12 Great Country Albums You Probably Didn't Hear in 2017 - Rolling Stone
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12 Great Country, Americana Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear in 2017

From Sara Evans’ pop-country stunner to Jeffrey Steele’s old-school Sons of the Palomino project

12 Great Country and Americana Albums From 2017 You Probably Didn't Hear

Sara Evans' 'Words' and Jeffrey Steele's 'Sons of the Palomino' project are two 2017 albums worth seeking out.

Steve Jennings/WireImage; Anna Webber/Getty Images for SiriusXM

These albums – some from known stars, others from still on-the-fringe artists – may not have been on everyone’s radar in 2017, but we think each is well worth seeking out.

Sons of the Palomino – 'Sons of the Palomino'

Sons of the Palomino, ‘Sons of the Palomino’

Sons of the Palomino is the sound of Los Angeles country in the Eighties, in practice and in spirit. The debut LP from the band of the same name, the record was the brainchild of veteran songwriter Jeffrey Steele, who’d cut his teeth as a country musician 30 years ago at Hollywood’s famed Palomino club. Looking to rekindle the barroom basics of those two-stepping toe-tappers, Steele enlisted the help of a murderer’s row of studio players who’d cut the classic West Coast records of the day. The results were so good that names like Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Jamey Johnson insisted on getting involved, but star power isn’t the selling point of songs like “Runnin’ Around” or “Countryholic” – it’s an inside-out understanding of what makes a clever hook and rock-solid shuffle feel so timeless. J.G.

Dori Freeman – 'Letters Never Read'

Dori Freeman, ‘Letters Never Read’

For her second album in as many years, the Virginia singer-songwriter Dori Freeman returned to work with producer Teddy Thompson for this set of gorgeous country-folk numbers. Freeman expands her musical range on loping, pop-influenced numbers like “If I Could Make You My Own” while sharpening her gothic songwriting sensibilities on stark narratives like “That’s All Right.” But the greatest feat of Freeman’s latest LP is the way she balances her future-facing pop interests while remaining so deeply rooted in her Appalachian upbringing, most evident on “Ern and Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog,” written by the singer’s grandfather Willard Gayheart. J.B.

Caroline Spence – 'Spades and Roses'

Caroline Spence, ‘Spades & Roses’

With her sophomore album Spades & Roses, Caroline Spence has proven she’s more than capable of hanging with the best of Nashville’s sizable singer-songwriter community. The follow-up to Spence’s 2015 debut Somehow, Spades & Roses doubles down on what earned that initial collection comparisons to Americana heavyweights like Emmylou Harris: refined lyricism, careful attention to melody and unvarnished, vulnerable storytelling. Standout track “Softball” is especially timely, tackling music industry sexism with clever wordplay and nimble, crystalline vocals that back up Spence’s claims of being able to “hit one out of the yard.” B.M.

Sara Evans – 'Words'

Sara Evans, ‘Words’

“I won’t keep you here, keep holding on to what we were, say the words,” sings Sara Evans on the title track of her 2017 album Words. It’s an acoustic lament about the dissolution of a relationship, but could double as a farewell to a country radio environment that actively avoids playing women. Instead of trying to ape current radio trends, Evans smartly repurposes the rootsy country-pop of her early-2000s heyday, singing about falling out of love in “Long Way Down” or recklessly flinging oneself back into it in “Diving in Deep.” She balances these songs against heavy power balladry that touches on romantic fulfillment (“Like the Way You Love Me”) and toxic, codependent arrangements (“I Don’t Trust Myself”). Evans sounds marvelous, her signature vibrato hitting all the right emotional notes on a set of 15 songs that were all written or co-written by women. If you close your eyes, you can almost recall a time when it wasn’t unusual to hear a voice like hers on the radio. J.F. 

Nick Jamerson – 'NJ'

Nicholas Jamerson, ‘NJ’

As one half of the minimalist duo Sundy Best – two guys with a guitar and a cajón – Nicholas Jamerson did a helluva lot with very little, thanks to a molasses-thick voice and a knack for writing brutally honest songs like the can’t-outrun-your-roots ballad “Smoking Gun.” On his first-ever solo album, the indie released NJ, he spreads his wings, diving deep into jammy folk-country territory. Recorded live in Jamerson’s native Prestonsburg, Kentucky, with a rotating roster of musician buddies, the album is a postcard from his corner of the Bluegrass State: the harmonica-heavy “Riverbank” is all lazy-day nostalgia, while the self-aware “Let It Go for a While” realizes there’s no place like home. The standout, though, is “Veteran’s Day,” the true tale of his carpenter granddaddy who taught local prisoners the trade. It’s the satisfying kind of greasy country funk that wouldn’t sound out of place on Shotgun Willie. J.H.

Tyminski – 'Southern Gothic'

Tyminski, ‘Southern Gothic’

The vocal turn of Dan Tyminski on Avicii’s 2013 EDM smash “Hey Brother” seems to have been more than a one-off. The bluegrass guitarist and vocalist’s 2017 solo album Southern Gothic plays around with a similar palette of sounds, mixing traditional acoustic instrumentation with buzzing electronics and programmed drums. The title track slithers along to swampy dobro riffs and beatboxed percussion, while Tyminski ruminates on crooked preachers and politicians, infidelity and the shadowy corners of prim Southern towns. These skittering beats and top-shelf picking accompany Tyminski’s brooding looks at his world, from toxic relationships (“Perfect Poison”) to confronting pain (“Hollow Hallelujah”), culminating in the stunning, all-build-no release album closer “Numb.” It’s a wild clash of sounds that proves traditional sensibilities don’t have to be covered in dust. J.F.

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