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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Little Big Town, 'Pain Killer'
40
5/40

5. Little Big Town, 'Pain Killer'

This sassy, thoroughly soused vocal quartet (the hit, complete with whistling and drum corps snares, is called "Day Drinking") outgrows its humble Fleetwood Mac Lite origins on album six, a brash, goofy, visceral, quietly arty affair. (Wily Eric Church cohort Jay Joyce has become their priceless in-house producer, too.) The fizzy title track is the ultra-rare country-reggae crossover that doesn't suck; "Girl Crush" is a slow, exquisitely excruciating lover's lament with a Phil Spectorian sense of emotional grandeur. The collective blood-alcohol level hovers somewhere between "jovial" and "fatal"; the back half is full of close-harmony theatrics alternately somber ("Live Forever") and seething ("Things You Don't Think About"). The 2014 tier-jumping country crew you'd most like to have a beer (or five) with. R.H.

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