At the end of every year, there is a plethora of Top of Lists… Top Country Albums, Top County Songs, Top County Bands and so on and so forth. But what constitutes an album being “The Best”? Is it sales? Is it radio play? Is it awards? Is it downloads? Of course, if you were to take a poll of every single county fan of their favorite album in 2017 it would vary.
There is a story from a former person who was on the Grammy voting committee for Reggae Music. They were told by other members that if they wanted their favorite band to have a chance to win a Grammy that they should not nominate Bob Marley because he would be a shoe-in to win. That is why Bob Marley has never won a Grammy in anything except for in 2001 for a Lifetime Achievement Award. Bob Marley who is the proclaimed father of Reggae music has never won a Grammy in Reggae because humans wanted THEIR favorite musicians to win more than who DESERVED to win.
So, it is hard to go by who wins awards because it isn’t really by about why really deserves it because there is too much of a human factor in it.
So, to in order to pick the best County Albums of 2017 you really have to look at the entire body of work on the album, sales, critics, each and every song, the story, general overall consensus across the entire country community. Not just the hits, and everything the artist has done with that album.
These are also in no particular order because who am I to say that “Unapologetically” wasn’t as good as this album or that album. I’m not. So, they are just listed in random order.
10 – Kelsea Ballerini – “Unapologetically”
Music critics generally gave “Unapologetically” favorable reviews. Paste Magazine rated it an 8.1/10 and wrote that “it’s more country by reputation-and the artful twang in Ballerini’s voice-than in sound. But within the album, the songs eschew lovesick notions and bitter revenge fantasies. Unapologetically gains in strength as it goes along, mirroring Ballerini’s push away from a particular lover and towards the welcoming arms of a new beau.” If you are a fan of Kelsea you will know that this album was done right during the time she met her now husband Morgan Evans and that this album became less of a female empowerment album and more about love.
It debuted at number 7 on the US Billboard 200 and sold 63,300 copies as of December.
9 – Lady Antebellum – “Heart Break”
This was a must album for Lady Antebellum. Their 2014 album “747” was a huge commercial let down for the band. It did well overall in sales but it was the band’s first album to miss number 1 on either the Billboard 200 or Top Country Albums charts. So for the band “Heart Break” was important to them personally in order to bounce back.
It is hard to believe that this is the 7th studio album for the trio. “You Look Good” was the first release of the album and it became the groups 13th top 10 single on the Hot Country Songs chart.
The album is also nominated for a Grammy in Best Country Album. This would be their second win for Best Country Album. Their first was in 2011. Overall critics seem to be cheering on the album. They have become a mainstay in the country world of bands and groups. Like Brooks and Dunn, Rascall Flatts, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers.
Heart Break debuted at number 4 on the US Billboard 200 with 6,000 album equivalent sales.
*** Side note you will see this A LOT and you may notice bands get sales when they actually haven’t SOLD any records. But what they are talking about is this.
For every 1500 song streams (i.e Pandora, Spotify) that
= 10 song downloads (just like you were buying it on iTunes) and that
= 1 album sale (as if you were buying the album in the store)
So, 6,000 “album equivalent sales” means that we streamed songs from Heart Break 9,000,000 times. 9 million streams. That is 150,000 hours of music, that is 6,250 days of music, 17 years of music from Heart Break. When you think of it that way it blows your mind.
As for pure actually physical copies, 144,200 copies were sold as of December.
8 – Chris Stapleton – “From A Room Vol 1”
Why Volume 1 and not Volume 2? Well, they are two separate albums. They were released on separate dates. Vol 1 was released May 5, 2017, and Vol 2 was released 8 months later on December 1st, 2017. Of course, this could have been a brilliant move on the Stapleton camp. It puts both Volumes eligible to take home Country Album of the Year for 2017 and 2018 by releasing them in May for 2017 and in December to be considered for 2018. But to be fair we are going to go with Volume 1. Even though both are pretty evenly matched. The content and feel of the two are slightly different but Volume 1 is emotionally packed.
If you are one of those people that long for the sound of old country, Waylon, Johnny, Hank. The country that removes all the frills, all the pop and brings it all back what country was? The Yearning, pain, stories of regret with a singer whose voice is country through and through, then you need to listen to Chris Stapleton. He is keeping country, country. These are the albums you can take over to your grandpa’s house and play and he’ll be more than happy to listen to.
Critically, the album faired well across all the critics. It maintained an average 8 out of 10 across all major critics and ended up with an aggregate score of 81/100. Rolling Stone commented that “Stapleton is a soul singer, with a preternaturally creaky voice that can turn wizened or brawny, full of pained howls and distended vowels the record.” He then described the record as “strikingly focused, sonically and thematically. Its characters are flawed; there’s much behavior, with heartbreak to pay…. It conjures Otis Redding as much as Waylon Jennings…Stapleton is a convincing bluesman. You could imagine B.B. King singing “Death Row: or Freddie King slashing through “I Was Wrong” with his jagged Texas guitar, which Stapleton impressively echoes.” The New York Times even chimed in with a statement saying “Earthen, rich with tradition, has a tactile intensity and is carefully measured”
This is his 2nd studio album. Volume 1 debuted at number 1 on the Canadian Albums Chart and at number 2 on the US Billboard 200. Vol 1 also debuted at number 1 on the Top Album Sales Chart. It ended up giving Chris his best sales weeks ever and it charted at the top of the US Country Albums chart for several weeks. Volume 1 was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and it won the award for Album of the Year at the CMA awards. It is also nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album of the Year.
As of December, the album has sold 626,000 copies in the. In the U.S Vol 1 is the best-selling country album of 2017. It had the largest sales week for a country album in more than a year and a half and it was Stapleton’s biggest sales week ever.
7 – Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Yes. This album was released in 2015 but since then it has dominated the charts for 3 years. This album is so good that it has not stopped. In November of 2017, it has sold 2.1 million copies and ended the year as Billboards 2017 Best Selling Country Album and 2017 Top Country Charts.
Critically, it was received amazingly well. Critics said that it “encapsulates everything that makes him one of the most powerful and unique voices in country music today: gravelly, soulful and full of songs that ring like instant classics without ever resting too deeply in the past.” They also said that “every track goes straight for the emotional jugular and give a glimpse inside a wildly introspective mind.”
This album won awards in 2015, 2016 and 2017. In 2017, the album won iHeartRadio Music Aware for Country Album of the Year and it also won Billboard Music Awards Top Country Album.
So, even though it was released in 2015 it is still very much relevant in 2017.
6 – Midland – On The Rocks
Midland is a newbie on the country charts with their debut studio album “On The Rocks”. They did release an EP in 2016 called “Midland”. “Midland” the album did ok for Midland but in 2017 they went ahead with their studio album “On The Rocks”. On it, you will find 5 songs that were on the “Midland” album. In fact, their first release “Drinkin Problem” was their debut release from the album “Midland”. People must love the song because it hit number 1 on the Country Airplay chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.
The album was received well and their sound has been compared to Alabama and Dwight Yoakam. The Washington Post even went so far as to describe “On The Rocks” as “the year’s best country album.”
It debuted at number 1 on the Top Country Albums chart, selling 17,000 physical copies and 3,000 album equivalent sales in just the first week. As of December, it has sold a total of 43,000 copies.
Are we looking at the next big trio? The next Rascall Flatts? They have been nominated for Best Country/duo group performance. But the true test of their country greatness is time and the next studio album.
5 – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
The Nashville Sound features Isbell’s band The 400 Unit. The last time the band was billed beside him was in 2011 with “Here We Rest”. The Nashville Sound debuted at number 4 on the US Billboard 200. It is Jason Isbell’s highest charting album ever, beating out “Something More Than Free” from 2015 which only reached number 6. It sold 51,000 physical album sales and 3,000 album equivalent sales. As of December, the album has sold 110,900 copies.
A Reddit thread of fans really enjoyed the album on the day of release and in fact gravitated to one song in particular “If We Were Vampires”. “Cumberland Gap” was another one that fans seemed to really connect with.
The album has also been nominated for Best Americana Album for the Grammys.
4 – Natalie Hemby – Puxico
Natalie Hemby has accumulated 5 number 1 hits without ever singing a note. This gifted song writer has written hits for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Toby Kieth and more. Now, she has taken the reins for herself. However, she decided to do it her way. She released her debut studio album with her own label, GetWrucke Productions. It has been an album 7 years in the making as she started recording it around the same time she was creating a documentary about her hometown Puxico, Missouri.
Critically it was received favorably. Rolling Stone said “It’s a nostalgic LP, musically and thematically, about the value of roots – surprising, maybe, from a woman behind songs like Lambert’s ‘Pink Sunglasses’ and ‘Getaway Driver’, which broaden country’s palette. But Hemby’s a master craftswoman, and in an era of rule-by-Twitter, songs like Grand Restoration and Time-Honored Tradition make a case for traditionalism being its own kind of progressivism.” PopMatters and Rolling Stone both listed the album as one of the best of 2017.
3 – Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
Willie Nelson may be the last of the pure county singers. The last from the Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, George Jones. This 84-year-old mammoth country star released his 72nd studio album, God’s Problem Child.
The album speaks about Willies views on the elections, the death of Merle Haggard, and even the constant hoaxes announcing Nelson’s death.
“ God’s Problem Child” debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums. It ended up being his 16th country album that ended up being a chart-topper and his 50th top 10 album on the Top Country Albums chart. It also hit number 10 on the Billboard 200 which made it Willie’s 6th top 10 album.
Overall, the album has received critical praise. A critic stated, “It’s simply an uncommonly strong latter-day record from Willie Nelson: there isn’t a hint of fussiness and the songs and the performances are so understated, they only seem richer with repeated spins”. One critic said that the single “Still Not Dead” is one of Nelson’s “modern masterpieces”.
In the first week of sales the album sold 34,000 physical copies and 2,000 equivalent album sales. As of November, it has sold 97,800 copies.
2 – Welcome Home – Zac Brown Band
“Welcome Home” is the fifth studio album by the Zac Brown Band. Two singles off of the album both charted on the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay. Critics have described the album as “a more mature album, aimed at the group’s older fans” and notes that “One mostly finds Brown showing appreciation for loved ones”. However, not all critics loved it. Rolling Stone only gave it 2.5 out of 5 stars. However, the sales show what fans think.
The Album debuted at number 2 on Billboard 200 and number one on Top Country Albums with 139,000 physical sales and 7,000 equivalent album units. As of December, it has sold 286,800.
1 – Kane Brown – Kane Brown
The original debut album was released in 2016 but an expandable deluxe edition with four new tracks. Kane Brown achieved something a first for any artist. His album and songs from the album reached number one on all five main Billboard country charts.
His album was pretty well received by critics and they said it is “a strong mainstream start to an already promising career” and “a rich, honest collection of songs that introduces a country singer that’s going to be around for awhile, with or without radio’s support”
It reached number 10 on the US Billboard 200 with 45,000 physical sales and 6,000 equivalent sales. It also peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200 after the release of the deluxe edition it sold an additional 43,000 units. It also returned to number one on the Top Country Albums and “Heaven” became the best selling digital song. “What Ifs” also reached number 1 on multiple charts that same week. He became the first artist to have number 1 hits all at the same time – Top County Albums, Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, Country Digital Song Sales, Country Streaming Songs.
In November it was certified Gold and as of December, it has sold 275,600.
And that’s list. 10 albums top of albums of 2017. I am sure there will be a flurry of you that won’t agree with the list and you will all be right. There are a ton of artists that had great albums in 2017. So, please feel free to share what you thought were the best Country albums of 2017.