Here Are Our 22 Favorite Albums of 2016
Digging through our library, it became increasingly tougher to nail down a hard top five or 10 albums you may have forgotten to buy/download/stream in 2016.
So, you just get all of them.
It seemed it would be near impossible to have a better 2016 than 2015, when we listed 13 incredible records that are worthy to be heard by any music lover (check out that list, too, because it's really good).
But 2016 proved to be another stellar year for Texas, Red Dirt, Americana, etc., music. There are a few new names, some you've heard of for years and maybe a name or two you haven't heard from in a while.
Without further adieu, here are our 22 favorite albums. Albums that you need to add to your arsenal if you haven't already:
American Aquarium in the midst of a meteoric rise as of late, especially in Texas. The Raleigh, N.C., band makes its way to Texas several times per year to increasingly bigger crowds, and there's good reason why. American Aquarium shows why it's one of the best live bands around with Live At Terminal West, which was recorded live in Atlanta, Ga. Their latest single, "Northeast Texas Women" (a Willis Alan Ramsey cover) is the crown jewel.
Now that we're on the subject of American Aquarium (and we're going in alphabetical order), lead singer BJ Barham released a solo album in 2016, Rockingham, that is about as raw as you can get. Not only is the songwriting pure and personal, the album was recorded completely in two days. Don't miss "Madeline" and "Unfortunate Kind," which was recorded in just one take.
Not only is the cover art of Brent Cobb's Shine on Rainy Day classically vintage, you can also say the same for his music. Channeling Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and touches of Tom Petty and The Band, Cobb's album is one you'll want to turn up as loud as you can with the windows rolled down.
Charlie Stout's Dust & Wind might be the one album in this entire list that you need to get if you forsake all others. Fans of Guy Clark, Chris Knight and James McMurtry will immediately fall in love with Stout's intense, passionate songwriting. Recorded in an abandoned church in a New Mexico ghost town, Dust & Wind will quickly become one of your favorites, like it has mine. "The Years That Go By" is one you can't miss.
There might not be an artist who has risen higher and faster in the Texas scene than Cody Jinks, who started selling out clubs and bars left and right after his 2015 album, Adobe Sessions. He followed up with I'm Not The Devil, which also shows off his vocal chops but goes deeper into the mind of the former metal singer, who reaches far into his soul for his best songwriting yet. Jinks doesn't apologize for who he is or the music he makes, and this album is proof of that.
So, there's a good chance you've already downloaded Cody Johnson's latest album, Gotta Be Me. But in case you returned home from life in the Amazon or just haven't gotten around to it yet, CoJo's newest effort can't be ignored. He dropped a lot of jaws and raised a lot of eyebrows when the record debuted at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart (only finishing behind Blake Shelton's If I'm Honest, which was on sale for 99 cents at the time). Gotta Be Me is full of classic Cody Johnson but also full of stronger songwriting and tighter recording.
Lubbock-based Flatland Cavalry is a breath of fresh air for those looking for great, old-fashioned honest country-folk music. Cleto Cordero and Co. have won over a lot of fans in West Texas since they released their EP, Come May, but their first full-length album, Humble Folks, showed they're ready to play with the big boys.
Fans used to the "KMAG YOYO" style of Hayes Carll were met with quite the surprise on Lovers and Leavers, on which he slowed his pace and left behind the heavy rock sounds. His songwriting is at its peak here and it shows a side of Hayes Carll we waited years to hear.
Can you believe Jack Ingram is closer to 50 years old than 40? Though you'd never be able to tell on Midnight Motel, Ingram's first album release in seven years. After being dropped by Big Machine Records in 2009, Ingram took some time off before putting out his newest effort, which is classic Ingram. In short, he doesn't give a damn again, and it's fantastic.
John Prine is 70 now. His voice has noticeably worn down due to age and two bouts with cancer, but the classic is still apparent on For Better, or Worse. He teams up with plenty of female names you'll recognize -- Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack and Morgane Stapleton, among others -- for duets, and you only need a few seconds into track No. 1 to know what it's like to listen to great John Prine music again.
Kacey Musgraves has a way of attracting fans to a genre they may not necessarily have liked before. She's won over millions of hearts with her country records, including many non-country fans, and now she's done it with Christmas music. Commercialization has soured many of us on Christmas music, but the East Texas native is here to restore that love. "A Willie Nice Christmas" with Willie Nelson and "Present Without A Bow" with Leon Bridges are both pure gold.
Miranda Lambert has been at the forefront of mainstream country music for nearly a decade now, but her newest record, The Weight of These Wings, is Miranda's ultimate achievement. Her follow-up to her much-publicized divorce from Blake Shelton is Miranda at her best. Her songwriting is raw, honest and the album is one that will go down as one of country music's best ever.
Paul Cauthen, the former frontman of Sons of Fathers, didn't hold back on his first solo effort. Cauthen dives into country, rock, soul, gospel, roots and even Elvis Presley in My Gospel, which grabs hold of you from the first track, "Still Drivin'," through the end of the title track. Though the songwriting is sometimes repetitive, it's not unusual for the style of music. It's Cauthen's voice, however, that shines on such a masterpiece.
Watch This is an album of live recordings during Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen's "Hold My Beer and Watch This Tour," which is a must-see for any Texas country fan. The 19-song record showcases not only their acoustic chops, but it shows a type of chemistry we've come to expect from two Texas legends.
Randy Rogers continues to put out heavyweight after heavyweight, and Nothing Shines Like Neon was just that. His tribute to the late Kent Finlay and his San Marcos club Cheatham Street Warehouse is apparent throughout the album, and that's the way Randy wanted it.
It's been five years since we've seen an album from Ryan Beaver, but it was worth the wait. His 2016 release, Rx, not only showcases Beaver's impeccable songwriting prowess, but his voice has a new, raw, powerful sound to it that makes this record so special. It's tough to recover after back-to-back knockouts in "Dark" and "Rum and Roses" at the start of the album, but the whole thing is a timeless piece of work.
It's been a while since we've heard anything from Seth James after he left The Departed, but he's back with an album especially close to his heart. Recorded with his wife of 15 years, Jessica Murrary, the duo recently put out A Million Miles of Love. It's a testament to their resiliency despite James always being on the road and their life now with family being priority. It's honest music that anyone will love.
Is there anything Dave Cobb can't do? After winning two GRAMMY Awards in 2015 for Album of the Year with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, Cobb followed that with a compilation album of superstar artists singing about their ties to the South. Isbell, Stapleton's wife Morgane, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown, Jamey Johnson and more appear on Southern Family, which if you're Southern, will feel right at home.
Sturgill Simpson's first major-label release, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, feels like a departure from his two prior albums -- and it was supposed to. Written for his newborn son, the album is not the typical Sturgill Simpson we're used to, but that doesn't make it any less masterful. From the title track "Brace For Impact (Live A Little)," to his cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom," A Sailor's Guide to Earth shows the inner workings of Simpson we all to see (and hear). Oh, and it was just nominated for two GRAMMYs for Album of the Year and Country Album of the Year.
The Cadillac has released one-off singles and an EP since their 2012 self-titled album, but now we finally have a new full-length record -- and it's The Cadillac Three we know and love. Jaren Johnston has made a name for himself writing some of the biggest songs to come out of Nashville, but his work with TC3 is superior to it all. It's undeniably Southern, undeniably country and undeniably The Cadillac Three.
The first, most important woman to any Texas man is his mother, and Texas country legend Wade Bowen put together an album for his mom. Then Sings My Soul is Bowen singing 12 gospel hymns, all of which any God-fearing Southern will know and appreciate.
William Clark Green will be the first to tell you his two favorite albums are Jack Ingram: Live at Gruene Hall and Jerry Jeff Walker: Live at Gruene Hall, so it only made since that his first live record would be at Texas' most famous dancehall. It's WCG at his best, and now you have the evidence to show that he's one of the best live acts in Texas. And the "Remember the Alamo" from the crowd will crack you up every time.
Whiskey Myers travels the country (and the world) making no apologies for who they are, where they come from or the music they play. Mud is indicative of that attitude, and it might just be their best work to date. Produced by Dave Cobb, Mud is raw, gritty and is Whiskey Myers to a 'T.' Brent Cobb joins the band on the album's last track, "Good Ole Days," which is a perfect close.