Kyle’s Top 3 Country Albums of 2016

Gosh Kyle, what’s with the short album list?

Well, as someone who is overly-reliant on YouTube to hear new music, finding an entire album to listen to is a lot harder than just finding a single song. Therefore, I really only listened to the albums I purchased this year (which total a measly four), so I didn’t figure a large album list was warranted. (I should probably spring for a subscription to a streaming service before next year’s list comes out.)

With apologies to Dierks Bentley’s Black, here are my favorite three albums from 2016:

#3: Vinyl, William Michael Morgan (review)

Musical perfection can be hard to find, but sometimes fate smiles down upon us and gives us the perfect union of man, music, and management. Morgan’s Vinyl is a great example of what can happen when everything comes together just right.

In many ways, Vinyl is your typical debut album, with a bunch of different themes, writers, and production styles thrown together to see which one clicks best with the public. Despite this, however, a strong classic-country vibe runs through the entire album, which is held together by Morgan’s impeccable delivery and impressive tone.

Warner Bros. Music helped usher in a neotraditional wave in country music in the mid ’80s with a certain recent Hall of Fame inductee, and it’s not a huge stretch to think history could repeat itself with Morgan in the coming years.

#2: Behind This Guitar, Mo Pitney (review)

To be honest, most people will hear Behind This Guitar and Vinyl and think “six of one, a half dozen of the other.” Behind This Guitar gets the nod here because while Morgan’s debut disc had his label’s fingerprints all over it (right down to the faux-record cover art), Pitney’s album felt more personal and cohesive as a whole. (That, and nothing on Vinyl threw a haymaker to the feels like “Cleanup On Aisle Five” or “It’s Just A Dog.”)

Pitney hasn’t found the commercial success that Morgan has, but here’s hoping he gains a bit more traction in 2017.

#1: You Should Be Here, Cole Swindell

Okay, raise your hand if you saw Cole Swindell’s attempt to reinvent himself as a traditional country singer coming. Keep it raised if you thought he would actually pull it off.

If you hand is still up, you’re lying.

The title track/leadoff single for this album stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it. Hold on, I thought, THIS is the same guy who sang “Chillin’ It” and “Let Me See Ya Girl” The same bro-country wannabe who gets called out for being generic by every country music blogger on the Internet? How could anybody like THAT produce a song worth listening to? Even party-anthem singers face loss and tragedy, however, and Swindell channeled the premature death of his father into one of the most powerful songs I’d heard in a looooooong time.

This is awesome, I conceded, but it’s got to be a one-off thing. He’ll be back to the drink-and-screw songs before long. After an unexpected endorsement of the album from Mark over at Spectrum Pulse, however, I decided to take the plunge and check out Swindell’s full album, and like Mark, I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the hardcore Bro-Country songs that Swindell made his name on are still here (“Flatliner,” “Hoppin'”), and yes, the production is still way more synthetic than it needed to be, but on the whole I was surprised by how well this album came together (especially the production), and how much depth some of the songs actually exhibited. I was genuinely shocked by the number of “un-Bro” moments I found on this record (he gets left behind in “Middle Of A Memory”? He turns down a chance for love-making in “Stay Downtown”? He regrets choosing freedom over a relationship in “Gettin’ Forgotten”?). In “No Can Left Behind,” Swindell even pulls off the Brad Paisley impression since…well, since Paisley himself!

The awesome power of “You Should Be Here,” combined with a strong set of album tracks (even the party anthems stand out here! The only song I can really fault is “Stars,” which is forgettable and clunky), gives Swindell the edge over Morgan and Pitney and wins the former Luke Bryan merchandise manager my 2016 Album of the Year award. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really looking forward to what Swindell has to offer in the future.