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25 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2017 So Far

From Lauren Alaina’s wise beyond her years collection to Luke Combs’ stellar Number One debut

best country albums 2017, best americana albums 2017, luke combs, colter wall, raelynn, lauren alaina, lady antebellum, best albums 2017 so far, john moreland, jason isbell

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At the halfway point of 2017, the country and Americana worlds have been full of surprises from every direction. Reliable songwriting heroes Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton returned with heralded efforts, while mainstream performers like Lauren Alaina and Lady Antebellum turned out songwriting-focused collections, and newcomers such as Luke Combs and Colter Wall pointed to the future. Here are the 25 best country and Americana releases of the year so far.

Nikki Lane, 'Highway Queen'

Nikki Lane, ‘Highway Queen’

You can tie her down, you can bottle lightning, but the highway queen don’t need no king,” sings Nikki Lane on the title track of her third album, Highway Queen. Clearly nothing is holding down Lane, who is busy roping bulls, boys and 700,000 rednecks on an LP that shoots from Nashville to Las Vegas with the force of a Southern-rock cannon. Produced by Lane and Jonathan Tyler, the South Carolina native gets deep in the pocket of her gritty country groove that’s fierce enough for the bikers, twangy enough for the traditionalists and as New York City as it is Nashville. Well, Seventies New York City, at least: one part Lou Reed, one part Loretta Lynn. M.M.

Charlie Worsham, 'Beginning of Things'

Charlie Worsham, ‘Beginning of Things’

Few people in country understand the genre’s diverse roots like Charlie Worsham, and how it can be both a place for silliness and sarcasm as well as loss and longing. On his second album, Beginning of Things, Worsham balances all sides: a little lightness on the Hayes Carll-style rambling of “Lawn Chair Don’t Care,” some sobering life lessons on “Cut Your Groove,” a touch of Roger Miller mischief on “Take Me Drunk.” It’s why when he gets really serious, like on the defiant “Please People Please,” his fighting words and sultry, moody licks of guitar really resonate. Packed with ambitious instrumentals and virtuosic craftsmanship, Worsham’s making music for the heart and the mind. M.M.

Jade Jackson, 'Gilded'

Jade Jackson, ‘Gilded’

Mixing alt-country croon with dark Americana swoon, Gilded introduces Jade Jackson as another heiress to Neko Case’s throne. She gets a boost from her producer, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness, who steers her debut album away from Music Row sonic pitfalls and, instead, focuses on Jackson’s husky vocals and small-town storytelling. One minute, she’s the girl next door, singing with wounded tenderness about lost love. The next, she’s turning “Motorcycle” into a femme-fatale anthem, brushing off the boys like some sort of California-country Bond girl. R.C.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 'The Nashville Sound'

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, ‘The Nashville Sound’

We Say: The Nashville Sound follows in the wake of Isbell’s 2013 breakthrough Southeastern and its 2015 follow-up Something More Than Free, albums that introduced the former Drive-By Truckers third-man to a larger audience with their tales of drunken demons and fresh beginnings. But after spending the last five years reckoning with past darkness, Isbell, 38, shifts his gaze outward. He pledges everlasting faith to his wife on the tearjerker “If We Were Vampires,” offers parental advice on the backyard bluegrass of “Something to Love,” and delivers an urgent warning to the white male demographic, which overwhelmingly voted for Trump, on “White Man’s World.” J.B.

Little Big Town, 'The Breaker'

Little Big Town, ‘The Breaker’

Three years ago, “Girl Crush” opened the door to crossover stardom for Little Big Town, a group that spent a decade and a half building a foundation on country harmony fundamentals. That song may have been a lightning-in-a-bottle moment for the Nashville natives, but the pop meanderings of the Pain Killer follow-up Wanderlust mostly felt like a distraction. So it was perhaps ironic, though no less appropriate, that country-turned-pop-star Taylor Swift would help turn Little Big Town back to the basics. Swift’s “Better Man,” a stellar showcase for Karen Fairchild, hit the reset button and took them to the top of the country charts. The downtempo stunner set the tone for The Breaker, an album that’s one of their best top to bottom, thanks to the band playing to its strengths. J.G.