My Top Five Country Albums Of 2016

Last summer, I wrote a post about my top five country albums of 2016 so far (you can read it here if you're so inclined). However, there were a few late entries that became big favourites of mine towards the end of the year, so for today's postI've decided to write an updated list. So without further ado, here are the country albums I loved most in the last 12 months...

1: Miranda Lambert - The Weight Of These Wings
It's fair to say Miranda Lambert's double album was the most anticipated record of 2016 - and it didn't disappoint. The Weight Of These Wings is definitely more introspective than her previous albums, although there are some fun uptempo numbers like 'Pink Sunglasses' and 'For The Birds'. I also really loved the storytelling elements, from 'Runnin' Just In Case' as the narrator leaves one breakup, progressing through the highs and lows of a new relationship and then ending with another depature on 'I've Got Wheels'. Standout tracks for me were 'Tin Man', 'Use My Heart', 'Highway Vagabond' and 'Vice', but I think my favourite is 'We Should Be Friends'. I can't wait to hear her singing it live when I see her on tour in August!

2: Dierks Bentley - Black
Another 'story' album, but this time it's examining a relationship and how the right one can change you for the better. Dierks does a great job of showcasing his protagonist's journey from thinking in purely carnal terms on the opening title track to a newfound maturity by the time he gets to 'Can't Be Replaced' 13 songs later. I also really liked the more emotional side Dierks showed on the album's two duets, 'I'll Be The Moon' with Maren Morris and 'Different For Girls' with Elle King, although there are still party songs like 'Somewhere On A Beach' and 'Mardi Gras' on there too. He's pulled off an outstanding album that requires you to sit down and listen to it all the way through, in order, and that's becoming increasingly rare. Hats off to him!

3: Maren Morris - Hero
I don't think a week has gone by when I haven't listened to at least one song on this album. It strikes a great balance between the uptempo tongue-out, two-fingers-up tracks such as the ska-tinged 'Rich' and 'Drunk Girls Don't Cry' and the more emotional likes of 'I Could Use A Love Song' and 'I Wish I Was', which are great showcases for Morris' songwriting talents. My favourite song still has to be 'My Church' though; it just oozes soul and defies you not to sing along as loud as you can. I'm so looking forward to hearing the entire O2 singing it back at her when she makes her main stage debut in March.

4: Jon Pardi - California Sunrise
'Big hat' country had something of a revival in 2016 (largely due to the success of a certain Mr Stapleton), and Jon Pardi was at the forefront of it with his sophomore record. From the lead single 'Head Over Boots', which is surely going to be a country wedding staple for years to come, to the 'Fence Post'-esque opener 'Out Of Style', the stomping 'Dirt On My Boots' and the heartfelt ballad 'She Ain't In It', there isn't a dud track on the entire album. It's full of down-home twang but with enough poppy leanings to appeal to new country fans as well as traditionalists, and songs that will stick in your head for days. Definitely my discovery of the year.

5: The Shires - My Universe
I loved The Shires' debut album, Brave, and this follow-up is even better. It's packed with pulsating beats, shimmering melodies and, as usual, Ben and Chrissie's beautiful harmonies. Songs like 'My Universe', 'Beats To Your Rhythm' and 'A Thousand Hallelujahs' are practically begging to have an entire arena of people singing along to their choruses at full blast. But my favourite songs are the pair of ballads about their fathers: Chrissie's solo number 'Daddy's Little Girl' and 'Everything You Never Gave', which sees Ben reflecting on parenthood and his own relationship with his dad. The album is a perfect marriage of all my favourite things about Brave and showing the band's growth as musicians and songwriters, and I've played it non-stop all autumn. Bring on the tour!

Honourable mentions: Chris Lane's Girl Problems, which replaced Thomas Rhett as my getting-ready-to-go-out country album; William Michael Morgan's Vinyl flying the flag for traditional country music; the gorgeous harmonies that littered Ward Thomas' wonderful Cartwheels; Frankie Ballard's southern rock-infused El Rio; and Florida Georgia Line (mostly) leaving bro-country behind and sounding all the better for it on Dig Your Roots.

And the ones I'm looking forward to next year: The new Brad Paisley album! According to his Twitter account, it's going to be called Love and War and is coming out in February. Given the strength of the first two singles (I still cry every time I watch the 'Today' video), I'm hopeful for a really great record. And I fully expect the C2C crowd to sing every word back at him when he comes over in March. I'm also very excited about the new Little Big Town album, The Breaker - their foray into pop on Wanderlust was great, but latest single 'Better Man' makes me excited for what's to come. Bring on 2017!

What albums were your favourites this year?

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