By Joshua Wallace
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.
- Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions) & Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 2 (The Cowboy Arms Sessions)
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
- Brandy Clark – Your Life Is A Record
- Chase Crawford – The Neon Lights Go On Forever EP
- Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern
- Jesse Daniel – Rollin’ On
- Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness In Me
- Caleb Caudle – Better Hurry Up
- Kyle Keller – All It Does Is Rain
- Lilly Hiatt – Walking Proof
- John Baumann – Country Shade
- Daniel Donato – A Young Man’s Country
- S.G. Goodman – Old Time Feeling
- Kody West – Overgrown
- Katie Pruitt – Expectations