Although we are only two thirds into 2016 we’ve already had one of the most stellar years in a long time for album releases. Not only has the year seen big releases from the likes of Dierks Bentley and Blake Shelton we’ve also seen highly anticipated debuts in the form of Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne along with superb independent releases from the likes of Sam Riggs out of Texas. Picking a top 5 for the year so far has been very tough and I’ve left out some truly brilliant records but these are the 5 that have really grabbed me so far in 2016 and had me hooked.
Although Old Dominion technically released this debut record in November 2015 it wasn’t actually released over here in the UK until January 2016 so they’ve qualified for this list. What makes Meat & Candy better than any other release this year in my opinion? It’s fresh, it’s fun and it’s completely different from any other records out there at the moment. The five piece of songwriters put together a record which flits between country, pop, rock and more with more catchy hooks and big choruses that you could ever need. The success of the lead single Break Up With Him was backed up by the truly infectious Snapback and has now been followed by Song For Another Time which, when I interviewed the band in London in March, is a song that they flew back to Nashville especially to record after wrapping the album. The title Meat & Candy is inspired by the fact that the band feel that album has a mix of meat, meaningful and heartfelt songs, and candy, fun and upbeat songs. It’s chock full of earworms and is a record which has only become more relevant in the Summer months where those candy songs have never sounded better than turned up loud on a sunny day.
2. Sam Riggs – Breathless
This is an artist and an album that I only discovered this year but have not shut up about since I first heard it. The raw and heartfelt lyrics of Second Hand Smokegrabbed me from the word go – so much so that I had to give the whole album a listen. Riggs is a Texas country import originally from Florida who writes his songs from personal experience. This is something that sets him apart from a lot of country out there at the moment in that he’s lived these lyrics. During his Six Shooter interview Sam spoke of how his battles with himself and his addiction had inspired a lot of the songs on the record and this can be felt throughout every song. From the opening track The Lucky Ones, which is about growing up poor and features a drumline from The University of North Texas, right through to the heart wrenchingOne More Chance To Stay this record is teeming with genuine feeling. Sure, there are a lot of songs come out of Nashville with poignant and relatable lyrics but when they’re being sung by the person who wrote them and felt them it just takes it to the next level
3. Brothers Osborne – Pawn Shop
Brothers Osborne are another band who, like Old Dominion, brought something completely different to the table in 2016. Their long awaited debut album followed the success of the lead single Stay A Little Longer and was highly anticipated. The two brothers, TJ and John, from Maryland mixed garage rock with country music in a way that blew the doors open for a more musician based style of country. When we spoke to John earlier this year he spoke of how guitar solos and sidemen weren’t really a part of country but it was something that they believed in. The five minute guitar solo at the end of Stay A Little Longer showcases the wonderful musicianship that the duo possess and songs like Down Home sound like a countrified Black Keys. Interestingly on this album, like those in the top 2 positions, every song is written by the band – along with a few collaborators. Regular country chart botherers Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman lend a hand as does star-in-the-making Maren Morris. As it’s title suggests this is an album that offers something completely different from every single track and well deserves the praise that it has received. The band reckon they’ll be in the UK soon. I’d put money on C2C 2017…
4. Frankie Ballard – El Rio
After his debut album Sunshine and Whiskey I was intrigued but not too excited for El Rio. The previous record was good but didn’t blow me away – the same can’t be said for this album. Boasting some amazing songwriters, including one song (Cigarette) written by Chris Stapleton, Kip Moore and Jaren Johnston, Ballard took the decision to go his own way with his sound on this one and retreated to the Texas desert to record. Interestingly the lead single It All Started With A Beer did nothing for me really but once I listened to the full album I was drawn in. Songs like the huge sounding Wasting Time and the musically spot on Good as Gold help to make this record stand apart from it’s contemporaries this year. If Ballard is this brave in recording his albums in the future he may not see as much commercial success but he will produce some quality music. It’s nice to see someone who could have easily played it safe and played to the Nashville mainstream take a chance and follow his artistic integrity. Only reaching number nine in the US country charts it seems almost criminal that this album has been overlooked.
5. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Although it’s only been this year that Margo Price has released her debut album she’s been a staple on the Nashville scene for some years now. Price has played alongside the likes of Sturgill Simpson and made her mark in the UK through Jools Holland this year. Her brand of painfully honest honky tonk country is something that a lot of mainstream country has missed in recent years. Songs like Eight Years of Chances speak of Price’s experiences in life. She’s a master in taking old school tales of heartache and sadness then making them modern with a sometimes cynical twist. It’s song writing at it’s best and it’s no surprise, like most songwriter country artists, that the UK public have taken her in as one of their own. It’s not just in the UK that she’s making a splash though; her album was the first by a female solo artist to debut in the top ten of the Billboard Country chart.
Shout outs have to be given to the likes of Dierks Bentley with Black and Jake Owen with American Love as well as Maren Morris superb debut effort Hero. For me, the thing that sets these five albums apart is that they are doing something completely different that sounds genuine and personal. Sure, Keith Urban invited Pitbull along for the ride on Ripcord and made us all cringe as he shouted “Mr Worldwide!” over the intro but the difference for me is that these albums are clearly people doing what they love and telling us what they’ve lived. There are more records to come as the year winds down so it’s all to play for when we give our top 10 of 2016 in December…