Just as George Jones once sang about how it was a good year for the roses, when struggling to find anything positive to talk about during a romantic breakup, 2018 was a fine year for country albums. These past twelve months were especially memorable because of standout albums by female artists. One music executive recently (and infamously) referred to female country artists as little more tomatoes on the salad -- when it comes to female radio airplay -- but my list of the best albums for 2018 makes for quite the hearty feminine-centric meal.
Although this listing is mostly in no particular order, its trio of Lori McKenna, Brandi Carlisle and Kacey Musgraves deserve a special spot at the top. Each created albums a cut above the rest. Songs like “People Get Old” (off The Tree) by McKenna reveal a high level of maturity just not found in most other mainstream country music, while Carlisle’s “The Joke” (from By the Way, I Forgive You) is infused with the kind of necessary empathy this world so badly needs right now. Lastly, Musgraves’ combination of sonic experimentation and smart and melodic songwriting, made Golden Hour an album we couldn’t resist playing over and over again on repeat. You might call Musgraves’ musical healing properties da balm!
Few of these 20 albums received much mainstream airplay, but artists like Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne would have easily made this list – with or without commercial success. It’s always heartening, though, to see artistic consistency go hand in hand with commercial viability. There are also a few names on the list that a little tough to categorize. Making music is just one of author Kinky Friedman’s many skills, for instance, but his Circus of Life is one truly fine country album. Rock bands Lucero and Bottle Rockets fly a little under the mainstream radar, but the country-leaning music they created this last year must not be ignored.
Both John Prine and Willie Nelson have been writing stellar songs longer than many of us have been alive, to paraphrase Old 97’s, but each gave us wonderful new albums. These albums include songs that deal with the act of aging gracefully, which proved their respective continuing relevance. It many respects, this has been a rocky year. America is a divided nation, both politically and culturally, which makes good music so much more essential. Music can oftentimes be as much an escape, as a medicine. This year’s healthy crop is especially good for what ails ya.
20. Dierks Bentley -- The Mountain
19. Ashley McBryde -- Girl Going Nowhere
18. Pistol Annies -- Interstate Gospel
17 Rosanne Cash -- She Remembers Everything
16. Ashley Monroe -- Sparrow
15. Cody Jinks -- Lifers
14. Carrie Underwood -- Cry Pretty
13. Eric Church -- Desperate Man
12. Shooter Jennings -- Shooter
11. Lucero – Among the Ghosts
10. Bottle Rockets – Bit logic
9. Kinky Friedman – Circus of Life
8. John Prine -- The Tree Of Forgiveness
7. The Brothers Osborne – Port Saint Joe
6. Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing
5. Mike and the Moonpies – Steak Night at the Prairie Rose
4. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
3. Lori McKenna -- The Tree
2. Brandi Carlisle -- By the Way, I Forgive You
1. Kacey Musgraves -- Golden Hour