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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.

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

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.