For the first time ever I’ve put together a blog highlighting some of my favourite albums of this year. I don’t pretend to be any authority on this, and these certainly aren’t reviews as such, but I know I talk a lot about music on my socials and I wanted to talk in a bit more details about some of the albums I’ve loved this year and why.
In composing this list I had very few rules – these 8 albums aren’t in any particular order from 1 to 8 for example (although you will find I’ve highlighted my top album of 2017 further down). Quite simply the album had to be released in 2017 (or at least I have to think that’s when it was released!!), it has to be a full length album as opposed to an EP, and it cannot be a Christmas album.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts, and if you make it to the bottom there’s a special treat for you!
Lauren Alaina – Road Less Travelled
There’s no doubt that this album is on here for the lyrics. Road Less Travelled is full of catchy melodies that will get stuck in your head but its when you delve into the lyrics that you can really appreciate the strength of this album. For me Doin’ Fine has become a particular favourite and one of the songs that has helped me through a tough year – especially the chorus lyrics “I’m doin’ fine enough to know that everyones a little broken, fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open. I still got fear inside of me, I’m not OK but I’m gonna be alright.” These are words that to me have been a reminder that I don’t have to cover up the way I’m feeling all the time, and that it’s OK not to be 100% all the time.
For me though the standout track is Three. This song tells the story of some of the struggles Lauren Alaina has been through to get to this point in her career and if you’ve ever thought musicians can walk into their career this song will soon change your mind! I think my own experiences of feeling like I miss out on so many opportunities because my training and racing comes first meant I related to this song from the first listen. As you delve deeper into the album you’ll see this is a common theme though – Lauren sings about life experiences and it’s this that has made the album stand out to me!
Standout track – Three
Taylor Swift – Reputation
A lot has been said about this album, and it’s no secret that I’m a huge Tay-Tay fan and always will be. The album was launched with a huge fanfare (or lack of in one sense considering Taylor disappeared from social networks in the buildup) which made the anticipation even greater. Musically some songs on the album are a huge departure from what’s come before – but not all are … Getaway Car for example would fit in on any of the last couple of albums. Whilst musically the album is different in places Taylor’s storytelling and lyrics continue to be just as outstanding. Just yesterday shuffle on my iPhone meant I listened to Picture To Burn (TS1) followed by Look What You Made Me Do one after the other – I highly recommend this if you want to see Taylor’s progression as an artist!
Then just as the album is coming to an end up pops track 16 – New Year’s Day! This could have been on TS1 and TS2 – it looks and sounds like the old (dead!) Taylor. In fact it’s even been released as a single to country radio – a nice, unexpected surprise at the end of the album!
Standout track – New Years Day
RaeLynn – WildHorse
This was, if my memory serves me correctly, the first album I bought in 2017 and it’s stood the test of time to end up in this list. The standout track on this album, Love Triangle, tells the story of a child with separated parents and was on regular rotation on my iPhone long before the album became available – it’s country music storytelling at it’s finest, drawing you in.
Lyrically Diamonds stands out to me as another fantastic song and one which deserves more radio play than it’s got, particularly on UK Country radio. Ultimately this whole album has established RaeLynn as a super exciting artist to watch and I hope we’ll see her over in the UK really soon – I was gutted she wasn’t on the original lineup announcements for C2C 2018.
Standout track – Love Triangle
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Time to be honest here…the first few times I listened to this album I just didn’t get it. I knew he was coming up as a guest on Bob Harris (which I listen to religiously!) and so I listened to the tracks that had already been released a few times in advance…not for me. Then I listened to his session on Bob Harris and suddenly the songs took on a new life to me. I think previously I’d had it on as background music and not connected with the lyrics. But hearing Jason talk about the tracks made me listen more carefully and tracks I’d dismissed like If We Were Vampires and Something To Love made me instantly want to give this album a second chance and this time listening to the lyrics I realised it really is outstanding!
I’m glad I gave it a deeper listen as listening to the album cuts made me come across Anxiety which for me is a track people need to here…’Anxiety, how do you always get the best of me…I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing’. Seriously worth a listen.
Standout track – Anxiety
Wildwood Kin – Turning Tides
Quite simply, if I had to single one of these albums out as my top album of 2017 this would be it, and it’s another discovery I owe to Bob Harris and Radio 2. Wildwood Kin were highlighted as part of BBC Introducing this year and featured on a Radio 2 show from Maida Vale. Listening to their interview and songs on this show was enough for me to fall in love with this music. The all-girl trio, who are all family, produce some of the most stunning harmonies you’ll ever hear on an album which could probably be found in many genres in a record store – certainly country, Americana or folk fans are all going to enjoy this sound.
It’s hard to pick a song that stands out because the album truly is superb from start to finish (never mind finding just 2 to put on my Apple Music playlist – see below) but I think on a personal level Hold On has connected with me. But honestly – you need to give the whole album a listen.
Better still – go see Wildwood Kin live. I’ve been lucky enough to see these girls 4 times this year, including on the opening night of their first ever headline tour, and their live performance really is something special. Plus they are 3 of the nicest, most welcoming people you will ever meet.
Standout track – all of it. Genuinely.
Shania Twain – Now
I guess for me Shania falls in the same category as Taylor in having been a fan for a long time. In the case of Shania the wait for new music has been much longer due to her health struggles having put a hold on her music career for a long time. With so much time having passed there was a lot of anticipation surrounding this album and personally I felt it delivered. Shania sits on the pop-country boundary and Now very definitely sits on the pop side of that, with a slightly different sound having developed since her last music.
That said from a lyrical perspective Soldier sits very definitely within the heart-stopping storytelling you expect to come directly out of Nashville. On the other end of the spectrum Life’s About To Get Good (the first single release from the album) is an up tempo pop anthem that everybody can embrace!
Standout track – Life’s About To Get Good
Lindsay Ell – The Project
Like a few of the artists on this list I first came across Lindsay Ell’s music on Apple Music. The first thing that came across to me was the fantastic guitars on the music! (If only I could play my own Fender that well!) I started to do a bit of YouTube research, as I do with many new artists, and quickly discovered that the brilliant guitar playing is her own work. Hundreds of YouTube videos of her live performances and her guitar slaying (as I now like to call it!) has helped establish her as one of my favourite discoveries, and certainly my favourite guitarist on the country scene right now. If you’re still not convinced then the fact that Brad Paisley opted to take her out on his Weekend Warrior Tour this year speaks volumes – after all Brad knows a thing or two about the guitar!
It should be noted that beyond the music this album is also strong lyrically. Her previous EP releases meant I’d already fallen in love with Space and was so glad it found a place on the album, and Castle also grabbed me the first time I heard it due to it’s simple yet provocative lyrics – ‘even if we had a house upon a hill, I bet we’d want a castle’.
I was gutted to miss Lindsay when she came over to the UK this year but thanks to some excellent friends I still have a signed copy of the album and I’m looking forward to seeing her live when she comes over for C2C 2018.
Standout track – Castle
Danielle Bradbery – I Don’t Believe We’ve Met
It says something about the strength of this album that it’s found it’s way onto this list having been released only a matter of weeks ago. Danielle won the US Voice a few years ago and after releasing the album that followed the win has taken a break before following it up with this album. I only discovered her music on the new album so can’t speak for what came before but the result has certainly been a brilliant album. This album probably includes the story for the strangest way of discovering an artist…I discovered her music initially when Bailey Bryan promoted her album by dancing along to Sway on her Instagram Story! (A side note here – Bailey Bryan’s EP ‘So Far’ deserves a special mention here for containing my song of 2017, Scars, which is my most-listened to song ever – a song that means the absolute world to me – and is included on my playlist so you can listen to it yourself!)
Back to Danielle’s album though, and it really is superb. Of all the albums on this list I think it might be the most raw, and overall honest. The songs on the album tell stories of hurt, heartbreak, relationships and life in general. It takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, from songs like Sway which I want to dance along to every time I play it, through to songs like Potential and Human Diary which are strong enough to tear you apart on every listen.
Standout song – Human Diary
So that’s it – my top albums of 2017! But it’s one thing hearing my thoughts – really you need to hear the music! So with this in mind I’ve put together an Apple Music playlist with 2 songs from each album. I’ve tried to pick 2 superb tracks whilst trying to showcase the variety on the albums. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and find some new favourites which might encourage you to dig deeper and explore these artists for yourself (then buy their music!)!