2017 Country Music Preview: Most Anticipated Albums, Tours – Rolling Stone
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2017 Country Music Preview: Most Anticipated Albums, Tours and Festivals

From new albums by Chris Stapleton, Shania Twain and Sam Hunt to massive country gatherings like Stagecoach and CMA Music Festival

RS Country 2017 Album Preview

Chris Stapleton and Shania Twain are both expected to release new albums in 2017.

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With new albums expected from Chris Stapleton, Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, 2017 is poised to be chockfull of fresh beats – and good ol' fashioned twang. But it's not just albums that highlight the next 12 months: a wealth of can't-miss tours, festivals and awards shows all are worthy of adding to fans' country calendars. Here's our look at the year ahead.

Nikki Lane

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Nikki Lane

Album: Highway Queen
Release Date: February 17th
You’ve got to admire anyone with the moxie to pose for an album-cover photograph in a vintage Victorian dress, draped across the horns of a massive Texas longhorn steer. That’s the look for Highway Queen, the third and latest album from South Carolina native Nikki Lane, a coolly alluring siren who is earthy enough to know her way around a monster-truck rally. And it’s an album that should boost the big-voiced Lane well above the pack, because she sounds 10 feet tall from her very first utterance – hollering “Yippee ki yay” to kick off the album-opening "700,000 Rednecks." With quirky fashion sense to go with that booming voice, plus a tour schedule including a slot at Stagecoach in California in April, Lane seems perfectly poised for a mainstream breakthrough.

Kenny Chesney

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Tortuga Music Festival

Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Dates: April 7th – 9th
To quote the Zac Brown Band, it’s time for toes in the water and ass in the sand at the Tortuga Music Festival, celebrating its fifth year on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale Beach Park. Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton headline this edition, while the undercard includes Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker and Dustin Lynch. Watch performances from swimming pools, viewing decks and cabanas or do some good while getting your groove on: visit Rock the Ocean’s on-site Conservation Village, which raises awareness for marine research, including protecting the festival’s namesake sea turtles that nest on the South Florida coast. 

Rhiannon Giddens

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Rhiannon Giddens

Album: Freedom Highway
Release Date: February 24th
Many have tried to spin a silver lining from Donald Trump's untimely rise – that active dissent to his presidency will lead to even better art. Rhiannon Giddens' sophomore LP, Freedom Highway, proves that wrong: only because Giddens didn't need to be motivated by Trump to form this urgent call-to-arms where swift-picking banjo is her ammo, her guttural, gripping voice her weapon and equality the only battle to be won. Ferguson. Freddie Gray. Our warped, post Civil Rights semi-progress – all of these serve as fodder for Giddens' striking 12-song collection, including nine originals. Though perhaps it's the title track, a rework of the Staple Singers' "Freedom Highway," that's the most telling. It hits on everything from Eric Burden-era soul to free jazz to the fiery swing of Sixties protest anthems like Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." In an America in peril, this is Americana with a purpose. 

Kelsea Ballerini

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Kelsea Ballerini

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Ballerini is just one album into her career, but her resume is already brimming with accolades: her first three singles all hit Number One, and she's the only woman in history to top Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts at the same time. All of this made even more impressive by the fact that Ballerini is on an independent label working without the benefit of big-name collaborators. But making history opens doors, and according to Ballerini's Twitter, in the last year she's written with some of the most successful songwriters in country music, including Shane McAnally and Luke Laird. Now that the scrappy outsider has the keys to the castle as she makes her next album, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Dierks Bentley

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Stagecoach Festival

Location: Indio, California
Dates: April 28th – 30th
Country music's California weekend returns to the Coachella Valley on April 28th, when Dierks Bentley headlines the first evening of this three-day twangfest. Now in its 11th year, Stagecoach caters to every faction of its genre's splintered fanbase, giving stage time to country-poppers (Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett), Nineties queens (Shania Twain, Wynonna Judd), crooner kings (Kenny Chesney, Travis Tritt), unfuckwithable pioneers (Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson) and East Nashville cool kids (Margo Price, Aaron Lee Tasjan). For countryphobes who find themselves dragged to the event by overenthusiastic spouses, the Zombies and Tommy James and the Shondells are on the bill, too.

Chris Janson

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Chris Janson

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Live phenom Janson scored his first Number One with 2015's "Buy Me a Boat," but, on his second album for Warner Music Nashville, he refuses to be a one-float wonder. Working with Blake Shelton producer Scott Hendricks and songwriting aces Chris DuBois and Brent Anderson, Janson is challenging himself in both the studio and the writing room. "I feel like a brand new songwriter all over again," he says, "just having fun with it." And it shows onstage. A pair of new songs have quickly become sing-along fan favorites: the play-on-words "Fix a Drink" and the blazing "I Didn't Choose the Redneck Life (The Redneck Life Chose Me)." The latter is Janson's blue-collar country story, delivered with the punk abandon of the Ramones.  

Marty Stuart

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Marty Stuart

Title: Way Out West
Release Date: March 10th
Marty Stuart follows up his ambitious 2014 double album Saturday Night/Sunday Morning with a more streamlined record, one inspired by the natural wonder of California. Stuart and his longtime band, the Fabulous Superlatives, recorded the bulk of the album in the Golden State, splitting time between Capitol Studios in Hollywood and the studio of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, who produced the project. Expect a dusty, cinematic listen – a mix of country, delivered with Stuart's unwavering reverence for the genre, and early rock & roll.

Shania Twain

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Shania Twain

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
The pop-country superstar's last album, Up!, was in 2002. Since then, Shania's kicked back for a spell, performed a two-year Vegas residency, and, maybe most crucially, split with husband and producer Robert "Mutt" Lange. For her comeback album, Twain wrangled a crew of production pros who've worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Bruce Springsteen, but she came to them with demos she's been recording over the years using GarageBand and Pro Tools. "I did so many of my backing vocal arrangements – just being able to have all these multi-tracks and moving them around and experimenting that way," Twain told Entertainment Weekly. "By the time I got into the studio, I was already quite familiar with what I wanted to do."

Brad Paisley

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Brad Paisley

Album: Love and War
Release Date: TBA
For his 11th full-length album, Brad Paisley appears to be shifting back toward a more adventurous, pop-conscious approach after the relatively traditional sounds of Moonshine in the Trunk. There's no official track listing available for Love and War yet, but Paisley – who co-produced the album with Luke Wooten – partnered with pop star Demi Lovato on the playful, sultry first single "Without a Fight," and then urged us all to experience living in the moment on his uplifting new "Today." Back in May, he teased possible album collaborations with rock icons Mick Jagger – with whom he'd shared the stage during the Stones' 2013 and 2015 tours – and John Fogerty, as well as hip-hop and R&B maestro Timbaland. What ends up on the final mix remains to be seen. 

Natalie Hemby

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Natalie Hemby

Album: Puxico
Release Date: January 13th
Hemby has made a name for herself as one of Nashville's sharpest songwriters, with credits on hits for Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town; she was Miranda Lambert's primary accomplice when the star put together last year's excellent double album The Weight of These Wings. Now Hemby is ready to trace the steps of acclaimed artists like Ashley Monroe and Brandy Clark, who cut their teeth in writing rooms before earning comparable recognition as solo artists. Puxico, named after her grandfather's hometown in Missouri, nods to both Shelby Lynne and Laurel Canyon country-rock; it's tranquil, sure-footed, and lovely.

Dustin Lynch

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Dustin Lynch

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Lynch has been quietly locked in since 2014: After the irrepressible "Where It's At (Yep Yep)" hit Number One that year, he followed it with two more chart-toppers. "Seein' Red," the lead track from Lynch's next record, is simultaneously one of his hardest singles and one of his most sensual. Guitars explode out of every nook and cranny here: one playing Jason Aldean-style hard rock, another hinting at disco, and a pedal steel slicing around like a laser beam. Lynch, meanwhile, is so excited about an impending make-out session that he sounds like he's ready to spontaneously combust. But he makes it through the track, secure in the knowledge that he's already raised the stakes for his next album.

RaeLynn

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RaeLynn

Album: Wildhorse
Release Date: TBA
RaeLynn's somewhat off-putting debut single "God Made Girls" really didn't make the most of the Voice album's talents as a unique stylist and writer, but her forthcoming album Wildhorse (her first under Warner Music) makes up for it with 12 new songs that she had a hand in co-writing. Lead single "Love Triangle" paints a shattering portrait of a child being passed between her divorcing parents, while numbers like "The Apple" and "Lonely Call" reveal an uncommon wisdom and clarity around the emotional minefield of dating. Produced by ace songwriters Jimmy Robbins and Nicolle Galyon, Wildhorse also features guest appearances by Dan + Shay and Christian musician Leeland Mooring.

Luke Combs

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Luke Combs

Album: This One's for You
Release Date: early summer
There are high hopes for 26-year-old Luke Combs. A big-boned, big-voiced everydude from North Carolina who couldn't even play guitar five years ago, he's a natural born singer-songwriter making an outsized debut with This One's for You. With a modern-throwback sound and grizzled vocals, Combs’ album hits all the backwoods bullet points (romance, beers, growing up, knowing who you are), but he does it with uniquely fun, clever songs. His debut single, "Hurricane," likens seeing your ex in public to an approaching cyclone. "Don’t Tempt Me" is a party-all-night anthem for college kids and the young at heart. And "I Got a Way With You" compares winning his girl's heart to stealing the Mona Lisa. Meanwhile, the title track is a classy thank you to early believers, and the friends he had to leave behind to follow his dreams. Combs will perform at Bonnaroo in June.

asleep at the wheel

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Austin City Limits Music Festival

Location: Austin, Texas
Dates: October 6th – 8th; October 13th-15th
Weighing in at 450,000 attendees, two back-to-back weekends and six total days, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is as mammoth as Texas itself. ACL's yearly lineups are similarly broad, with a weighty serving of country artists — particularly those with roots in the Lone Star State — rounding out the bill. Last year, home state heroes Willie Nelson, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Asleep at the Wheel all flew the Texas flag. The slate is still empty for the 2017 festival, though, which takes over Austin's Zilker Park during the first two weekends of October. 

Thomas Rhett

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Thomas Rhett

Tour: Home Team Tour
Dates: February 23rd – April 21st
Thomas Rhett started 2016 with one of the year's biggest hits in "Die a Happy Man" – a multi-week Number One – and found his way back to the top a second time with "T-Shirt," both from his album Tangled Up. With the deluxe edition of that album recently yielding new tunes "Star of the Show" and "American Spirit," Rhett will mount his first-ever headlining trek beginning February 23rd. The Home Team Tour will feature guests Kelsea Ballerini, Ryan Hurd and Russell Dickerson and boasts back-to-back dates at Nashville's Ascend Amphitheater when Home Team returns to Rhett's hometown in April.

sam hunt

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Rock the South

Location: Cullman, Alabama
Dates: June 2nd – 3rd
Eleven years after playing football for the University of Alabama's Birmingham branch, Sam Hunt returns to the Yellowhammer State. This time, he's tackling the co-headlining slot at Rock the South, an annual two-day fest in Cullman – Luke Bryan also tops the bill. With an average attendance that roughly triples the size of its host city, Rock the South is a town unto itself, a feeling that will only increase this year, when the festival introduces on-site camping (or so-called "glamping," if you're willing to shell out extra cash for a furnished crashpad) for the first time. Other improvements include an enlarged stage and two supersized LED screens. Hunt is currently the only name on the bill, with more than a dozen additions promised before the spring. 

Hunter Hayes

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Hunter Hayes

Album Title: TBA
Release Date: TBA
The multi-instrumentalist surprised fans in September when he published three tunes from the new set on his 25th birthday, including the rollicking "Yesterday’s Song." Hayes' latest full-length album finds him co-producing with long-time collaborator Dann Huff on several cuts, but for the first time, Hayes handles production duties all by himself on songs like "Young Blood." Recorded in a tiny studio off of Nashville’s Music Row, the set also marks the first time Hayes delves into his bluesy Louisiana roots. Shaking things up a little, he deliberately keeps things raw on tracks like "Tell Me," which features his vulnerable demo vocals instead of studio polish.

Reba McEntire

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Reba McEntire

Album: Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope
Release Date: February 3rd
McEntire has never been shy about her religious faith, making it all the more remarkable that this is her first full gospel album. The two-disc set ranges from traditional music McEntire grew up on, such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Oh Happy Day,” to contemporary tracks that have provided the star with comfort and hope through troubling times. McEntire, who co-produced the album with Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus and her band leader Doug Sisemore, makes a heavenly noise with Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood on "Softly and Tenderly," but the most angelic voice on this collection comes from McEntire's 89-year old mom, who accompanies her daughter on "I'll Fly Away."