davis’ ability as both a vocalist and a songwriter, Home State marries big sounds and production with the vulnerability of his lyrics for a truly enjoyable listen.
Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour
Kacey Musgraves released one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year with the striking Golden Hour. The singer penned all 13 of the project’s heartfelt tracks, which spans traditional country, pop influences and disco flavors. Her vulnerabilities are showcased on powerful ballads like “Butterflies” and “Mother,” both of which highlight her ethereal vocals. Meanwhile, standout song “Space Cowboy” shows her prowess as a vivid lyricist and the feel-good “Velvet Elvis” demonstrates her fun side. With 13 versatile tracks that span her influences, Musgraves more than delivers on Golden Hour.
Keith Urban’s Graffiti U
Keith Urban’s ninth studio album, Graffiti U, continues where his adventurous 2016 release, Ripcord, left off. While slick production and Urban’s familiar vocals are heard on each song, Graffiti U pushes the singer’s music into new territory. Though the guitar-driven songs display Urban’s undeniable talent, Graffiti U also showcases his innate ability at singing emotional ballads. His voice soars on songs like the poignant Ed Sheeran penned “Parallel Line,” which includes a sample of Coldplay’s “Everglow,” as well as “Same Heart,” where he sings of trying his best to move on at the end of a relationship. Urban excels at pushing genre lines and, despite a bevy of producers putting their fingerprints on Graffiti U, the beloved singer never strays from the guitar shredding and vocally captivating country artist that he is.
Sugarland return with the triumphant Bigger, their first collection of new music in seven years. Well known for penning songs with a message, the duo’s Bigger is no different. On the 11-track album there are songs that touch upon the countless school shootings throughout the nation (“Tuesday’s Broken”), female empowerment and the #MeToo movement (“Bigger”) and an all-encompassing love (“Mother”). The duo penned 10 of the 11 songs with the exception of their current single, “Babe,” co-written by Taylor Swift and Train’s Pat Monahan. A versatile release, Sugarland’s powerful messages alongside forward-thinking production make Bigger an essential listen.