It’s almost impossible to listen to every record that comes out each year. Few have tried, and even fewer have succeeded, especially in a stellar year like 2016. There was a heck of a lot of great country and Americana music that came out from January to December. Unfortunately, not all albums get the equal attention they deserve. Sometimes an independent country artist might make the “big jump” while another Americana artist ran under the radar. That’s the beauty of music, finding a new artist feels like a true discovery.
From quirky country comedy to red dirt country soul, here are eight country and Americana records you may have missed in 2016.
Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis
Arguably one of the best guitar players in country music, Houston’s Robert Ellis is a mystery. He’s a man of the world who lives out of a suitcase nearly 300 days out of the year. He’s incredibly funny on social media, and writes with great depth and emotion in his music. Robert Ellis combines Ellis’ wit with wordplay alongside his excellent guitar chops on songs like “Perfect Strangers,” and presses into more lounge-like explosions with the stunning “California.” His self-titled album sounds like Hank Williams got on an artistic kick after a devastating break-up. The album flirts with genres outside of country, but always returns to Ellis’ Houston roots in the best of ways.
Ain’t Who I Was, Bonnie Bishop
Bonnie Bishop has done it all in country music. She worked Texas before making the move up to Nashville. She didn’t waste any time once in the Music City, writing “Not Cause I Wanted To” for her idol, Bonnie Raitt. The single won Bishop her first Grammy in 2013. After a brief hiatus, Bishop returned in 2016 with, Ain’t Who I Wasshowed a new side of Bishop. She oozes country soul, from the aptly named “Mercy” to “You Will Be Loved.” Produced by uber-producer Dave Cobb, Ain’t Who I Was is the perfect introduction to Bishop’s talents.
Sweet Creep, Jonny Fritz
If the guys from Monty Python ever decided they needed to make a country record, it would be Sweet Creep. Jonny Fritz has been a man exploring the softer side of country music for a while now, but not soft in the way you may think. Fritz’ music is silly and surreal. He goes from sweet songs of lament (“Cries After Making Love”) to utter bizarreness (“Chilidog Morning,” which Fritz supposedly wrote with a four-year-old). Sweet Creep is a country throwback that will make you laugh and cry on both the A and B sides. Fritz is basically the court jester comedian of country music. Sweet Creep holds a mirror up to the genre, whether they acknowledge him or not.
Road Less Traveled, Alyssa Bonagura
Alyssa Bonagura is a rare breed in Nashville, based on the fact that she’s a native. But that’s not the only thing that places Bonagura in rarified air — her songwriting chops are top notch. After writing songs for Jo Dee Messina and her duo The Sisterhood, Bonagura came up with The Road Less Traveled. The album has beautiful shifts from country to pop to gospel all with a unique spin from Bonagura. She goes sweet on “Rebel” and “I Wanna Marry You” to hopeful on “Comin’ Up From the Underground” to soft sadness on “Imagination.” The Road Less Traveled is an emotional journey that Bonagura navigates with a seamless touch.
Cautionary Tale, Dylan LeBlanc
Dylan LeBlanc is an artist who has flown under the radar for a while, but it definitely won’t stay that way for long. Somewhat of a prodigy, Cautionary Tale is LeBlanc’s third album despite being only 26. The first thing that jumps out on the record is his dreamy mellow voice. When he sings, the lyrics just float out over the production, and show LeBlanc’s chops as a narrative writer. In the past, LeBlanc had shied away from writing songs about his life, but he’s grown into it on Cautionary Tale. The whole album is a story of LeBlanc’s journey to date, and tracks like “Beyond the Veil” leave you wanting more. Then again, all of LeBlanc’s songs do, because his voice is an indescribable, once-in-a-generation type sound.
The Token, Elise Davis
Elise Davis is a master of observing the every day. The Token’s title track exemplifies the fact as Davis looks at all the different tracks a single life can take at any given moment. Her writing is empathetic and barbed, allowing the listener to take it whatever way they may, with only Davis knowing the true meaning. Her music is kick ass to boot. It’s somewhere north of country meets garage rock, with occasional break beats exchanging pace with a rock and roll fill. The Token is Davis’ “devil may care” take on country music that appeals to any and all who don’t mind taking a hit or two to the face. The standout track on the album (amongst many) has got to be “Pretty Girl,” an ode to womanhood in the modern age.
The Day We Lost The War, Zach Schmidt
Zach Schmidt has been doing “the Nashville thing” for a little while now. He began paying his dues in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma before heading out to Music City, USA, with his Depression Era country in tow. The Day We Lost The War is Schmidt’s full-length debut and the throwback of throwbacks to come out this year. The songs sound like they’ve been pulled live off the floor of a honky-tonk or dive. There are a number of standout tracks on the record, but the most moving is certainly “Dear Memphis.” Schmidt wrote the song after staying with a cattle rancher wife who told a touching story. When she was living in Memphis, her husband would cross the Texas-Mexico border every day just to send her a letter. If that’s not the stuff country songs are made of, then I don’t know what is.
Resistor, Lera Lynn
If you’re a fan of True Detective then you may already be familiar with Lera Lynn. The singer-songwriter had a memorable role on the HBO series’ second season as a rock bottom bar act. It was likely easy for Lynn to get into character, already being a songwriter and all. Still, her actual music is far more memorable than that of her fictional character. Resistor is a menacing trance of country creep that explores the underbelly of the genre. Songs like “What You Done” cover hiding one’s darkest secrets in plain sight, with nothing else to do. There’s an air of confident country melancholy in all Lera’s songs on Resistor, and the end result is spine-tinglingly delightful.