Home Music Music Country Lists

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.

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

Jason Davis/Getty Images

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.

Show Comments