NASHVILLE’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2018
Nashville’s Best Albums Of 2018
By Cindy Watts and Dave Paulson, Nashville Tennessean – 12-10-18
As we look back at the past year of albums made in Nashville (or by Nashville artists) it’s hard not to be both proud of Music City’s legacy and excited for its future.
In 2018, Nashville served as the backdrop for a 20-year-old indie-rock wunderkind, reeling from a painful breakup — as well as a 72-year-old songwriting legend, making plans for the afterlife.
It was a time when a Lower Broadway honky tonk fixture and an Iraq war vet both got their turn in the spotlight, while other mainstays of country, Americana and rock gently (or not so gently) pushed against the boundaries of their genre.
John Prine, ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’
The master songwriter’s family had to tell him it was time for him to assemble a new collection of songs, and the world owes them mightily for that. Prine’s first album of original material in 13 years is predictably brilliant, hilarious and heartbreaking — and his songwriting prowess finds new resonance as he enters his twilight years. On the standout final track, “When I Get to Heaven,” the 72-year-old lays out his plans for the afterlife: from smoking “a cigarette that’s 9 miles long” to reuniting with with his parents and brother.
Pistol Annies, ‘Interstate Gospel’
“Interstate Gospel” is rich with catchy melodies and the dark corners of everyday life. The 14-song collection is the trio’s first album in five years. True to form, members Miranda Lambert, Ashely Monroe and Angaleena Presley boldly shout their tattooed stories of cheating husbands, heartbreak and girl power from country music’s tallest barstool.
Dierks Bentley, ‘The Mountain’
With few exceptions, Bentley releases the most thoughtful, complete collections in country music, and “The Mountain” is among his best. Home to hit songs including “Woman, Amen” and “Burning Man” featuring Brothers Osborne, “The Mountain” is a spacious, uncluttered showcase of Bentley’s heart and creativity that reflects the natural beauty of the Colorado mountains where it was written and recorded.
Dolly Parton, ‘Dumplin’’
Dolly Parton and rock singer/songwriter/producer Linda Perry teamed up for the soundtrack of the Netflix film “Dumplin’,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald. Parton and Perry, first-time collaborators, co-wrote new songs and reworked some of Parton’s classics, including her signature hit, “Jolene.” They enlisted cross-genre duet support from artists including Miranda Lambert, Macy Gray, Sia, Mavis Staples, Elle King, Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. The album manages to feel both edgy and comfortable, vintage and modern. Parton sings on every song.
The War and Treaty, ‘Healing Tide’
There’s ponderous emotion packed into every note belted out by soulful Americana duo The War and Treaty, comprised of husband and wife Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter. The pair spent just five days in producer Buddy Miller’s home studio to craft the collection, which blends soul, folk, rock and gospel — or in Blount-Trotter’s words, “musical gumbo.”
For King & Country, ‘Burn the Ships’
Packed with hope, love, perspective and addictive melodies, “Burn the Ships” is this highly anticipated third album from Grammy-winning brother duo Joel and Luke Smallbone. The album includes crossover hit “joy.” and current single “God Only Knows.”hley McBryde, ‘Girl Going Nowhere’
Reflective, relatable and inarguably country, Ashley McBryde’s “Girl Going Nowhere” will break your heart, make you pump your fist, sing along and pray she moves in next door. The album showcases her infallible song sense and a voice that is every corner of tender, tough, reserved and in-your-face. She’s the face on the poster for country music’s brightest future.
Brothers Osborne, ‘Port Saint Joe’
Did someone say guitar? Put John Osborne on a pedestal with Nashville’s finest players. His musicianship demands the spotlight on “Port Saint Joe” alongside brother T.J. Osborne’s distinct voice and songs that leave no doubt about what is most important to the men from Deale, Maryland.
Soccer Mommy, ‘Clean’
Released a couple months ahead of her 21st birthday, the debut album from Swiss-born, Nashville-raised indie rocker Sophie Allison might floor you in its opening minutes. She sounds profoundly wounded on “Still Clean” — as she picks intricate chords on a lone electric guitar, she sings to a former lover, realizing she was “only what you wanted for a while.” But throughout these 10 songs, Allison steadily builds steam: “I don’t wanna be your (expletive) dog that you drag around,” she sings two tracks later. It’s a stunningly assured debut.
Carrie Underwood, ‘Cry Pretty’
Underwood’s fingerprints cover “Cry Pretty” in a way they never have an album before. She co-produced “Cry Pretty” and co-wrote nine of its 13 songs – timely content that is rife with lyrics that both reflect her reality and are aimed at the heart of today’s culture. Her song “The Bullet” is about those left behind when a loved one is killed with a gun, “Love Wins” is a soaring anthem of love and acceptance and “Kingdom,” the song that made Underwood cry, is about the significance of home.
Kenny Chesney, ‘Songs for the Saints’
A deliberate departure from Chesney’s guitar-driven arena country, the 11-song collection is about the rebuilding process — not of his dear Virgin Islands, but of the human spirit. The album was recorded in three weeks and rings of a singer/songwriter project driven by vulnerability and determination. It’s a love letter to the island of St. John, and proceeds will be donated to Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation that funds rescue and rebuilding projects post-hurricane Irma.
Kacey Musgraves, ‘Golden Hour’
Last month, Musgraves’ third album won the CMA Award for Album of the Year — a deserved, but surprising honor, as “Golden Hour” finds her firmly breaking from mainstream country’s orbit and creating her own world. Further proof of its widespread appeal emerged Friday, with a nomination in the Grammy’s top album of the year category.
‘Golden Hour’ is a place where banjos and synthesizers find unlikely harmony with Musgraves’ sublime croon, whether she’s celebrating the love of her life or pondering her place in the universe.
Joshua Hedley, ‘Mr. Jukebox’
“Feed me nickels, feed me dimes, I’ll play your favorite song just one more time,” classic country musician Hedley sings on the title track of “Mr. Jukebox.” It’s an autobiographical tune, drawing from his years as a performer at Nashville honky-tonk Robert’s Western World. With this release on Jack White’s Third Man Records, Hedley has shared an exquisitely reverent take on ‘50s and ’60s country fare with an international audience.
Sugarland’s first album in eight years is a fearless, creative reflection of not only the state of the heart, but the state of the world. The duo — Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush — musically and thematically broke many of country’s genre-sensitive rules to make an album capable of making difference. The album’s singles, “Still the Same” and “Babe” (featuring Taylor Swift), resonated on country radio, but the meat is in album cuts.
Dan + Shay, ‘Dan + Shay’
There’s not an act in country music that’s had a bigger career-making year than duo Dan + Shay, and their self-titled third album is at the crux of the lift. Co-produced by the duo’s Dan Smyers, “Dan + Shay” includes the harmony-centric, contemporary duo’s multi-platinum selling smash “Tequila” as well as its current hit, “Speechless.” The duo co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on the album, including “Tequila,” “Speechless,” and “Keeping Score,” which features Kelly Clarkson.
Amanda Shires, ‘To The Sunset’
It might be the most sonically adventurous record to come from Music Row in 2018 — let alone Nashville’s famed RCA Studio A. Every track on Shires’ bold and inspired solo effort stands out in its own way, from the distorted southern stomp of “Eve’s Daughter” to the serene “Swimmer.” The latter track is an electric reworking of a tune from 2011, and it shows how far the 400 Unit member has come as an original Americana voice.
Singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires’ new album “To the Sunset” is scheduled to be released in early August 2018. Photographed Monday, July 9, 2018, in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
Jason Crabb, ‘Unexpected’
Grammy-winning Christian singer Jason Crabb takes listeners to church on his latest album, “Unexpected.” Produced by Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus and featuring duets with Rascal Flatts singer Gary LeVox and Kaya Kones, the project marries gospel, Christian, soul and country for an album that will have listeners both dancing and crying. “Short are the Years” should come with a warning label for parents.
Eric Church, ‘Desperate Man’
Though its title track and lead single is heavily “inspired” by the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” Church isn’t aiming for arena grandeur on his sixth album. Instead, it’s the mainstream country outsider’s most quiet and compact album to date — and a welcome change of pace.
Jack White, ‘Boarding House Reach’
After holing up in a Nashville apartment with the same recording equipment he had as a kid, Music City’s resident rock star got more “out there” than ever on his third solo album — and given his body of work, that’s no small feat.
Over its 13 tracks, synthesizers and drum machines go haywire alongside White’s celebrated guitar shredding. He even raps on one song, and on “Corporation,” challenges listeners to join him on this ride: “Who’s with me?”
EVEN MORE MUSIC COVERAGE: