At the end of every year, there is an abundance of “best of” lists – and with many of them we repeatedly see the same artists. That’s not to say they’re not worthy, but there is a plethora of fabulous musical stylings out there that don’t seem to get into the ears of as many people as they deserve.
While it’s impossible to listen to every album and song released, these 21 - with their well crafted story songs that key in on lyricism, melody, and a vocal delivery that is 100% believable - largely bubbled under the surface, yet hit me hard at first listen and were kept in constant rotation since their respective releases.
21. The Traveling Ones Meet Me There
This Austin-based band's soothing, subtle melodies, earnest lyrics, and tender harmonies on Meet Me There glide along peacefully, and never fail to make an emotional impact and connect with the listener.
20. Emi Sunshine Ragged Dreams
At thirteen years old, Sunshine is an old soul….and an incredibly talented one at that. All originals, her dreams may be ragged, but her future is shining bright.
19. Bern Kelly Lost Films
Kelly gives collection of ten songs that are sonically varied, yet bonded by their detailed, meaningful narratives which play out like vivid mini-movies as you listen.
18. Drew Kennedy At Home in the Big Lonesome
The well-respected Texas singer-songwriter eleven track project combines his well honed writing skills and soulful vocals with piano and strings alongside more traditional acoustic instrumentation which serves as a perfect sonic backdrop for the evocative nature of the memorable tunes.
17. Korby Lenker Thousand Springs
Lenker skipped the studio and traveled the country to record in places that held special meaning to him (including his home state of Idaho) and the result is an intimate, serene album carried by Lenker's charming vocals and poignant songwriting.
16. Paul Nipper Kamikaze Heart
Whether it's a 70's inspired honky-tonker, the jaunty "One of These Days," or a tender ballad ("Mama Loved Roses") this Texas singer-songwriter hits the target with timeless instrumentation and storytelling.
15. Karen and the Sorrows The Narrow Place
At the center of a growing queer country scene, The Sorrows' trailblazing country centers on compelling stories of heartbreak, loss, family and more...drawing the listener in with music that touches the heart and soul regardless of orientation or gender.
14. Canyon City Constellation
Paul Johnson's second full-length is a gorgeously warm, atmospheric collection of songs that envelopes the listener in thoughtful lyrics and sweeping melodies that are comforting, ethereal and universal.
13. Jeff CrosbyPostcards From Magdalena
Nashville by way of Idaho and places in between, Crosby mines his travels for personal stories of heartbreak, old habits, and loss that results in his strongest outing to date.
12. Dan Mills Something Good
With the rollicking “Quiet Car,” the soulful, harmony-filled title track, and the folky-acoustic (and irresistible) “Sandy,” Mills delivers a gem with his endearing vocals and honest, engaging story songs.
11. Ben Bostick (Self-Titled)
California-based Bostick's eponymous full-length takes a turn to the personal with a range of thoughtful songs that strike every emotion from loss and sadness to excitement to laughter.
10. Ha Ha Tonka Heart Shaped Mountain
On their fifth outing, the Missouri-based band supplies ten indie folk-pop gems which are replete with gorgeous melodies, insanely catchy hooks, and inspiring lyricism that focuses on life's ups and downs, but in a way that makes you feel that the climb up that mountain ain't all that bad. Also....they kill it live.
9. Joshua James My Spirit Sister
There's something incredibly haunting about the songs on James' latest; beautiful, elegant, and moving, they linger long after the needle stops.
8. The Mastersons Transient Lullaby
The singer-songwriting couple's third outing paints a picture of a relationship and it's ups and downs in a fashion that while at times dark, is always honest, and ultimately hopeful.
7. Allison Pierce Year of the Rabbit
Pierce stepped away from The Pierces to launch a new chapter in her career with this gorgeous set of Americana that is heartfelt, subtle, and timeless.
6. AJ Hobbs Too Much Is Never Enough
Released in January, Hobbs delivers an album that is lyrically and sonically compelling; all the while being unabashedly honest in conveying a man’s weaknesses and strengths in a manner that is sincere, immediate, and relatable. Even though it’s only January, Too Much Is Never Enough
5. Ags Connolly Nothin’ Unexpected
Connolly merges Western Swing, Honky Tonk, Rockabilly and Tex-Mex ("Do You Realize That Now?") melodies with sincere lyrics full of depth and intensity in an album that shines.
4. Parker McCollum Probably Wrong
Further showcasing his ability to craft honest, accessible tunes that never sacrifice storytelling and melodies for trends, McCollum is securing his spot as a distinctive voice in music who will not only forge his own path, but carry on the tradition of the respected Texas songwriters before him.
3. Robyn Ludwick This Tall To Ride
Ludwick's album isn’t sunshine and roses, but it is replete with stories and characters that make you think, feel, and yes even empathize with, because underneath the broken souls, cocaine, and sex, there’s a commonality simmering through the record which is the human need to make a connection and be loved, which is something we all can relate to.
2. The Dustbowl Revival (Self-Titled)
With their fifth album, the California-based octet broke their own mold, building into something fresh, funky, and (even more) fabulous without losing their ability to craft moving (and often times wonderfully sassy) story songs. They also, hands down, have the best song of 2017 in“Got Over.” If you aren’t moved by this song, check your pulse.
1. K Phillips Dirty Wonder
Phillips’ record was an early contender for the top spot soon after first listen. Why? Because in a world of singer-songwriters who seem to follow a formula, Phillips forges his own path. Based on experience, observation, and imagination, the ten-track collection, replete with detailed, literate stories, clever allusions, and well-drawn characters, is further distinguished by pedal steel, fuzzy guitars, and juke-joint keys combining into a unique offering that’s astute, learned, dynamic, and often, smoldering.
Other notable albums: Jade Jackson Gilded, Ned Roberts Outside My Mind, Jake La Botz Sunnyside, Charlie and the Regrets Rivers in the Streets, Bill Scorzari Through These Waves, Elijah Ocean (Self-Titled) and Chris Fullerton Epilepsy Blues
Max Gomez Me & Joe
Sam Marine Big Dark City
Hugh Masterson Lost + Found
Trapper Schoepp Bay Beach Amusement Park
Edward + Jane As Family We Gather
Butch Parnell The Fall
Kat Myers and the Buzzards Owe Everybody Money
Hitting All The Right Notes
The Musical Divide
Key Music News
Farce the Music