2013 was a great year for country music, particularly when it comes to mainstream success. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert continued their unofficial reign as country’s king-and-queen, picking up many of the year’s top awards, Luke Bryan continued to weaken female knees and energize partygoers, and newcomer duo Florida Georgia Line skyrocketed to the top with their crossover hit “Cruise.”
That said, when you see my picks for the top five country albums of 2013, you might be surprised at who is, and who is not, on the list. This is because I didn’t take any artist’s popularity or momentum into account—I simply chose to take the albums on their own merits, and looking over the year, I felt these came out on top. See what you think.
The “dark horse” on the list, Kacey Musgraves came seemingly out of nowhere this year and managed to nab a CMA for New Artist of the Year, along with multiple Grammy nominations. Surprisingly, she did this not by trying to compete with powerhouse vocalists like Swift and Underwood, but through understated vocals combined with thoughtful lyricism. Perhaps a bit progressive content-wise for old-school country fans, there’s no doubt Musgraves has opened country up to a new generation with this album.
Primarily known before now as one-third of Pistol Annies (who also yielded a pretty good record this year), Ashley Monroe shone with her debut solo record Like a Rose (which incidentally is the second debut album on the Top 5, along with Kacey Musgraves). The album represents a great balance between traditional and modern country sounds, with relevant, thoughtful lyricism carried beautifully by Monroe’s vocals.
The internal feud that now keeps this duo apart is old news, but before their differences became irreconcilable, they managed to pour their emotions into a self-titled sophomore release. The end result is one of the most honest and poignant albums of the year—and of course, great music to boot.
The one “heavy-hitter” who actually made it onto my top five, Blake Shelton is here for good reason: he put out an outstanding, hit-filled album. It doesn’t break any new ground lyrically or musically, but it offers a diverse track list with songs you’re practically guaranteed to keep singing long after the music stops.
1. The Band Perry, Pioneer
I predicted when I wrote the review of this album that it might be my favorite of the year. In the months following, that has not changed. The Perry siblings simply outdid themselves with their sophomore effort, reinforcing my belief that they are movers and shakers destined to shape the direction of country music for the next couple of decades.