My Favorite Albums of 2017
Well it’s that time of year. Best albums, best songs, bests of everything. I figured I’d get mine out now a day before Thanksgiving. Because I’m certainly thankful that 2017 has given us these albums. There’s a decidedly West Coast flavor to my list. Props also to the great cover art on most of these albums. So without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2017.
10.) Old 97s- Graveyard Whistling
The best part of listening to Old 97s is knowing exactly what you’ll get. Country punk rock ’n’ roll is owned by the band and its front-man Rhett Miller. “I Don’t Wanna Die in this Town” takes alt-country and puts it over a spaghetti western guitar riff. “Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls” is a rollicking affair that fits right into Old 97s’ wheelhouse.
9.) Chris Stapleton- From A Room: Volume One
Some complaints were made about the production of Stapleton’s sophomore album, but if I’m listening to Stapleton, this is exactly how I want him to sound. “Broken Halos” is a perfect song for the problems the world faces in 2017. “Second One to Know” is a roadhouse barn-burner that gets the listener immediately in the mood for a cold beer and couple shots of whiskey. No concern of a sophomore slump here. Stapleton exceed expectations. From the first couple songs of Volume Two, it sounds like Stapleton isn’t slowing down.
8.) Rodney Crowell- Close Ties
Rodney Crowell is a bona fide legend. His songwriting is up there with the very best, and he’s still putting out fantastic material. What’s great about Crowell is his career arc. He’s truly resided in each corner of the genre. He’s been a struggling songwriter, became a mainstream hit-maker, received award-winning acclaim, and now firmly resides in that peculiar genre we call Americana. Close Ties is a magnum opus. Guy Clark’s influence is all over the album, and “It Ain’t Over Yet” was clearly inspired by the Texas legend. “Nashville 1972” is my favorite song of the year, tracing Crowell’s first moments in Nashville.
7.) Steve Earle- So You Wannabe an Outlaw
Steve Earle is an outlaw. Always has been, always will be. In every sense of the word. But what makes this offering from Earle so intriguing isn’t necessarily the songwriting, which usually is what blows listeners away when hearing Steve Earle. Don’t get me wrong, Earle’s songwriting is as good as ever on this effort. But from a sonic point of view, Earle channels the sound of Waylon’s outlaw recordings, and it’s beautiful. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, listen to Earle’s second interview with Chris Shiflett on Walking the Floor. He purposely used techniques with his guitar that Waylon would use in the studio.
6.) Midland- On the Rocks
You can put your authenticity argument where the sun don’t shine. This is a vintage, perfectly-crafted album. You can smell the beer and sweat permeating throughout every song. The band has studied their influences and created their own sound from all of it. “More Than a Fever” could have been recorded by the Eagles, and Jimmie Rodgers’ “T for Texas” is referenced on “Check Cashin’ Country.” Talk all you want about the band’s backstory, but On the Rocks is a crucial album for mainstream country and one of the best of the year.
Fair warning, I had a difficult time numbering these top five albums. Each could have easily been my favorite, and depending on my mood, all five shuffle around. Needless to say, the next five albums all deeply endeared themselves to me.
5.) Turnpike Troubadours- A Long Way from Your Heart
Evan Felker, along with Ryan Bingham, is one of best songwriters of our generation. Felker’s ability to weave a narrative set in a specific place in the United States yet attract listeners from every background is the mark of a master songwriter at work. But Felker isn’t the only member of Turnpike Troubadours. Kyle Nix’s fiddle work is up there with the best in country music, and the addition of Hank Early on steel guitar full-time somehow makes a fantastic band even better. A Long Way from Your Heart features songs that immediately jump into the mix of the best the band has recorded.
4.) Chris Shiflett- West Coast Town
Man, this album is something special. West Coast Town is Bakersfield country with a modern twist. Shiflett doesn’t come from a country background so he doesn’t fall into the familiar tropes and themes of the genre. But he knows enough about what country listeners want that he includes lyrics about forlorn love and regretful hangovers. Most of all, Shiflett is a true student of the genre. He’s soaked up so much knowledge, and this album is an A+ presentation in what he’s learned.
3.) Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives- Way Out West
If Chris Shiflett is the student of the genre, Marty Stuart is the badass professor. Marty proves a true concept album is not dead in music. It’s frustrating how many people forget the West Coast routes of country music. Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart. These artists were California country, not part of the Nashville machine. Marty pays homages to the Bakersfield greats on the album but also mixes surf rock and tales of drug-induced binges. Some of the best tracks on the album are instrumentals. A good instrumental isn’t just a mix of solos from different instruments. It can tell a story with no words at all. Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives are more than capable of pulling it off.
2.) Kip Moore- Slowheart
This was the album Kip Moore was working his entire career to create. I highly advise watching the documentary on how he arrived to the final product of Slowheart. Full of songs devoted to the road, heartbreak, and the life he’s chosen, Moore’s third album combines the excellent songwriting of his first album with the epic sound of Moore’s sophomore album. Much like Eric Church, Kip Moore is the rare modern artist who views albums as pieces of art, not just a random collection of songs. “Guitar Man” is one of the songs of the year.
1.) Sam Outlaw- Tenderheart
Like I said, it was an extremely difficult decision with which album to put at number one. But thinking back over the year, Sam Outlaw’s Tenderheart was the album I found myself going back to the most. The influences range from the Eagles to Jackson Browne to Vince Gill to Dwight Yoakam. Mariachi sounds are thrown in at the perfect times. The songwriting is exquisitely well-done. The production overall is just outstanding. The speed and tempo of songs are slowed and revved up again when necessary. It’s a breezy album, proving country music can fit right in on the beaches and towns of the Pacific Ocean.