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15 Great Country and Americana Albums You Didn’t Hear in 2016

From Mark Chesnutt’s country tradition to Wheeler Walker Jr.’s country crass, 15 albums that flew under the radar

15 Great Country and Americana Albums You Didn't Hear in 2016

Kelsey Waldon, Sarah Potenza and Mark Chesnutt all released albums in 2016 that deserve a second listen.

These albums may have slipped by many country and Americana fans in 2016, but Rolling Stone Country's editors and contributors think they are worth another listen.

Dylan LeBlanc, ‘Cautionary Tale’

"One day I won't be insane," sings Dylan LeBlanc on "Look How Far We've Come," a minor key, moody shuffle off his third album Cautionary Tale. If this is madness, then lock us up. Cautionary Tale, produced by Alabama Shakes' Ben Tanner and John Paul White, is a gorgeous 10-track journey about going through hell and surviving with a broken halo. LeBlanc has been compared to Neil Young – and if how "Easy Way Out" echoes the main two-bar vamp of "Ohio" isn't proof enough, just look at the biting lyrics of "Beyond the Veil" – but he melds a Seventies sensibility with a taste for the soothing, locomotive Southern blues. Other artists who record in Muscle Shoals, where Cautionary Tale was made, get preoccupied with sounding "swampy": LeBlanc, however, would rather surrender to the flow of the river than get stuck in the mud. M.M.

Craig Morgan, ‘A Whole Lot More to Me’

Morgan allowed himself to age gracefully on his seventh studio album, and the payoff is readily apparent. A Whole Lot More to Me is a mature record that, while not afraid to have a little fun ("I'm That Country"), values poignancy over pop country. Songs like "Hearts I Leave Behind," "Country Side of Heaven" and "When I'm Gone" sting with emotion – and take on more weight in light of the accidental death of Morgan's teenage son shortly after the album's release. But it's the title track in which the vocalist, a country Renaissance man who hosts his own outdoors show, works as a law-enforcement officer and gives motivational speeches, reveals the glorious dichotomy of his being. Crooning "I like caviar and a tall glass of champagne" without a hint of baller bravado, Morgan shows that even the captain of the "Redneck Yacht Club" can appreciate the finer things in life. J.H.

Kelsey Waldon, ‘I’ve Got a Way’

Scan the song titles on Waldon's second album, I've Got a Way, and you might preemptively reach for the nearest liquor bottle: "All By Myself," "Travelin' Down This Lonesome Road" (a Bill Monroe cover) and "The Heartbreak." But Waldon doesn't wallow; rather, the retro-minded Kentucky singer is irrepressible. At every turn on I've Got a Way, she throws out self-help precepts like breadcrumbs for pigeons. "You don't need anybody to tell you that you can't live the way you want to," she reminds listeners on "You Can Have It." A few songs later, on "I'd Rather Go On," she's playing the part of patient relationship therapist: "All the petty things that make up our mind ain't nothing in the long run at all." And on "False King" – which echoes fellow Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson's savory, roaring "You Can Have the Crown" – Waldon even offers musical advice: "I believe in doing it right, taking your time, staying true to who are / Fight the good fight, keep those harmonies tight, and maybe tuning your guitar." E.L. 

Luke Bell, ‘Luke Bell’

Country neo-traditionalists really had a moment this year, from the widespread critical success of newcomer Margo Price's debut album Midwest Farmer's Daughter to the well-received returns of veterans Loretta Lynn (Full Circle) and Dwight Yoakam (Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…). Luke Bell is one of the more exciting new entries into the canon, with his self-titled debut a deftly assembled collection of songs harkening back to the days of Ernest Tubb and Roger Miller. Opening track "Sometimes" is a honky-tonk shuffle worthy of the dancefloor, while "Where Ya Been?" showcases the raw emotion behind Bell's baritone. The Wyoming-born artist manages to pay homage to an earlier age without ever sounding like he's merely imitating it – never an easy feat. B.M.

Rorey Carroll, ‘Love Is an Outlaw’

Rorey Carroll is a hobo, a convict, a former drug trafficker, an Appalachian-trail hiker and a train stowaway, but none of that quite compares to how bravely she talks about love. "It is as awkward as a teenage boy who just came in his pants," she sings on "Love Is an Outlaw," the title track off her sophomore LP. Well, damn. If you're in the market for easy moonlight metaphors, don't look here: Carroll, who so captivated Todd Snider that he signed on to release her album himself, mixes that daring discomfort with a casual, rasp-whisper delivery and chugging guitars, coming out like Gillian Welch's long-lost, more devilish little sister. It takes a real outlaw to be as arresting as this. M.M.

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