40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2019

The genres delivered bold new sounds this year, thanks to LPs from Miranda Lambert, Orville Peck, and Tanya Tucker

The country and Americana genres were responsible for some fantastic albums in 2019, with many of them defined by a left-field approach that resulted in bold new sounds.

Miranda Lambert mixed alt-rock with her country twang by teaming up with producer Jay Joyce. Texas band Mike and the Moonpies decamped to London to record with a symphony. Buzzy masked singer Orville Peck brought an air of mystery and gothic grandeur to the genre. Sturgill Simpson made his skronk-country record. And Dan Auerbach cemented his old-meets-new production style with three knockouts albums from Yola, Kendell Marvel, and Dee White.

And then there was Brandi Carlile, who not only formed one of the most vital and versatile supergroups in recent memory with the Highwomen, but also revealed a whole new side of country veteran Tanya Tucker by co-producing her marvelous comeback LP While I’m Livin‘.

An undercurrent of solidarity was also detectable this year, as artists rallied behind both musical and cultural causes. See the Highwomen, yes, but also Our Native Daughters, Maren Morris, Michaela Anne, and Emily Scott Robinson, who all put out albums with a message.

And some albums, from Jon Pardi’s good clean fun to Paul Cauthen’s don’t-tell-your-mama-about-it, just wanted to further the party.

Here’s the 40 best country and Americana LPs of the year.

Tyler Childers
9

Tyler Childers, ‘Country Squire’

With a bigger budget, audience, and profile, Tyler Childers could have gone in any number of directions for his follow-up to 2017’s Purgatory. Instead, the Kentucky singer-songwriter simply doubled-down on the type of hardscrabble country on which he made his name, mixing his winking humor on “Gemini” and “Ever’ Lovin Hand” with the sweet-hearted romanticism of “All Your’n” and the tough rural realism of “Creeker” and “House Fire.” Childers’ songwriting was at its best, having reached a new level of plainspoken sparseness. On Country Squire, he emerged as a honky-tonk prophet. “Back when I was younger, didn’t have a clue,” he sang on “Gemini.” “Come to think of it, I still doubt I do.” J.B.

our native daughters
8

Our Native Daughters, ‘Songs of Our Native Daughters’

When Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell announced their new project Our Native Daughters, the foursome’s debut album quickly became one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Songs of Our Native Daughters more than lived up to that hype and was one of the rare “supergroup” projects that was far more than the sum of its (incredibly talented) parts. Through 11 original songs and two covers, the band shared black women’s stories with grace, frankness, and virtuosic musicianship, and notably did so in a genre — old-time string band music — that has historically prized white, male artists. On “Quasheba, Quasheba,” Russell communed with an ancestor who was sold into slavery. Giddens reimagined a minstrel song on “Better Git Your Learnin’,” subverting the genre by singing of agency and empowerment. And the group’s cover of Bob Marley’s 1973 song “Slave Driver” was particularly potent in this context, tying them to a larger legacy of black artists confronting slavery through song. B.M.

Kelsey Waldon
7

Kelsey Waldon, ‘White Noise/White Lines’

With her earlier two albums (2014’s The Goldmine and 2016’s I’ve Got a Way), Kentucky native Kelsey Waldon quietly announced herself as one of the most exciting young voices in country songwriting. To wit, her third album White Noise / White Lines was her first release as a signee to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records, which made her the first new addition to the label’s roster in over 15 years. While it’s undeniable that the Oh Boy seal of approval added a level of clout to the release, the LP spoke firmly for itself. Waldon fashioned White Noise / White Lines as a loose autobiography, taking listeners on a tour of the people and places that informed her Kentucky upbringing and, accordingly, how she understands the world. Standout track “Kentucky 1988” summed this up beautifully, serving as an origin story for Waldon and a thesis statement for a richly rendered album that shares more with each repeated listen. B.M.

randy houser
6

Randy Houser, ‘Magnolia’

After a few years of successful but vacuous radio hits, many of them written by outside songwriters, Randy Houser stepped away from the mainstream country game to write what would become his fifth album, Magnolia. It was a brilliant decision. Stripped clean of any glossy production and emphasizing Houser’s marvelous voice, the LP drove home the fact that the Mississippi native is a traditional country artist — not a homogenized trend-chaser. “When I turned 40 my middle finger started going up,” he told Rolling Stone, “and kept getting stiffer and stiffer.” “No Stone Unturned” and “What Whiskey Does” had hints of that defiance (as well as their share of chemical vices), while “Evangeline” proved not all road trip songs have to be cheesy. But it’s “No Good Place to Cry” that glued the album together, with Houser singing the most tortured, and convincing, country vocal of 2019. J.H.

mike and the moonpies
5

Mike and the Moonpies, ‘Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold’

One of Texas’s quintessential working bands heads to London to make a surprise album with a symphony? This ain’t your daddy’s European vacation, y’all. When Mike and the Moonpies set out to record the follow-up to 2018’s Steak Night at the Prairie Rose, they left the bluebonnets in the rearview in favor of Ol’ Blue eyes, tapping the London Symphony Orchestra to record Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold at Abbey Road Studios with a heavy Rat Pack spirit. Yeah, there are dramatic strings and some production gloss on tunes like “Cheap Silver” and “Miss Fortune,” and the lyrical references are more cosmopolitan. But only Mike Harmeier and his Lone Star brood could get so out of their element to make something so deeply true to who they are. M.M.

highwomen
4

The Highwomen, ‘The Highwomen’

With songs like “Redesigning Women,” “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” and the ballsy title track, the Highwomen’s self-titled album appeared to court a certain audience. But this was a record for everyone, with a message of solidarity that transcended age, race, and, yes, gender. Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris sang about topics affecting us all, from the grand (the persecution of the historical characters in “Highwomen”) to the minute (the glorious kiss-off “Don’t Call Me”). And the tracks that do zero in with a fine point — like the Carlile-sung “If She Ever Leaves Me” — are still wildly relatable. “I love that we have songs on this album about shattering female stereotypes to a gay country love song, and songs about losing loved ones,” Morris said to Rolling Stone. “It’s all real and it’s all country.” J.H.

yola
3

Yola, ‘Walk Through Fire’

Prior to launching her solo career, British singer-songwriter Yola worked as a top-line songwriter, sang with Massive Attack, and performed in bands including Bugz in the Attic and Phantom Limb. There was scant little evidence of Bristol-born Yolanda Quartey’s pop and electronic pedigree on her proper debut Walk Through Fire, however — instead, it was a smooth-sipping master class in country-soul, produced by Dan Auerbach and played with knowing expertise by the Easy Eye Sound house band. There were shades of Dusty in Memphis (“Faraway Look”) and even Carole King’s sturdy singer-songwriter pop (“Still Gone”), but Yola sounded equally confident with more down-home traditions, as heard on the fiddle-laced title track and the lush, gentle ballad “Shady Grove.” Above it all, her deft sense of melody and commanding voice shined through, rising from a low purr to an explosive, cathartic cry on “Lonely the Night” and caressing an easygoing, windows-down groove in “Ride Out in the Country.” J.F.

Miranda Lambert
2

Miranda Lambert, ‘Wildcard’

Working with innovative producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Brothers Osborne) for the first time, Miranda Lambert reinvigorated her sound with rock & roll energy on Wildcard. On these 14 new songs, the country star shrugged off life’s little mishaps (and men) in the lead single “It All Comes Out in the Wash” and then knowingly chuckled about seeing her face adorning the tabloids in “Pretty Bitchin’.” In “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” Lambert and Maren Morris traded wicked fantasies about knocking off an unfaithful partner. But there were also hints of Lambert’s new love, as with the smoldering “Fire Escape” and the vulnerable “How Dare You Love.” She experimented with her sound on the sleek “Mess With My Head” and the punk-tinged “Locomotive,” but easily switched gears to bedrock country in “Tequila Does” and the stark closing track “Dark Bars.” Through it all she held fast to hope. “If the whole world just stops singing and all the stars go dark/I’ll keep a light on in my soul and a bluebird in my heart,” she sang in “Bluebird,” a perfectly uplifting message for these (or any other) dark times. J.F.

tanya tucker
1

Tanya Tucker, ‘While I’m Livin”

Although Tucker hates to refer to it as such, her “comeback” album couldn’t have turned out any better — While I’m Livin’ featured 10 expertly chosen songs, two Grammy-winning producers, and one unmistakable voice. (It also netted her four Grammy nominations of her own.) A concise 35 minutes, the LP captured the outlaw essence of the one-time teenage star without resting on past laurels — there’s no “Delta Dawn” remake here. Instead, co-producers Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings challenged Tucker, throwing a cover of Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” at her, along with a wealth of brand-new songs written especially for the 61-year-old by Carlile and Phil and Tim Hanseroth. “Mustang Ridge” and “The Wheels of Laredo” nodded to her Texas raising, and “I Don’t Owe You Anything” found her playing the badass to the hilt. But it’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” about gathering those rosebuds while ye may, that was the album’s apex. “Good music is good, no matter what year, what generation. ‘Delta Dawn’ is always going to be a great song,” Tucker told Rolling Stone. “And that’s why you keep striving to find songs like that.” J.H.

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