10 Favorite 2017 Albums

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Over the course of 2017 there were plenty of albums that I listened to (over 20,000 minutes of music) according to Spotify. However, there were plenty of great releases that slipped through the cracks during an extremely busy and complicated year for me. That’s why instead of doing a best of 2017 list I thought it would be more appropriate to list my favorite albums of 2017. Here are my favorite albums of this year, 1 year after I created Critically Country.

Very Honorable Mentions: Puxico (Natalie Hemby), At Home in the Big Lonesome (Drew Kennedy), Hell of a Highway Ep (Jake Worthington) and Canyons of my Mind (Andrew Combs

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10. The Nashville Sound (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit) My favorite Jason Isbell project that tackles topics like politics, love and race. Sharp, honest songwriting and a lively sound.

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9. Purgatory (Tyler Childers) Many people’s pick for album of the year, this album has sharp songwriting and represents traditional/independent country well. I love the instrumentation on this album.

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8. Rule 62 (Whitney Rose) I have yet to hear a bad song from this Canadian born artist through 3 albums and an ep. A throwback sound with a modern spin.

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7.¬†Chris Stapleton (From a Room Volumes 1 and 2): Chris Stapleton is one of the top vocalists and songwriters in all of music. My biggest criticism of these albums is that there aren’t enough new songs and it would have been better to just have one album with the best of Volumes 1 and 2.

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6.¬†Vaquero (Aaron Watson) Pleasant is the best word that comes to mind when discussing Vaquero. The albums lead single “Outta Style” is also Watson’s first career top 10 song on the Media Base country chart.

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5. Trophy (Sunny Sweeney) My number 1 album for much of 2017 Sweeney delivers her best album making the album that she wanted to. Sweeney’s cover of “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” is one of the best songs of the year.

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4. On The Rocks (Midland) I couldn’t care less about any authenticity concerns. Midland’s music is the real deal traditional country sound that is completely missing from the airwaves in 2017.

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3. A Long Way From Your Heart (Turnpike Troubadours) Was there any doubt that this would be an absolute masterpiece? A Long Way From Your Heart further cements the Troubadours as country musics best and most consistently great band.

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2. Silence in These Walls (Flatt Lonesome) This Bluegrass group gets better with each album. This heartbreak album came out during a particularly difficult time of the year for me making this album so relatable.

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1. Tenderheart (Sam Outlaw) My favorite album of 2017 and without a doubt one of my all time favorite albums. This smooth California country album never gets old despite being released way back in April.



Sam Outlaw Tenderheart Album Review

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Sam Outlaw was recently one of the artists featured in the La Weekly article 10 Lamest Americana Acts. The author Jonny Whiteside referred to Outlaw as a hipster whose music is just as pop country as Rascal Flatts. Now of course if you are actually familiar with Sam Outlaw’s music you would know how ludicrous that comparison is. Hell, by today’s standards I don’t know how you could even classify Outlaw as “pop country” at all. He also took a shot at the fact that Sam Outlaw’s real name is actually not Sam Outlaw it is Sam Morgan. Whiteside tried to claim that Outlaw is misrepresenting what his actual name is to try to seem cool. Well, Outlaw whose mother passed away made the decision to use his mother’s maiden name as a way of honoring her. There have been plenty of artists who have decided to go with different names than their birth name and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a silly criticism and has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of his music.

So who is Sam Outlaw anyway? Well Sam was born in Aberdeen South Dakota where he lived until age 10. His family moved to Southern California where he grew up listening to country legends like Emmylou Harris and George Jones who he lists as an inspiration as a songwriter. Outlaw worked in advertising before deciding to chase his dream of being a country artist at the age of 30. Tenderheart which was released on the 14th is Outlaw’s second album and it’s a good one.

The album begins with two songs right off the bat that I believe are related to Outlaw’s journey from being a successful advertising guy to a country artist. “Everyone’s Looking for Home” starts off the album and is in my opinion the best song on Tenderheart. It describes a person who has left home in search of adventure and a life of his own. He left the love of his life at home and is trying to find himself. He’s looking for a place that he can call home. In my mind Outlaw is describing his divorce and the decision that he made to chase his dream. In “Bottomless Mimosas” Outlaw talks about the way that people can become in regards to work. They live for the weekend and drink their sorrows away when they get there. When the weekend ends the beg for more time and then do it all over again. He also questions the idea of money being freedom when all it is doing is keeping you tied down and unhappy.

Some great storytelling is demonstrated on “Bougainvillea, I Think.” He recalls a neighbor that he used to have many years ago. She was an Argentinian immigrant who spent some time in Mexico before settling in the US. The two of them would sit and talk for hours in this garden with flowers on the wall. He can no longer remember what her name was however he thinks that he can remember the name of the flowers on the wall of that garden. He thinks the name was bougainvillea. I would say this is the second best song on a really good album. In the title track “Tenderheart” we have a man that is sitting in a bar who has lost just about everything in his life. The only thing that he has left is a tenderheart for this woman that he loves. She is the only woman that he has ever truly loved. This song is a bit confusing as I’m not sure if he is actually with this woman or not and we are left wondering what caused this man to lose everything.

A song released prior to the album was “Trouble.” This is a catchy song about a friend who is always getting him into trouble He wants to settle down and find a wife and if he keeps this friend that is unlikely to happen. I may be reaching but I wonder if the “friend” is a metaphor for a particular vice or an actual friend. Like a lot of the album you are left to decide for yourself what the answer is. Throughout the album you can hear some nice steel guitar play and that is heard on “She’s Playing Hard to Get Rid Of.” A woman that he loved never treated him right. She left him feeling lonely for too many nights and his feelings towards her have grown cold. There was a time where he may have asked her to marry him but, that day is gone.

We get a sweet love song to follow the sad song “Two Broken Hearts.” This describes two people in a bar that have had their hearts broken by other people. They find each other after the man works up the courage to talk to her and the broken hearts are never seen again. We are led to believe that the two lived happily ever after and never had to deal with a broken heart again. “Diamond Ring” is a song about a man who refuses to settle down. He is in a relationship and it appears the two love each other and the woman wants him to propose. He however, sees no reason to do this and actually questions what is wrong with her that she would want to spend her whole life with him anyway. It appears as though his failure to propose causes the demise of the relationship.

The next couple songs are rather light hearted with “All My Life” being a bit comedic as well. It is basically a proposal where the man explains to the woman that the two of them could spend their whole lives searching for the right man/woman. He however would like to spend that time with her instead for the rest of his life. “Dry In the Sun” is a very short track on this record clocking in at 1 minute 59 seconds. The song simply talks about clothes drying outside on the line. 1 person is telling the other to just relax and leave the clothes out there on the line. If there is a deeper meaning to this song besides taking it easy it’s flying right over my head.

The album ends with 2 very strong songs. “Now She Tells Me,” which has a Mexican vibe involves a woman who makes it difficult to love. She is always busy, she doesn’t try to make her man happy, and she is always leaving him lonely. The man in this song wishes that she had told him that this is how it would be before he fell for her. She won’t leave him and it appears he doesn’t have the strength to leave her. The album ends with the mostly acoustic and live sounding song “Look at you Now.” This song examines the end of a relationship and the broken heart that ensues. It’s a very sad song and it feels very deep and personal.

I had originally planned to have this review out by Monday however, this took more listens than I had anticipated to really be coherent about it. There were a number of songs where I had missed the meaning originally so I revisited the album about 7 times until I felt I had a good grasp. I really love this album and none of the nonsense about his name or former career is of any relevance to me personally when accessing Sam’s Music.

Grade: A- 9/10

Best Songs:  Everyone’s Looking For Home, Bougainvillea I Think