Writing a great song is no minor feat. It takes skill, determination, and talent to write a country song that moves people. It is an even greater feat to write an entire album worth of great songs. That's what these 10 artists did. These 10 albums represent the best of country music in 2014. From throwback records to "metamodern sounds", all facets of country music are covered here. Keep It Country Kids proudly presents the 10 Best Albums of 2014.
First, we will recognize some honorable mentions. All of these albums are fantastic and highly recommended, but just missed out on the top ten.
I'm A Fire- David Nail (full album review here)
Light of Day- Nick Dittmeier (full album review here)
That Girl- Jennifer Nettles (full album review here)
Working Man's Poet: A Tribute To Merle Haggard- Various Artists (full album review here)
Man Against Machine- Garth Brooks (full album review here)
Runaway Heart- Jake London (full album review here)
Reflections- Don Williams (full album review here)
Band of Brothers- Willie Nelson (full album review here)
The Outsiders- Eric Church (full album review here)
Moonshine In The Trunk- Brad Paisley (full album review here)
10. Riser- Dierks Bentley
Dierks Bentley has consistently been a bright spot in mainstream country over his career. Riser is an album that continues that trend. Dierks lost his father and welcomed a son into the world during the course of recording the album, and it shows in emotional songs like "Bourbon In Kentucky", "Say You Do", and the fantastic "I Hold On". Sure it has a few clunkers that I'm sure the label pushed on him, but this is a solid album top to bottom.
"Riser is an emotional album from start to finish. Dierks Bentley found the best kind of therapy and the best outlet for your feelings is making country music. It has its bumps, but Riser is a solid country album I would recommend to anybody. Dierks continues his role as the lead ambassador from roots to mainstream country by keeping feet firmly placed in both sides." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "I Hold On", "Damn These Dreams", "Bourbon In Kentucky", "Here On Earth", "Riser", "Hurt Somebody"
9. Platinum- Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert always delivers when she records an album. Platinum is no different. While mainstream country is dominated by men, Miranda makes noise with songs that are commercial, yet full of artistic merit. This album is lengthy, and honestly would have been a little higher had some of the weaker tracks simply been cut, but the majority of this album is fantastic. "Hard Staying Sober" and "Babies Makin' Babies" are modern classics, and "Automatic" is a big hit that makes a good point as well. Ignore the other radio singles; there is a lot to love on Platinum.
"Miranda Lambert is still the reigning queen of country music. She respects the history and traditions, pushes forward to new territory, and has continued commercial success. Those are the three requirements to be a country star in my book. Platinum has some missteps, but with an album this large, there is plenty of greatness to overpower the less than stellar songs. Miranda Lambert is carrying the flag out front for country females, and she is leading the charge of women who are outclassing and outperforming their male counterparts at every opportunity. One thing that Miranda knows how to do it keep it country, and Platinum certainly does that." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: “Automatic”, “Old Sh!t”, “All That’s Left”, “Hard Staying Sober”, “Another Sunday In The South”, "Babies Making Babies"
8. Write You A Song- Jon Pardi
This album went very under the radar in 2014, but it shouldn't have. Jon Pardi is exactly what mainstream country needs. This guy is young, fresh, and modern, but still has a distinctive twang and is true to the Bakersfield Sound. Jon Pardi delivers fun songs like "What I Can't Put Down" and "Write You A Song" with ease, then hits you with emotional songs like "That Man" or throwback songs like "Love You From Here". If you are looking for a mainstream guy who can help get some real country back on the radio, this is your guy.
"I can't say enough good things about this album. While I love Sturgill Simpson and Jason Eady, the fact is that they are making very traditional albums on small, independent labels. It goes a long way towards bringing country back to its roots, but Jon Pardi can have an equally as big impact with this album. It is a lot more pop-oriented than those guys, but its a LOT more country than 90% of the radio, and it is fresh enough that the songs can still be hits. Jon Pardi can turn a lot of fans on to that 90's country sound that produced some excellent music." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "What I Can't Put Down", "Write You A Song", "Love You From Here", "That Man", "Empty As These Beer Cans", "When I've Been Drinkin'"
7. Out Among The Stars- Johnny Cash
This album might not have been Johnny's best, but it meant a lot to me. I never really got to get excited about a new Johnny Cash album. Since I've been a fan, most of his music has already been out. Getting to look forward to and hear new Cash music along with everyone else was a special treat in 2014. This album was huge for country music because it hit number one on the Billboard Country Album Charts. Granted, classic country fans seem to be the only people who still buy records, but that isn't the point. People say that traditional country isn't marketable anymore, yet a guy who has hasn't had a radio hit in 20 years and has been buried for over a decade sold enough to hit number one with no radio support. That is huge. It was nice to have The Man in Black around again.
"As someone who was too young to be around during Johnny's heyday, getting to be excited about a new release and hear new songs for the first time from Johnny Cash was a real treat. Out Among The Stars is the perfect album for today's country. It certainly has the '80's country feel to it, but it still had the classic Cash touch as well. Modern singers should look at Johnny's example of keeping up with the times and staying fresh yet being true to yourself and the genre. The Man In Black is back, and not a moment too soon." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Out Among The Stars", "She Used To Love Me a Lot", "I'm Movin' On (with Waylon Jennings)", "Rock and Roll Shoes", "Baby Ride Easy (with June Carter Cash)"
6. The Way I'm Livin'- Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack has always had one of the most pure voices in country music. Her last few albums have been some of the best country music has to offer, and The Way I'm Livin' is no different. Rather than write her own material, Lee Ann chose to cover songs from a plethora of male songwriters. Guys like Hayes Carll, Chris Knight, Brett Cobb, and Bruce Robinson have fantastic cuts on the album. Take the sorrow of "Send It On Down" mix in the sweetness of "Fly", and add the feistiness of "Sleeping With The Devil", and you get a killer album that covers all the bases.
"The Way I'm Livin' is a nice comeback for Lee Ann Womack. She has been sorely missed, and its great to not only have some new music, but for it to be this high quality to boot. Lee Ann clearly doesn't let other dictate her sound and her direction. The result is an album that is heartfelt, country, and commercial." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "The Way I'm Livin'", "Send It On Down", "When I Come Around", "Chances Are", "Sleeping With The Devil"
5. American Middle Class- Angelenna Presley
Another under-the-radar album that was one of my favorites this year was American Middle Class by Angaleena Presley. This Pistol Annie stepped out on her own and made one of the best albums in 2014. Her songs all come straight from real life. She looks at the plights of the average small town citizen with a stark honesty that just isn't heard anymore. "Pain Pills" and "American Middle Class" pinpoint some of the problems a lot of real people are dealing with. Country music is supposed to be reflective of the time it comes from, and nothing sums up life in 2014 better than American Middle Class.
"For some reason, this album hasn’t been getting the press and sales it deserves. With recent releases from Little Big Town, Florida-Georgia Line, and Lee Ann Womack, it seems American Middle Class has flown under the radar. That’s a shame, but it seems fitting that an album named after the most ignored social class would be forgotten. That isn’t happening here. American Middle Class is a strong contender for the Keep It Country Kids Album of the Year. It combines classic country sounds with songwriting that perfectly epitomizes the middle class citizens of America. Country music needs albums like this that take stand and tell the stories that people do not always want to hear. Like Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, Angaleena’s debut album should put her straight to the upper echelon of female artist. American Middle Class is as good as they get." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "American Middle Class", "Grocery Store", "Better Off Red", "Pain Pills", "Knocked Up", "Drunk"
4. Provoked- Sunny Sweeney
Sunny Sweeney doesn't know how to record a bad song. This Texan is straight-up, down-home country as you can get. While a lot of country ladies are releasing some great music, none of them can hang with the honky-tonk style of Sunny. She gets sassy on "You Don't Know Your Husband", mellow on "Sunday Dress", "Carolina On The Line", and "My Bed", and rowdy on "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass" and "Bad Girl Phase". Top to bottom, there isn't a thing to dislike here. If you miss the attitude of real country music, Provoked is exactly what you are looking for.
"The best part about this album is that every song is a straight-up country song. Every. Single. Song. There's some modern country rockers, some classic weepers, and everything in between. Nothing on this album will be mistaken for anything but solid country gold. Sunny Sweeney has blossomed into one of the best country artists out there right now. It'll be a shame if some of these songs do not become big hits. Provoked is what country music is all about, and is an absolutely stellar album from start to finish. If you don't enjoy Provoked, you don't enjoy country music. Period." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "You Don't Know Your Husband", "My Bed", "Sunday Dress", "Carolina On The Line", "Can't Let Go", "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass"
3. Remedy- Old Crow Medicine Show
Old Crow Medicine Show put on the best live show in country music, and this album perfectly captures that energy and skill. With fast paced jams like "8 Dogs, 8 Banjos" and "Tennessee Bound" sitting right next to thoughtful ballads like "Dearly Departed Friend" and "The Warden", there is something for everybody here. "Sweet Amarillo" is the big standout; it was one of the best songs of 2014. The rest of Remedy is just as good, as it is a perfect mash of bluegrass, folk, and country to create a sound that gets you thinking and your toes tapping at the same time.
"Old Crow Medicine Show is making the best music of their lives. After such a strong start right out of the box with "Wagon Wheel", OCMS was a little uneven in their approach, not sure if they wanted to be a folk band, a bluegrass band, a country band, or some combination of all three. With their last album Carry Me Back and now Remedy, they have become masters of all three aspects of their sound. They are more than just great folk, bluegrass, or country artists, they are simply great musicians. With this album, they have an answer to what is wrong with music today. This album is fun, high energy, truthful, meaningful, and full of musical mastery. Remedy is the perfect remedy for your country music ills." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Sweet Amarillo", "The Warden", "8 Dogs, 8 Banjos", "Sweet Home", "Firewater"
2. Daylight & Dark- Jason Eady
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Jason Eady seemed to take that approach with Daylight & Dark. There is nothing wrong with good ole fashioned country music. Daylight & Dark is a mixture of honky-tonk boot-stompers, clever story-telling, and heartfelt weepers that tells a linear story and tickles the ear drums throughout. This is one of those albums that you have to put in from start to back and listen to the progression all the way through. There's really only two things you need to know about this album for me to properly sum it up: it's great, and it's COUNTRY. What more could you ask for?
"Daylight & Dark is a masterful album with a classic country sound and vivid and imaginative lyrics. There isn't a bad song from start to finish, and its a treat to listen through in its entirety. It's only January, and already the Album of the Year category has a strong frontrunner for 2014 and it will be tough to beat. If you like real country music; go get Daylight & Dark, you won't be disappointed!" -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Ok Whiskey", "Whiskey and You", "Lonesome, Down, and Out", "A Memory Now"
1. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music- Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson has officially arrived. 2014 was a huge year for this native Kentuckian, and it all came from the strength of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. This album is as unique and original as anything you will hear in country music. The songs cover everything from religion (or the lack of), to love, to nostalgia, to recreational drug use. The music sounds like something from outer space and a Texas barroom at the exact same time. Sturgill Simpson outsold many big name artists with this little album this year, and performed on various national late night shows. He is the biggest thing going in country right now, and if you haven't heard of him, you will. This album is great, but it is about so much more than just the music. This album has helped get a great artist some well-deserved buzz, and is putting great country music on the map. It is modern and edgy enough to be cool, yet traditional enough to be firmly country music. In all honesty, this was the easiest call I've ever made for any recognition on this site. The race wasn't even close. All 10 of these albums are fantastic representations of country music in 2014, but none are even close to this. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Keep It Country Kids Album of the Year is Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson.
"What more can I say about Sturgill Simpson that hasn't already been said? The guy is all over every music mag and website right now. He deserves every ounce of that praise. He makes country music the way he wants and sees fit. He doesn't take orders, yet he isn't condescending. He respects tradition, but moves toward the future. He has his beliefs, but he questions everything. THIS is what country music needs. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music is a masterpiece, and Sturgill Simpson is the top dog in country music right now. I simply can't recommend this album enough." -Full Review
Standout Tracks: "Living The Dream", "A Little Light Within", "Voices", "Long White Line", "Just Let Go", "Pan Bowl"
"Life Of Sin"
"Turtles All The Way Down"
"Living The Dream"
"Just Let Go"
Be sure to check out the Best Songs of 2014 as well!
Be sure to check out the Best Songs of 2014 as well!