40 Best Country Albums of 2016

Miranda Lambert, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and more of the year's best

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Robert Ellis, 'Robert Ellis'

28. Robert Ellis, 'Robert Ellis'

Ellis uses traditional credentials – a light nasal croon, co-writers like Jonny Fritz and Angaleena Presley – as cover on an album that quietly pushes a wildly open-minded view of what country music can be. In interviews, Ellis cites Duke Ellington as an influence, and several tracks are bathed in dramatic, Nelson Riddle-like string arrangements. "Screw" is wordless, ambient and electronic, while the easy grace of Seventies singer songwriters is everywhere. On "The High Road," Ellis mourns that "the high road is closed for repairs/And nobody cares about songs anymore," but don't count him among those who have lost faith in music's power. E.L.

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