40 Best Country Albums of 2014

The greatest statements from the year's outsiders, small town heroes and American middle class

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Jerrod Niemann, 'High Noon'

39. Jerrod Niemann, 'High Noon'

Like Sam Hunt did with Montevallo, Jerrod Niemann pursued a more wide-reaching, crossover-ready path with his third album, High Noon. Some of it was a bust — the head-scratching hip-house boot-scooter of "Donkey," for starters — but when the album worked, it progressed country to a more natural pop destination: See the atmospheric vibe of opener "Space" and the excellent "Day Drinkin'," which addresses a now-shopworn topic from a fresh (if bleary-eyed) perspective. J.H.

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