My Top Twenty-Five Albums of 2017

And now for the list you’ve all been waiting for, for the one I’ve been preparing for all year, and for the one that represents the heart and soul of what we do here. I debated much on how far to extend this list…should it be ten, or twenty, or follow suit with several of my lists this year and be thirteen? IN the end, I found that after reviewing seventy-eight albums so far in 2017 and featuring twenty-seven so far in Memorable Songs, not to mention others I’ve heard and did not include in that feature, that eight stood out above everything else and should be considered most essential on this list. Another fifteen stood out a little under that, and then it became a question of whether to cut the list of twenty-three down to twenty or search for two deserving others to round it out to twenty-five. I opted for showcasing more music, but as you’ll see, I’ve separated the most essential from the rest because those eight still stand proudly above the rest and should be recognized as such. One more note for any of you who might be newer, this list reflects the evolving, changing nature of music and my reactions to it throughout the year, so rating should not be considered a huge factor at this point–a factor, yes, but second to how well the music has held up over time.

Essential Albums

25. Kody West–Green

Standout Tracks: “Green,” “Ledges,” “Ogygia”
This album starts off an exciting trend here–a good amount of debut albums making this list. It’s been a great year for debut records, and Kody West is certainly the most interesting thing to come out of the Texas/Red Dirt scene this year. Not the best album from that scene, but something new and refreshing, blending the traditional and the modern, the country and rock influences, into something cool and promising. Check this out while you can still say you were ahead of the curve with West.
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24. Nikki Lane–Highway Queen

Standout Tracks: “Jackpot,” “700,000 Rednecks,” “Highway Queen,” “Forever Lasts Forever”
So many boring, mid-tempo albums in the independent/Americana scene in 2017. This is fun and vibrant, a breath of fresh air and personality. This is an artist coming into her own and being herself in the best way possible. It stands out above many others simply for the jolt of energy and life it offers, proving that you can make a good album in this scene and write smart hooks without being so serious all the time.
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23. Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Standout Tracks: “Freight Train,” “Texas Jesus,” “Bars Ain’t Closin’,” “Lie to Me”
I’ve been saying this since it came out, but if you can get past the hookers and cocaine all over this record, it’s a great listen. The melodies are engaging and the sentiments relatable, and credit to Robyn Ludwick for exploring these subjects, so often ignored in country, and giving a voice to these characters. Her knack for portraying people usually so ignored and misunderstood by society is remarkable, and though not as blatant a form of social commentary as say, the next album here, this one still has a lot to say and does it in a really interesting way
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22. Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway

Standout Tracks: “At the Purchaser’s Option,” “Julie,” “Better Get it right The First Time”
While we’re here, I’d like to say that not including “Better Get it Right the First Time” on my Spotify and Apple Music playlists was a complete oversight, and it should have been there, though I have no idea what it would have replaced. That said, this album is better all the way through, as a whole, as it tells the story of African-American history and heritage that is more story than song, more reflection than sermon, and teaches the past while still looking hopefully into the future. Some might wonder why it isn’t higher on this list, and that goes back to a rating thing–this album is not perfect, but it’s very good and received an 8.5 here. Yet it’s just something you respect more than you enjoy, and while it’s a great album, it’s not the album you’re going to pull out and listen to over that much. Still, it’s got something to say, and it does so in fine fashion.
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21. Turnpike Troubadours–A Long Way From Your Heart

Standout Tracks: “Pay no Rent,” “The winding Stair Mountain Blues,” “pipe Bomb Dream,” “A Tornado Warning”
I know, I know, it’s Album of the Year for a lot of people. Turnpike did receive Album of the Year here in 2015 for their excellent self-titled release, and while this is still a great album, in the spirit of honesty, I have to say it’s not the best of their material for me like it is for a lot of people. Brianna and I reviewed this together, and she’s got a considerably more favorable opinion of it than i do. That said, the songwriting here is in some places the best of the band’s career. They’re consistently churning out good quality country music, and you can’t go wrong with any of their albums.
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20. Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Standout Tracks: “I Gave up All I Had,” “Trouble Trouble,” “I Don’t Give a Shit,” “Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul”
This is the exact opposite of Rhiannon Giddens’ album before it–it’s the antithesis because it’s bright and fun, and you’ve got to be in a certain mood to appreciate it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s nearly perfect for what they’re trying to accomplish here. I hold back slightly because again, you aren’t going to pull this out quite as much as some others, and also there’s only really a smattering of country here, but this is just warm, infectious music that puts a smile on your face, something we all need these days. Give this a chance.
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19. Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Standout Tracks: “Walkin’ in L.A,” “Fixin’ to Die,” “This is How it Ends” (ft. Miranda Lambert)
I’ve had a strange relationship with this record–at first I loved it, then several people pointed out the pretty much sloppy production on the album, and I grew to not like it as much despite not being able to hear all the production issues myself. When reviewing albums I loved this year, I went back to this and found what I loved again–so I get it if you don’t like this album because of the production, but honestly, I enjoy the hell out of this and think it’s one of Steve Earle’s best in a good long while.
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18. Dori Freeman–Letters Never Read

Standout Tracks: “Cold Waves,” “If I Could Make You My Own,” “over There,” “That’s All Right”
The album to check out for that long-lost Appalachian sound. For me, not quite as good as her outstanding debut–tied for unofficial Album of the Year in 2016–but still a solid collection of tunes. Dori didn’t change much, or anything really, with this approach, but why should you when it worked so perfectly the first time?
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17. John Moreland–Big Bad Luv

Standout Tracks: “Love is Not an Answer,” “No Glory in Regret,” “Sallisaw Blue,” “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before”)
Some of this is the best songwriting of the year. And it’s not just his lyrics, it’s the production and, most of all, the warm, engaging melodies that keep you coming back and listening. In fact, a lack of accessibility may be this record’s only flaw, as it’s almost too deep, and he’s almost writing too much on another level. That said, this is poetry at its finest and set to melodies that really allow it to shine and grow over time.
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16. Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Standout Tracks: “Wishing Well,” “Wasco,” “Stone Hotel”
Another debut record, and one of the most exciting of the year. This is easily the project that has grown the most for me throughout the year, as Jaime’s music only continues to get better. A nice little album that draws on her own experience in the best way possible to tell a story of second chances and starting over, and to actually create something I’d call outlaw country, if that were a style.
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15. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit–The Nashville Sound

Standout Tracks: “Last of my Kind,” “Tupelo,” “If we Were Vampires,” “Something to Love”
And here it is, the album that produced the 2017 Song of the Year. Once again, Jason Isbell delivers with a slice of that incredible songwriting, and on this album, it also gets backed up by more interesting and diverse production. Not a perfect album, and I still don’t know what the hell “Chaos and Clothes” is supposed to be, but this is his best and most accessible album to date.
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14. Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Standout Tracks: “Ain’t NO Little Girl,” “Jonestown,” “Shackle and Chain,” “Talkin’ Baby Blues,” “Summer Pillow,” “Golden Rails”
More standouts here because we’ve got a double album on our hands. Much like Dori Freeman, Kasey Chambers isn’t necessarily breaking any new ground here, and this isn’t quite on the level of her excellent 2015 record Bittersweet, but this is an expansive showcasing of all her styles, from more traditional to rock to bluegrass to pop. She can do it all very well, and it continues to baffle me how little love we give her in the States.
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13. Travis Meadows–First Cigarette

Standout Tracks: “McDowell Road,” “Sideways,” “First Cigarette,” “Pray for Jungleland”
This album has to get Production of the Year, not necessarily because it’s the most impressive display, but because it is the album where the production contributes most to the overall story and general enjoyment of this record. It’s a little journey through his life, nostalgic for the past but content with the present, and the extra care taken to do things like make all of the songs flow into each other so that it’s as if you’re taking the trip right along with Travis, makes this a special listen.
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12. The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity

Standout Tracks: “Freedom,” “Black Elk,” “This ‘ol Building,” “Maxwell”
Well, I didn’t get to nearly as much bluegrass as I’d have liked this year, but this is one badass bluegrass record and the best one I’ve heard in 2017. It’s got all the wonderful instrumentation we expect from this genre, but it’s also got great storytelling, not to mention a youthfulness and vibrancy permeating the whole thing. This is the album to send people’s way who think bluegrass is stuffy and boring and old-fashioned, trust me.
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11. Crystal Bowersox–Alive

Standout Tracks: “A Broken Wing,” “The Ride,” “Marlboro Man,” “Let me Walk Away,” “NO Mistake,” “Mine all Mine”
I don’t know why more people didn’t pay attention to this throughout the year, but now’s your chance. This is a live album, but it’s not your typical one recorded for a huge audience and just providing live versions of previously released material. This was recorded in an intimate setting for sixty people over the course of three shows and features mostly new songs. It’s a unique album about being alive that captures perfectly her current state of mind and explores all the joy and pain that being alive has to offer. And this is, without question, the best album vocally of the year.
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10. John Baumann–Proving Grounds

Standout Tracks: “Old Stone Church,” “When Ophelia Comes to Town,” “Here I Come,” “Holding it Down,” “The Trouble With Drinkin'”
This album is the perfect balance between both sides of the Texas scene–the side with more depth and incredible songwriting, and the side with cool, vibrant songs that would sound awesome in a live setting. And if you wonder why only one of these songs made my Apple Music and Spotify playlists, it’s honestly because I could have picked almost the entire album and decided to limit myself.
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9. Justin Payne–Coal Camp (EP)

Standout Tracks: “Miner’s Soul,” “Piece of my Life,” but it’s better as a whole
Yes, I know, an EP actually made it this high on the list. It’s because Justin Payne’s very special love letter to the coal region of West Virginia is just right at six songs. Plus, it’s got the added awesomeness of actually being delivered by a coal miner. This blew me away the first time I heard it, and it still does.
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Most Essential Albums

8. Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway

Standout Tracks: “Way Down in my Soul,” “High Class City Girl From the Country,” “She’s Leaving in the Morning,” “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough”
And now for the eight that were impossibly hard to rank. This one is certainly the most country and is a near flawless representation of the countrypolitan sound. And it’s by some guy from New York City, thoroughly walking all over the stereotype that you have to be “authentic” to make good country music. The sheer genius of this is that he doesn’t try to hide anything or be something he isn’t, and that in turn makes it authentic. Also, this is another debut, so imagining where Zephaniah Ohora can go from here is pretty exciting.
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7. Jason Eady (self-titled)

Standout Tracks: “Barabbas,” “Black Jesus,” “NO Genie in This Bottle”
So, Jason Eady produced two of my top five songs of the year which is pretty impressive and insane. It’s also pretty insane that in a year of mid-tempo, boring country/Americana releases, Jason released a completely stripped-back, acoustic affair, and yet because of the sheer beauty in the songwriting and the warmth of the melodies, it manages to rise above everything else and be one of the best albums of the year.
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6. Tyler Childers–Purgatory

Standout Tracks: “Whitehouse Road,” “Lady May,” “Honky Tonk flame,” “I swear (to God),” “Tattoos”
This is my most played album of 2017, and it gets better each time. I wrote all these standouts here, but this one, like some others here, is better as a full listen, as you go on Tyler’s journey of finding love, screwing it up, and turning to vices. And although this isn’t a debut, this is his second album and his first major moment, and it’s a moment that has been very well deserved.
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5. Suzanne Santo–Ruby Red

Standout Tracks: “Best out of Me,” “Better Than That,” (ft. Butch Walker), “Ghost in my Bed,” “Love Fucked UP”
Another solo debut. This, although it’s certainly got some acoustic, country-leaning moments, tilts more toward the rock side of things, and I debated whether to include it this high on a country list for that very reason. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the best records of the year for me and another one of the few that blew me away from the very beginning. A hard-edged album that talks of drinking and sex and vices, it’s definitely got something to say. Probably not for everyone, but definitely for me.
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4. Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

Standout Tracks: “Haunts Like This,” “Do You realize That Now?”, “Neon Jail”
My only regret here is that I wish it hadn’t taken me till July to hear this because I could have been enjoying it since February. This is nothing flashy, or “unexpected,” but it’s a case of everything just working–the extra touches of instrumentation like the piano and accordion, the wonderful melodies, the lyrics that sink in more and more each time you hear it. This is another one I’ve loved from the start. The definition of a nice, easy listen. And to top it all off, this guy’s British, so he joins Zephaniah Ohora in proving that just being yourself and singing in your own accent about your own stuff can produce the best music.
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3. Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Standout Tracks: “Dreams Don’t Come True,” “Wrangled,” “Good Girl Down,” “Mama I Tried”
Yep, another one that had me on first listen. This is Angaleena Presley’s self-proclaimed “f you” record to the industry, and in candid, sometimes subtle, often angry and inappropriate, ways, she delivers just that. She addresses her struggles in the business and the discrimination against women, and does so in engaging and entertaining ways that keep this album playable and interesting despite the importance of the messages being conveyed.
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2. Colter Wall (self-titled)

Standout Tracks: literally everything here except “You Look to Yours”
Another debut, another one that throws the authenticity debate out the window, as Colter’s from Canada, and another one that absolutely blew me away from the beginning. Colter Wall and his astounding, throwback country voice have a ridiculously bright future ahead of them, and when you combine that voice with tales like these, of hopping trains and sleeping in lonely hotels, of murdering your girlfriend and spending your days in prison for it, this record captures another time and place in a way that makes it, well, timeless.
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Album of the Year

1. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives–Way Out West

Standout Tracks: “Please Don’t Say Goodbye,” “Way Out West,” “Air Mail Special,” but really, it’s about the album as a whole
And speaking of capturing another time and place, enter Marty Stuart and this album…only instead of capturing it in the throwback way of Colter Wall, this is done in a vibrant, fresh, forward-thinking manner. It’s an almost psychedelic record, an exact representation of country evolving in 2017 in a way that still respects the roots of the genre. I’ve said this before, but in a genre of lyrics and stories, the risk that Marty Stuart took by delivering this in a thematic way that connected the songs by their music and mood should be commended. It’s almost cinematic, and in an era where the album concept is being lost in the mainstream, and in the independent scene where it’s thriving, the albums are still basically just collections of good songs, this record literally has to be played all the way through to be fully understood and appreciated. A concept record and a fine one, the most impressive one of 2017.
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P.S. Honorable Mention to Kesha, who couldn’t qualify for this list because of genre, and her album Rainbow for being far and away the best non-country album I’ve heard in 2017.

Year-End Lists Should be About Quality, Not Quotas

Before the release of my list of the best albums of 2017 tomorrow, I’d like to address an issue that’s been bothering me increasingly over the past week, as more and more people release their year-end lists of great country/Americana/bluegrass songs and albums. There seem to be two prevailing themes–the lists, in varying degrees of discrepancy, feature more men than women, and people are getting upset about this, citing it as a consistent, systematic discrimination similar to that faced by women on country radio and all across the industry.

First of all, undoubtedly there is an inherent bias and discrimination against women in the music industry, maybe especially in the country industry, and I’ve spilled much ink discussing this. Women are not given a chance to succeed on the radio despite sales numbers–see Miranda Lambert and “Tin Man,”–while men seem to constantly rocket up the charts no matter how much (Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road”) or how little “Luke Bryan’s “Light it Up”) it might actually be selling and resonating with the general public. Women are consistently speaking of quotas held by labels and radio programmers, of only being allowed so many slots in the mainstream just because of their gender. All of this is factual, and disheartening, , and something Country Exclusive will do its small part to fight and rail against for the foreseeable future.

But just as the quota for women shouldn’t exist on country radio, it shouldn’t exist on these year-end lists either. As a woman, I strive for equal opportunity with men, and I can’t speak for these artists, but what I can say about Country Exclusive is that we will offer an equal opportunity for both genders to be heard, reviewed, and considered for year-end lists. Although I can’t speak for anyone else with certainty, I believe this rings true for others in my position as well. That said, I will not guarantee equal results here–I will not feature a year-end list that contains exactly half men and half women unless that is a true reflection of my opinion of the quality of the music. I will not add or take away women from a list just to fill a quota or to avoid offending anyone. And if I were an artist, I’d want to be recognized on a list such as this because the writer(s) respected the quality of my work, not because they were playing an arbitrary numbers game. Just as it is wrong to exclude based on gender, it’s wrong to include only on that basis, for this in turn diminishes the quality of one’s output and asserts that specific groups, in this case women, need special treatment and mandated quotas in order to make these lists. This is not equality. This is not progress. This is affirmative action, and affirmative action is not, or should not be, the goal. A tweet I read sums this up perfectly by saying that if you pay attention to gender when listening to music, you’re doing it wrong.

Country Exclusive did not operate regularly in 2016, but two albums received a 10/10 rating that year and could be considered tied for Album of the Year. Those were Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut and Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life. In 2015, our Album of the Year was given to the self-titled record by the Turnpike Troubadours, and in 2017, it will go to a man. Of the eight albums that have received perfect grades from me over the past two and a half years, five were by women–I heard it said that if these lists weren’t biased, surely on one of them, there would be more women than men, so although this is not a year-end list, there is a small example of women outnumbering men here on this platform. That said, in 2017, twenty-eight of the seventy-eight albums we’ve reviewed here have been either by solo women performers or by groups fronted by women–those are numbers reflecting the material which has been available to us, this is not half, nor will the albums list reflect that. I can’t speak for everyone on this, of course, but much of this is a numbers game–not a game of filling quotas, but simply of the numbers being unbalanced when it comes to albums released in 2017.

Lastly, above all, this should be about the quality of one’s work. If the twenty best albums of the year were made by men, a writer should reflect that, and readers should respect that. If they were made by women, once again, a writer should reflect that, and readers should respect it. Writers should take all artists’ music into equal consideration, but if this is happening, they shouldn’t be singled out for including more men than women, certainly not in a year where more albums have been released by men. Equal opportunity does not necessarily mean equal results, nor should we wish it to because this is a fundamental disrespect of the quality of music made by both men and women. Imagine being left off the list as a man because the list required more women that perhaps made lesser projects. Imagine being included on the list simply because you were a woman, rather than because that person actually believed in you and your craft and sought to highlight your music among all your peers, not just those from your gender. Neither scenario correctly reflects the true quality of the music at hand, and ultimately, that’s the problem with the systematic discrimination in the industry. It’s all about quotas, not quality. So set an example by not allowing it to be that way in independent music and on these lists, so that artists are truly recognized for putting out the best music, and so that gender is a completely irrelevant factor. It’s not about having “enough” women on these lists, it’s about making sure that the best music, regardless of anything else, is heard and rewarded.

Album Review: Luke Bryan–What Makes You Country

Rating: 4.5/10

Okay, so honestly, this is the kind of album that really doesn’t give me much passion to write. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it just exists. The vast majority of it is just kind of forgettable. That’s a pretty good summary of this, and I could take the quality songs from this and easily fit them into Memorable Songs.

But the fact that I can pull songs from this into that feature is improvement in and of itself. I feel I at least owe Luke a proper review because he’s showing some maturity and making at least marginally better music. His last album was mostly horrendous, and I’ve hated a good majority of his singles for the past five years. So when you go from spectacularly awful to okay, and even sprinkle in some quality, it should be commended. I’ve been one of Luke Bryan’s biggest critics–anyone who knows me at all will know this–and so I can’t ignore it when the guy’s making better music.

So let’s talk about the quality because you actually do get a few really solid tracks here. “Drinking Again” reminds you that one, Luke can actually use his charisma for good, as opposed to singing hookup songs in trucks, and two, that not all drinking songs are bad. This one’s fun and catchy and would make a good single. I daresay his fans would have enjoyed it more than the insufferable mess that is “Light it Up,” and hopefully, he will release this. “Most People Are Good” is just simply a nice song, and when the world’s going to hell all around us, we need stuff like this to remind us it’s not as bad as the media would have us believe. This is not going to be anyone’s Song of the Year or anything, but it’s a case of less is more, and it’s just nice to hear a song like this. Also, the production, as is actually the case for most of this record, is much closer to pop country than much of Bryan’s previous output, and although modern, this actually sounds like it should be allowed to be in the genre. “Land of a Million Songs” displays some of that too, as we have some prominent piano featured here, and the song itself is another highlight, an extremely well-written tune about doing anything to make it in the music business and constantly looking for things to say and adding verses to your songs. I can’t believe we’re getting a song like this from Luke; actually, it reminds me of a hidden gem we might have seen on one of Blake Shelton’s more recent albums–you know, before he released this current piece of shit. Side note here, isn’t it sad that Luke Bryan has actually produced a better album than Shelton this year?…but I digress.

Then we’ve got some decent songs–not anything necessarily to write home about, but definitely some more proof that Bryan strove for more maturity with this project. “Pick it Up” actually portrays a grown man–I didn’t know the same person who sang “Light it Up” was capable of this–hoping his son will learn from him and adopt some of his cool habits and good values. It’s kind of cheesy, but I’m sure it’s personal to Luke, and that’s more than I can say about every sex anthem by a river in a truck he’s ever produced. The title track isn’t bad either; it’s pretty catchy, and the overall idea is nice, asserting that anyone can be country, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what background you have. Good idea, but played out badly, as he then asserts he’s country because of pretty much all the clichés he normally uses in all his other songs. Still, I see what it was going for, and I’ll give him some credit. Same goes for “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,”–it’s the same clichés as well, but at least there’s a story and a bit of depth to this.

There’s nothing that makes me cringe quite like any of Luke’s previous work, except the God-awful “Light it UP.” Even his loyal fans aren’t liking this too much, as they know it’s creepy and lame. His neurotic obsession with his cell phone would be enough to make me break it off if I were the girlfriend, but hey, that’s just me. Also, like him or not, Luke does have charisma, allowing him to pull off a lot of his previous material, and here, he just sounds completely checked out. The whole thing would really just be lifeless and boring but for the embarrassing lyrics. We don’t have anything else that horrible, but we do get some ill-advised R&B sex jam attempt in “Hungover in a Hotel Room” that just shouldn’t exist. It is just not sexy in the least bit and therefore does not accomplish its purpose at all. And there’s “She’s a Hot One,” which honestly sounds like a leftover from one of Bryan’s bro country albums that didn’t make the cut–and understandably, because it’s like a wannabe version of all those songs. I can’t be too disgusted by this one because it’s just…lame.

As for the rest, there’s literally nothing to say. It just runs together. The good thing here is that none of this is atrocious, and Luke Bryan has certainly proven he’s capable of atrocious. The bad thing is that although it’s a major improvement for Luke, it’s still not a good album. It’s just under exactly half good, and that’s simply because it drags along to fifteen tracks. “Win Life,” there at the end, isn’t a bad song, but by this point, you’re just tired of listening. They could have trimmed this down a little and risen this rating to a 5, even a 6. As it is, the ultimate flaw is it’s uninteresting. But that’s also a noticeable sign of growth because while the quality does stand out, the lesser material mostly just fades into the background. Coming from someone as polarizing as Luke Bryan, that’s improvement, and maturity, and he’s shown both on this album. I hope we get more interesting selections next time, but he’s definitely going in the right direction, even if he’s not quite there yet with this record.

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The Good

The Terrible

Album Review: Walker Hayes–Boom

Country Rating: -1/10
Overall Rating: 1/10

You think that negative rating is a joke, or a hyperbole, or at the very least an attention-getting device. No, it’s a reflection of how absurd it is that we’ve reached a point in time where we’re actually calling this country. I shouldn’t even have to comment on this album at all because it is so far out of my lane, so far removed from anything closely resembling music that I feel qualified to speak on, and yet that’s exactly why I’m compelled to call bullshit on this. Merle Haggard, Don Williams, and yes, even the more modern-sounding Troy Gentry are all rolling over in their graves somewhere right now from the knowledge that we’ve massacred country music like this. I dare you, any of you, to listen to anything from this record and tell me how it in any way, shape, or form resembles anything close to country. I dare you to tell me how you’d know, if listening to any one of these tracks, you were listening to a country radio station. It’s even worse than Sam Hunt because hell, at least Hunt was original. Granted, his spoken word/singing crap was and is a terrible idea, but original it was; Walker Hayes is the wannabe who can neither sing nor rap with even half the charisma of Hunt…and shame on country music for allowing itself to be tampered with this way; no other genre has so little self-respect, but country is forever in this identity crisis. God forbid people actually think we’re “too” country, so we let in shit like this.

The first half of this album is absolutely, mind-blowingly, shockingly awful. We start with “Beautiful,” which isn’t the worst thing here, but it’s essentially Walker missing an ex for well, we don’t ever really get too much of a reason except that she’s physically beautiful. So, potentially good idea turned basically into a shallow piece of crap that ultimately says nothing. OH, and I’ve mentioned this, but he cannot sing. “Shut up Kenny” is one of the worst things here–he’s driving around sick of hearing Kenny Chesney’s music because it reminds him of an ex, but instead of, I don’t know, turning off the radio, he just continues to yell at Kenny to shut up. He does contemplate ripping the radio out of the dash, though, which would somehow be easier than turning it off, I suppose. And then we have the ultimate douche anthem, the infamous single “You Broke up With Me.” Worst single of the year no doubt. The narrator here is just a completely self-absorbed jackass, and also, adding to the bad singing and bad rapping, we now have bad whistling. I’ll give “Halloween” credit for the idea it was going for, taking off masks and revealing yourself to the one you love, but the total lack of personality and his complete inability to rap make this pretty unlistenable as well.

And then this first half comes to the ultimate, horrifying conclusion of “Dollar Store.” Now, this, I think, at least knows that it’s stupid. At least I hope it does because if not, this singlehandedly proves Walker’s total lack of self-awareness. I think it knows it’s idiotic, though; it’s essentially a song about being dirt poor and going to the dollar store–“down to the dollar store, buy you whatever you holler for” would be an embarrassing enough line on its own, but someone needs to tell this guy that in country music, we put r’s in “store” and “for.” This song honestly could have been written in an actual country way, minus the stupid lyrics about being a sugar daddy and without all the urban phrasing, and been pitched to someone like Brad Paisley, and we’d all probably enjoy it. As it is, words cannot describe the horror and stupidity of this track…and yet, it’s not even the worst thing on this album.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because at track 6, and yes, I’m as surprised as you are, we actually find a song that isn’t immediately horrible. Two, in fact. “Beer in the Fridge” is a heartbreak song, and he’s basically fighting a war with himself over whether to drink his last beer. He gave up drinking for the ex, but she’s also the reason he wants to be drunk. He still can’t sing, but I’ll give this song credit for actually being well-written and also for not making him sound like a giant douche. “Beckett” is pretty obnoxious, but again, he doesn’t sound like a complete douche, as he’s describing his child’s innocence and acceptance of people and saying he wishes he were more like that. I find this one pretty annoying and sappy, but it should be given a bit of credit for the idea. I don’t have much to say about “Mind Candy,” as it’s essentially Beautiful Part 2. It’s a terrible song as well, but after some of the earlier tracks, I can’t be shocked by this point…except for the fact he manages to name-drop Willie Nelson here in the most disgusting instance of blasphemy on one of these “country” records I’ve ever heard. Still, nothing can be as bad as what I’ve already suffered through on the opening half, right?

“Prescriptions” arrives to toss that ill-conceived theory right out the window. If this is released in 2018, I will tell you now that it will be the worst single of that year and quite possibly many years to come. This is another douche anthem, and I can’t even believe this is possible, but this guy is even more of a jackass than the “You Broke UP With Me” dude. He opens this thing by declaring that he’s trying to be mature about his break up and seeing his ex with someone else…okay, maybe this is possible given “Beer in the fridge,” but doubtful given “You Broke up With Me.” Then we get the most creepily detailed list of shit he’d like to happen to her…he wants her and her boyfriend to be drunk and half asleep one night, her to accidentally say his name instead of the new guy, them to fight about it, the boyfriend not to be able to get over it even though she promises him that it meant nothing, their entire relationship to crumble, them to seek therapy, and the therapist to have nothing to offer but prescriptions…if that doesn’t say mature, friends, I don’t know what does. OH, I should say that he adds that he was kidding, kinda.

Again, I’ll give credit where it’s due, and after the incredibly hate-filled song we’ve just been subjected to, it’s hard to imagine the next and final song would actually be mature and feature an example of love and kindness. This one is personal to Walker Hayes and describes Craig, a man he met in church who helped them out when the family was struggling and needed money. It’s a good illustration of a man living out his faith, and the personal details do add to this. It’s still not country by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but this is actually a pretty good song in its rightful genre. It’s also the only example of actual passable rapping, although his singing still leaves much to be desired. Still, it’s the only time you can actually see a bit of personality to Hayes, well, personality beyond that of a completely self-absorbed asshole.

I can’t be fair to this album without highlighting the very few bright spots, and I’ve done that. That said, this is a terrible album and a slap in the face to country music. Walker Hayes is probably capable of more–see “Craig”–but he’s proven by his complete change of character since the Sam Hunt trend arrived that he’ll shape himself into anything that’ll sell. On his previous songs, he actually could carry a tune–it’s like he’s purposely forsaken his vocal ability to do this spoken word crap, and that’s all the more unfortunate because he can’t rap to save his life for most of this record. Plus, it’s not remotely country, and the challenge still stands if any of you want to try and contradict this opinion. Add to all that the fact that he comes off as a douche throughout a good chunk of this record, and yeah, it makes for a spectacularly awful listen.

P.S. And the title is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard…really?

P.P.S. If you want to purchase this, kindly go somewhere else. I love my readers too much to post such a link.

The Horrific

The Better

Spotify and Apple Music Best of 2017 Playlists

Yesterday, I published what I consider to be a list of the absolute best songs of the year, but I also promised a more extensive list of some of the year’s best songs. Here are links to both Spotify and Apple Music versions of this, and thanks to Zack, whom we like to call our visual consultant, for making the Spotify version. Keep in mind, these are not ranked or in any particular order other than a good musical order for a playlist.

For Apple Music:
Click Here

For Spotify: