It's that time of year again, when all the "best of" lists start popping up everywhere. Well, we thought we would throw our hat into the ring and let you know what we thought were the best albums of 2013. They may not have been mega-sellers, but they were albums full of great tunes and every time we played them, our ears-and a lot of times our hearts-were happy.
10. Randy Rogers Band Trouble A lot of people "never got around' to this album, which leaves me scratching my head because RRB delivered a strong album that may have been their best yet. The album, produced by Jay Joyce, contains 11 songs that you will feel when you listen, whether it is the sadness of "If I Had Another Heart" or the fun ride of the Willie Nelson duet "Trouble Knows My Name." Songwriting, melodies and musicianship make this an album worth your time.
9. Reckless Kelly Long Night Moon These Austin based roots rockers are back with album number eight (ten if you count the live recordings) and show no signs out slowing down or becoming repetitive. The album contains songs about love, life on the road and travelling. Although there are fewer rockers than one might come to expect from a RK record, Long Night Moon is stellar top to bottom and will be on the playlist well into 2014 and beyond.
8. The Pistol Annies Annie Up I don't know what is happening personally or professionally with this trio, but I do know they made a fantastic record this year; a record that probably not many people have heard. From "Unhappily Married" to "Being Pretty Ain't Pretty" this record is filled with stories and songs both funny, serious and relatable with pure country twang.
7. Holly Williams The Highway Although it may be more Americana/folk than country, this is a fantastic third offering from Hank Williams granddaughter. She is a triple threat: singer, musician, and storyteller. The album contains songs about strong women, the men in their lives and relationships; all set to lovely melodies. The album features appearances by Jackson Browne, Jakob Dylan and Dierks Bentley, on personal favorite, "'Til It Runs Dry."
6. Eric Church Caught In The Act Live Sure there are no new songs on this record, but this record makes the list because it takes you there. An Eric Church show is like no other and from the second this album starts you can feel the energy and electricity that is ECB live. If you have seen them, you know what I am talking about. If you have not, get the record, immerse yourself in the music and then get yourself to a show in 2014.
5. Ashely Monroe Like A Rose One-third of the Pistol Annies put out a terrific album of her own this year. A true country album with songs about getting out of a marital rut ("Weed Instead of Roses"), a humorous duet with Blake Shelton ("You Ain't Dolly") to losing in love ("She's Driving Me Out of Your Mind"). A true singer songwriter who definitely represents traditional country.
4. Charlie Worsham Rubberband This young man's debut album was a critical darling...and with good reason. Charlie is a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who blends the traditional with the progressive with impressive results. He sings with a natural emotion and believability and utilizes instruments such as the dobro, mandolin and banjo. Highlights include "Young To See" and "Tools of the Trade" with Marty Stuart and Vince Gill.
3. Brady Paisley Wheelhouse It might take more than a few listens, but you will end up loving this record from Brad Paisley. He ventures into new territory with this offering, yet honors his roots on a record where the lyrics continue to be witty and honest and the musicianship first rate.
2. Brandy Clark 12 Stories Ms. Clark is an amazing songwriter and more importantly an amazing storyteller. She has co-written songs that The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert have made famous. Her songs paint pictures and address the lives of women. "Stripes" is a humorous look at how a woman will get revenge on a cheating man in ways other than one that will land her in prison garb. The rest of the album is a little more down tempo that "Stripes," but it's the story telling that hooks you. Highlights include "Hold My Hand" and "Get High," which many women at a certain place in their life can relate to.
1. Will Hoge Strong This is rock and roll with country soul at its best ladies and gentleman. A record with heart that you can listen to start to finish. No skipping allowed, but you won't want to anyway. Like some of the others on the list, Will is most definitely another triple threat. An excellent musician, gritty and soulful singer and stellar songwriter whose lyrics are powerful, relatable, insightful and sometimes downright heartbreaking ("Home Is Where The Heart Breaks"). The album includes rockin' numbers like "Bad Ole' Days," to ballads like "Damn Spotlight" all delivered with honesty and emotion like only he can. It is a true album that belongs in everyone's music library.
Other albums that were very good include The Band Perry's Pioneer, Tim McGraw's Two Lanes of Freedom, Kacey Musgraves Same Trailer Different Park and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowells duet album. In addition, ZBB's just released EP The Grohl Sessions Vol 1 and Parmalee's Feels Like Carolina are terrific albums I fully expect to make the list next year.