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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.

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.