2012 was really a year for the guys, as far as country music is concerned. While the females seem to have dominated the spotlight in recent years, male acts have dominated the country charts this year—and for good reason. On my list of best country albums for 2012, you’ll find quite a few of them, especially the up-and-coming younger guys, who I believe are set to shape the future of country in days to come (more on that in a future piece).
Without further ado, then…from least to greatest, here are my picks for the must-listen country albums of 2012.
8. Rascal Flatts, Changed
If I’m gonna be honest, Rascal Flatts’ latest release hasn’t carried the same level of energy as some of their earlier recordings. But as far as albums go, Changed shows a deeper maturity and consistency from a band whose stripes are well-earned, so it gets a spot on my list.
7. Dierks Bentley, Home
I know, I know…I didn’t give this record a very good initial review, and I still think it’s a bit shallow. But danged if “5-1-5-0” isn’t one of the catchiest tunes of 2-0-1-2. For what it’s worth, it’s a great record for a party or a line dance.
6. Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
This record ended a slump for Underwood (if you could call it that), turning out more hit singles already than her last two records combined. The album loses a bit of momentum toward the end, but the first four songs alone are worth the price of admission.
5. Hunter Hayes, Hunter Hayes
Just look at his face; this is country’s answer to Justin Bieber. This young-un has been around the country scene for awhile, making the most waves as a songwriter for acts like Rascal Flatts; but his self-titled full-length debut shows he’s ready to own the stage for himself. We’re going to be hearing his single “Wanted” for a long time to come.
4. Dustin Lynch, Dustin Lynch
Still a newcomer on most radars, Dustin Lynch’s self-titled debut ensures we’re going to be hearing a lot more from this guy in days to come. He’s a young guy with an old-school country sound that could one day put him in the same class with George Strait and Tim McGraw. The single “Cowboys and Angels” is still on my most-played list, and I don’t think it’s coming off anytime soon.
3. Gloriana, A Thousand Miles Left Behind
Another up-and-comer, Gloriana gets additional props for putting out their personal best record in the face of diversity—namely, unintentionally going from a foursome to a threesome. Losing Cheyene Kimball ironically may have been the best thing to happen to this band.
2. Jason Aldean, Night Train
In my review of this record, I mentioned this might be one of my favorite albums of the year. That hasn’t changed. Despite Aldean’s penchant for genre-blending, this is a well-produced collection, a satisfying blend of feel-good party tunes and moving ballads, and yes, even a bit of rap.
1. Little Big Town, Tornado
This is the record I was hoping Little Big Town would make. They’re a consistently great act that in my opinion hasn’t gotten the attention they deserved—until now, that is. “Pontoon” is still one of my personal favorite songs this year.