The list of the 10 best country albums of 2014 features a strong variety from country music. From roots efforts to mainstream country, from experimental country rock to mainstream country/pop. It’s all a great showcase for why Country music remains one of the most vibrant andd strong genres in all of music, even if it sometimes feels like it has an identity crisis that other American genres like Jazz, Rock, and Blues never seem to have. Nevertheless, it’s more vibrant and accessible than either of those formats which is probably because of that big tent. Below you’ll find RoughStock’s 10 Best albums list of 2014. We’ve also included some other albums and such to our list. As always, we hope you enjoy our time capsule story for the best country albums of 2014.
10 - Wade Bowen - Wade Bowen (Independent)
After one record (2012’s The Given) on a major label, Wade Bowen returned in late 2014 with his fantastic indie self-titled album. The songs, which were largely written while signed to that major label, showcase Bowen’s growing sense of songwriting and while he remains a strong Texas music radio star, Wade Bowen also proves its namesake star may be able to break out in 2015 even bigger thanks to a strong dozen tracks like “Sun Shines On A Dreamer,” “Watch Her Drive,” “West Texas Rain” and “Sweet Leona."
9 - Platinum - Miranda Lambert (RCA Nashville)
It seems like every time Miranda Lamber records an album that it ends up winning awards and Platinum is no different. The album features the hits “Somethin’ Bad” (with Carrie Underwood) and “Automatic” but it’s the fantastic and individualistic songs like “Priscilla,” “Bathroom Sink,” “Platinum,” and “Two Rings Shy” which showcase the talented singer’s depth. Add in attitude filled songs like “Gravity Is A B**ch” and third single “Little Red Wagon” and you’ve got perhaps the best album of her career.
8 - Tarpaper Sky - Rodney Crowell (New West)
The expert songwriter offers up a masterclass of songwriting with Tarpaper Sky. The star is up for an Americana Music Grammy award for the album and it features some of his most sturdy work and singing to date. Standouts include “God I’m Missing You,” “Famous Last Words Of A Fool,” “Grandma Loved That Old Man” and “The Flyboy & The Kid.” It’s an album not a collection of singles and that’s perhaps what makes Tarpaper Sky one of the year’s best albums for it’s It’s a cohesive work.
7 - Montevallo - Sam Hunt (MCA Nashville)
Featuring “only” ten songs, Montevallo showcases why Sam Hunt has became one of the biggest newcomers in 2014. There’s simply not a bad song on Montevallo. It’s all killer, no filler. Some will argue with us that Montevallo and Hunt himself aren’t country music but pop but we’d disagree. There’s plenty of country lyrics found in the song. Country’s about the content delivered not the melodies used to deliver the message. Plus, Hunt’s in that vocal sweet spot of sounding more country than pop so that he’s a hard sell to pop, even if some songs on here (“Break Up In A Small Town” “Speakers” “Single For The Summer”) could crossover to pop. Hits like “Leave The Night On” “Ex To See” and “Take Your Time” all deserve attention as does the stunning ballad “Make You Miss Me.”
6 - Reflections - Don Williams (Sugar Hill)
The Gentle Giant may not be heard on the radio much these days but the country music icon is still making some of the best albums of his career. Reflections is such an album. He sings each song with such honest simplicity that it’s no wonder he’s often cited as a huge influence on many of today’s top country. The stories and songs presented on this record all fit a mood and like Williams’ time honored classics, they don’t meander on longer than they need to. The songs end when they’ve said all they have to say. Standouts include “I’ll Be Here in The Morning,” “Healing Hands,” “If I Were Free.” “The Answer,” and “I Won’t Give Up On You.”
5 - The Outsiders - Eric Church (Capitol)
Perhaps the best ‘album artist’ in all of modern country music, Eric Church is about as far as you can get from Don Willams at #6 and Sturgill Simpson at #4. Church is as much hard rock as he is rebel country singer. Still, he’s found a home in the mainstream and that allows him to showcase his music with his producer Jay Joyce, perhaps the best producer in all of music. The melodies are unique, the stories are too and the production is crisp. There are hits on The Outsiders like the rockin’ title track, quirky “Cold One” and “Talladega” but it’s the stunning songwriting of “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” and #1 hit “Give Me Back My Hometown” that stand out (as does “Dark Side” and “Roller Coaster Ride”).
4 - Metamodern Sounds In Country Music - Sturgill Simpson (High Top Mountain/Thirty Tigers)
As soon as “Turtles All The Way Down” kicks off the record, you know that Surgill Simpson is not like any other country music artists in any part of the genre’s current crop of artists. He has more akin with classic outlaw stars Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings than anyone else and that’s helped him score scores of fans, even if he’s never gotten a big hit on the radio. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music is a stunning albeit brief collection of songs. Simpson and producer Dave Cobb brings an organic vibe to the proceedings and this give this the album it’s unique sense of style (even if it has a heavy dose of 70s outlaw in its DNA).
3 - Pain Killer - Little Big Town (Capitol)
It’s not hard to like anything Little Big Town releases but Pain Killer is easily the best record of the band’s career. The songs showcase the band’s bigger than ever harmonies and song craft. They’ve recorded songs that showcase each band member in the quartet, from fun radio ready songs like “Pain Killer," “Day Drinking” and “Quit Breaking Up With Me” to vocal powerhouses like “Live Forever,” “Tumble And Fall,” and “Silver And Gold.” “Girl Crush” has a "song of of the year” quality to it that makes it easily stand out but really, there’s nothing here that isn’t enjoyable and Jay Joyce’s production certainly helped Pain Killer become one of this year’s best albums.
2 - The Way I’m Livin’ - Lee Ann Womack (Sugar Hill)
It’s the first time Lee Ann Womack has ever recorded an album with her husband Frank Liddell (who co-produced with Chuck Ainlay and Glenn Worf). The record features a baker’s dozen tracks (13) that showcase her stunning traditional country voice.From the 1-2 punch of “Fly” and “All His Saints” (one of the best country gospel songs in recent memory) to the covers of Neil Young’s “Out On The Weekend” and Roger Miller’s “Tomorrow Night In Baltimore,” Lee Ann and her A&R team have picked stuff that suits her to a T. There’s nothing here that can’t be played over and over again and there’s nothing on The Way I’m Livin’ that doesn’t deserve a place on some radio station somewhere, even if Mainstream country music won’t play it. “Nightwind,” “Same Kind Of Different,” and the title track (one of our favorite singles of 2014) also standout among The Way I’m Livin’’s best moments.
1 - Riser - Dierks Bentley (Capitol)
From the moment we heard Riser, we knew that it was going to be one of the year’s favorite recordings. Released in early 2014, the album stood up against all of the albums listed above to attain our #1 slot this year. There’s just so much to like about the album. From the mainstream moments of “Pretty Girls,” #1 hit “Drunk On A Plane,” and “Sounds Of Summer” to rockin' bluegrass-like moments of opener “Bourbon In Kentucky” and ballad “Say You Do,” the album feels very anthemic. It’s why we think he’s made the best album of his career, even topping the great Up On The Ridge. There’s a segment of each part of Dierks Bentley’s personality present here. Standout moments include the Travis Meadows-penned “Riser,” a song that really should be released as the album’s final single after “I Hold On” has its run. Why? Because it’s the kind of anthem we can all get behind, the ability to rise above the fray, no matter what life throws our way.
Other albums we enjoyed in 2014:
Just As I Am - Brantley Gilbert (The Valory Music Co.)
Old Boots, New Dirt - Jason Aldean (Broken Bow Records)
Slow Me Down - Sara Evans (RCA Nashville)
Thanks For Listening - Colt Ford (Average Joes)
Man Against Machine - Garth Brooks (Pearl/RCA Nashville)
Healing Highway - Brian Collins (Independent)
American Middle Class - Angaleena Presley (Slate Creek)
A Life Worth Living - Marc Broussard (Vanguard)
Gravity - Big & Rich (B&R Records)
Everlasting - Martina McBride (Vinyl Records)
Rascal Flatts - Rewind (Big Machine Records)
Chase Rice - Ignite The Night (Dack Janiels/Columbia)
Taylor Swift - 1989 (Big Machine Records)
Anything Goes - Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)
Ray Scott - Ray Scott (DeciBel Records)
Honky Tonk Land - James Carothers (Independent)
Bringing Back The Sunshine - Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)
Moonshine in the Trunk - Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)
747 - Lady Antebellum (Capitol Records)
20 Stages - Sister Hazel (Rock Ridge)
Old Dominion - Old Dominion (ReeSmack/Thirty Tigers)
Give It Time - Ross Cooper (Independent)
Ty Bates - Ty Bates (Independent)
A Dotted Line - Nickel Creek (Nonesuch)
Sixty - John Cowan (Compass)
Home Is Where The Hurt Is - JP Harris & The Tough Choices (Independent)
Rich O’Toole - Jaded (Independent)
Country Classics - Joey+Rory (FarmHouse Recordings)
Good At Goodbye - Steven Padilla (Independent)
Brushville - Brushville (Independent)
Eric Paslay - Eric Paslay (EMI Nashville)
Jon Pardi - Write You A Song (Capitol)
The Swon Brothers - The Swon Brothers (Arista Records)
Where It All Began - Dan+Shay (Warner Bros)
Cole Swindell - Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)
I Don’t Dance - Lee Brice (Curb)
PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit - Trisha Yearwood (Gwendolyn Records/RCA)
Beauty Is…The Final Sessions - Ray Price (AmeriMonte Records)
I’m A Fire - David Nail (MCA Nashville)
Kuntry Livin’ - Big Smo (Electra Nashville)
Sundown Heaven Town - Tim McGraw (Big Machine)
Working Man’s Poet - Various (Merle Haggard Tribute) (Broken Bow Records)
Flipside - Veronica Ballestrini (Independent)
Blue Smoke - Dolly Parton (Dolly/Sony Masterworks)
World Of Strangers - Zoe Muth (Signature Sounds
Dustin Lynch - Where It’s At (Broken Bow Records)
Most of these are very good choices. He might write some good songs, but Sam Hunt is not a country album it's a pop album. I'm not sure why the critics like the Dierks album. I've seen him a ton in concert, but his music just doesn't have the full package. I'm not a Blake Shelton fan, but he put out a great album - Sangria, Gonna, Buzzin should all be hits. How can Jason Aldean be overlooked? He put out an album with music that his fans want - a rock band with a country singer. I appreciate that Aldean doesn't have to evolve, he just cranks out badass hard rock. Also, Kenny Chesney is finally back, but overlooked her - Don't It and Wild Child are some of his best works in a while, and not a boring song on that album.
See, that's the thing. We liked those albums you mentioned but liked the Top 10 more. With a Top 10, a lot of stuff gets cut. As for Sam Hunt, I explained our reasons for the album's inclusion.