The Ottoman Turks are back with the follow up to their 2019 self titled debut called Ottoman Turks II. This record leans more into the heavy rock aspects of their sound and gives us glimpses of country and rockabilly mixed in. If you miss the days when Hank 3 would do shows that would include both country and rock/metal in the same night, this is definitely a band to check out.
The album kicks off with “Wound Up”, which is a fun rocker with an infectious gang vocal chorus. It’s a fun way to start the record and this is a good one to get the blood pumping. Another favorite is “Vaquero” and this is another banger of a rock song. Clocking in at under 3 minutes, this song reminds me a lot of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” but heavier. Joshua Ray Walker is on fire with the solo on this track and it’s a real jam from start to finish.
“Travelin’ Blues” is one of the more country songs on the record. It’s still a rocker at heart, but it has a bit of a shuffle to it and some extra twang thrown in. “35 To Life” switches things up a bit and goes into metal territory with a bit of a sludge inspired blues rock sound. I dig the vocals on this one and it just creates a different vibe at the middle point of the album. Finally, another highlight on this record is “Zootstack Lightning”. This is another killer guitar track with some crazy riffage from Joshua Ray Walker. It’s also a track that has Nathan Wells, Joshua Ray Walker and Billy Law taking verses. It’s tracks like this that show the range the band employs in their sound.
If you’re a fan of bands that can stretch their legs and hit multiple genres in one record, I highly recommend this one. The Ottoman Turks go from punk rock to rockabilly to country to sludge metal and heavy blues all in the span of 34 minutes. I have only touched on some of the tracks here, but if any of this intrigues you, give Ottoman Turks II a listen. You won’t be disappointed. This album is out everywhere as of April 2nd, 2021.
Favorite Tracks : Wound Up, Vaquero, Travelin’ Blues, 35 To Life, Zootstack Lightning, American Male
By all measures, 2020 was an insane year, however it was an amazing year for country music releases. I could have made a Top 100 list this year, but I stuck with tradition and did a Top 50. With that in mind, some of your favorites might be left off here. Don’t fret, they’re still good albums, it’s just that there were a ton of good releases this year. It seemed like every band was releasing their best work even when they weren’t able to fully tour on it. I could make a case for every record in my Top 10 to be my album of the year, however I went with American Aquarium’s Lamentations. Lamentations was my most anticipated album going into 2020 and it’s still my favorite album here in December. It’s no secret that American Aquarium is one of my favorite bands and when they release an album this good, it’s going to be hard to top. I’ll give my thoughts on each of the Top 20 and provide links to listen to the rest of the list. I encourage you to check out every record on this list as you might just find something new and that is my biggest goal in doing all of this.
**ALBUM OF THE YEAR** 01. American Aquarium – Lamentations **ALBUM OF THE YEAR**
When American Aquarium announced late 2019 that they were going into the studio with Shooter Jennings producing, I knew this album would be something special. I just didn’t know how special it would turn out to be. Songs like “The Long Haul”, “Starts With You”, “A Better South” and even the tear jerker “Six Years Come September” helped define my 2020. It is worth noting here that their last album which was 2018’s Things Change was my favorite record of that year too. I can only imagine that the next album they release will either top or come close to the top of this list in that year. This band is very consistent in that they keep getting better with every release. I can’t wait to hear what is next.
Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
Chris Stapleton has quite possibly the best voice in modern country music. This album further solidifies that with performances like “Cold”, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”, “Watch You Burn” and more. This whole record is great top to bottom and it came very close to being my number one album of the year. It features Stapleton’s signature mix of rock, blues and country anchored by his amazing guitar playing throughout. This record features guests like former Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and the amazing pedal steel player Paul Franklin. I highly recommend giving this album a good listen as Chris Stapleton is 4 records in and only shows signs of getting better.
Charley Crockett – Welcome To Hard Times
There was a period this year where this album was slated as my #1 record of 2020. It’s that good. Charley Crockett put out the best record of his career with Welcome To Hard Times and it hit all the right buttons with the psychedelic bend to it’s sound and a neo-western theme. The title track is one of my favorite jams of the year and I still love that piano riff that opens it. Check out “Welcome To Hard Times”, “Run Horse Run” and “The Man That Time Forgot”.
Muscadine Bloodline – Burn It At Both Ends
I have been a fan of Muscadine Bloodline since “WD40” was making the rounds as a single a few years ago. This highly anticipated debut full length album delivers on all of the promise the band showed early on and then some. As for their sound, they kind of straddle the line of being polished for country radio and rough around the edges for the independent country crowd. It also helps to feature the likes of BJ Barham, Brent Cobb and Adam Hood on your debut record to give you a bit of a boost. Check out “Ain’t Just A Van”, “Good Chunk Of Change”, “After Midnight” and “Drunk Tattoo” for a few choice cuts from this one.
Mike and The Moonpies – Touch Of You : The Lost Songs Of Gary Stewart
Mike and The Moonpies have released another great album with this collection of lost Gary Stewart songs. While you won’t get a cover of “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinking Doubles)” on this set, you will get some awesome Gary Stewart tunes that have never been recorded before. You can hear Gary Stewart’s influence on Mike and The Moonpies music and when you do, you will know that they were the perfect band for a project such as this. The band worked closely with Stewart’s daughter, Shannon Stewart, and his best friend Tommy Schwartz to compile the tracks for this project. The finished product is a great Moonpies album that slides in at number five in our countdown.
I told you this was an insane year. We got not one, but two great Sturgill Simpson albums this year. I’m lumping them together here because they’re essentially one long piece split into two. Sturgill promised fans that if they hit a certain goal on a charity drive he was doing that he would cut 2 albums this year. He came through with two sets of bluegrass versions of practically every song in his solo catalog. The only things missing are the covers from each album and “It Ain’t All Flowers”. He also threw in some Sunday Valley tunes and a new song he wrote with the late Merle Haggard titled “Hobo Cartoon”. I highly recommend giving these records a spin as a lot of these aren’t just re-recordings in a different genre. There are some new arrangements of old favorites here that I think anyone would enjoy.
Ward Davis – Black Cats And Crows
Ward Davis has finally given us the follow up to 15 Years In A 10 Year Town and it was well worth the wait. This is a darker collection of songs with lots of heavy guitars setting the mood throughout. There are a couple of murder ballads on this record that I highly recommend. We also get Ward Davis’s version of Colorado a couple of years after Cody Jinks released his version on the album Lifers. Give this album a listen and you won’t be disappointed.
Colter Wall – Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs
Colter Wall is finally giving us a full band western swing record and I am here for this. From amazing covers like “Big Iron” to originals like “Henry and Sam”, this record is all killer from top to bottom. This record puts Colter Wall up there with some of the premier western acts going today. Check it out.
Ashley McBryde – Never Will
Ashley McBryde is back with her second major label album and another major hit with “One Night Standards”. This album is full of great songs and I highly recommend the murder ballad “Martha Divine”. Throw in some traditional country cuts like “First Thing I Reach For”, “Sparrow” and “Velvet Red” and you have one amazing album. I can’t wait to hear what is coming next.
Zach Bryan – Quiet, Heavy Dreams EP
I initially had Zach Bryan’s Elizabeth record in this spot, but this EP is Zach Bryan’s first professionally recorded music and I had to include it here. With songs like “Birmingham”, “Crooked Teeth” and “November Air”, Zach Bryan is certainly going to be around for a long time. I hope to be able to see him live sometime in the near future, and with albums like this, I have no doubt he’ll be able to tour widely once it is safe to do so again.
Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Made It
Joshua Ray Walker’s sophomore record Glad You Made it improves on the working formula he created with 2019’s Wish You Were Here. Songs like “Voices” show off his incredible vocal range while deeper tracks like “D.B. Cooper” show a bit of experimentation with the soundscape Joshua Ray Walker is using on this record. Give it a listen and see why it’s in at number 11 on this list.
Hailey Whitters – The Dream
Hailey Whitters album The Dream took a bit to grow on me, honestly. But it grew on me and I came to really enjoy a few tracks from this record. Check out “Janice At The Hotel Bar”, “Loose Strings”, her version of Stapleton’s “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” and her version of “Happy People” which was also recorded by co-writer Lori McKenna on her 2018 album The Tree. This record is a fun album that deserves to be heard by more people. I hope I get the chance to see her live very soon.
Brent Cobb – Keep ‘Em On They Toes
Brent Cobb has released another great album in Keep ‘Em On They Toes. I really love the title track and it quickly became one of my feel good favorites of 2020. Other highlights include the timely “The World Is Ending”, “Soapbox w/ Nikki Lane” and “Good Times and Good Love”. This album is a nice change in pace back to the slower country and folk songs of 2016’s Shine On Rainy Day.
Kyle Nix – Lightning On The Mountain & Other Short Stories
While this year was rough for fans of Turnpike Troubadours, we got a bit of a reprieve in the form of a Kyle Nix solo album. I had a feeling this one would be special from the moment it was announced and I was right. Some favorites include “Graves”, “Shelby 65”, “If Ruby Ain’t Happy” and “Lightning On The Mountain”. This album is highlighted by some great fiddle playing and good songwriting. I really hope Kyle Nix gets to tour on this one soon as I would love to see these songs live.
The Panhandlers – The Panhandlers
When I first heard about this super group of Texas Country talents, I knew we had something special coming. All four of these men are great with their own bands, but together they are a force to be reckoned with. “West Texas In My Eye” and “This Is My Life” are two highlights on this one for me. Give this one a listen if you haven’t, you won’t be disappointed.
Parker McCollum – Hollywood Gold EP
Parker McCollum had a strong 2020 with some great single releases leading up to this EP. “Pretty Heart” actually got a lot of radio play and I really dig “Like A Cowboy”. I knew Parker McCollum was one to watch after 2017’s strong Probably Wrong LP. This EP is so good and it solidifies my opinion that he is destined for bigger things. Be on the lookout for his next full length as I belive that one will go places.
Josh Abbott Band – The Highway Kind
I have been a fan of Josh Abbott Band since 2012’s Small Town Family Dream album and it has been a fun ride watching this band grow. They get better with every release and The Highway Kind is no different. Highlights include the title track, “Settle Me Down”, “24-7-365” and “Real Damn Good”. Give it a listen.
Aubrie Sellers – Far From Home
While I wasn’t as much of a fan of Aubrie Sellers’s 2016 record New City Blues, this album blew me away. I dig the mixing of grungy garage rock and country music and it works here. Check out favorites like “Glad”, “Troublemaker”, “My Love Will Not Change w/ Steve Earle” and the title track.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 2
With Hold My Beer, Vol. 2, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen have put together two amazing country duo albums. This record is full of solid country gold. I love the comedy of “Rodeo Clown” and we finally get a title track for this collection with “Hold My Beer”. Also check out “Mi Amigo” with Asleep At The Wheel and “Speak To Me Jukebox” for more highlights.
David Adam Byrnes – Neon Town
This record from David Adam Byrnes was one of those unexpected gems that you hear about and when you finally get around to listening to, it blows you away. Neon Town is just good Texas country and I can’t wait yi hear what is next.
Corb Lund – Agricultural Tragic
Waylon Payne – Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me
Bella White – Just Like Leaving
Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross
Scott H. Biram – Fever Dreams
Jessi Alexander – Decatur County Red
Brennen Leigh – Prairie Love Letter
Lori McKenna – The Balladeer
The Wilder Blue – Hill Country
Tennessee Jet – The Country
Elizabeth Cook – The Aftermath
Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
Ray Wylie Hubbard – Co-Starring
Dalton Domino – Feverdreamer
Zephania Ohora – Listening to the Music
Marcus King – El Dorado
Sunny Sweeney – Recorded Live at the Machine Shop Recording Studio
Joshua Ray Walker is back with his second solo album following his stellar 2019 release Wish You Were Here which landed at number four on my 2019 Albums Of The Year List. Where Wish You Were Here was mostly full of slower songs and sad country tunes, this album picks up the pace and is much more of a rocking country record. It still features Joshua’s amazing vocals and songwriting but this time there is more variety in the soundscape and that makes for a better record this go round.
The album kicks off with “Voices” which is one of the slower tracks on here. The high lonesome cries on the chorus of this track are a great showcase for the amazing vocals you can find throughout this album. Another favorite is “Bronco Billy’s”. It’s a honky tonk tune that starts off slow and builds to a fast pace with some killer pedal steel work from Adam Kurtz who is on pedal steel throughout this album and is a true standout in the band featured on this record. “Boat Show Girl” shows off some of Joshua Ray Walker’s songwriting ability on a track about a girl who wishes someone would look at her the way people look at the boat she is trying to sell.
Another great track is the bluesy rocker titled “User”. There are some great blues riffs with some killer slide guitar work and even a horn section. You wouldn’t think a horn section would work on a track about blues rock track about substance abuse, but it does. “Loving County” is another slow track that features some great yodeling and an almost cosmic soundscape with some trippy guitar throughout. It’s a fitting sound for a song about going to one of the most lonesome off the grid places you can think of. Finally, the album ends with the rock number “D.B. Cooper”. The lyrics are a short two verse song about D.B. Cooper after his escape. The slower backdrop gives way to some thick riffs that are bound to be a rocking jam live.
This album really slaps. It features a huge variety in sound that goes from high lonesome ballads to honky tonk bangers to thick riffs and jam worthy rock n roll. If you felt Wish You Were Here was a bit one note with a lot of ballads, this album won’t do you wrong. I highly recommend giving this one a spin as Joshua Ray Walker has released another album of the year contender here. Glad You Made It is out everywhere as of July 10th, 2020. While Joshua Ray Walker can’t tour anywhere right now, you can get yourself a copy of this record on his bandcamp page.
Favorite Tracks : Voices, Bronco Billy’s, Boat Show Girl, User, Loving County, D.B. Cooper
As uncertainty becomes more and more a part of the new normal, it’s good to know that we can still count on some great country music albums coming up in the near future. We’ve got some quality records coming out in 2020 and it’s shaping up to be a big release year. COVID-19 has changed up the release schedule a bit, however, I have included albums with as solid of a release date as I can on this list. Check out our 10 most anticipated country albums out this summer.
Mike & The Moonpies – Touch of You – The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart – May 28th
Mike and The Moonpies just announced this release last week. It’s a collection of unreleased songs written by Gary Stewart and as soon as I heard about this record, it jumped to the top of my list. The Moonpies are one of the best honky tonk bands around and I’m looking forward to what they can do with some lost Gary Stewart songs. It’s a good thing we only have to wait a couple of days for this one. It comes out Thursday May 28th. This album is only available digitally at first, with physical items to come in the future.
Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross – May 29th
Shooter Jennings has been on a tear lately as a producer and this new Jaime Wyatt album is looking to be no different. This album features guest appearances by Shooter Jennings himself and his mother Jessi Colter. I was a big fan of her 2017 album Felony Blues and cannot wait to see what she has as a follow up. This one is out in a couple of days on May 29th.
John Baumann – Country Shade – June 5th
I first discovered John Baumann with his 2017 album Proving Grounds. I was a huge fan of tracks like “Lonely In Bars” and “The Trouble With Drinking”. Baumann was also a part of the Texas country super group The Panhandlers who released one of my favorite albums of 2020 so far. I’m really looking forward to this solo record and if songs like “Next Ride Around The Sun” and “The Country Doesn’t Sound The Same” are any indication, Baumann has another big record here. I’m looking forward to this one out in early June.
Hellbound Glory – Pure Scum – June 5th
I have been a fan of Hellbound Glory for a long time. Their last album Pinball was a big favorite here at Gary Hayes Country and it sounds like Pure Scum will be the same. Shooter Jennings is producing this record (his second on this list). If singles like “Dial 9-1-1” and “Ragged But Alright” are any indication, this record will be high on our year end Top 50 lists. This one is out in June.
Bryan James – Politics or Religion – June 11th
I first became a fan of Bryan James with his 2017 record “Between The Devil and The Angel”. This album featured a pure country sound and had many great songs across it’s 19 tracks. Fast forward to 2020 and we have his highly anticipated follow-up album Politics Or Religion coming up in June. Check out a preview of the album here.
Kyle Nix – Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories – June 26th
When I heard Kyle Nix of the Turnpike Troubadours was going solo, I knew this would be a good one even before I heard the first single. If that’s not enough, when you hear that members of Turnpike Troubadours serve as his backing band, then you know this will be a good one. That was all confirmed when “Lightning On The Mountain” was released as the first single. Now I can’t wait for the end of June for this record to come out.
Kyle Keller – All It Does Is Rain – June 27th
I have been a fan of Kyle Keller for a while. His 2017 EP was a collection of raw and real acoustic tracks. You can expect more sparse instrumentation here on All It Does Is Rain as the sad songs and stories are at the forefront of Kyle Keller’s music. If you’re a fan of good songwriting and slow acoustic sad country and folk songs, this album is for you. Look for it everywhere you can stream music on June 27th. I have also heard we might be getting a single released from this one soon.
Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Made It – July 10th
Joshua Ray Walker blew me away with his 2019 debut album Wish You Were Here. He’s got an amazing voice and great songwriting skills to match. Earlier this year he released a new song called “Voices” that allows him to stretch his vocal chords out even further. I can’t wait to hear this entire album and we will be able to in early July.
S.G. Goodman – Old Time Feeling – July 17th
I first came across the music of S.G. Goodman through Spotify’s Indigo playlist. I was immediately drawn in by her voice which is very raw and unique. Her music comes across like a mix of Kentucky influences and a blend of rocking Mississippi delta blues. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the album as her early release singles have been very solid. This one is out in July.
The Texas Gentlemen – Floor It!!! – July 17th
Finally, we have a new record from the Texas country funk outfit The Texas Gentlemen. You have most likely heard The Texas Gentlemen serving as Paul Cauthen’s backing band on his albums like his 2019 release Room 41. They also have a previous album out called TX Jelly from 2017 that you should check out. This band is recommended if you like heavy doses of funk in your country. Check out the single “Bare Maximum” and the album is out in July.
Be sure to check back here at Gary Hayes Country for coverage on all of these and more great albums coming out soon.
It’s not often when I hear a new album in January that makes me think it’s an album of the year contender, and even less often when that album is from a new artist. You might be familiar with Joshua Ray Walker as he has already opened for names such as Colter Wall, American Aquarium and James Hand. He’s out of Dallas, TX and frequently plays shows in that region. If you’re not familiar with Joshua Ray Walker, prepare to hear his name often as this is a record that will be on many favorite album lists. At the age of 28, Joshua Ray has vocal control and a songwriting ability to match those twice his age.
The album kicks off with a monster of a track called “Canyon”. Joshua Ray blows you away with his lyrics right from the start. “I’m a big big man, not just in size or in stature, in terms of space that can’t be filled, I’m a bottomless Cayon without a drop to spill”. Such emotion is in these lyrics and I love the tune behind this one as well. It has some amazing pedal steel work. Another great tune on this album is “Lot Lizard”. The highlight of this one is the yodeling, it gets me every time.
Another favorite track is “Burn It”. This one changes things up a bit and goes for a bluesy electric feel. Joshua nails it even though it’s not his typical style proving he has some strong vocal chops. “Keep” is a great sad bastard country song about the sorrow of a man who is trying to kill himself because his woman left him. Van Darien provides vocals for the other side of this relationship on this can’t miss track. “Love Songs” is a Tejano inspired track about why Joshua doesn’t write love songs. It’s another great highlight that shows the diversity of the album. Finally, “Last Call” ends the album with a track about the woman you hook up with at the end of the night. The kind of one time hookup that neither party parts ways happy about.
Joshua Ray Walker has a way with lyrics, whether it’s a sad bastard country song or an ode to truck stop prostitutes. I’m really liking what I’m hearing on this album and I can’t wait to hear more from this Dallas, TX singer. I can assure you, this album has earned a spot on my 2019 Top 50 Albums of the Year. The album is out tomorrow (01/25/2019) on State Fair Records and is available everywhere good music is sold.
Favorite Tracks : Canyon, Trouble, Lot Lizard, Burn It, Keep, Love Songs, Last Call