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2017 Spring/Summer Country Preview: 25 Anticipated Albums, Festivals

From new releases by Angaleena Presley and Jason Isbell to annual blowouts like Stagecoach and CMA Music Festival

Spring/Summer Country Album Preview

New albums from Angaleena Presley and Jason Isbell highlight 2017 spring and summer releases.

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From the biggest names in mainstream country to indie songwriter darlings, spring and summer 2017 looks to be full of exciting new releases. Jason Isbell is cranking up with his band the 400 Unit, Angaleena Presley is bucking Nashville traditions and Chris Stapleton is coming back with the follow-up to Traveller. On top of that, warm weather means a wealth of festival options. Here are the albums and concerts not to miss.

Colter Wall

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Colter Wall

Album: Colter Wall
Release Date: May 12th
Colter Wall’s full-length debut arrives after a year of opening gigs for Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and others, reintroducing a folksinger who, at 21 years old, sings with the bruised, booming baritone of someone who’s spent a lifetime loving, losing and leaving. Produced with minimal clutter by Dave Cobb, there are few bells and whistles here – just the sound of a man and his acoustic guitar, singing about cops, bad decisions and the roads that connect one town to the next. R.C.

Midland

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Midland

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Texas trio Midland quickly established themselves as something different, something unexpected, in the present country mainstream. Singer Mark Wystrach, guitarist Jess Carson and bassist Cameron Duddy have the rough-around-the-edges look of your favorite road-tested Texas country act, but the sound on their breakthrough single “Drinkin’ Problem” is smoothed-out Eighties country that mixes George Strait’s traditional twang and Barbara Mandrell’s pop-country polish. The group’s self-titled EP, released in October, boasted more of the same: pristine three-part harmonies, woozy steel guitars and hooks for days, with none of the aggro rock guitar so prominent on recent country records. It’s no wonder then that “Drinkin Problem” sounds so fresh on radio and why their forthcoming full-length, due late summer/early fall, is one of country’s most anticipated new releases. J.F.

Luke Bryan

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Watershed Festival

Location: George, Washington
Dates: July 28th – 30th
It’s tough to beat the scenery at the Gorge Amphitheatre, overlooking the Columbia River in Washington State, where this festival is held every year. That experience of natural beauty pairs well with a top-notch performance lineup, including headliners Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton, plus sets from Old Dominion, William Michael Morgan and Josh Abbott Band, with more to be announced soon.  

Lady Antebellum

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Lady Antebellum

Album: Heart Break
Release Date: June 9th
A lot has changed for Lady Antebellum since the lukewarm reception to their last LP, 2014’s 747, so their upcoming record Heart Break promises a new look after a long hiatus. The trio’s Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott stayed busy with outside projects, including solo records for Kelley and Scott. Coming back together and sequestering for a writing session in Florida and California, the group produced much of the album’s material. Lady A also teamed up with an old ally, Maren Morris producer Busbee, who scored his first Number One hit with the group’s “Our Kind of Love” in 2010. But Heart Break doesn’t look likely to be a rehashing of old successes, as funky new single “You Look Good” sounds unlike anything they’ve done before. J.G.

Chris Stapleton

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Chris Stapleton

Album: From A Room: Volume 1
Release Date: May 5th
Following the breakout success of 2015’s Traveller is no easy feat for Chris Stapleton, who topped the charts and won pretty well every award of note with his first solo LP. Not that that’s liable to deter the Kentucky native: His next release is coming in two parts, with the first, From A Room: Volume 1 (the capital “A” notes the studio where it was recorded), dropping on May 5th, and the second installment due later in the year. Teaming up once more with producer David Cobb, Stapleton unleashed a fiery preview of the album during the Academy of Country Music Awards earlier this month with “Second One to Know,” a real stomper that sees him leaning all the way into that burly, booming voice. The album’s lead single “Broken Halos,” which Stapleton wrote with former SteelDrivers bandmate Mike Henderson, smolders where its counterpart burns, as he sings, “Don’t go asking Jesus why.” In other words, no signs here of a sophomore slump. J.G.

John Moreland

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John Moreland

Album: Big Bad Luv
Release Date: May 5th
Love ain’t a sickness, though I once thought it was,” sings John Moreland in his raspy, tender croon on “Lies I Chose to Believe,” a piano-driven confessional off his third album, Big Bad Luv. After two LPs of using life’s darkest corners for poetic fuel, the Oklahoma-based Moreland got married, signed a record deal and started embracing music that doesn’t just make lemonade out of lemons, but instead offers a different way to view contentment. And that’s recognizing how the past always lingers in your shadow, even if you try to leave it behind. Before Big Bad Luv, tears were Moreland’s currency – here, he manages to trade the sadness for a sense of purpose, always with a realist’s eye. Expect Big Bad Luv to offer plenty of opportunities for healing, but little for denial. M.M.

Zac Brown Band

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Zac Brown Band

Album: Welcome Home
Release Date: May 12th
After the pop and EDM experimentations of 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde, Zac Brown Band have returned to the rootsy storytelling that made them huge with the Dave Cobb-produced Welcome Home, boasting singles like “My Old Man” and “Family Table” that aim straight for the emotional cortex. The reason for the turnaround? Brown has a new outlet, Sir Rosevelt, for all those other ideas that stray too far from his namesake band’s winning formula. “I’m able to do all my experimental things with Sir Rosevelt, and it’s helped me get down to the basics of what ZBB started out as, which was very much a singer-songwriter type of approach,” he told Rolling Stone Country in March. J.G.

Secret Sisters

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The Secret Sisters

Album: You Don’t Own Me Anymore
Release Date: June 9th
You don’t have to read too much into the title of the Secret Sisters’ new album to get the drift of its meaning. You Don’t Own Me Anymore is the sibling duo’s first release since 2014’s Put Your Needle Down, a commercial disappointment that saw them dropped by their old label, Universal Republic. This time around, Alabama natives Laura and Lydia Rogers recorded on their own terms, funding You Don’t Own Me through a PledgeMusic campaign before plotting its release with New West Records. Produced by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile and recorded with the help of her backing band the Twins, it promises to be a showcase of eerie, ethereal harmonies, like on foreboding single “Tennessee River Runs Low.” J.G.

Margo Price

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Stagecoach Music Festival

Location: Indio, California
Dates: April 28th – 30th
Like its sibling festival Coachella, Stagecoach boasts an eclectic lineup, but here it’s country artists assembling for one of the widest-ranging rosters you’re likely to find in any year. The weekend-long desert party will feature headlining sets from mainstream superstars Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain, plus performances by red-hot rebels like Margo Price, John Moreland and Nikki Lane. To shake things up even more, attendees can expect appearances by the Cowboy Junkies, the Zombies and cowpunk heroes the Blasters. J.F.

John Mellencamp

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John Mellencamp

Album: Sad Clowns and Hillbillies
Release Date: April 21st
The poet laureate of Middle America, John Mellencamp fills his 23rd album with heartland blues, gospel and old-time country stomp. Tourmate Carlene Carter serves as his second-in-command, softening Mellencamp’s increasingly Tom Waits-worthy rasp on a handful of duets, including the Sunday morning rave-up “My Soul’s Got Wings” – featuring lyrics by Woody Guthrie – and penning several tunes herself. Another high-powered guest, Martina McBride, sings the bridge of “Grandview.” Mellencamp goes it alone during the dark, doomed “Easy Target,” though, taking a hard look at America’s social divide under a new president. R.C.

Jason Isbell

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Jason Isbell

Album: The Nashville Sound
Release Date: June 16th 
The Nashville Sound has been billed as Jason Isbell’s big “rock album.” Real talk: it isn’t. “Cumberland Gap” may be his finest, fiercest guitar-charged anthem since “Go It Alone,” but the album packs a bigger punch during its mid-tempo moments, where Isbell examines everything from self-identity (“Last of My Kind”) to the mortality of marriage (“If We Were Vampires”). Fatherhood, white privilege and breakups all make appearances, too, as does his trusty band the 400 Unit, whose members receive top billing for the first time since 2011’s Here We Rest. With Dave Cobb back in the producer’s chair, this is still the Jason Isbell we all know and love: not a rocker, not a folksinger, not an Americana balladeer, but a mix of all three. R.C.

Cam

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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Location: Manchester, Tennessee
Dates: June 8th – 11th
Bonnaroo isn’t typically known for its lineup of country artists, but over the years the Manchester, Tennessee, festival has done well to book up-and-coming country talent alongside mid-level stars for its smaller stages and tents. Case in point: at last year’s festival, Maren Morris, fresh off the release of Hero and just on the cusp of stardom, made a memorable daytime appearance at the Who Stage, giving attendees a level of intimacy Morris’ risen star no longer allows. This year, festivalgoers can catch established acts like Third Man Records critical darling Margo Price and “Burning House” singer Cam. Burgeoning artists Luke Combs, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Tucker Beathard will all be on hand, too, so catch them on Bonnaroo’s smaller stages while you still have the chance. B.M.

Rascal Flatts

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Rascal Flatts

Album: Back to Us
Release Date: May 19th
Getting back to basics is a common theme for a lot of country artists’ new releases in 2017, and Rascal Flatts are no exception. Now 17 years removed from their self-titled debut album, Gary LeVox and company don’t have much left to prove – which is why the Flatts had the luxury of recording with their touring band on Back to Us, a rarity for Nashville stars of their stature. That laid-back atmosphere gave them a chance to refocus on what they’ve always been best at: vocal harmonies, as evidenced by the bombastic single “Yours If You Want It.” That’s been rejuvenating, according to LeVox: “I think we got back the passion we had on the first [album],” he says of Back to Us. J.G.

Angaleena Presley

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Angaleena Presley

Album: Wrangled
Release Date: April 21st
Halfway through her second solo album Wrangled, Angaleena Presley lays it all on the line: “I don’t wanna be an outlaw,” she sings on the subtle Motown swing of “Outlaw.” “I don’t wanna be a renegade.” It’s a song about wanting a seat at a table that you may never have, but you damn well deserve. In the wake of her excellent debut, American Middle Class, the Pistol Annie still didn’t snag major label interest or even mild radio success, and much of Wrangled is her response to an industry that’s done nothing but try to bring her down. “Everyone has always passed on me,” she says. Wrangled, which features co-writes with Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Wanda Jackson and the late Guy Clark, will show them exactly what they’re missing, and wondering, in the end, who exactly is wrangling who. M.M.

Justin Townes Earle

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Justin Townes Earle

Album: Kids in the Street
Release Date:
May 26th
Justin Townes Earle has been a major figure on the fringes of country since releasing his breakout debut album The Good Life in 2008. Nearly a decade later, Earle, the son of country and Americana great Steve Earle, is still writing the kind of honest, hardscrabble songs that made that debut a breath of fresh air upon its release. On May 26th he’ll return with his seventh studio album Kids in the Street, a Mike Mogis-produced effort that marks the first time Earle has brought in an outside producer. It’s also, notably, the first album that the Nashville-based artist recorded outside of his hometown, a move that lends sharper edges to songs like lead single “Champagne Corolla,” one of several that explores gentrification and class. B.M. 

Old Crow Medicine Show

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Old Crow Medicine Show

Album: 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde
Release Date: April 28th
All roads lead back to Bob Dylan for Old Crow Medicine Show. Fourteen years after they released their signature song, “Wagon Wheel” – a reworking of an old Dylan outtake – the Virginia natives are tackling a full-on recreation of the man’s Nashville classic, Blonde on Blonde. Recorded at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last year on the 50th anniversary of the release of the Nobel Prize winner’s masterpiece, Old Crow’s Ketch Secor sees it as much as a tribute to Music City as it is to Dylan himself. “Certain people have sent the hands of the clock spinning. Bob Dylan is the greatest of these time-bending, paradigm-shifting Nashville cats,” he wrote in a recent essay about the record, rock’s first double LP. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is the band’s first with Columbia, the same label that released the original. J.G.

Willie Nelson

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Willie Nelson

Album: God’s Problem Child
Release Date: April 28th
At nearly 84, it’s remarkable to make and record new music, let alone be able to laugh at your own mortality. And on God’s Problem Child, Willie Nelson does both: the country legend co-wrote seven out of 13 songs, one of which is pithily titled “Still Not Dead,” addressing the greatly exaggerated rumors of his own demise. There’s wit and wisdom in equal measure on Problem Child, along with plenty of musings on the passage of time. The ghosts of his past echo strong, with a tribute to Merle Haggard (“He Won’t Ever Be Gone”) among the Buddy Cannon-produced album’s offerings, and the voice of Leon Russell can be found the title track, recorded shortly before be passed away. “Old father time, he just keeps on ticking,” Nelson sings softly on “Old Timer.” He can’t slow down the days, but he still can make every note and minute meaningful. M.M.

Justin Timberlake

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Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival

Location: Franklin, Tennessee
Dates: September 23rd – 24th
Franklin, Tennessee’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival started with a bang its first year, booking major acts like Wilco, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Chris Stapleton and Steven Tyler for its inaugural 2015 lineup. Since then, the festival has grown in size and notoriety, with Justin Timberlake joining the festival as a partner last year. Timberlake will make his Pilgrimage stage debut this year, alongside Ryan Adams, the Avett Brothers, Shovels & Rope, Marty Stuart, Nikki Lane, Amanda Shires, Colter Wall and many others. In addition to music, Pilgrimage will feature local food, beer and crafts, many of which are sourced from just up the road in Nashville. B.M.

Brad Paisley

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Brad Paisley

Album: Love and War
Release Date: April 21st
It’s been three years since Brad Paisley released his last album Moonshine in the Trunk, but he’s coming back with the big guns on Love and War. His 11th studio album is a star-studded affair with guest spots from Mick Jagger, John Fogerty, Bill Anderson and even an old Johnny Cash poem that Paisley set to music, “Gold All Over the Ground.” While living-in-the-moment single “Today” is featured, last year’s rabble-rousing Demi Lovato duet “Without a Fight” is noticeably absent, a telling sign for which side of the Love and War spectrum these new songs will land. J.G.

Don Williams

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Various Artists

Album: Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams
Release Date:
May 26th
Don Williams may have just retired last year, but the legacy of the iconic country singer is so deeply felt in the songwriting community that a stellar tribute album is already on its way. Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams boasts contributions from Jason Isbell, John Prine, the Pistol Annies and Garth Brooks – just to name a few – all of whom offer their own takes on some of Williams’ most iconic songs like “Tulsa Time,” “Love Is on a Roll” and “Good Ole Boys Like Me.” Proceeds from the Garth Fundis-produced album will benefit MusiCares, and it hits shelves on the eve of Williams’ 78th birthday. B.M.

The Avett Brothers

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Newport Folk Festival

Location: Newport, Rhode Island
Dates: July 28th – 30th
Now nearing its 60th anniversary, Rhode Island’s storied folk and Americana music festival has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Newport Folk, long famous as the scene of Bob Dylan going electric and leaving the out-of-touch purists behind, has found new life as a midsummer mecca for today’s stars and yesterday’s heroes to get together and maybe even collaborate. Last year saw Kris Kristofferson make a historical return (his first appearance since 1969), and 2017 looks set to build on that momentum, with Fleet Foxes, the Avett Brothers and John Prine headlining the fest’s three days, which will also include Angel Olsen, Rhiannon Giddens and a tribute to Chuck Berry. J.G.

Shania Twain

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Shania Twain

Album: TBA
Release Date: Fall 2017
It’s a bit of an understatement to say there is anticipation for Shania Twain’s new full length. The country pop superstar hasn’t released a proper album in 15 years, dealing with stress-related vocal cord issues after her public divorce from Mutt Lange before launching an acclaimed Las Vegas residency and a massive U.S. tour. But Twain’s new material, with help from producers Ron Aniello and Jake Gosling, is said to possess a darker lyrical tone and more organic instrumentation than her blockbuster Nineties productions did. “There’s a lot of songs that have that contrast on it that maybe are too subtle for the listener to even realize,” she told Rolling Stone recently. J.F.

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