Some of the best country music in 2018 came not from albums, but via powerfully concise EPs. As more country and Americana artists embrace the format as a way of releasing music quickly to fans or as a means of exploring a new direction, we thought it was time to take a closer look at the year’s releases. From Kip Moore’s acoustic foray to Tenille Townes bare-bones work tapes, here’s 10 EPs that prove great things come in small packages.
Kip Moore’s devoted fan base has been demanding an acoustic album from the singer for years — in part because he often transforms his own material live, molding his set more like a rock show than a manicured, mainstream country revue. On Room to Spare: The Acoustic Sessions, Moore offers a handful of new songs along with a reworking of “Plead the Fifth,” from the relaxed meditation on his Southern soul with “Tennessee Boy” to the windswept “It Ain’t California,” a co-write with Charlie Worsham. It seems like the eternally touring Moore is never really off the road, but it’s a marvel that he still finds time to churn out a collection as potent as this, only a year in the wake of his excellent LP Slowheart. Moore’s great when he’s firing on all cylinders, but he’s just as effective slow and simple, too. M.M.
Bucking the usual two-year album release and promotional cycle typically required of country performers, duo Muscadine Bloodline returned in 2018 with the Movin’ On EP a little more than a year after releasing their self-titled 2017 EP. This time, Alabama natives Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton refined the sound that made their song “WD-40” such a streaming success — close harmonies, angular guitar work and hook-filled, clever songs. They also cover quite a bit of territory here: “Can’t Tell You No” mines an old-school R&B groove, “Put Me on a Pond” mixes a loping country beat with guitar skronk and the title track is a surprisingly uplifting breakup anthem. Two EPs and a handful of singles in, these guys are just getting started. J.F.
“My happiness is a long shot,” sings Jillian Jacqueline on “Somebody,” the closing track of Side B. The rest of the EP, a follow-up to 2017’s Side A, is just as gloriously straightforward, as she addresses heartbreak on the gorgeous acoustic “Sad Girls” and the bad decisions we make in the wake of it all (“got a credit card, couldn’t pay it off”) on “Tragic,” before offering an infectious, danceable reminder to focus on what matters with “Priorities.” Jacqueline’s able to meld downright melancholy concepts (“when did the future get so damn important when we could die at any time?” she asks on “Priorities”) with enough bursts of joy to make pondering the bad stuff a whole lot less painful. M.M.
Tenille Townes makes a strong case for being country’s most promising young songwriter with this devastating EP. On “Jersey on the Wall,” she memorializes a high-school car crash victim with all the attention to detail of a beat reporter, while “Where Are You” gives a fresh romantic voice to the search for “the one.” But it’s the bare-bones take on her single “Somebody’s Daughter” where Townes shines brightest, offering different scenarios to explain the plight of a young homeless girl (“I’ll wonder if she got lost or if they forgot her”). The Canada native can belt with the best of them too: on “Somebody’s Daughter,” she hits a note straight out of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke.” J.H.
From the very first song on Runaway June’s debut EP, the Nashville trio establish themselves as a much-needed mainstream rejoinder during a year when country music tried to address its structural gender problems by letting men fill the airwaves with some well-intentioned but poorly executed songs. Here, the ladies are thankfully calling the shots. “I can buy my own drinks,” the group sings in their thanks-but-no-thanks lead single. “And at the end of the night when/ When they cut on all the lights/ I can call my own cab.” Elsewhere, the harmony-heavy Dixie Chicks descendants echo early Taylor Swift on the Liz Rose-cowrite “I Am Too” and offer up a sultry Tim-and-Faith-inspired slow jam on “Got Me Where I Want You.” The five-song collection is a fun, substantive offering that serves as an exciting peek at a group that’s just beginning to find their voice. J.B.
After doing time as a touring guitar player for Clare Dunn and Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall, Kentucky country-rocker Kyle Daniel struck out on his own this year, releasing a satisfying self-titled EP that hits the sweet spot of Southern rock, jam band and country/Americana. To be sure, Daniel isn’t reinventing the wheel here — but he doesn’t have to. Instead, via undeniable cuts like the riff-heavy rager “Hangover Town,” the delicate Brent Cobb duet “Ain’t No Difference” and the travelin’ anthem “Keep on Rollin’,” the gruff-voiced singer puts together a perfect playlist for nights on the way to and from the bar. J.H.
Prolific Georgia Southern-rockers Blackberry Smoke released a fine studio album this year in Find a Light, but it’s this stripped-down collection recorded live at Nashville’s Southern Ground studios that we’ve had on repeat. Listening to the group reinterpret crackling Find a Light tracks like “Run Away From It All” and “Best Seat in the House” as gentle acoustic numbers highlights the versatility of the band, especially singer Charlie Starr’s yearning country voice. There’s even a cameo by Amanda Shires — harmonizing and playing fiddle on an intoxicating cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky.” J.H.
Nashville mainstay Leroy Powell, whose guitar (both electric and steel) has bolstered projects by Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson and most recently the soundtrack to A Star Is Born, teamed with Truth & Salvage Co.’s Tim Jones to form the space-country duo Whiskey Wolves of the West. But while the band’s name and song titles like “No. 1 (The Ballad of Dallas Davidson)” may sound like larks, the music is no joke. The seven tracks on their Country Roots EP call to mind the best of country funk and soul, with both Powell and Jones harmonizing on jams like “Lay That Needle Down” and the wild-eyed stomper “Song Ain’t Gonna Write Itself.” Here’s hoping the Wolves live to howl again. J.H.
Quickly released after her signing to Sony Music Nashville, Rachel Wammack’s self-titled EP hinted at enormous potential for the young Muscle Shoals, Alabama, native. “Hard to Believe” and “My Boyfriend Doesn’t Speak for Me Anymore” show a performer schooled in the confident, empowering pop-country of Shania Twain and Faith Hill, with a voice that could easily alternate between soulful passages and soft, airy runs. Those alone would make her worth getting to know, but her debut single “Damage” puts her in other territory entirely — in this case, she comes off like a master balladeer and chronicler of the human condition, observing and nursing a group of lonely hearts from the other side of a bar. J.F.
One of the standout tracks on Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real’s 2017 self-titled LP was “Forgot About Georgia,” a song inspired by a former lover of Nelson’s named Georgia — and a name he could never forget as he played “Georgia on My Mind” with his father, Willie Nelson, on stage night after night. In whatever minimal bits of down-time Nelson could find in between live shows and his work on A Star Is Born, he recorded a few versions of “Forgot About Georgia” with the indomitable duo Lucius. There’s also a take on David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” along with two new tracks, the rocking “Start to Go” and the languorous and soulful “Giving You Away.” It’s the perfect appetizer for an album that Nelson has teased is on the way. M.M.