Nashville Scene Country Music Critics’ Poll – My Ballot

TOP TEN COUNTRY ALBUMS OF 2016:

  1. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
  2. Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle
  3. Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town
  4. Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories
  5. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
  6. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
  7. Maron Morris – Hero
  8. Del McCoury – Del & Woody
  9. Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
  10. Pinegrove – Cardinal

 

TOP TEN COUNTRY SINGLES OF 2016:

  1. Aubrie Sellers – “Sit Here and Cry”
  2. Eric Church “Record Year”
  3. Maren Morris “My Church”
  4. Lori McKenna – “Wreck You”
  5. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool”
  6. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends”
  7. Margo Price – “Four Years of Chances”
  8. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need a Drink”
  9. Elizabeth Cook – “Straightjacket Love”
  10. Sara Watkins – “Young In All the Wrong Ways”

 

Almost Perfect

File under not shocking: the yen to whittle down Miranda’s The Weight of These Wings from 24 songs to say, 14 or so, in hopes of moving from a damn good album to a fuck-yeah masterpiece. One that doesn’t repeat itself, doesn’t buy into its own importance, doesn’t fall prey to woe-is-me navel-gazing no matter how hard the band kicks. Lambert is most convincing when flaunting her authority and riding a beat (can ya tell I’m still hung up on “Little Red Wagon”?). The snare rolls of “You Wouldn’t Know Me” go a long way towards voicing the disc’s moving-on message than say, the boo-hoo fragility of “Tin Man,” no matter how pretty her voice is on the latter. The more wise-ass quips she flaunts, the more attractive she becomes. The more heartbroke she acts, the more susceptible she is to mush. With just a smidge of editing, Blake’s crazy ex-girlfriend could’ve been standing on the top of my mountain this year. (Of course, she did win the whole shebang.)

 

The Voice

Those truly impressive women songwriters who take up the top three slots of my album list are also wonderfully convincing singers. “It’s been a 40-hour week and it’s only Tuesday,” sighs Brandy Clark on “Three Kids, No Husband,” and you feel like you’re looking straight into that weary mom’s face, feeling both distress and heroics radiating from her. And the way Margo Price milks Loretta Lynn while trusting her own sense of twang in “About To Find Out” was an asset that bolstered the emotions of that tune and the rest of her pithy character studies. But it’s Lori McKenna’s just-folks warble on “Wreck You” and “All These Things” that colors in the hues of the music’s already-fierce imagery. The way she sings “worth half a shit” on “Halfway Home” or lets us know that her mother sang in a choir in “Giving Up On Your Hometown” – her glide underscores the nuance, bubbles up the details. We should probably call Iris Dement the queen of this skill, but in 2016, it was these three who warrant applause for their vocals as well as their tunes.

Geoff Himes on Brandy Clark

 

A Moment of Meh

Props to ambition, but I’m thinking Sturgill bit off a little more than he could chew with A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. On the highway, at the desk – I let it drift over me several times, but the same reactions kept cropping up. Too strident, kinda unfocused, overly decorated. From the strings to the horns to the synth burbling underneath “Brace For Impact (Live a Little),” it seemed like the more he padded his advice to his son, the more he swamped the impact of his missive. Maybe it was the operatic Roy Orbison opening moments, the Otis “Hard to Handle” echoes on “Keep It Between the Lines,” or the surf-crashing sounds and David Clayton Thomas boogie of “Call To Arms” – hard to say, really; maybe its their cumulative clout. When the dust settled, I deemed his Grammy-nominated suite a victim of earnestness and filed it in the tried-too-hard category.

 

Records Go Round

From Hylo Brown’s “Grand Ole Opry Song” to Johnny Paycheck’s “Meanest Jukebox in Town” to Jason Aldean genuflecting to Joe Diffie in “1994,” I’ve always been a sap for country songs that throw to the thrills of listening to music, so Eric Church’s “Record Year” found a lot of replay time in my living room in 2016. Riding the vinyl resurgence, I dusted off my turntable too, and was tickled by all the inescapable verities, from the pleasures of fidelity to the goose pimples of nostalgia. Extra points for the video putting all those platters on that pole – fun stuff. See you at the yard sales.

FULL POLL RESULTS 

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