Writing a great song is a work of art, but creating an entire album of great songs is a much tougher task. 2013 saw its fair share of great albums from many of country's biggest stars and hottest up and comers. As a new website, I only included 5 albums last year. This year, the list has been extended to 10. In all honesty, it could have been many more. Without further ado, here are the Keep It Country Kids Top 10 Albums of the Year.
First, here are some honorable mentions that barely missed the cut.
Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences -Garth Brooks
Made To Last -Joey + Rory
Annie Up -The Pistol Annies (full review here)
Same Trailer, Different Park -Kacey Musgraves (full review here)
Love Is Everything -George Strait (full review here)
Brothers of the 4x4 -Hank3 (full review here)
Caught In The Act -Eric Church (full review here)
And now, the top 10.
10. Wheelhouse -Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse featured Brad taking chances and going outside of his comfort zone a little bit. The album raised its fair share of controvesry with "Accidental Racist" with LL Cool J, and raised some eyebrows with its unique takes of Christianity, spousal abuse, and marriage. Wheelhouse is a fun listen for people wanting to see pop country pushed to its creative limits.
"Brad Paisley took some big risks with this, and they paid off. Brad managed to be fresh, interesting, and hip, while being traditional and sticking to what made his fans love him. The sounds are modern and push the limits of the term country at times, but still fall right into Brad's Wheelhouse." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Southern Comfort Zone", "Karate", "Accidental Racist (featuring LL Cool J)", "Harvey Bodine" "Runaway Train"
"Southern Comfort Zone"
9. The Woman I Am -Kellie Pickler
Kellie Pickler is the defending Keep It Country Kids Album of The Year winner, and she comes back just as strong in 2013 with The Woman I Am. Kellie weaves autobiographical tales with fun, sassy numbers to create an album that has both substance and mainstream appeal. That's not an easy feat.
"This is what mainstream radio country could and should sound like. Everything on this album is easily accessible to the common listener and equally complex for the more spoiled listener. Most importantly, this was the album Kellie wanted to make." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Selma Drye", "Little Bit Gypsy", Buzzin'", "Someone Somewhere Tonight"
"Someone Somewhere Tonight"
8. Dark And Dirty Mile -Jason Boland and the Stragglers
Jason Boland and the Stragglers kicked it into high gear in 2013 with Dark And Dirty Mile, a straight up Texas country record that makes no apologies. The album features thoughtful lyrics and toe tapping shuffles, along with killer arrangements. Best of all, this album discussed politics and beliefs without being preachy and cliche. This is the thinking man's country album of 2013.
"Dark And Dirty Mile is one of my favorite albums of 2013. It features plain and simple, straight forward country music. While its fun to push boundaries and get creative and new, coming back to what we are built upon is always refreshing and fun." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Dark And Dirty Mile", "Electric Bill", "Lucky I Guess", "They Took It Away", "Ludlow", "The Only One"
"Dark And Dirty Mile"
7. The Color of Rust -Carolina Still
Carolina Still's The Color of Rust is an in your face bluegrass album that will get your heart beating a little faster with each listen. Featuring lightning fast picking and tales of days past, Carolina Still fully immerses you into their rural world. This album will make you want to drive like a NASCAR driver, and break your heart at the exact same time.
"Throughout the album, there is one constant theme: A longing for a more simple and old fashioned way of life. Nearly every song is full of nostalgia and flashbacks. But, while mainstream country looks back at yesterday as a time of parties and eternal youth, Carolina Still wants to remember the hard work ethic, less complicated, and more free way of life. I think that is something that a lot of people from the country can relate to. We see the world moving so fast and changing. While Carolina Still's instrumentation yells "speed up, speed up", its lyrics say "slow down, slow down". It's a nice contrast that works well together to bring the message of their music home." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "The Color of Rust", "Hog Killin' Time", "Shack #9", "Blacklung, WV", "Pistol Packin' Rebel"
"Hog Killin' Time"
6. The Bluegrass Album -Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson decided to get creative with his latest release, and record a tribute to the genre of bluegrass. Alan wrote a good number of the tracks, and it features a simple, laid back approach to bluegrass music. Alan tells stories about life, subtlety protests, and ponders life's mysteries on this stellar album. Alan Jackson rarely misses, and this one is as solid of a hit as you can get.
"Bluegrass is a genre within a genre that has great tradition and strong ties to its history. Alan Jackson completely understands and respects those ties with this album. This album is very bluegrass and very Alan Jackson at the same time. While this album doesn't break down any walls or pave new ground, it is a very enjoyable listening experience. The commercial success of the album of the charts and the strong performance of the video "Blue Ridge Mountain Song" on GAC prove that traditional country is still viable and relevant to the masses in 2013. All in all, The Bluegrass Album is a win and a must have for any fan of bluegrass, country music, or just Alan Jackson." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Blue Ridge Mountain Song", "Blacktop", "Let's Get Back To Me And You", "There Is A Time", "Ain't Got Trouble Now", Long Hard Road", "Blue Moon of Kentucky", "Wild And Blue"
5. Like A Rose -Ashley Monroe
Ashley Monroe rose from the shadow of the Pistol Annies to create her own solo album this spring, and the result was one of the best traditional country albums in years. Like A Rose was produced by Vince Gill and features traditional sounds and songs with stories and souls. Whether she is making you laugh in "You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)", raising hell in "Monroe Suede", telling it like it is in "Two Weeks Late", or pushing the limits on "Weed Instead of Roses", Ashley Monroe does it with passion and pure talent and keeps it country.
"Like A Rose is a knockout. From start to finish this is another solid country release in 2013. This is already shaping up to be a huge year in quality music, and Ashley is smack dab in the middle of it with her solo album and the upcoming Pistol Annies follow-up. After a long stretch of male dominance on radio and sales, women like Ashley, Holly Williams, Kacey Musgraves, Kellie Pickler, and Miranda Lambert are making strides in getting the women with traditional sounds back to prominence in the mainstream world." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Like A Rose", "She's Driving You Out of My Mind", "Monroe Suede", "Weed Instead of Roses", "Two Weeks Late"
"Like A Rose"
4. The Other Life -Shooter Jennings
Shooter Jennings released the wide-spanning and artistic album The Other Life in early 2013, and it was hit and miss with a lot of bloggers. It was a solid hit on this one, though! The Other Life has some progressive country rock, sad soul songs, and honky-tonk boot stompers. In other words, there is something for everyone. Shooter is making his own name for himself in country music as he continues to push boundaries and challenge the powers that be. The Other Life is a great adventure into Shooter's own version of what country music should be.
"The Other Life is a widescaping album, hitting everything from progressive rock to classic country to southern rock and back again. Shooter is one of the few artists who can pull off such a big variety. I was slightly worried that two albums in back to back years may result in some mediocrity, but I was pleasantly surprised." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Outlaw You", "The Outsider", "The Other Life", "The Low Road", "The Gunslinger"
"The Other Life"
3. 12 Stories -Brandy Clark
Brandy Clark's debut album is a straight up country album with 12 indivdual stories designed to make you cry, laugh, and feel all the emotions in between. Brandy is a master of words, and the tales she takes us on in this album are full of wit and heartache. Of course, the music and melodies ain't too shabby either, as every song has that twang and sound that makes sure you know its country the moment you hear it. 12 Stories is a gem.
"12 Stories lives up to its name. Each track is it's own careful constructed narrative, playing on the joys and pains (mostly pains) of life in all shapes and sizes. The opening track, "Pray To Jesus", puts you in mind of Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go Round", but with a little more bubbly energy and optimism. It gets at the same theme of being thrust into the same life your parents lived, but finding happiness in that world. From there, the album winds and weaves its way through many gripping stories and events." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Stripes", "Hungover", "Just Like Him", "Take A Little Pill", "Illegitimate Children"
2. High Top Mountain -Sturgill Simpson
Whew, this album is so country it will flat wear you out. Sturgill Simpson put out a dandy of an album with High Top Mountain, which I toyed back and forth with for Album of the Year. This album is modern day honky-tonk music with serious guts and energy. Sturgill's voice sounds like Waylon and George Jones had a love child, and his writing feels like a late night hook up of Willie Nelson's, Kris Kristofferson's, and Billy Joe Shaver's pens. Sturgill is gonna be around a long time folks, get used to hearing this guy's name near the top.
"Once in a while, a country album comes out that makes you stop in your tracks and just listen. Sturgill Simpson has come through with his new release, High Top Mountain. The old school driving honky tonk sound is alive and well with this collection of tunes. If you really love country music, and I mean real, hardcore, punch you in the belly and rip out your heart country music, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t own this album.... Basically, it doesn’t matter if it is upbeat and driving like “Railroad of Sin”, or slow and heartfelt like “I’d Have To Be Crazy”, every song was written with a purpose. There are no fillers with overused clichés and gimmicks. Every song has a message, a story, a meaning… something to make it worth your while. That is what country music is missing. I could go on and on about this album, but I think the only way to appreciate it is to listen to it for yourself. If you don’t like this album, you must not be a true country music fan, because this is what country music is all about." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: “Life Ain’t Fair and The World Is Mean”, “You Can Have The Crown”, Water In A Well”, “Old King Coal”
"Life Ain't Fair and The World Is Mean"
1. The Highway -Holly Williams
When choosing the Album of the Year, I went with a simple criteria. Which album keeps me coming back for more? Which one makes me stop and listen when it comes on? Which one do I discover something new on with every listen? That was true for many of these albums, but none more than The Highway by Holly Williams. This album has a little bit of everything. It is sweet when it needs to be, reckless when it needs to be, and always 100% country. Holly has a knack for telling stories, and songs like "Drinkin'" and "Waiting On June" really make you focus on the stories and hit you like a ton of bricks. 2013 was a banner year for women in country music, and Holly Williams stands tall above them all. The Highway is your 2013 Keep It Country Kids Album of the Year. Congratulations Holly, thank you for keeping it country!
"The Highway is solid country songwriting and singing through and through. Holly has a unique rasp to her voice that really makes it stand out. If you play a song or two of Holly's for someone, they will instantly recognize her voice from there on out. That is an asset that singers need to be memorable and influential, and she has it and then some. But the best voice in the world is wasted if the songs aren't up to par. Thankfully, the songs onThe Highway are extremely strong. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to tell which is stronger: the singing or the songwriting... Usually I try to find some downsides or demerits to an album as well to balance the review. I am struggling with that for this album. It is that good. It has catchy songs for the mainstream crowd, solid country gold for the traditionalists, and vocals and songwriting that anyone can appreciate. One of the biggest struggles of the offspring of royalty like Holly is finding your own place. Holly has found it and set herself up to surpass some of her famous kin if she continues on this path. As a Williams family record it is great. But if she was Holly Smith I'd buy it and love it anyway. I am sold on this album." - Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Drinkin'", "Railroads", "The Highway", "Till It Runs Dry", "Waiting On June", "Gone Away From Me"
"Waiting On June"
Well, there you have it. 10 of the best albums 2013 had to offer. Hopefully 2014 has just as much great music. Let me know if I ranked some too high or left off your favorite. Check out the Keep It Country Kids 10 Best Songs of 2013 for more great music, and check out the Keep It Country Kids 5 Worst Songs of 2013 to see the other end of this spectrum. Until then, have a great holiday and remember to KEEP IT COUNTRY KIDS!