For fans of country and Americana music, 2018 is shaping up to be a bountiful year. Groundbreaking Nashville artists like Kacey Musgraves and Dierks Bentley are returning with new albums, while up-and-comers like Lanco and Devin Dawson unveil debuts that should make them strong additions to the format. In Americana, BJ Barham’s American Aquarium ready their first release with a new lineup, Australian chanteuse Ruby Boots drops an eclectic LP and Anderson East bares more of his soul on his sophomore album. There are also a ton of tours to keep an eye on. Here are the shows and records we’re most excited to see and hear.
Tour: Unapologetically Tour
Dates: February 8th – March 27th
“I’m excited to sing about who I am right now,” Kelsea Ballerini told Rolling Stone on the eve of releasing Unapologetically, the star singer’s bold and mature new album that in addition to providing her diehard fans with new anthems in the title track and “Legends,” signaled to Nashville that she had far more than fizzy teenage anthems up her sleeve. In 2018 the newly-married 24-year-old is taking her album on the road: the Unapologetically Tour, which includes Walker Hayes and Bailey Bryan as support, kicks off February 8th in Alabama, features a choice Valentine’s Day gig at the Ryman, before wrapping in April at the Stagecoach Festival. And once being a devoted concertgoer herself, expect Ballerini to leave it all on the stage. “I remember working extra to save up enough money to go buy concert tickets to sit in the nosebleeds,” she said. “I was such a dedicated fan. That was me.” D.H.
The success of Brothers Osborne is one of modern country’s true highlights – they write killer songs to playful, bluesy melodies, sing about getting high as often as heartbreak, and make sure to leave as much room for John Osborne’s ace guitar work as TJ’s perfect baritone. And if their new single, the dirty and dangerous Southern rock jam “Shoot Me Straight” is any indication, the follow-up to their debut Pawn Shop is going to be just as exciting, full of ample give-no-fuckeries: the “single” clocks in at nearly seven minutes, after all, and follows John into a mind-melting solo. It’s an appetite-whetter of the finest order. M.M.
Album: The Mountain
Release Date: TBA
For his ninth album, the Arizona native headed west, setting up shop in Telluride, Colorado, and finding inspiration in its remote, rustic vibe. A longtime bluegrass devotee, Bentley mixes the organic instruments of his 2010 string-music departure Up on the Ridge with the polish of his last album, 2016’s Black. “This record covers more ground in that Up on the Ridge area than I thought it would,” he tells Rolling Stone Country. “The most successful part of my career is in large part due to [songwriter-producer] Ross Copperman, and these sounds and ideas that he has. But we’ve reached a place where we’ve pushed that as far as we can, so how do we grab some of the stuff I love from the first part of my career and blow that up even more.” Bentley has already debuted songs from The Mountain live onstage, including the ballad “Living” and the anthemic “Burning Man.” J.H.
Tour: Livin’ Like Hippies Tour
Dates: January 18th to March 24th
Of all the songs from Miranda Lambert’s big, bold double-LP The Weight of These Wings, “Highway Vagabond” is the one she’s gotten the most mileage out of – at least in literal terms. The namesake of her 2017 tour, her new run of shows this winter also takes its name from a line in the chorus, the Livin’ Like Hippies Tour. Jon Pardi joins Lambert on each of the 24 dates, but there will be an array of other acts hopping on the country caravan at different points, including Brent Cobb, Turnpike Troubadours, Lucie Silvas, the Steel Woods, Sunny Sweeney, Ashley McBryde and Charlie Worsham. While the tour runs from coast to coast, it focuses its attention in the Midwest and on the West Coast, wrapping up just in time for summer – when Lambert will join Little Big Town for the co-headlining Bandwagon Tour. J.G.
Album: Golden Hour
Release Date: TBA
Kacey Musgraves’ second album, Pageant Material, was one of 2015’s most celebrated country releases, earning her a Best Country Album nod at the 2016 Grammys. Since then, fans have been eager for a follow-up, and in late 2017 Musgraves announced that they’d get it this year. Golden Hour doesn’t have a release date yet, but the details Musgraves has shared are intriguing. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly announcing the album, she revealed that Golden Hour would be “trippy,” with not-so-country artists like Sade and the Bee Gees serving as influences. Though uber-songwriters Luke Laird and Shane McAnally co-produced Musgraves’ first two albums, Nashville underdogs Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian took the reins on Golden Hour, another move to shake things up. “On this record, there’s the lonely girl, the blissful girl, the new wife, the girl that’s missing her mom, the angry girl, the sarcastic girl, the Sixties-sequined Cruella de Vil with the beehive, the shy girl, the life of the party, the winner, the loser,” she told EW. “They’re all characters on this record.” B.M.
Release Date: TBA
For his latest album, the follow-up to his adventurous tribute to Giorgio Moroder, Countach (For Giorgio), country-rock-electronica mad scientist Shooter Jennings looked to his outlaw lineage, cutting an album of stripped-down classic country in the vein of his dad Waylon and one of his heroes, Hank Williams Jr. He also returned to where it all began, re-teaming with Dave Cobb, who produced Jennings’ 2005 debut, Put the ‘O’ Back in Country – the first album the Grammy-winning Cobb ever produced too. Simply titled Shooter, the LP will be released sometime this year via Cobb’s Low Country Sound imprint on Elektra. Says Jennings, “It’s the most country album I’ve ever done.” J.H.
Album: Things Change
Release Date: TBA
BJ Barham’s American Aquarium have been cult favorites since releasing their debut album Antique Hearts in 2006. Taking their name from the Wilco song “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the band trades in a similar kind of early-aughts alt-country that also recalls Lucero, Ryan Adams and Drive-By Truckers. For American Aquarium’s seventh album, though, Barham found himself forced in a new direction after the rest of the band called it quits. Appropriately titled Things Change, the album, recorded in Tulsa and produced with John Fullbright, is Barham’s first since 2015’s Wolves and chronicles the drastic life events – new band included – Barham encountered since. “I got married, I got sober, I had an entire band quit on me, I had an entire new band join me on the road,” Barham says. “The new band brings such different things to the table. We feel like we have something to prove. I’m rejuvenated and hungry again.” B.M.
Release Date: TBA
Lindi Ortega’s music has always been the sonic embodiment of the red cowboy boots she’s often seen wearing: a fiery and dramatic take on modern country that’s impossible to ignore. Her fourth LP, Faded Gloryville, was no exception, but things got a bit more mysterious when she released a sober, stark EP last year that included a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round to Die” and her own reflections on the difficulties of the creative life. For her forthcoming LP, Liberty, Ortega – now married and living back in Canada after a stint in Nashville – finds both a profound connection to her past (specifically, her Mexican and Irish heritage) and her future with her new husband through a concept album that follows a character from misery to triumph. As Hope Sandoval as it is Dolly Parton, it sure sounds liberated, too. M.M.
Album: Dark Horse
Release Date: January 19th
Once best known for a medley of Taylor Swift tunes that racked up more than 30 million views on YouTube, Dawson spent 2017 making the jump from computer screen to stage. Now, with a self-titled EP and dozens of arena gigs under his belt – including opening dates on the recent reboot of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s Soul2Soul Tour – he’s ready to release his full-length debut. Dark Horse, with its stunning title track, leaves the stable on January 19th. Produced by Jay Joyce, it’s a forward-thinking album that occupies the outermost orbits of country-pop, with songs influenced by R&B’s beat and bluster. “I learned how to write songs just by listening to country music and how to set up words,” Dawson says. “The weight of the words we have in this genre is unlike anything.” R.C.
Album: Wouldn’t It Be Great
Release Date: TBA
The Country Music Hall of Fame vocalist delayed the release of her already-recorded new album Wouldn’t It Be Great until 2018 after suffering a stroke last May. Like the Grammy-nominated Full Circle that preceded it, the LP was co-produced by John Carter Cash and Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and cut at Johnny Cash’s cabin studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Boasting new songs like “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For” and “Ruby’s Stool,” written with songwriter Shawn Camp, Wouldn’t It Be Great also includes new versions of Lynn staples “Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin'” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “You can’t get them anymore,” Lynn told Rolling Stone in 2016 of her decision to update her classics. “You’ve got fans that want it. So we will give them to ’em.”
Tour: Trip Around the Sun Tour
Dates: April 21st – August 24th
The king of summertime stadium shows is returning to the road after mainly staying put in 2017. “Over the years I feel like I’ve had a pretty good finger on the pulse of when to hit it hard and when to back away a little bit,” says Kenny Chesney. “Sooner or later, I figure I’ll want to pull the guitar out of the case.” Kicking off April 21st, the Trip Around the Sun Tour offers everything its name suggests: sweat, spectacle and sunny vibes, all delivered by a man who loves Jimmy Buffett and hates shirtsleeves. The gigs cut a cross-country trail through the end of August, with a rotating group of openers — including Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, Old Dominion, Brandon Lay and Brothers Osborne — beefing up the bills. Those who can’t wait until the warmer months can pregame now with Live in No Shoes Nation, Chesney’s recently released concert album. R.C.
Jack White proved he had impeccable taste in country’s unsung voices when he signed Margo Price as Third Man’s first artist in the genre. Now Joshua Hedley, known around Nashville for years as a top-rate fiddle player (he’s supported Jonny Fritz and Justin Townes Earle) and a veritable jukebox of traditional country music (his nickname is actually Mr. Jukebox), is the label’s next foray into twang. And it’s a smart one. Hedley’s got a voice that could sing the phonebook and make it sound like a Sixties gem straight from Billy Sherrill’s lost 1960s archives, which he demonstrated in spades when he played his entire new record, due sometime this year, during Americana Fest this past fall. Hedley’s not trying to play an outlaw: but he has enough respect for the rules of tradition that he can break them, too. M.M.
Album: Seasons Change
Release Date: March 16th
Things weren’t looking too good for Scotty McCreery in 2016. After the disastrous single “Southern Belle,” he parted ways with label Mercury Nashville, and was in danger of getting lost in a crowded, male-dominated Nashville. Instead, he reassessed and rallied, co-writing the excellent “Five More Minutes,” a poignant, relatable song about stretching out life’s special moments that cracked the Top 20 without the push of a major label. Now partnered up with Triple Tigers Records, he’s releasing the type of country music he prefers – the classic, more mature stuff – on his new LP Seasons Change, proving he’s in the midst of a welcome reinvention. J.H.
Album: Solid Ground
Release Date: February 9th
Country music wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence of Texas artists. It’s not so surprising, then, that a Waco-born singer-songwriter like Wade Bowen would plot an entire album paying homage to his deep Lone Star State roots. Solid Ground, Bowen’s first release via Thirty Tigers, finds the artist exploring all the sounds that make Texas tick, including classic country, Red Dirt rock and south of the border Tex-Mex. An early standout: the evocative “Day of the Dead.” “The imagery and mood that this song conjures up transport you directly to the deep West Texas desert that I’ve grown to know and love,” he says. Though Bowen has plenty of Texas cred of his own, he tapped Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall as guests on what turned out to be a pretty star-studded LP – the album also features co-writes with Angaleena Presley, Charlie Worsham, Waylon Payne and Andrew Combs. B.M.
Release Date: TBA
Cody Jinks’ 2016 indie release I’m Not the Devil surprised many with its strong sales and its equally popular tour by the former thrash-metal singer. His tales of drunken nights and hungover days resonated with those in search of a bona fide outlaw country artist – not one who merely plays the part. “We go all over the United States, man, and people tell us, ‘Thank you,'” Jinks told Rolling Stone Country in 2016. “There’s no bullshit in our show. We get out there and we rip people’s faces off.” Now, Jinks is putting the finishing touches on Devil‘s spawn, tweeting earlier this month that he was headed back into the studio to wrap up recording on a new album. Expect something apart from the norm by one of country’s most inventive artists: his “Black Hole Sun” tribute to the late Chris Cornell with Paul Cauthen proved he’s not afraid of turning songs on their head. J.H.
Ashley McBryde had been cutting her teeth in Nashville’s bars and writer’s nights for more than 10 years until Eric Church brought her on stage during his Holdin’ My Own Tour and turned her performance of “Bible and a .44” into a viral sensation – and saw the beautifully tender “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” make waves on the iTunes charts. “Being called a new artist doesn’t bother me at all,” she says. “Even though I have been doing this for 11 years, I’m new to most people.” Now, Church’s longtime producer Jay Joyce has partnered up with McBryde for her debut full-length LP, which will contain plenty of bare bones, gut-honest songwriting that drew Church to her in the first place. Expect to see her autobiographical crowd favorite “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and other detail-laced tracks that position McBryde to be one of 2018’s breakout songwriter sensations. M.M.
Album: 61 Days in Church
Release Date: April 21st
Few things last year were as exciting in music as watching Eric Church take a steel-toed boot to the country-rock soul of every damn arena with each stop on his monumental Holdin’ My Own Tour. No openers, two sets and three-hour-plus gigs, complete with choice covers. Yes, Chief outdid himself in 2017. Luckily he documented it all for his 61 Days in Church live release. Previously available only via digital platforms, last year he announced a massive 15-LP vinyl box set. The first three installments became available December, and this year, if you join his record club, the remaining 12 vinyl releases will be shipped out once a month through the entirety of 2018. Not up for joining the club? This April, on the occasion of Record Store Day, Church will be releasing a special 8-song vinyl LP featuring select covers from the game-changing tour. D.H.
Dates: Outlaw Cruise: January 22nd to 26th; Cayamo Cruise: February 4th to 11th
These days in the country music world, January and February means cruise season. Rather than hibernate while waiting for summer festivals to roll around, some of the biggest names in the business hit the high seas for a week at a time, often for cruises coordinated by Atlanta company SixthMan. The Outlaw cruise (with the likes of Blackberry Smoke, the Mavericks and Shooter Jennings) and Cayamo (including John Prine, Brandi Carlile and Lee Ann Womack) both set sail from New Orleans under the SixthMan banner on their way to Mexico (and in Cayamo’s case, on to Belize). But, booming industry that it is, there are other cruises to be had as well this winter, including the Country Music Cruise presented by the Grand Ole Opry, which sails from Fort Lauderdale for the Caribbean and boasts Alabama and the Gatlin Brothers on its bill. J.G.
Album: Steak Night at the Prairie Rose
Release Date: February 2nd
Mike and the Moonpies’ front man Mike Harmeier says the group’s new album, Steak Night at the Prairie Rose, is all about the band and recreating its live show, which is a more than apt decision for this group of Texas road warriors. Recorded in less than a week outside Austin, last spring with producer Adam Odor, the songs that have premiered so far from the new LP – “Beaches of Biloxi” and “Road Crew” – are high-octane tributes to logging in those long-distance miles, something the Moonpies are more than familiar with. Harmeier wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 11 tracks, with the lone exception going to old buddy Jonathan Terrell, who contributes “The Last Time” and previously wrote “Damn Strait” on the band’s The Hard Way. Steak Night is their fifth album and first since 2015’s Mockingbird. J.G.
Album: Don’t Talk About It
Release Date: February 9th
Sorry, fellas, but no one does outlaw country these days quite like the ladies do. That point was drive home time and time again in 2017, thanks to shit-kicking albums from Nikki Lane, Jaime Wyatt and Margo Price. Next month, kindred spirit and Nashville transplant Ruby Boots (a good friend of Lane’s) adds a Down Under twist with Don’t Talk About It, her first release with Bloodshot Records. Ruby Boots, the alter-ego of Australian Bex Chilcott, does more than throw a foreigner’s view into the mix; it brings sass, swagger, and a rock & roll edge to the party. A party that is sure to be a rowdy one, too, if the album’s crunchy lead single “It’s So Cruel” is any indication. J.G.
Tour: Nowhere Fast Tour
Dates: January 20th to March 24th
“Nowhere Fast” is a hugely misleading way to describe where Margo Price finds herself these days. Hot off the release of All American Made, which landed the Number One spot on Rolling Stone Country‘s list of the best country albums of 2017, Price’s Nowhere Fast Tour should be one of the most anticipated this winter. Price makes the trek from Kentucky through Texas and Colorado on her way to the West Coast, making a detour via the Cayamo Cruise along the way in February. She bookends the tour with a visit to the U.K.’s Country 2 Country festival in March and has already sold out two shows at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in May. Expect the tour to be as sonically diverse as her latest LP. “Making this album, we really didn’t want to limit ourselves to any one genre,” she says. “There’s so much musical history in America, styles that were developed here. If it was good, we just decided to do it.” J.G.
Album: Hallelujah Nights
Release Date: January 19th
The road to Lanco’s debut album has been long for both the band and their fans. The group signed to Arista Nashville way back in 2015, releasing a debut EP, Extended Play, the following year. Since then, they’ve built buzz with engaging live shows and big singles, like “Greatest Love Story,” which became Lanco’s first chart-topper. That song, written by frontman Brandon Lancaster, also appears on Hallelujah Nights, as do the EP’s three additional tracks. Lancaster wrote or co-wrote all 11 of the album’s songs, which marry evocative, narrative lyrics with infectious, Southern-rock–influenced arrangements – all bearing Lancaster’s signature raspy drawl. “Country music is about finding people where they’re at right now,” he told Rolling Stone last year, “working a 9-to-5, going through hard times, questioning life.” B.M.
Tour: Still the Same Tour
Dates: May 4th – September 8th
“It feels like we’ve been here before, right?” Kristian Bush asked Jennifer Nettles at the 2017 CMA Awards, while both stood onstage at the Bridgestone Arena — Nashville’s 14,000-seat hockey arena, which Sugarland sold out back in 2011 — to present the evening’s award for Vocal Duo of the Year. The two bandmates will share the spotlight throughout 2018, too, thanks to a 48-city reunion tour. The cross-country trek marks Sugarland’s first real activity since 2012, when both members began focusing on solo careers. Also on the horizon: a newly-inked contract with Big Machine Records and an upcoming Sugarland album, whose lead single, “Still the Same,” has already cracked the Top 40. R.C.
Release Date: February 2nd
Since putting down roots in Nashville, Eighties pop-and-R&B icon John Oates has carved out a sweet spot for himself in the Americana community. His 2013 album Good Road to Follow was an underrated gem, with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member (he and Daryl Hall were inducted in 2014) acquitting himself nicely as a roots-music artist. He further mines that genre on the new Arkansas, an LP of mainly covers by Jimmie Rodgers and Mississippi John Hurt, and traditionals (“Stack O Lee” is a highlight). The title track, an Oates original, pays tribute to the state’s musical legacy, informed by its border on the Mississippi River. “My entire musical life has been influenced by the music that has flowed up that river from New Orleans through the Delta,” Oates says. “It occurred to me that Arkansas was the last rural stop on the musical journey northward.” J.H.
Album: By the Way, I Forgive You
Release Date: February 16th
On her sixth studio album, Americana heroine Brandi Carlile ramps everything up a notch, working with Waylon Jennings’ rebel-yell son Shooter, who co-produced with Dave Cobb. She takes deep dives into her family history (“Most of All”) and offers up an anthem for the downtrodden (“The Joke,” a chin-up call to arms for anyone feeling oppressed, was blasted out in a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!). While largely adhering to her unplugged, modern-Appalachian approach, Carlile also pushes a few musical envelopes: “Harder to Forgive” is swoony, luxurious pop, “Hold Out Your Hand” has a wall-of-drums wallop and “Party of One” wraps up with shivery orchestration. D.B.
Tour: Warping Our Minds Tour