Much of the best country music released in 2017 didn’t make it onto mainstream country radio.
But these ten high quality releases offer proof positive that lame radio formats cannot completely
kill great country music. Wonderful music finds a way. It always does.
10. Steve Earle, So You Wannabe an Outlaw (Warner Bros.)
With a little help from Willie Nelson (on the title track) and Miranda Lambert (“This Is How It
Ends”), So You Wannabe an Outlaw proves Earle is no wannabe. Every track’s a winner on this
one, from the raw blues of “Fixin’ to Die,” to the romantic tenderness expressed through the
acoustic ballad “The Girl on The Mountain.”
9. Little Big Town, The Breaker (Capitol)
The Taylor Swift-written “Better Man” was a huge hit that gained Little Big Town much
attention, but this album’s title track is the true heartbreaker. The spiritual, “Beat Up Bible,” is
another fine song hidden within a top-to- bottom strong album.
8. Chris Shiflett, West Coast Town (SideOneDummy)
Sometimes country music goodness comes from the most unusual places. Who knew Foo
Fighters’ guitarist Chris Shiflett had such a fine country album in him? He’s also a strong
singer/songwriter, and his podcast Walkin’ The Floor is essential listening.
7. Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1 (Mercury)
It’s tempting to want to avoid the hype attached to Chris Stapleton, who’s been hailed as
traditional country music’s savior for a few years now. But with music as strong as From a
Room: Volume 1, it’s easy to hear what all the fuss is about.
6. Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone (ATO Records)
After spending many years as one of country music’s top divas, Lee Ann Womack has refocused
her attention on creating traditional country music. And The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone is
some tasty fruit of this labor.
5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Jason Isbell’s made stronger records than The Nashville Sound, but tracks like “Hope the High
Road” and “Something to Love,” which close it out, are just too good to ignore and better than
most other music you’ll have heard this year.
4. Willie Nelson, God's Problem Child (Legacy)
Once you get passed the irony of Willie Nelson’s name being attached to “Child,” it’s oh so easy
to love this aging icon’s still-incisive songwriting skills on his fine Buddy Cannon-produced
3. Rodney Crowell, Close Ties (New West)
The way Rodney Crowell sings so passionately about no longer giving a damn what anybody
thinks on “I Don’t Care Anymore,” is a great, big breath of fresh air. The sadness expressed
through “Life Without Susanna” is beautiful in a wholly different way. Much the way Willie
Nelson has done, Crowell proves his songwriting skills are decisively undiminished.
2. Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Way Out West (Superlatone)
Marty Stuart drew much of the inspiration for his Way Out West collection from great old
California country music, as well as other notable California musical influences “Time Don’t
Wait” smartly combines Buck Owens swagger with Byrds-y jangle, while the album’s title track
is a woozy, druggy, memorable sonic trip.
1. Midland, On the Rocks (Big Machine)
Midland’s On the Rocks is a good example of how strong traditional country sometimes sneaks
its way into the mainstream. This trio may dress like retro cowboy heroes, but when they sing
and play, they’re absolutely the real deal.