Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2016 Country Perspective had the privilege to review a lot of fine music. The world of country, Americana and folk certainly produced it’s fair share of great music throughout the year, reviving old sounds and sparking new ones every step of the way. There was certainly a fair share of innovation and creativity on display from a variety of artists. And now we get to look back the very best that was released. We first take a look at the very best albums of 2016, which will be nominated for Country Perspective’s top award, Album of the Year.

When deciding what album will win the 2016 Country Perspective Album of the Year Award, Country Perspective will take into consideration some key aspects: songwriting, instrumentation, production, accolades, impact on genre, consistent quality in the album and how memorable they are. I will ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But I’m not the only one deciding. Country Perspective encourages feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly be considered when determine who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. This year I did a much better job I feel in grading, especially for the 10/10 albums and only gave a couple of grades that I ultimately found to be too high. After much consideration I found four albums were ultimately worthy of their 10/10 grades and fit to be the nominations for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. So without further ado, here are the nominees:

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Various Artists/Dave Cobb – Southern Family

Coming into 2016 this was an album everybody in the independent/traditional community were licking their chops in anticipation to hear. How could you not be excited for a project headed by super producer Dave Cobb, which everything he touches seems to turn into gold? To top it off an all-star cast of artists from both the mainstream country and Americana realms would be recording the music. Well the hype was certainly met, as this turned out to be exactly what many anticipated it to be and that’s one of the year’s best albums. While this didn’t make the impact I was hoping it would make, everyone who has heard it in both critics and fans circles seem to be in near unanimous conclusion that it’s brilliant. It’s hard to pick highlights on this album because you could pretty much say this about every song. Cobb got 100% out of each artist on the project.

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

BJ Barham Rockingham

BJ Barham – Rockingham 

Small towns are a pretty common theme in country music. If you turn on country radio you’re bound to hear some upbeat song that glorifies small town living and makes rural living out to be the greatest thing in the world. But the truth is there are a lot of harsh realities about small town living you won’t hear about in those songs. Luckily for us there are artists like BJ Barham who come along and give us the sad truth behind small towns all across America. Barham has spent the majority of his career as the frontman of the popular independent country group American Aquarium. But this year he decided to step out alone and release his first solo album, a project titled Rockingham that he wrote after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The result is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

BJ Barham’s Rockingham will flat-out knock you on your ass. It’s depressing as hell and it’s full of raw emotion. Don’t take this as bad as it’s quite the opposite. It’s a beautifully dark album that paints a poignant tale of the failed American dream, lost hope, the hells of small town living and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The songwriting is absolutely flawless and couldn’t be any deeper if it tried. While I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the instrumentation on this album because the songwriting is so excellent, it also shines bright and does a good job of letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting. At eight songs long, this album is somehow the perfect length. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way. I don’t think there will be another album released this year as morbid as Rockingham. But I don’t know if there’s an album better than it this year too.

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson capture our inaugural Album of the Year award in 2014 with his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and now he’s back again going for his second win. Metamodern launched Simpson’s career into a whole new stratosphere, as he signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records and has quickly become a household name in country and popular critics’ circles. So in 2016 he was faced with the unenviable task of following up a near-universally praised album, while also releasing his first album under a major label. Of course in his own unique way, he delivered again.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth has received just as much praise from critics as his sophomore album, despite some grumblings from fans hoping he would have been more traditional with his music. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and went on to be #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, Billboard Top Rock Albums chart and the Billboard Folk chart. He’s also continuing to sell out larger venues across the world and appears to not be slowing down in the slightest in terms of his popularity. Needless to say Simpson wins in terms of impact of the nominees, but this is only one facet of the award.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King Animal

Chris King – Animal 

Chris King came onto a lot of people’s radars in 2013 with the release of his album 1983. It was definitely a country leaning album. But his follow-up takes a different. King went Americana with his new album Animal and the creative shift pays off in spades to deliver an enthralling album on heartbreak and life. You could call it a concept album, but then again aren’t all good albums concept albums? There’s still a country influence in the album, but there’s also rock, pop and other flourishes. King and Animal are undoubtedly the underdog of these four nominees, as the other nominees are an all-star cast of names, one of the biggest artists in country music and a popular independent artist with a fairly large following. But King absolutely belongs alongside them, as he proves with Animal he’s a name you should be familiarizing yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like. Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

That’s your nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year award. Be sure to voice who you believe should win in the comments below. 

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24 thoughts on “Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year Nominees

  1. My vote for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year is for “Southern Family”. It was a cool little project that brought together both independent and mainstream acts and turned out a lot better than I expected it to be. Great album.

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  2. “Only the best of the best get a shot.”
    …well…out of the four nominees: Southern Family.

    My Nominees For Album Of The Year:
    Doug Bruce – Unsung (A Tribute To The Songs Of Buddy Bruce)
    Kaylens Rain – It’s In The Blood
    Margo Price – Midwest Famer’s Daughter
    Troy Cassar-Daley – Things I Carry Around
    Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives
    Kelsey Waldon – I’ve Got A Way
    Moe Bandy – Lucky Me

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    • I’m glad to see Mark Chesnutt’s album get a mention here. I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen more people mention Cody Jinks or Luke Bell. Anyway, I’ll also throw some positivity toward a couple of very recently released albums that seem to have passed under the radar of most reviewers. Seth James & Jessica Murray’s album “A Million Miles of Love” includes some really good songs, including “I Don’t Need a Reason.” Also, one might enjoy checking out Matthew Lane’s album “Ranch Road 479,” which includes songs like “Scarecrow in the Garden.”

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  3. However, my personal pick for album of the year would be William Michael Morgan’s “Vinyl”. Such a damn great country record, start to finish. Runner-up would be Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings”, while Jon Pardi’s “California Sunrise” takes third place.

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    • I’m a huge WMM fan, but none of those three albums belong on the same conversation as Margo Price, or Sturgil, or Cody Jinks

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      • Margo’s album was awesome as well. I completely understand the appeal of Sturgill’s album, but I just couldn’t get into this one the same way I could Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. This album was just good to me, whereas Metamodern Sounds was excellent. And I still need to check out Cody Jinks. I’ve heard great things about the guy. 🙂

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  4. Out of these, definitely southern Family. Definitely one of the best albums of the year, bringing out the best in all involved and telling a timeless story of Southern culture. Other nominees I would have picked are Dori Freeman’s debut and Honest Life by Courtney Marie Andrews.

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  5. Southern Family is a good album, but as a compilation album it gets automatically disqualified for me. Also the best song on the album was a cover (Sunshine). Also, an album about the south & southern culture with zero African-American voices is borderline offensive.

    From a country perspective my choice from these four would be Chris King, Sturgil is more Americanna to me. I also really like Brandy Clark’s album.

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    • Well the Settles Connection choir appears on the final song of the album, but your point is certainly fair in regards to lack of African American voices on the album.

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      • You are right, and despite the fact that they do all the vocals, they’re not even credited on the track listing. That’s actually even worse (in my mind). The sole AA voices, and they receive zero credit on the album listing.

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        • That is complete bullshit and something I wish I had criticized myself in the review. I’m not sure why Cobb didn’t credit them. Definitely gives me something to think about with this album.

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      • But hey, African-Americans doing the bulk of the work, but getting zero credit is very southern, so maybe it’ fitting. #dontuseachoirforvocalsandnotputthemonthedammtracklisting

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  6. Sturgill Simpson hands down. The first time I listened I couldn’t help but think… what the crap, this isn’t country this is just noise. But the more I listen to it, the more I hear it. I personally hear something different every single time with that album. Along with his other albums, some of my all times faves.

    Also something I think is interesting… if you listen to his albums all straight in a row you can really hear how his music has totally progressed. Sturgill has totally grown as an artist and will continue to do so.

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  7. Out of the 4 choices, i give the edge to Sturgil’s Sailors Guide. I thought it was a super cool project and the best part, it was an artist doing exactly what he wanted to do. Simpson was having a blast and it shows. I havent had an album as a whole, grab a hold of me like this one did in quite some time. As a father to young children such as me, i consider this essential listening. Block out your schedule for about 35-36 min., and just chill the freak out!

    Southern Family i love as well as artists associated with it, but it didnt have the lasting appeal as much as some. BJ Barhams featured strong writing, but makes you wanna drink yourself to a coma. Very much a downer, prefer American Aquarium as opposed to solo effort. As for King, honestly just lack of familiarity, and just not my sound. All choices are great and very worthy of distinction though.

    My personal top 5, (gotta say, which is rare for me, the females flat out brought it this year.)
    1. Margo Price
    2. Sturgill Simpson
    3. Kelsey Waldon
    4. Cody Jinks
    5. Brent Cobb

    Honorables: All of these featured previously released material or newer versions of older tracks:

    Dwight Yoakam- Swimming Pools, Movie Stars…

    Willie Nelson- Ray Price Tribute

    Waylon Jennings- Lost Nashville Sessions

    All 3 were very fun projects and i thought were very well done.

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  8. “Southern Family” would definitely be my pick among the albums listed.

    Though it’s admittedly stretching beyond the confides of country, Lydia Loveless’s “Real” made more of an impact on me than any of the remaining three considerations. And I second the Dori Freeman shootout.

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  9. Although it is quite disappointing to read about the omission of credits for the Settles Connection Choir, I would also go with Southern Family from this list. The BJ Barham album is excellent, but borderline EP with only 8 songs. The Sturgill Simpson album is stellar, but not really a country effort. Chris King – I have to plead ignorance. I am glad to see other’s recommendations for Dori Freeman and Kelsey Waldon. Both their albums are worthy of nomination in my opinion. And I would also agree with the mentions of Cody Jinks and Courtney Marie Andrews. Mentioned above in reference to BJ Barham, the Hayes Carll album is most definitely on the heavy of heart side, but there are some songwriting gems worth remembering on his release. Still feels early for end of year lists and nominations, but I guess it isn’t…

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    • The reason I’ve started my lists and awards earlier this year is for multiple reasons. First because everyone else is and second I’ve found most people won’t pay attention after a certain time in December if you stretch it too far. In the very first year of the blog I made it stretch until the end of the year and latter announced stuff was mostly ignored. Plus some outlets consider the start/end of each music year to be December, like the Billboard Hot 100.

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      • Thanks, Josh. I was more lamenting the fact that it’s already nearly the end of 2016. It’s December this week…but thank for the note!

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  10. My sensibilities are not traditional country centric. But of the albums I’ve listened to in 2016, the most country-ish album that I found to be worthy of a top three spot is Elizabeth Cook’s “Exodus of Venus”.

    But that’s just me. And to be fair, my album of the year will probably not be from the country/Americana genre, so take that as you will.

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  11. I will also put my $0.02 in as I’ve listened extensively to the records that made the list and most of the ones that others have listed… I believe Cody Jinks’ I’m Not the Devil should not only make the list but probably end up the album of the year. I love Miranda’s The Weight of These Wings, agree that it’s her best work of her career. Southern Family is incredible, as what was expected. BJ Barham’s album is also incredible. I’m guessing Cody’s didn’t make the list because I never saw a full review of the album on here. I only ever saw a review of the song.

    I can’t wait to see him at the Cabooze in Minneapolis on 12/10!

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  12. Of the albums listed, my vote is for Sturgill Simpson (also, Sea Stories is right up there for my favourite song of the year).

    For what it’s worth, my personal top ten is as follows:

    1. Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms – Innocent Road
    2. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
    3. Kelsey Waldon – I’ve Got A Way
    4. Dwight Yoakam – Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
    5. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
    6. Luke Bell – self-titled
    7. Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil
    8. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
    9. Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives
    10. Southern Family

    Honourable Mention (in no particular order):

    Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day
    Dori Freeman – self-titled
    Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town
    Miranda Lambert – The Weight Of These Wings (specifically, the second album)

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  13. If I can make a case for Southern Family, I will say that it absolutely sucks that the Settles Connection Choir got uncredited for “The Way Home”. You won’t find me defending that bullshit.

    However, it’s absolutely stupid to hold SF back from winning solely because of that. I’m not saying you’re going to do this, I’m just saying IF you do BECAUSE OF THAT, Dave Cobb gets punished sure, but so do the other artists who contributed something of value to the project, not to mention the Settles Connection Choir gets screwed over once more :p

    In other words, holding back from AOTY isn’t the answer…

    Of course you could like an album here more than SF, just making a case for it before the winner is announced.

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