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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Sam Hunt, 'Montevallo'

15. Sam Hunt, 'Montevallo'

Argue all you want about where Sam Hunt falls into the musical landscape, about how those little breakbeats sound way more Usher than George Jones, how his near-rap sing-talk happens more often than any Southern inflection. But to do so would probably miss the point (and joy) of these songs that show just where country can go when it's inspired by R&B and hip-hop, instead of simply borrowing its stars and signifiers. Sure, it's easy to pepper your hits with a Nelly refrain and hope everyone fist-pumps along, but it's a lot more challenging to make a record that sets a narrative songwriting style to a club-ready beat. Hunt could be the rare male artist to earn rotation both on country radio and DJ booths — particularly with tracks like "Ex to See" which somehow pairs banjo plucks with a percussive breakdown that might leave Imagine Dragons drooling. M.M.

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