For all that 2016 will be remembered as a bit of a crap year with celebrities dying every other day, Trump completing his rise to power, Britain deciding they didn’t want to be friends with Europe any more and a whole host of other naff news there were actually some fantastic country albums released. It’s often said that music is a great healer and Nashville seemed to go into overdrive last year to try and help us forget about the world that was crumbling around us.
Our writers have all looked back over the last twelve months to choose their top three albums of 2016. This sounds like an easy thing to do but is anything but. Once you start trying to compile a list and the ideas start flowing it becomes a case of narrowing it down from 30 to 3! Here’s what the Six Shooter team all had to say…
1. Brothers Osborne – Pawn Shop
In a year full of great albums I have to pick Brothers Osborne’s effort from early in the year as my favourite. This is an album that immediately blew my socks off upon hearing it for the first time. The great thing for me was that I’d (somehow) managed to miss the first two singles in Rum and Stay A Little Longer so was able to listen to the whole album at once for the first time. The mix of country, garage rock and blues that these guys bring is refreshing in a genre that felt like it was treading water slightly and becoming predictable. It’s also refreshing to see the singer and guitarist sideman duo coming to the fore in country – the solo on Stay A Little Longer is something not to be missed.
Favourite Track: Stay A Little Longer
2. Sean McConnell – Sean McConnell
I’m a huge fan of songwriters and songs with meaning. When I first listened to Sean McConnell’s album I knew that I had exactly that. McConnell has writing credits for the likes of Rascal Flatts but had escaped my attention until this album. What I really love about this album is that it’s very much a singer/songwriter album however it doesn’t slip away, like many can, into being a little… dull. It has songs such as Holy Days which are up-tempo and driving whilst songs like Queen of St. Mary’s Choir are overflowing with passion. The style ranges from country rock to folk to Texas red dirt country to pop to singer/songwriter it has such a wide range of style. This album is so personal and heartfelt in it’s writing that McConnell will never have to write an autobiography – it’s all here to hear in his music. Well worth checking out.
Favourite Track: Holy Days
3. Jake Owen – American Love
Picking number three was a difficult task for me. There are so many albums that I loved in 2016 but I had to go with the one that I just keep going back to on my iPod. Jake Owen returned after the swift change of course following Real Life and boy are we glad that he rethought this album. American Love is just the kind of album that suits any mood. There’s the rootsy, chilled out title track, the feel good Good Company, The fist clenching You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the heart breaking LAX. Add to that a rollicking duet with Chris Stapleton on If He Ain’t Gonna Love You plus my favourite song of the year, American Country Love Song, and you have almost the perfect album. I’m desperate to see Jake hit the UK soon but it may be C2C 2018 before we get that – in the meantime give this album a listen!
Favourite Track: American Country Love Song
1. Drake White – Spark
The feel-good album, Spark, has been on repeat in my house for months. From an ultimate country song, such as Story, to a heartbreak tune, like Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work, this record offers you a huge choice of very different arrangements of songs, which means you don’t get bored half-way through the album, and wonder what you are going to hear next. Surprisingly, the songs are still very much connected, and that is through Drake White’s amazing storytelling. Lyrically, this record is almost like a book of short stories, narrated by a very distinctive voice of Drake White. When the weather gets better, I can’t wait to have a BBQ and put this record on, and if Drake wants to come a sing a few of these by the fire, he is very welcome. I reckon this is one of the reasons why Spark was made. The best £7.99 I spent all year.
Favourite song: Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work
2. William Michael Morgan – Vinyl
What a great musical discovery! I shamefully only heard of this gentleman after his debut album, Vinyl, was released. It is a public knowledge how challenging it is to get into music business. Especially country music can be a lot of the time about long-established artists, that’s why it is so refreshing to see a young artist taking off with his career so well. This album, country through and through, is a delight for any music enthusiast. I cannot wait to see this lad in the UK.
Favourite song: I Know Who He Is
3. Erik Dylan – Heart Of A Flatland Boy
Raw and authentic, that is the only way you can describe this album. Erik Dylan is best-known around Nashville as a songwriter, and I’m so happy that now we are able to hear his songs actually performed by him. This album is a perfect example of a piece of artistic work that wasn’t done to chase popularity, but to simply tell one’s story through music. Perhaps the album is most appealing to rural US, somewhere where I assume Dylan is from himself as it is clear to hear this album is inspired by that. However, he sings with so much emotion, it is difficult not to stop and listen, no matter where it is that you are from.
Favourite song: Fishing Alone
1. Maren Morris – Hero
My most favourite album of the year was hands down ‘Hero’ from Maren Morris. Since the album was released in June, I have listened to it nonstop. There are so many raw and honest lyrics in many of the songs, as well as some more fun and funky tunes that you can’t help but sing along to. It’s so hard for me to choose a favourite so I am going to have to say 2. ‘Once’ is one of the most emotional songs I have ever heard, the lyrics and the music combined are perfect for this break up song. I also have to mention ‘Second Wind’ which is such an uplifting and powerful song. If you ever feel down this is one to turn up. This album is a must for any long drives/road trips you have planned for the new year, It makes me so excited to see what is next from Maren Morris.
Favourite Track: Once/Second Wind
2. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
My second favourite album of 2016 would be the long awaited ‘The Weight of These Wings’ by Miranda Lambert. We all knew this album would be full of honesty and heart as it was the first album following her divorce from fellow country star Blake Shelton. There are so many different emotions that come out throughout the double album and it is clear that Miranda has put all of her feelings over the past year or so into this album. The song that jumped out to me instantly was ‘Tin Man’, it is such a heartbreaking tune where Miranda has been very clever with the lyrics using a play on words all the way through. You’ll go through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout this awesome album.
Favourite Track: Tin Man
3. Dan + Shay – Obsessed
My third favourite album of 2016 would be ‘Obsessed’ from Dan + Shay. There are so many fun songs on the album that get you in the mood to dance. As I only really discovered them this year through the new album, It was a great way to be introduced to the duo. My absolute favourite song would have to be ‘From the Ground Up’, I love the heartwarming lyrics and build up throughout the song, it’s the perfect country love song.
Favourite Track: From the Ground Up
1. The Southern Companion – 1000 Days of Rain
The album that really stopped me in my tracks in 2016 though is from a band who suddenly seemed to appear out of nowhere on the UK Country music scene, they seized it by the horns and made it their own. When they appeared as a Pop up at C2C in March, very few people had heard of them, me included. However in July at FSA Fest, they were the only band to get a standing ovation in the middle of their set, they were the only band to get not just 1 but 2 standing ovations. They were nominated for several BCMAs (British Country Music Awards) & they took home 2. I am of course talking about The Southern Companion & their album 1000 Days of Rain.
All these guys are professional musicians, they regularly play with the likes of Lulu & Tom Jones. At C2C they played Saturday afternoon, but had to run straight off as they were on stage that night with Lulu, they were nearly late to FSA Fest as they had had a late night the night before when they had played at the 1966 Wembley celebration of the 1966 Football World Cup Memorial Gala dinner with Lulu (2 of Jess’ Bandits were also with them this night, meaning Luke Thomas & Justin Johnston had to step in & perform with Jess for her FSA appearance!)
I had met frontman Darren Hodson at C2C & he had given me a copy of his CD. I got home & put it on the shelf and there it stayed until it was announced that The Southern Companion would be supporting Jess & The Bandits at a gig local to me. So, I got the CD down off the shelf, dusted it off, gave it a play, but gave myself a huge kick up the back side for not playing it before! It is superb! It captivates you right from the 1st track – Crash, all the way through to the final tack Letting You Go. Crash is a real toe tapping Yeehahing number and a great way to start an album, it pulls you in & makes you want to listen to more (there is also a great video on You Tube to go with this song!)
The album is very family orientated, there are tracks about an every day couple going through their lives with a young child and the struggles that can bring, Feels Like Years, where they have a rare night out just the 2 of them. There are tracks about young love lost – Heaven Knows and there are tracks about learning to trust again, The Leaving Kind. Wrong Side of the 70s is a amusing track about being born at the wrong time. My absolute favourite though is Lullaby for G, which Darren wrote for his daughter. With lines like ‘Daddy’s got it covered’; ‘the monsters that are scaring you, they are all scared of me’; ‘I have trained all your teddy bears to have your back if I am not there’ and ‘Mummy’s watching from the other room & she is even more tougher than I am’, I think are wonderful. I could list most of the lyrics of this song actually!!
2016 really was a great year for The Southern Companion. I know there is new music on the way for them & I cannot wait to hear it.
2. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
Number 2 is Weight of These Wings by Miranda. I was desperate for this album. After If I Am Honest by Blake (which I did not care much for!) I wanted to hear Miranda’s response. When I first heard it though, it took me a couple of listens to get into it as it wasn’t what I was expecting. It is a double album of predominantly new songs, predominantly written or co-written by Miranda. Once I did get into it though, I love it. It is a lot slower tempo than Miranda’s usual style, but again hard hitting lyrics, with songs like Vice where it would appear Miranda just could not help herself from straying and Tin Man where she is saying he wouldn’t want a heart if he knew how much it hurts when it breaks. There is a theme running throughout the whole CD of, being on a journey, with several tracks talking about being on the road – Running Just In Case, Highway Vagabond, Get Away Driver and I’ve Got Wheels amongst others. We also have the fun numbers, We Should Be Friends and Pink Sunglasses.
3. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
At Number 3 is Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town. It was the eagerly anticipated follow up to 12 Stories, would it live up to Brandy’s debut album, or would Brandy like Kacey Musgraves with Pageant Material, lose some of her sassiness to appease the mass public. In my opinon Big Day In A Small Town was every bit as good as 12 Stories. The sassiness was still there, the hard hitting lyrics cloaked by a pleasant tune still present & correct! With songs like Daughter where Brandy wishes her ex has a daughter who gets hurt so he can see what he did to her, You Can Come Over, a break up song where neither party is ready to let go & Three Kids No Husband, to fun numbers like Broke. The album finishes with a real hard hitting song about the death of Brandy’s father, Since You’ve Gone to Heaven reduces me to tears everytime I hear it.
1. Ward Thomas – Cartwheels
After the success of their debut album, I was really interested to see what direction Ward Thomas would take with their second album. I was really impressed with this album . You can tell by the album they are more experienced performers and songwriters. The track list covers a wide range of subject matters, with a wide range of melodies to accompany them. It is a fantastic achievement that they are the first UK country act to have a number one album. Well done girls!
Favourite track: Proof
2. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
This album is Margo’s debut album, which I only discovered by chance. I am so glad I found it. Margo’s style of country music is a real throwback to the sound of country legends such as Loretta Lynn. With steel guitars and classic country melodies, it is really refreshing to hear the old style of country music is still relevant today. I cannot wait for her second album, if this one is anything to go by.
Favourite track: Weekender
3. Miranda Lambert – Weight Of These Wings
For me, Miranda is the leading female country artist today. Her latest album shows her wealth of experience as a songwriter. Being a double album there are 24 songs to enjoy. The songs are a variety of country music styles; from current to yesteryear and from a Miranda Lambert standard to a progressive style, this album has it all. I listened to this album for the first time on Christmas Day and I instantly fell in love with the whole album. Miranda really is becoming a country music legend in her own right.
Favourite track- To Learn Her