The Year That Was: Roughstock's Favorite 40 Country Albums of 2012
By: Matt Bjorke
As I was compiling this list I realized that I liked far more recordings released in 2012 than I even realized. That means I had to start somewhere for this list and honestly, it meant cutting out some albums that I truly liked but may have not had as much time to listen to, like the late 2012 relese Buddy & Jim from Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller or Edens Edge from Edens Edge or even Dustin Lynch from Dustin Lynch. Instead, what I have compiled is the editorial list of Roughstock's 40 favorite albums (actually 41 due to a tie at #40) released in 2012 and these albums run from Mainstream Country to Indie Country to everything in between. I hope you enjoy the list as much as I had crafting it. As always, we encourage your thoughts and opinions on the albums listed here! Here's to a happy and productive 2013! Note: All albums link to their corresponding full-length album review page (If available).
A rising star in Australia, Craig Morrison worked with Grammy-nominated producer Mark Moffatt (O'Shea) on Craig Morrison and has crafted a record which features some strong performances that feel like the kinds of songs that make for an entertaining live show, something Craig Morrison clearly has. "Just Another Sundown" (a big hit in Australia), "Fences" (one of Roughstock's Top 40 singles of the year) both show the energetic side to Morrison (who recalls Bon Jovi at times vocally). While "Sundown" is a groove-filled romantic charmer, "Fences" is the kind of song about overcoming obstacles that is stock and trade country music. Given the right backing by a big label in Nashville, Morrison could really hit a few home runs on the charts. Standout tracks include "Fences," "Just Another Sundown," "Somebody's Girl," "Hot Kinda Love," and "Wasted On Me."
This record, released through his publishing company, showcases a talented singer/songwriter that mixes the Heartland rock of Springsteen, Mellencamp and Petty with the Nashville in a way that is refreshing. He may be somewhat similar to Kip Moore to some, but to me, Mize's vocals are clearly different (imagine a grittier Brady Seals). If his label/publisher finds a way to get this Danial Tashian-produced album more-known, Mize has the potential to break big, as does his producer Tashian (If I were an artist looking for an up and coming producer to help shape my sound, Tashian would be on my must-call list). Standout tracks on Nobody In Nashville including "Nobody In Nashville," "The State Of Your Heart," "I Give In," and "Sunflowers."
Crowd-sourced via a Kickstarter campaign, the 2012 self-titled album from Blount showcases why he was signed to former label Golden Music prior to the label's closure. In fact, his sound isn't that far from what's currently hot on country radio but where Blount differs is in the power of his voice. Quite simply, his is a voice that is stronger and grittier than stars with names like Gilbert, Aldean and Church. If given the same access to radio promotion and the like, Blount has the ability to be a huge star. Standout tracks: "That's An American," "I Don't Have To Prove I'm Country," "Guilty As Charged," and "Never Been Better".
Artists like Don Williams don't come around that often so it's always a blessing to get the chance to hear his new records as there likely won't be very many more of them, if any after And So it Goes. Everything here is sung with so much ease it almost feels 'lazy.' Instead, what it is is a fantastic country record with strong performances and guests like Vince Gill ("Heart Of Hearts"), Keith Urban ("Imagine That") and Alison Krauss. The record features top writers like Leslie Satcher, John Ramey, Ronnie Bowman, Byron Hill and Al Anderson in addition to a couple 'covers' of previously recorded songs like the O'Kanes "Imagine That" and Anthony Smith's "Infinity". The Gentile Giant may not inspire most youngsters to take a listen to the record but And So It Goes is a master class on how to sing an understated and pure Country Music album.
37. Ryan Bingham - "Tomorrowland" (Axter Bingham Music)
Completely different from Don Williams' album, Tomorrowland is Bingham's first release post-Lost Highway Records. And the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter of "The Weary Kind" may not have the same kind of sure-footedness that he had on the T-Bone Burnett produced Junky Star but don't let that make this a record to miss. Tomorrowland is the kind of world-weary record that fans of Bingham should've expected something like this to come out of him at some point. There are a few six-minute-long tracks on the record but they only add the tension needed to get what Bingham's poetic and pissed-off heart is trying to get out. Standout tracks include "The Road I'm On," "Rising Of The Ghetto", "Western Shore," and "I Heard 'Em Say."
After their 4th member left in 2011, it might have been easy for Gloriana to 'pack it in' but instead the group reverted to the core trio they were before the former member joined the band. The band went back into the studio and re-worked the vocals of A Thousand Miles Left Behind and what it did was allow the band to form a more cohesive sound and identity which was immediately solidified on Top 5 hit "(Kissed You) Good Night," a song that has since gone Gold. That track allowed Tom Gossin and Rachel Reinert to soar while also allowing Mike Gossin time to shine as a songwriter/instrumentalist and occasional vocalist. "Gold Rush" melds modern pop sounds with Country lyrical content and could be a potential follow-up to "Can't Shake You," the trio's third single from the record. There's a heart-felt story song in "Carolina Rose," a kiss-off song from Reinert ("Go On…Miss Me") and a patriotic tune in "Soldier Song" that lets us remember this is a country band. The recording is lighter, tighter and just much better than the band's ambitious debut (which was still pretty good overall). Stand out tracks include "Where My Heart Belongs," "Gold Rush," "(Kissed You) Good Night", "Can't Shake You," "Carolina Rose" and "Go On…Miss Me."
35. Anthony Orio - "Between Home & The Bright Lights" (Self-released)
There's just something about Between Home & The Bright Lights that just hits me. Like Morrison's album above, this is a record made to be an extension of Orio's successful live shows. It also showcases that an artist can be successful without having big ole radio hits (or any radio hits for that matter).Between Home & The Bright Lights showcases an artist with all the talent and moxie of the big labels and the production on this record is equally as strong. Orio's voice recalls Keith Urban at times and could probably be a good comparison for overall artistic presentation but don't think of Orio as a copycat as he's clearly his own artist with downright strong mid-tempo tracks like "Loves Me Like A Rock Star," hugely rockin' songs like "Freight Train" and "Walkin' On Whiskey" and balances those out with hit-worthy songs like "Girls Will Be Girls," "Good Problems," and "Everything That Touches You." Standout tracks include "Girls Will Be Girls," "Those Nights, Those Days," "Good Problems," "Everything That Touches You" "Walkin' On Whiskey" and "Love Me Like A Star."
Mixing the energy of Big & Rich with the 3-part vocal harmony blend of bands like Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry, The Farm arrived this year with a record that not too many people have taken to yet and that's a shame because the trio of Guitar/Pianist/Vocalist Damien Horne, vocalist/guitarist Krista Marie and vocalist/fiddle player Nick Hoffman is clearly a unique take on modern country music. The Farm is an energetic blend of fiddle-driven country/rock, heart-felt ballads, and soul-stirring moments. Standout tracks include Top 30 hit "Home Sweet Home," sophomore single "Be Grateful," "That 100 Miles," "Every Time I Fall In Love," "Walkin'" and "Sweet Sweet Sunshine."
Country fans and Nashville's community on Music Row are always skeptical of talent from other media forms like TV Actors and Actresses and genres of music start paying attention to Nashville and state their love for country music but when an artist shows the right intentions (Kenny Rogers, Conway Twitty, Darius Rucker) the fans and the community open their arms. This is exactly what's happened with Jana Kramer, an actress on the show "One Tree Hill." Kramer went out on an extensive radio tour, worked hard with producer Scott Hendricks to craft a smart debut album and released the right debut single with "Why Ya Wanna." The Michigan native's album is more than just a single and filler as virtually all of the tracks could be singles at some point and it showcases a more 'twangy' singer than one might expect from a 'Yankee.' Standout tracks include "Goodbye California," "Whiskey," "King Of Apology," "Why Ya Wanna" and "I Hope It Rains."
32. The Lumineers - "The Lumineers" (Dualtone)
This band was a big part of 2012's trend of seeing folksy/roots rock bands crossing over to the mainstream and much of that is due to the single "Ho Hey," one of the many songs that helped to make part of the call/response chant meme of 2012. That being said, this is a very good song which managed to become a big Top 3 hit on Pop radio (after being #1 on multiple charts) without adding a dance/pop beat to its acoustic mix of mandolins, acoustic guitars and kick drums. "Flowers In Your Hair" is a strong album opener while "Stubborn Love" feels like the song that will make The Lumineers big time stars. The fact that Country Radio isn't all that willing to make this Gold-selling album part of their rotation is a pure shame. Standout tracks: "Stubborn Love," "Ho Hey," "Classy Girls" and "Charlie Boy."
This groove-filled record, Kracker's first with Sugar Hill Records, is also his first all-out country record after scoring a few hits ("Smile", "Drift Away" "Good To Be Me") off of previous albums. Working with Keith Stegall, Kracker made Midnight Special with all the charm and verve of his previous releases but the work that Stegall has done here is to help give Uncle Kracker an identity that clearly suits him. Much of the record feels like AM Radio-staples but hey, this is something that's clearly worked well for Zac Brown Band and it certainly does here as this late-2012 release feels like it could spawn a few hits to Country Radio (Sugar Hill is working with EMI Nashville to promote tracks from this record). Much of this record is easy-going and laid back but it doesn't feel too lazy and that's how it ends up here as a solid, collection of modern Country songs. Standout Tracks: "I'd Be There," "Four Letter Word," "In Between Disasters," "Nobody's Sad On A Saturday Night" "It Is What it Is."
If you'd have told me at the beginning, of the year that this Extremely consistent duets project of Richie's great songs would be #30 over all, I'd have thought you were crazy. This one felt like one of the year's best albums for much of 2012 but when it came time to make this countdown list, Lionel and friends were reduced to this slot. That doesn't mean one of 2012's only Platinum-selling released this year (Swift, Underwood, Aldean among 'em with Richie) isn't worth a listen to. That's far from the case. Instead, it's a rather strong collection that just got pushed back by the nature of the project, much like award shows did. Standout Tracks: "You Are," "Stuck On You," "Say You, Say Me," "Lady," and "Deep River Woman."
Those that know of Jason Eady will say that this is far too low a slot for the record but much like my Lionel Richie discussion above, this record is simply something that got surpassed by later releases in the year. A fantastic 'theme album' of freshly made Classic Country, AM Country Heaven is not going to be a favorite of fans of most of Today's Hit Country artists but it's a strong collection nonetheless. Eady's vocals are spot on for this type of material (think Alan Jackson) and there's nary a track that doesn't find a traditional-minded fan thinking 'preach it, brother.' Standout tracks: "Am Country Heaven," "Sober On The Weekends," "Wishful Drinking," "I'll Sure Be Glad When I'm Gone," "Longer Walk In The Rain."
Once again working with Carson Chamberlain, Easton Corbin's All Over The Road showcases an artist who knows who he is. He may still hew too close to the George Strait way of making Country Music, but since when has this been a bad thing? He manages to keep Neo-Traditional Country music in the spotlight and does so with the ease and charm of the top hit makers of yesterday. "Dance Real Slow" and "All Over The Road" showcase a strong vocalist while "Are You With Me" is a future hit waiting to happen. "Tulsa Texas" is a sweet song too. This kind of country music may not be the top of the heap right now but it feels like if it's creeping back into prominence with more than a few artists making waves (Greg Bates, Craig Cambpell, Chris Young, etc.).
This Memphis-born and bred band has scored a few hits on the AC Rock/Pop charts in the past decade and has managed to carve out a nice, steady career touring clubs around the country. While they've been classified as a 'rock' band, for a while now Ingram Hill hasn't been afraid to let their southern rock and country roots show and with the release of Ingram Hill, their fifth album, the band has decided to embrace those roots more than ever. The 11 track album was self-produced by Ingram Hill and showcases tight roosty melodies and harmonies, particularly on "Behind My Guitar," "Good Ol' Dixie," and "Broken Hearted In Birmingham." Standout Tracks: "Those Three Words," "Mainline Train," "Behind My Guitar," "Broken Hearted In Birmingham," and "Good Ole Dixie."
Around for a solid 20 years now, Toby Keith's star continues to shine thanks to his ability to make music that still hits both old and new fans alike. Last year's Clancy's Tavern was his biggest record in a few years but rather than milk that record for a chance at another Platinum-selling record, Toby Keith's kept to his one album a year mantra (once the standard for Nashville), and released Hope On The Rocks. It may be 'typical' for a Toby Keith record in that it holds songs which talk about drinkin' and partying ("I Like Girls That Drink Beer") and bravado ("The Size I Wear") but it also features some of Toby's best songwriting in years (The title track). This is more than enough to make it well worthy of its placement on this list. Standout tracks: "Hope On The Rocks," "You Ain't Alone," "Haven't Had A Drink All Day," "The Size I Wear," and "I Like Girls That Drink Beer."
Much like Gloriana, Love and Theft survived the loss of a band member. In the case of Love and Theft, it has changed the dynamics of the band quite a bit. While still harmony-driven, the now duo had to rework much of their material to suit two voices rather than the trio-based sound of previous records. So, after jumping to RCA Nashville after their previous label - Lyric Street - closed, the newly duo Love and Theft (Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles) have created a record that's sneaky good. Josh Leo has helped the duo hone in on a sound and it's helped the duo carve a niche with radio once again, behind Gold-selling #1 hit "Angel Eyes" and end-of 2012 follow-up single "Runnin' Out Of Air," the sultry "Amen," and "Town Drunk," a potential song of the year at award shows if released as a single. Add in future Platinum-selling summertime ditty "Girls Like To Shake It" and it's easy to see why Love and Theft have thrived where so many haven't.
Vince Gill's full-time addition to this collective of top-notch Nashville musicians helped the band secure a deal with Rounder Records and has brought the group a lot of positive press and attention, both of which they clearly deserve. The Time Jumpers runs the gamut of Country Music's roots from Texas Swing to Torch Ballads to Two-Steppers to Tempo Ditties. It's everything the genre's been based on and proves it can still work when in the hands of talented musicians (which also includes steel guitar player Paul Franklin, vocalist Dawn Sears, Opry fiddler Kenny Sears and Fiddler Larry Franklin amongst the tight group of musicians). Standout tracks: "On The Outskirts Of Town,"
The mainstream country artists may sing about the 'fun side' of rural life but there's a more stark, realistic side to the rural life which is what Chris Knight talks about here. A hardscrabble life is by far the norm for most people in rural America and that's what Chris Knight's primarily concerned with here. Standout tracks "In The Meantime," "You Lie When You Call My Name," "Little Victories" and "You Can't Trust No One."
The husband and wife duo based in Rural Tennessee have proven a new model to be successful in country music with a Television show on the RFD Network and an international presence with their touring schedule. This has allowed them to not have to bow to pressures to make music that doesn't suit their Traditional Country tastes. On their third studio album His and Hers, the record features more of Rory Feek this time with the husband splitting time with his wife Joey Martin. "Josephine" is a beautiful single while "When I'm Gone" is equally as beautiful. Their harmonies and songwriting are as top-notch as always, more than enough to make this record deserving of this placement. Standout tracks: "Let's Pretend We Never Met," "A Bible and A Belt," "When I'm Gone," "His And Hers," and "Teaching Me How To Love You."
The best thing to come out of American Idol's 9th Season, Casey James took his time to hone and craft his sound and make a proper album rather than rush-release a record to capitalize on the momentary fame. This model has helped James and Columbia Records create a recording that manages to showcase the guitar slinger as a soulful Country singer with strong musicality. Standout singles like "Crying On A Suitcase," and "Let's Don't Call It A Night" drive the album while "She's Money" and "So Sweet" and "Workin' On It" showcase the different sides of is artistry. Standout Tracks: "Workin' On It," "Cryin' On A Suitcase," "She's Money," "So Sweet" and "Miss Your Fire."
JT Hodges looks like a star but, more importantly, he sounds like one too. So much so that it's surprising that his music has yet to meet mass-appeal with Country Radio. What's fortunate for JT is that he's on one of the few labels in Nashville (or any city really) that was willing to release JT Hodgeswithout having a smashing single to drive sales. The sound is a little bit rockabilly, soulful country and rock with a massive lot of charm. It all serves JT Hodges quite well and if Radio ever takes to the music from this record (Current single "Sleepy Little Town"), he has the talent to be another Gary Allan-type of successful and uniquely individual artist. Standout Tracks: "Goodbyes Made You Mine," "Hunt You Down," "When I Stop Crying" (Feat. Vince Gill), "Rhythm Of The Radio," "Sleepy Little Town."
Blackberry Smoke's a band that has released a few albums yet but hasn't really found success on the radio charts. But clearly that doesn't matter (yet) to the band as this is as consistent a collection of Southern Countrified Rock music as you're gonna find in this day and age. The band is consistent with their rhythms, their rhymes and their vocal harmonies. Again, not a bad tune to be found on the record and with "Pretty Little Lie" set to release to radio soon, we may be hearing quite a bit of the band on country radio, which is nothing but a good thing. Standout tracks: "Pretty Little Lie," "One Horse Town," "Six Ways To Sunday," "Up The Road," "The Whippoorwill."
A star in the Texas/Oklahoma Red Dirt Music scene, Wade Bowen's move to Sea Gayle/Sony Nashville surprised some hardcore fans but for me, it made a world of sense to me to have an artist of Bowen's caliber want to follow in Eli Young Band in trying to successfully move his career up the ladder a little bit more with the big label behind him. When "Saturday Night" 'only' hit the Top 40, signs pointed to trouble yet his label smartly decided to release a 10 track version of The Given to select markets, including Texas/Oklahoma where he's a star. The results are a strong collection of songs which were all worthy of being potential radio singles. Standout tracks "Patch of Bad Weather," "Saturday Night", "Say Anything," "All That's Left," "A Battle Won" and "To Live Is To Fly," the latter the lone song not written or co-written by Wade (it was written by Townes Van Zant).
It would be easy to forgive Kenny Chesney if he were to rest on his laurels a bit after a string of successful albums and another successful run of Sold-out Stadium Tours. But rest he did not as he released Welcome To The Fishbowl this year. The album features a nice blend of radio-ready sultry ballads like Platinum-selling #1 hit "Come Over" and future hit "Welcome To The Fishbowl" along with more 'artist-y' songs like "Sing 'Em Good My Friend," "I'm A Small Town" and ""El Cerrito Place," a single which rivals "You And Tequila" as one of Chesney's most interesting and best performances. The album is so consistently good and well-performed that it would be very easy to overlook it. It's the latest Gold or Platinum-certified album of his career (all of his albums except his first one for Capricorn are certified as such with sales approaching 30 million albums in the USA alone).
Let's face it, Alan Jackson's last studio album, Freight Train, was not a very good record. In fact, it was probably the worst album of his career (but it would still be favored by many over some albums even on this list, I bet). With that in mind, Alan Jackson rebounds quite nice with Thirty Miles West, a recording which features a trio of hits in "You Go Your Way," "Long Way To Go" and one of the year's best singles, "So You Don't Have To Love Me Anymore." Along with these songs are some of Jackson's trade mark humor songs ("Gonna Come Back As A Country Song"), romantic love songs ("Everything But Wings") and a duet with Zac Brown on "Dixie Highway." Each of those songs and "Her Life's A Country Song" stand out as highlights, along with the heartfelt "When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)."
Blessed with one of the purest country voices in Nashville, "Too Much Ain't Enough" is a showcase in how the traditionalists working in and around Music City are still hard at work at it, even if the top radio stations don't seem to notice them that much. "Too Country" is a song that many fans can relate to while "Bridges" sounds as good as anything on country radio, just like the title track "Too Much Ain't Enough," a song we have loved for a long time as it chronicles a tale of a man who is so addicted to his bottle that he loses everything of consequence in his life. Mix in a little faith-based country in the record and what we have is a strong and solid record well worth seeking out. Standout tracks: "Too Country," "Bridges," "Has Love Taken It's Toll," "If That Ain't Jones," "Too Much Ain't Enough" and "Crucifixion."
Here's a record that is very much a 'pop/country' or 'poptry' album if there ever was one. In fact, it's mostly a straight up world domination-ready pop record with songs that aren't even tangentially Country. Still, her home base is in country music and Red is a damn fine pop record with a few country moments. If it were more 'country,' it'd likely have been higher on this list. As it is, it still is a very good, cohesive recording that showcases a singer working hard to expand her artistry while also not forgetting where she came from with her fan base. "Begin Again" returned her to the Top 10 and is one of the record's best, most country songs. "Red" could become a single as could "Stay Stay Stay" or "All Too Well." The rest of the record is very pop oriented as the chart-topping success of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" showcase. Standout tracks: "Begin Again," "Stay Stay Stay," "All Too Well," "I Knew You Were Trouble," "Red," "22."
Carrie Underwood proves with Blown Away that she's not afraid to embrace some of the more 'pop' sounds that have infiltrated country radio as of late (thanks to Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift) and it's a suit that fits her well. "Good Girl" and "Blown Away" are two of the most pop-sounding tracks of her career while "Two Black Cadillacs" is a darkly melodic vocal triumph that could help the single become a contender for Single or Song of the Year. The album is deep with potential singles like "See You Again," "Forever Changed" and "Thank God For Home Towns" but perhaps the best song on this record after "Two Black Cadillacs" is "Wine After Whiskey." Standout tracks: "Two Black Cadillacs," "Wine After Whiskey," "Blown Away," "See You Again, "Thank God For Hometowns" and "Forever Changed."
For the longest time Little Big Town has made consistent albums with some of the most inventive music and arrangements and found spotty success at radio. With "Pontoon," the band became the buzz band of 2012's summer and managed to score one of the year's biggest hits in the process. ButTornado is not the only just "Pontoon" and 10 album-filling tracks. it's perhaps the band's best album that they've ever released. "Pavement Ends" introduces us to the new production sounds from Jay Joyce while "Sober" is a song which showcases Kimberly Schlapman in the lead vocalist slot. This foursome's Platinum Tornado doesn't feature any 'bad' tracks, the hallmark of a great record. Standout tracks: "Sober," "Tornado," "Pontoon," "Your Side Of The Bed," "Front Porch Thing," and "Self Made."
The last 'major' release of 2012 is also one of my favorite albums of the year, just missing the Top 10. The consistent record is mostly for the partiers out there but that's just fine for not every record needs to be about the deepest of topics and party songs certainly need to be a part of a good playlist. In fact, this record could basically serve a major part of a party playlist. Working with Joey Moi (Jake Owen) has brought out the best in the newcomers, a sound that was unrefined on their self-relesed EP from 2010. The duo's lead single "Cruise" hit #1 and is on its way to Double Platinum while follow-up single "Get Your Shine On" is already Top 40 in just a couple weeks on the radio charts. The rest of the record is consistent from the title track to potential radio and sales gold "Tell Me How You Like It," "Stay" and "Round Here." "Tip It Back" also feels ready for radio world dominance so we'll just have to see what happens. Standout tracks: "Tip It Back," "Round Here," "Get Your Shine On," "Cruise", "Stay," "Hell Raisin' Heat Of The Summer."
Like Clinton Gregory and others above, Tim Culpepper has a record that demands your attention. It's a slice of honky tonk heaven with its Music Row Radio Chart (small market stations) hits "Ghost" and "Pourin' Whiskey On Pain." Blessed with a voice that recalls Neo-Traditionalists like Mark Chesnutt and Daryle Singletary, Tim Culpepper uses his pliable voice to sing through memorable songs like "His Old Boots," "The One," "Gettin' On With Gettin' Over You" and "When Misery Finds Company." Elbert West's production is steady and relable as worn-in pair of boots and that helps make this one of the most unexpected delights of the year and our first album in the Top 10 of the this year.
Another delightful album that was an unexpected treat. One of the coolest things John Esposito and Peter Strickland are doing with Warner Music Nashville is signing 'legacy' artists like Dwight back to the label and releasing music that is highly marketable. Add in an artist who is game to prove he's not past his prime, like Dwight Yoakam, and the results are 3 Pears. Perhaps the only misstep on this album is his cover of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," a song that just is too hard a song to make your own and features too many of Dwight's trademark vocal ticks for my taste. Other than that, there's not a bad song on the very solid album and it may very well be a record with him in a more 'romantic' and 'philosophical' mood than normal. "Waterfall" could even be a song that crossed over to Adult Pop radio despite still being very much a Country song.
We 'critic' types are always talking about taking chances with your records and that's exactly what Jerrod Niemann has done with both of his albums for Sea Gayle/Arista. First album Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury featured a cover of "Lover Lover" as it's debut single while there were skits featured on the disc as well. Meanwhile on Free The Music Jerrod showcases his love of Traditional Country Music with a record which dips back to pre steel-guitar days with a heavy dose of horns prevalent on the record. The opening track on the album serves as his mission statement for the rest of the record. There's pretty much everything in the Country canon on the album except all-out Western Swing. Guess we'll have to wait for the next record for that. Standout tracks: "Only God Could Love You More, " "Whiskey Kinda Way," "Honky Tonk Fever," "I'm All About You," "Fraction of A Man" and "Shinin' On Me."
To follow-up an album like My Kinda Party might be daunting to many artists but for Jason Aldean, it's business as usual with follow-up Night Train.There are the rockin' tunes like #1 first single "Take A Little Ride," the state of small-town life in "This Nothin' Town," songs that expand what the definition of country is in tracks like "The Only Way I Know" and "1994" and strong lyrical tracks like "I Don't Do Lonely Well," "Talk," and f course "Black Tears," an oft-talked about track co-written by Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard (with Canaan Smith). The 15 track town is chock full of hits with the standout tracks being the ones listed here along with the title song "Night Train."
After getting his first big hit as an artist on his debut album Love Like Crazy, Lee Brice was allowed to take over the reins on his sophomore CD Hard 2 Love. The album has already spawned a pair of #1 hits in "A Woman Like You" and the title track "Hard To Love." The latter was a little progressive sonically but it fit right in the pocket of the current sounds of Country Music while the rest of the album moves around with more interesting sounds and story songs, particularly on songs he co-wrote. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the album is Lee Brice's Garth Brooks-like ability to wring every emotion and nuance out of a song. There's nary a bad track on the record and there are strong songs like "See About A Girl," "Life Off My Years" and "Seven Days A Thousand Times" that join "the lead two singles and future Award contender "I Drive Your Truck" as the highlights of this disc.
A big hit in Texas, Beer For Breakfast is the kind of album most Texas artists wanting to make a major move (major as in future major label material) should pay heed to. Completely written and produced by the band (there are co-writers like Chris Janson, Leroy Powell, Band Brandon Kinney on a pit of tracks but for the most part, JB Patterson is the only writer for the band, which formed a few years back when JB decided to start a band and the three guys in the band (Gabe Guevera, Chris Flores and Hayden McMullen) were the only guys who showed up to the audition. THere are romantic tracks "The Only Drug," "Kiss Me That Way" and fun tracks like "Ride" and "Beer For Breakfast" along with the humorous country songs like "More Like My Dog." These standout tracks are joined by "No Better Than This" and "I Don't Care."
It was a big risk for Kip Moore to release "Somethin' 'Bout A Truck" to Country Radio but it paid off in the form of a Platinum #1 hit and has been followed up by "Beer Money," songs which showcased Moore's country-rock bonfires that are steeped in heartland values with believability and sincerity. The record features a string of well-written tunes including "Crazy One More Time," "Hey Pretty Girl" ("I'm On Fire" Part II?) and "Reckless (Still Growin' Up)." The emotional urgency of the melodies is accented by powerful vocals that helps raise the material above other artists trying to become the next sort of heartland rocker like Moore.
Few major label artists could get away with releasing a tribute album to any artist, let alone a songwriter whose songs aren't exactly the rage of Mainstream Country Radio yet that's exactly what Jamey Johnson has done with Livin For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran. This extraordinary album features A-list artists performing in tandem with Jamey Johnson and they have helped to make this record truly a classic from start-to-finish. It may never get a big radio hit but for anyone willing to listen, they will truly be Livin' For A Song. Standout tracks: "Livin' For A Song" "I Fall To Pieces," "Make The World Go Away," "The Eagle" and "Would These Arms Be In Your Way."
One of the final albums released under the BNA Records label, 100 Proof was also Kellie Pickler's third and finale record with the 19 Recordings and Sony Nashville Joint-venture. And if one's gonna leave a company, why not leave it doing the record you always wanted to do? Pickler does this with100 Proof,the record she's always wanted to make. "Where's Tammy Wynette" showcases that this record isn't gonna be a country/pop fest like Pickler's past few records were and it allows the Carolina native to showcase her natural twang and ease with Traditional Country material. If this record had came out in 1996, it'd have been a huge hit. This is no slight for Pickler as the record nothing but pure, unadulterated country music with plenty of steel guitars and fiddles. Standout tracks "100 Proof,: "Stop Cheatin' On Me," "Where's Tammy Wynette," "Unlock That Honky Tonk," and "Tough."
They've been A-List country stars since 2008's "Chicken Fried" and in that time the band has managed to become one of Mainstream Country Music's most consistent acts. Blending 70s singer/songwriter flair with jam band attitudes (think), with a rock n roll attitude about how to make a cohesive album as a band (harmony-driven), not just a singer and a bunch of studio acts, Zac Brown Band feels like a modern twist on Alabama along with showcasing a modern multi-genre flair that better suits our tastes as a collective group of music lovers. IE, few people listen to just one style of music anymore and with labels going by the wayside, Zac Brown Band are able to stretch and add worldly rhymes to their soul-stirring rhymes. Uncaged is the band showcasing everything they're truly about and it's a tour-de-force of epic proportions and well worthy of being our favorite album released in 2012. Standout tracks: "Uncaged," "The Wind," "Goodbye In Her Eyes," "Jump Right In," "Natural Disaster, "Day That I Die," "Last But Not Least."
Well, there you go, our 40 (41 actually) favorite albums from 2012. What do you think? Did we miss any albums? What would be your Top 5?