35 Most Anticipated Country Albums of 2016 - Rolling Stone
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35 Most Anticipated Country Albums of 2016

From Loretta Lynn and Vince Gill to Brothers Osborne and Aubrie Sellers

Loretta Lynn, Sturgill Simpson

New albums from Loretta Lynn and Sturgill Simpson are among the notable releases set for 2016.

Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage, Burak Cingi/Redferns/Getty

From long-awaited new projects from legends Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams Jr. to Blake Shelton's "divorce record" and Sturgill Simpson's mysterious follow-up to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,  2016 promises to be full of country albums that both honor the genre's roots and push its boundaries. Here are the 35 records we're most eager to hear this year.

Vince Gill

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Country Music Singer Vince Gill performs onstage at The Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum All For The Hall New York Benefit Concert at PlayStation Theater on October 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame)

Michael Loccisano/GettyImages

Vince Gill

Album: Down to My Last Bad Habit
Release Date: February 12th
There may not be enough space to enumerate all the reasons to look forward to Gill's new album, due out February 12th. But here are six: He has never made a bad album. His last two releases — 2011's stellar Guitar Slinger and 2013's Bakersfield, a team effort with venerable steel guitarist Paul Franklin in tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard — were some of the best of his career. The first single "Take Me Down," featuring harmony vocals from Little Big Town, is a sexy slice of country rock that features one of the Oklahoma native's patented stinging guitar solos, sharp lyrics and a welcome sultry swagger. Among the co-writers on the album's 12 tracks are Ashley Monroe, Al Anderson and Leslie Satcher. Rising star Cam is featured on "I'll Be Waiting for You." And the final song, written by Gill solo, is a trad-country tribute to the Possum titled "Sad One Comin' On (A Song for George Jones)." For that reason alone, we're already tearing up. S.R.

Brothers Osborne

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 29: Guitarist John Osborne (left) and singer/guitarist T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne perform at PNC Music Pavilion on August 29, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)

Jeff Hahne/GettyImages

Brothers Osborne

Album: Pawn Shop
Release Date: January 15th
Brothers Osborne's debut LP will finally see the light of day on January 15th, nearly two years after the single "Rum" first hit country radio. Rooted in groove, grit and the epic sweep of John Osborne's guitar, the album takes as much influence from classic rock as modern country. Most of the songs — like the nostalgic "21 Summer" and the cinematic "Heart Shaped Locket" — have already been road-tested too, thanks to more than a year's worth of top-shelf tour dates with Eric Church and Darius Rucker. Written by a pair of brothers who grew up playing songs by Bob Seger, George Jones and Tom Petty during family picking parties in their native Maryland, Pawn Shop proves there's plenty of new spark to be found in used goods. A.L.

Blake Shelton

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Blake Shelton

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
The gossip fiend inside us all will no doubt scour every line of Blake Shelton's as-yet-untitled 2016 album for some glimpse into what led to the superstar's divorce from Miranda Lambert. "I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and that's put all I've gone through and put it into music, and I never felt more connected to a record before," Shelton told Country Countdown USA's Lon Helton in a December interview. "When people hear this record, they may not know what happened to me, but they're gonna know how I felt about it." A first single from the project is expected in January. If only Lambert would release her side of the story in 2016, we'd have a complete saga worthy of binge listening. J.F.

Chris Stapleton, Morgane Stapleton

LOUISVILLE, KY - JULY 18: Chris Stapleton and Morgan Stapleton perform during day 2 at the 2015 Forecastle festival at Waterfront Park on July 18, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Timothy Hiatt/WireImage)

Dave Cobb’s ‘Southern Family’

Album: Southern Family
Release Date: March 18th
Southern Family is two things: a compilation uniting some of Nashville's sharpest songwriters and a concept album that asks them to sing of the siblings they grew up with and the houses that built them. Jamey Johnson does one called "Momma's Table," Chris and Morgane Stapleton duet on "You Are My Sunshine," Zac Brown tells us about "Grandma's Garden" and Brandy Clark contributes "I Cried." "I wanted to have really talented artists custom write and do songs that mean a lot to them," producer Dave Cobb told Rolling Stone Country. "I wanted them to do the most honest song they could possibly do." N.M.

Aubrie Sellers

Allister Ann

Aubrie Sellers

Album: New City Blues
Release Date: January 29th 
With New City Blues, Aubrie Sellers releases an exquisitely produced debut that thrillingly walks a razor's edge between blues, rock and country. Sellers is the product of one of country music's best singers of the past two decades (Lee Ann Womack) and one of Music City's most underappreciated songwriters (Jason Sellers), and her 21st-century take on the genre is a bold and brash affair awash in electric guitars. (It's also produced by her stepdad, Frank Liddell, who has helmed every one of Miranda Lambert's LPs.) Sellers' sweet, vulnerable side shows through on "Something Special" and "Like the Rain," while the thrashing "Living Is Killing Me" shuts the album down with punk-inspired energy. S.B.

Hank Williams Jr.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 04: Hank Williams Jr. performs during the 49th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 4, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Hank Williams Jr.

Album: It's About Time
Release Date:
January 15th
November's CMA Awards opened with a rowdy throwback to the 1970s: Hank Williams Jr. and his friend Eric Church going back and forth on Neil Young's "Are You Ready for the Country," adding some juice to a song Bocephus originally picked up on tour with Waylon Jennings. That tune is now both opener and lead single off Williams' first album in four years. It's About Time has one other cover (Mel Tellis' "Mental Revenge"), four original Hank Jr. songs (including the over-the-top swagger of "Dress Like an Icon") and two new ones co-written by Chris Janson. The party then climaxes with a remake of Williams' autobiographical "Born to Boogie," featuring Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore and Brad Paisley. N.M.

Loretta Lynn

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Loretta Lynn

Album: Full Circle
Release Date:
February 26th
Loretta Lynn hasn't released a new album since 2004's Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, but she's spent much of the last decade working on a follow-up, recording 93 songs over the past four years. As it stands, the LP includes tracks as old as Doris Day's "Secret Love" and the Carter Family's "Black Jack David," plus duets with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello and a new version of "Whispering Sea," the first song that the 83-year-old ever wrote. Hence the record's title: Full Circle. "I was sitting up in this tree fishing, believe it or not. And my husband said, 'You’re going to fall out of that tree and kill yourself,'" Lynn tells Rolling Stone. "But I sat up there and wrote 'Whispering Sea.'" N.M.

Sturgill Simpson

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 10: Sturgill Simpson performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 10, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Erika Goldring/FilmMagic)

Erika Goldring/FilmMagic

Sturgill Simpson

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
One of the most anticipated albums coming down the pike, the follow-up to 2014's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is all the more tantalizing knowing that the still-untitled project is finished, just waiting to be heard. But according to a recent interview with Simpson in GQ, the his-way-or-no-way singer-songwriter says that despite the LP being in the can, he doesn't plan on releasing it anytime soon. Instead, he's putting off re-entering the new-album media cycle for as long as he can. "I don't want to put it out just yet, because I know I'm just going to have to turn around and do what I just did all over again," he said. "Quite honestly, I need about six months at home with my family." Which means. . . a June release? We can only hope. J.H.  

Brandy Clark

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Brandy Clark

Album: TBA
Release Date: Spring 2016
Brandy Clark stunned the country world with her brutally honest debut album 12 Stories and her Jay Joyce-produced follow-up, rumored to be titled Big Day in a Small Town, already seems to promise the same combination of guts, grit and gloriously crafted tales of American life. "Sorry I ain't sorry I ain't your Marsha Brady," Clark sings on "Girl Next Door," her new single. It's a badass folk confessional that's not so much a song but a declaration: take her as she is, or hit the road. In a time when women are fighting up the ranks of country radio — and being asked to do so in miniskirts and hair extensions — Clark's next album will be less battle call, more victory march. M.M.

Randy Houser

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 29: Randy Houser performs during the 2015 Kick Up The Dust Tour at Levi's Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)

C Flanigan/FilmMagic

Randy Houser

Album: Fired Up
Release Date: March 11th
After releasing a pair of solid but underappreciated albums in Anything Goes and the particularly excellent They Call Me Cadillac in 2008 and 2010 respectively, Randy Houser finally broke through with 2013's How Country Feels. A more polished collection stuffed full of radio-ready hits and those that could have been, the album felt like vindication for one of the best hands-down singers in all of country music. Three years later, he's finally releasing Fired Up, the follow-up to How Country Feels, which features a whopping 17 songs and follows that same mass appeal template. That's certainly not a bad thing: the more fans who are exposed to Houser's dynamic voice, the better. J.H. 

Lucinda Williams

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: Lucinda Williams performs on stage during The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris: An All Star Concert Celebration at DAR Constitution Hall on January 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Blackbird Productions)

Paul Morigi/GettyImages

Lucinda Williams

Album: Ghosts of Highway 20
Release Date: February 5th 
Lucinda Williams' second double-album in a row (following 2014's Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone) is inspired by the 1,539-mile span of Interstate 20, a thoroughfare that runs from West Texas through the heart of Dixie to South Carolina. Guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz provide the atmosphere, while the ghosts come from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era and beyond. And Williams herself is as extravagantly passionate as ever. "If My Love Could Kill" more than lives up to that title, and the closing 13-minute epic "Faith and Grace" could be one of Patti Smith's fever-dream trances. D.M.

Randy Rogers Band

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Randy Rogers Band

Album: Nothing Shines Like Neon
Release Date: January 15th
Last year, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen released a low-key, rambling journey through classic Merle covers and Texas road stories in the laid-back Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. While we wait for Vol. 2, Nothing Shines Like Neon returns Rogers to his main unit, one of the most dependable honky-tonk acts in any state: lead-off track "San Antone" dreams of a homecoming where the singer shares the stage with a "fiddle man" who plays both under the verses and in between them. The LP also includes contributions from Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker, plus production by Nashville vet Buddy Cannon. N.M.

Buddy Miller and Nikki Lane

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Buddy Miller and Friends

Album: Cayamo Sessions at Sea
Release Date: January 29th
Cayamo, the annual star-studded Americana cruise through the Caribbean (which departs Miami on January 31st), always features plenty of cool collaborations. That aspect of the experience has yielded Cayamo Sessions at Sea, which Cayamo ringleader Buddy Miller recorded onboard in 2013 and '14. Pairing Miller with Nikki Lane, Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams and other fellow cruisers, Cayamo hits the tight-versus-relaxed sweet spot perfectly on classic covers from Porter and Dolly, Conway and Loretta, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons and a lovely take on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" — beautifully sung by Shawn Colvin. It's the next best thing to being at sea. D.M.

Dylan LeBlanc

Dylan Leblanc photos for Cautionary Tale LP

Abraham Rowe

Dylan LeBlanc

Album: Cautionary Tale
Release Date: January 15th
Shreveport, Louisiana, native and the son of Muscle Shoals session player James LeBlanc, Dylan LeBlanc built a music career for himself in a little over five years with his praised Rough Trade albums Pauper's Field (2010) and Cast the Same Old Shadow (2012). Recognized by his gauzy "roots music for a rainy day," LeBlanc utilized a series of life-changing events to reprogram, recondition and re-approach his songwriting perspective for his upcoming release, Cautionary Tale, due January 15th via Single Lock Records. Album collaborators Brittany Howard and Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, along with John Paul White (ex-Civil Wars), bring a more stripped-down sound to the project. But it's LeBlanc's chimeric warble and hastened wisdom of the past few years that ensure the insights he collected while wandering are gathered into a unified vision. E.M.

Charles Kelley

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 01: Charles Kelley performs onstage during Charles Kelley In Concert at Gramercy Theatre on December 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Charles Kelley

Album: The Driver
Release Date: February 5th
With Lady Antebellum resting their wings after 747's eight-month world tour, Charles Kelley is throwing his weight behind an album of his own material. The Driver's nine songs, ranging from the Grammy-nominated title track to the stunning Leaving Nashville, point to a songwriter who's more interested in exploring the sounds of heartland country-rock than wooing a crossover pop audience. Further proof: he covers Tom Petty's "Southern Accents" with guest Stevie Nicks. But it's a duet with Miranda Lambert titled "I Wish You Were Here" that we're most anxious to hear. A.L.

Joey + Rory

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 09: Rory Feek and Joey Feek of the band Joey & Rory perform on the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 9, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/WireImage)

Frederick Breedon IV/WireImage

Joey + Rory

Album: Hymns That Are Important to Us
Release Date: February 14th
Husband and wife duo Joey + Rory recorded the bulk of this collection last summer while Joey Martin Feek recovered from a surgery attempting to treat her cervical cancer. "I think Joey wants to capture the words and music of her childhood," spouse Rory wrote on his blog. "The music that makes this beautiful, tragic, crazy life somehow make sense." Qualifying songs include "The Old Rugged Cross," "I'll Fly Away," "I Surrender All" and "How Great Thou Art." As the disease spread, Joey recorded the rest of her vocals at home and in hotel rooms, and in October, the couple even performed them live for a final concert that will be included with the LP. At once heartbreaking and inspiring. N.M.

Jake Owen

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 04: Recording artist Jake Owen performs during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival at the Las Vegas Village on October 4, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

David Becker/Getty Images

Jake Owen

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
"Real Life" was one of the most ambitious country songs of 2015: a seemingly spontaneous, half-sung jam that both celebrated and subverted its title concept. It would have made a great lead single had it not stalled at Number 17 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Owen's previous album Days of Gold played with pop, experimenting more than pandering, and his follow-up (whenever it's released) should take him further into left field. "Wait 'til you hear some of the stuff we're doing on the Jake record," songwriter Jon Nite said last summer. "There's, like, OK Computer moments." N.M.

Infamous Stringdusters

Jason Siegel / Jason Siegel Photography

The Infamous Stringdusters

Album: Ladies & Gentlemen
Release Date: February 5th
The Infamous Stringdusters boldly refer to themselves on their website as "The Future of Bluegrass," adding a little 'tude to a genre that can often be misjudged as staid. There's no chance of that on Ladies & Gentlemen, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based band's sixth studio album that crackles with energy — and a hefty dose of estrogen. The group enlisted a who's who of female artists to put the "ladies" in the LP title and contribute to each of the record's dozen songs. But this is no novelty concept album. Instead, it's the sound of a band expanding its reach with some of the best voices in the business: Lee Ann Womack, Joan Osborne, Joss Stone and Mary Chapin Carpenter, among them. J.H. 

Wynonna Judd

NBC/NBCUniversal

Wynonna and the Big Noise

Album: self-titled
Release Date: February 12th 
The first LP credited to Wynonna and her Big Noise band (which includes her drummer/husband Cactus Moser) is a wide-open power surge of crunchy blues and Americana, with plenty of the country music she sang as one-half of the Judds. Fans of the latter will revel in the gorgeous country ballad "Jesus and a Jukebox," and the harmony vocals of the Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit on the beautiful "I Can See Everything" and Jason Isbell, who contributes to the uplifting "Things That I Lean On." But it's when Wy tears loose on the bluesier numbers that affords her the chance to show she can still take it to 11. S.B.

Shooter Jennings

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 01: Shooter Jennings performs during the 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 1, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)

C Flanigan/FilmMagic

Shooter Jennings

Album: Countach (For Giorgio)
Release Date: February 26th on vinyl; March 11th on other formats
While it's far from the trad-country-meets-Southern-rock of past albums like 2006's Electric Rodeo or 2012's Family Man, Shooter Jennings' tribute to electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder does find a way to weave in elements of twang — as well as a well-placed sample of dad Waylon Jennings. Yet even without having a snowball's chance in hell of being played on country radio (or any terrestrial radio, for that matter), Countach possesses that trait that defines the best albums: honest passion and heart. This is Jennings' baby, a long-gestating salute to Moroder, full of synthesizers, haunting vocals and guests stars like Brandi Carlile and Jennings pal Marilyn Manson. His father may have asked if Hank really done it this way back in '75, but the younger Jennings is a child of the Eighties, and he revels in it here. J.H.

Margo Price

Angelina Castillo for Third Man Records

Margo Price

Album: Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Release Date: March 25th
Margo Price's debut solo LP Midwest Farmer's Daughter was rejected by every label in Nashville except Jack White's Third Man Records, and they likely snatched it up for the same reason the others passed: it's unapologetic, radio-be-damned classic country anchored by whip-smart songwriting and a taste for the devilish side of life. Bad move, everyone else — now that Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson have proven that integrity can sell, Price's aching, rule-breaking point of view feels more relevant than ever. Recorded at Memphis' Sun Studios, songs like "This Town Gets Around" may not exactly charm Music Row with lines like "it's not who know, it's who you blow," but Price doesn't aim to please anyone but herself. Price is priceless. M.M.

Lorrie Morgan

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 17: Recording Artist Lorrie Morgan performs during the I Am A woman Benefit concert honoring Debbie Ballentine at Wildhorse Saloon on March 17, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/WireImage)

Jason Davis/WireImage

Lorrie Morgan

Album: Letting Go…Slow
Release Date: February 12th 
It takes a skilled, confident woman to cover "Lay Lady Lay" without changing the lyrics. But Lorrie Morgan wasn't just one of the most successful country artists of the Nineties, she was — and continues to be — a fearless song stylist whose complicated backstory evokes Tammy Wynette. Along with that provocative Dylan cover, Morgan interprets other left-of-center songs on her first solo album in five years, like Larry Gatlin's "I've Done Enough Dying Today" and Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe." There are also remarkable covers of Patsy Cline's "Strange" and Vern Gosdin's "Is It Raining at Your House," but it's the LP's original tracks, running the gamut from witty ("Jesus and Hairspray") to heartbreaking ("Lonely Whiskey"), that are the best reminders of Morgan's platinum past. S.B.

Jennifer Nettles

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 12: Jennifer Nettles performs at the CAA Party on Day 2 of the IEBA 2015 Conference on October 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Jennifer Nettles

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA
The distaff half of Sugarland released her debut solo album That Girl in 2014, which saw her channeling her inner Carole King, working with an array of new producers and co-writers, and diving deep into a warm Seventies AM Gold vibe. Creatively satisfying but never quite catching fire with radio, Nettles switched labels and, judging by the first two songs to emerge from her upcoming second LP, gears as well. The heartrending ballad "Unlove You" and the irrepressibly sassy "Drunk in Heels" — both co-writes with friend, touring partner and ace songwriter Brandy Clark — find Nettles mining a more traditional pop-country vein to great effect. It'll be interesting to hear how or if the Georgia singer-songwriter — and burgeoning actress thanks to her turn in NBC's Coat of Many Colors — continues to indulge her varied influences. S.R.

Cactus Blossoms

Michael Crouser

The Cactus Blossoms

Album: You're Dreaming
Release Date: January 22nd
The sibling harmony of duos like the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers is alive and well on the Cactus Blossoms' LP You're Dreaming, which was produced by Americana singer-songwriter JD McPherson and arrives via Red House Records on January 22nd. The group is led by Minneapolis-based brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, who, despite different last names, put their genetically encoded harmonizing skills and reverence for musical history to good use on the collection of energetic toe-tappers ("No More Crying the Blues") and emotionally resonant ballads ("Queen of Them All") — which all seem filtered through David Lynch's surrealist lens. There's no getting around it: You're Dreaming is pretty damn dreamy. J.F.

Scotty McCreery

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Scotty McCreery

Album: TBA
Release Date: TBA 
The baritone-voiced North Carolina native has always been something of an anomaly: a classic-country devotee adept at turning out country-radio fare. Sometimes, those offerings can feel trite and unrepresentative of the real McCreery, a bona fide country boy. But for the follow-up to 2013's See You Tonight, he's adamant about taking the reins and showing his true self. "One of the coolest things about my career is I'm growing up with it," the singer told Rolling Stone Country last fall. "My first album you see 17-year-old me; my second album, 19-year-old me, and now with my third album, 22-year-old me." Produced by Frank Rogers, who oversaw See You Tonight, the still-untitled project has McCreery flexing his writing muscle: he has five co-writes on the LP, the most songs he's written on any of his records to date. J.H. 

 
Elizabeth Cook

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 21: Elizabeth Cook performs at City Winery on September 21, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music)

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Elizabeth Cook

Album: Exodus of Venus
Release Date: Spring/summer 2016
You gotta love a woman who has the cojones to name an album Balls, which was the title of Elizabeth Cook's 2007 thoroughly-country Rodney Crowell-produced LP. It sums up the host of SiriusXM's Apron Strings pretty well — she's a traditionalist with a mountain howl and a taste for pure honky-tonk and gospel, but zero interest in posing herself as dutifully pure. No wonder she was a favorite guest of David Letterman, who admired both strong songwriters and sardonic senses of humor. For Exodus of Venus, her sixth studio record, she'll plunge deep into (and through) the darkness that's plagued her the past few years — divorce, rehab, the loss of her father — and come out swinging. M.M.

Waco Brothers

Jay Blakesberg

Waco Brothers

Album: Going Down in History
Release Date: February 26th
For their first formal studio album since 2005’s Freedom and Weep, Chicago’s finest twang-punk ensemble reconvened with longtime collaborator Mike Hagler. Also back is their time-honored country-punk formula of Half-Cash/Half-Clash, with the sound turned way up and the polish way, way down. As overseen by mastermind Jon Langford, ragged but right is the spirit of the day on raucous originals and a terrific cover of the Small Faces chestnut “All or Nothing” — on which you can just about smell the spilled beer. As they put it on the title track, "You gotta walk before you can fall down on your face." D.M.

Parker Millsap

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 20: Parker Millsap performs at 3rd & Lindsley on Day 6 of Americana Music Festival on September 20, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)

Erika Goldring/WireImage

Parker Millsap

Album: The Very Last Day
Release Date: March 25th
He may look like the fresh-faced kid from next door, but 22-year-old Oklahoma native Parker Millsap wails with a voice that's part juke-joint blues and part tent-revival gospel. His forthcoming full-length The Very Last Day will build on his self-titled 2014 album with more narrative tunes that explore evangelical strictures ("Heaven Sent") and complicated literary figures ("Hades Pleads"). Roots trio I'm With Her — Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, Aoife O'Donovan — guests on one track, and there's even a cover of the gospel-blues number "You Gotta Move" made famous by Fred McDowell and the Rolling Stones. J.F.

Grant Lee Phillips

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 26: Grant-Lee Phillips performs during a concert at Frannz Club on March 26, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Redferns via Getty Images)

Adam Berry/Redferns

Grant Lee Phillips

Album: The Narrows
Release Date: March 18th
In 2013, California native Phillips left Los Angeles for the wilds of Tennessee — driven by an urge to reconnect with his parents' Southern ancestral roots. Once there, he fell in with a circle of musicians including drummer Jerry Roe (grandson of Jerry "When You're Hot, You're Hot" Reed) and Jerry's dad Dave Roe (a Johnny Cash sideman for more than a decade) to make his eighth solo album, The Narrows. Track one is called "Tennessee Rain," on which Phillips promises, "Like the cool winds a' blowin'/I'll get to where I'm goin'." But for all its get-back-to-the-country bonafides, the album is still steeped in Nashville's more rocking side. D.M.

Wheeler Walker Jr.

Courtesy Thirty Tigers

Wheeler Walker Jr.

Album: Redneck Shit
Release Date: February 12th
Unfathomably obscene and undeniably offensive, the debut album from Nashville never-was Wheeler Walker Jr. is also goddamn funny. But Redneck Shit is far from just an X-rated novelty record. Along with songs like the boobs anthem "Drop 'Em Out" and the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination "Can't Fuck You Off My Mind," the project features some expert country music played by a cast of ace musicians — like guitarist Leroy Powell — and was produced, inexplicably, by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell). So who's behind the sunglasses, hat and hairy chest of Walker? As he might say, who gives a shit? Recommended for those who think heavy-metal spoofers Steel Panther aren't raunchy enough. J.H.

Hayes Carll

AUSTIN, TX - JUNE 27: Singer-songwriter Hayes Carll performs in concert at ACL Live on June 27, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

Rick Kern/WireImage

Hayes Carll

Album: TBA
Release Date: April 8th 
Since the release of KMAG YOYO in 2011, Hayes Carll has spent the past five years playing shows (many of them solo), writing songs and Instagramming cute pictures of his kid. He also scored a Grammy nomination for Lee Ann Womack's recording of his song "Chances Are." Turns out he's been struggling through a divorce, too, something he'll roll into the narrative of his upcoming unnamed fifth record, due April 8th. Carll has debuted a few new tracks on the road, including "Magic Kid," a sweet ode to his card-trick loving son whose impact on his life is beyond any illusion. Produced by Joe Henry, Carll's described the LP as a "songwriter record" — but it's hard to imagine that a man who spins lines like "you ain't a poet/just a drunk with a pen" could be capable of anything but. M.M.

Frankie Ballard

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16: Frankie Ballard performs at Smoothie King Center on October 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Frankie Ballard

Album: TBA
Release Date:
TBA
Last year, Frankie Ballard left Nashville and headed to the edge of the Rio Grande in Tornillo, Texas, where he spent 10 days at the Sonic Ranch recording studio with producer Marshall Altman. The result is an album (the follow-up to 2014's Sunshine & Whiskey) that's physically and musically removed from Nashville's Music Row machine, with an emphasis on the country-rock influences that have always fueled Ballard's songwriting and guitar playing. Ballard keeps things smooth and even-keeled on the album's lead single, though, turning "It All Started With a Beer" into a slow-dance ballad that swings, swoons and grooves. A.L.

Chuck Wicks

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 03: Chuck Wicks plays the 2014 Country Weekly Kick-Off Party at Mercy Lounge on June 3, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

Beth Gwinn/Getty

Chuck Wicks

Album: Turning Point
Release Date: February 26th
To say Chuck Wicks' follow-up LP has been long-awaited is an underestimate. A full eight years after his 2007 debut, Starting Now, was released via RCA, Wicks is set to release Turning Point, his second album and first for Blaster Records. The LP, for which he co-wrote all 11 tracks, was co-produced by Wicks with frequent co-writer Andy Dodd. As a writer, Wicks has had his songs recorded by Jason Aldean, Frankie Ballard, Steve Holy and the Swon Brothers. On his own effort, fans can expect songs that run the gamut from idyllic and passionate to Tough Mudder-level raw, all of them informed by the time spent finding himself between albums. It's like writing for his debut all over again. E.M.

Dori Freeman

Kristin Horton

Dori Freeman

Album: self-titled
Release Date:
February 5th
A strong contender for Americana debut of the year, singer-songwriter Dori Freeman seemingly came out of nowhere — Galax, Virginia, to be exact — to land on numerous critics' "Next Big Thing" lists. And with good reason: her self-titled debut, produced by Teddy Thompson (son of English folkie Richard), is a stunning showcase for the versatile newcomer. As a vocalist, she sings with the clarity of Kacey Musgraves but hops between styles with the ease of Lera Lynn, belting classic twang one minute and crooning smoky, Peggy Lee-styled blues the next. As the songwriter behind all 10 tracks, she spins self-aware stories of heartbreak and struggle straight out of her own experience. Freeman isn't trying to mythologize Appalachia, she's too busy living it. J.F.

Tom Waits

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - OCTOBER 27: Tom Waits performs on Day 2 of the 27th Annual Bridge School Benefit concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 27, 2013 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage)

Steve Jennings/WireImage

‘God Don’t Never Change’

Album: God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
Release Date: February 26th
Gospel blues singer-guitarist Blind Willie Johnson's feverish meditations on the wages of sin and the wrath of God are still leaving musical ripples nearly 90 years after they were first recorded. Fittingly, venerable blues label Alligator Records has assembled the tribute album God Don't Never Change, which features Lucinda Williams howling her way through the title track and "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine." Tom Waits shows up for a couple selections, including a clanging, apocalyptic "John the Revelator." Blind Willie was also one hell of a sanctified slide guitarist, recreated here by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi on the swampy "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning." J.F.

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