I’ll be honest with y’all, 2019 as not been a big year for me in terms of great country music albums. Usually, I put together a mid-year Top 10 list, but this year I’ve only got five. I need to listen to more, so let me know what y’all have been listening to because I need to diversify my listening experiences. This list doesn’t include the new Willie Nelson album because I haven’t heard it yet (my days of receiving advance CDs are over), and I’m excited for the rest of the year, which promises new albums from Miranda Lambert and Tyler Childers (and maaaaybe Sturgill Simpson). But for now, these five are the ones I’ve listened to the most since they’ve been released.
5. “GIRL,” Maren Morris
I don’t like this as much as Morris’ first album, “Hero,” and I would hesitate to call a great number of songs on this album “country.” But I am nothing if not a simple man with a weakness for nice guitar riffs, great love songs and Brandi Carlile collaborations.
Favorite Song: The Brothers Osborne collaboration “All My Favorite People” features the aforementioned guitar riff, and if Morris is smart, this is the single she releases for the summer.
4. “Homeland Insecurity,” Flatland Cavalry
The Lubbock five-piece’s second album straddles that line between Texas country and mainstream country, à la Cody Johnson or Aaron Watson. “Honeywine” and “Old School” are crowd-ready sing-along party songs, while opener “Come Back Down” is a loss-tinged sequel of sorts to “Stompin’ Grounds,” where the protagonist comes home. Seeing them live earlier this year was an absolute treat.
Favorite Song: The old-school heartbreaker “Other Side of Lonesome” is a throwback that I wish more groups would attempt.
3. “Celebrate,” Grady Spencer & the Work
Aside from Flatland Cavalry, Grady Spencer & the Work is the band I want to see break out into the mainstream the most. This Fort Worth group’s sound is less traditional country and more readily described as a bluesy, groovy Texicana, with lyrics about the realities of young middle age. I’ve been seeing these guys play bars in Austin for years, and I’m so excited to see they got signed to Red 11 Music. “Celebrate” keeps their sound the same and expands on the production value to great effect.
Favorite Song: The organ groove on “Living Lies” gets me every time.
2. “American Love Song,” Ryan Bingham
Ryan Bingham’s back, and he’s pissed off. The southwestern songsmith sets his sights on all that is plaguing America right now, and does it with his signature blend of folk, blues and rock.
Favorite Song: “America” is a short, mournful screed.
1. “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden),” Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
Willie Nelson has a new album coming out today, but his son Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real just released a new album called “Turn Off The News (Build A Garden).” Lukas has been building up a big resume lately (namely, being the in-movie backing band for Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine in last year’s “A Star Is Born” remake), but he firmly steps out of his father’s shadow on this record, which blends folk wisdom, alt-country and Southern rock with gleeful precision.
Favorite Song: The title track is a happy reminder to be present — even when I am at my job, where I break news.
Honorable Mention for most country-sounding non-country albums:
“Western Stars,” Bruce Springsteen
“In League With Dragons,” The Mountain Goats
“Phoenix,” Pedro the Lion
If you want to check out previous “best-of” lists I’ve done, see below: