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The 20 Best Country Albums of 2019

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ountry music in 2019 was marked by comebacks, collaborations and star-making turns. It was a year that saw releases from country legends Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood and George Strait and the formation of country supergroup The Highwomen. From career-defining albums from Maren Morris and Luke Combs to stellar debuts from Jenny Tolman and Kalie Shorr, here are the Wide Open Country staff's picks for the 20 best country albums of 2019.

Hixtape Vol. 1, Hardy

Some might've overlooked Hardy's Hixtape Vol. 1 because its name teased hip-hop mashups or out of fear that its songs might be as silly as his seriously good song "Rednecker." In reality, Hardy rounded up buddies ranging from Keith Urban to heavy metal guitar icon Zakk Wylde for one of the year's best collections of radio-friendly country songs. Highlights of Hardy's star-studded celebration of small-town life include his delightful Trace Adkins and Joe Diffie team-up, "Redneck Tendencies."

—Bobby Moore

Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold, Mike and the Moonpies

It would've made perfect sense for Mike and the Moonpies to follow up 2018's Steak Night at the Prairie Rose by cutting a straight-up country album in their home state of Texas. Instead, the group traveled to historic Abbey Road Studios to record a surprise release with the London Symphony Orchestra. Going out on such an unlikely limb made for songs more akin to the Nashville Sound than red dirt music. It all ends with the perfect song to sum up the Moonpies' experimental bent and overseas experience, Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues."

—Bobby Moore

Blue Roses, Runaway June

Quite a few year-end lists give ample credit to Runaway June for gifting us with one of 2019's best songs, "Buy My Own Drinks." Yet just as Maddie & Tae's 2015 album Start Here deserves love for more than just "Girl in a Country Song," the trio of Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne's debut album isn't a one-song wonder, as proven by a rocking rendition of Dwight Yoakam's "Fast as You" and a nostalgic stroll through the hometown square, "We Were Rich."

—Bobby Moore

Desert Dove, Michaela Anne

Like many country ramblers before her, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Michaela Anne headed west to California for her stunning third album Desert Dove. The result was a spacious, dreamy album that finds Anne navigating love, anxiety and life on the road. "There's a lot of joy, pain, growth, shadow and light, deep vulnerability, and fearlessness I tried to express through these songs and recordings and I hope listeners feel that," the singer-songwriter told Wide Open Country earlier this year. Album standouts include the highway queen anthem "Child of the Wind" and one of the year's best kiss-offs, "If I Wanted Your Opinion."

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

What You See is What You Get, Luke Combs

Nashville's brightest young star followed up an album loved equally by money-minded business types and folks with strict definitions of "country" with more of the same. Sometimes, playing something similar to a prior winning hand makes the most sense. That said, Luke Combs drew wild cards this time, represented by two duets: the multi-generational Brooks & Dunn team-up "1, 2 Many" and a surefire hit in the Eric Church collaboration "Does to Me."

—Bobby Moore

Stronger Than the Truth, Reba McEntire

Fans of Reba McEntire's rootsier '80s output, as heard on the albums My Kind of Country (1984) and Whoever's in New England (1986), were in for a pleasant surprise when this Grammy-nominated album arrived back in April. Despite its throwback sound, McEntire's best album since 2003's Room to Breathe teamed her with the upstart talents she inspired to chase that neon rainbow. Songwriters netting coveted cuts from the album include Brandy Clark ("Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain"), Erin Enderlin and Alex Kline ("The Bar's Getting Lower") and Jaida Dreyer ("Freedom").

—Bobby Moore

Let It Roll, Midland

There's a common theme between year-defining albums by Luke Combs, Maren Morris and Midland: all three proved the runaway success of their big label debuts was no fluke with a stellar sophomore effort. In Midland's case, the trio's appreciation for George Strait and others to take Texas country music from dance halls and honky tonks to Music Row acceptance shines as bright as before. That's why it's hard not to smile and tap your feet whenever "Mr. Lonely" or "Fast Hearts and Slow Towns" play next on shuffle.

—Bobby Moore

There Goes the Neighborhood, Jenny Tolman

Somewhere between Mayberry and Pleasantville lies Jennyville, the technicolor dreamworld of sequin and fringe-clad residents, barbershop quartets and high-stakes Tupperware parties illuminated in Jenny Tolman's debut album There Goes the NeighborhoodA student of Roger Miller, Shel Silverstein and Dolly Parton, Tolman finds humor in the everyday, from makeovers on a budget on "High Class White Trash" ("all it takes to be a beauty queen is a coffee can full of cash," she sings) to vying for an oblivious man's attention with baked goods ("There Goes the Neighborhood"). But it's not all laughs. Tolman calls for love and acceptance on the sweet "My Welcome Mat" and explores the struggle for self-acceptance on the devastating "Love You Too." Welcome to Jennyville. We think you'll like it here.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Girl, Maren Morris

The CMA's reigning Album of the Year starts strong with its inspirational title track and never lets up en route to piano-led belter "Shade." Along the way, listeners smile over the Brothers Osborne team-up "All My Favorite People" and contemplate the most meaningful track of all, the Grammy-nominated Brandi Carlile duet "Common." And don't forget "The Bones," which might just be Maren Morris' best song to date.

—Bobby Moore

Country Squire, Tyler Childers

Despite being more concerned with writing great songs than entertaining the masses, Tyler Childers has surpassed several of his more pop-friendly peers as a unit-shifting recording artist and a performer of sold-out gigs. Heck, he's about to live the arena rocker life with fellow renegade Sturgill Simpson off the strength of "House Fire," "All Your'n" and other instant classics from Country Squire.

—Bobby Moore

Walk Through Fire, Yola

British singer-songwriter Yola took the country and Americana world by storm this year with her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album Walk Through Fire. She packed out every venue during her busy week at this year's AmericanaFest and contributed a jaw dropping verse to The Highwomen's statement of purpose "Highwomen." But even without those star-making turns, we'd still be talking about Yola after spinning Walk Through Fire. From the torchy album opener "Faraway Look," which harkens back to the '60s country-soul of fellow Brit artist Dusty Springfield to sultry '70s groover "Keep Me Here," featuring Vince Gill, Yola grabs ahold of listeners and doesn't let go.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Honky Tonk Time Machine, George Strait

Tanya Tucker and Reba McEntire weren't the only living legends deserving credit for rolling back the clock for a brand-new set of throwback songs. George Strait's 30th career album Honky Tonk Time Machine lives up to its title by offering up rounds of drinking songs ("Codego") and good ol' common sense ("The Weight of The Badge," "God and Country Music"). It proves that one of the genre's most prolific hit-makers has yet to lose a step when he's working with old friends (Willie Nelson and Dean Dillon) and kinfolks (son Bubba Strait and grandson Harvey Strait).

—Bobby Moore

Every Girl, Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood's single "Every Girl in This Town" found moderate success in a musical climate stacked against women and artists over age 40. Thankfully, it wasn't a one-off return to form. Yearwood's best county single in well over a decade teased the quality of the album bearing its name, Every Girl. Highlights aside from the title track include Garth Brooks duet "What Gave Me Away" and a cover of Ashley McBryde's "Bible and a .44" featuring guest vocalist Patty Loveless.

— Bobby Moore

Open Book, Kalie Shorr

The title of Kalie Shorr's debut full-length album Open Book couldn't be more fitting. The singer-songwriter, a member of Nashville's all-woman writer's round Song Suffragettes, leaves no page unturned on the dynamic 13-track tour de force. Open Book sounds like the skateboarding, Vans-wearing daughter of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and Shania Twain's pop-country masterpiece Come On OverShorr shines throughout, particularly on the autobiographical "Escape" and feminist pop punk jam "Alice in Wonderland" (both co-written with Candi Carpenter) and "The World Keeps Spinning," which addresses the loss of a family member. Open Book makes for a hell of a first chapter for Shorr.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Heartache Medication, Jon Pardi

Just like his peer Luke Combs, Jon Pardi kept his whirlwind life spinning by following up his breakout release with additional proof that there's more to mainstream country than dance beats and party anthems.. While the title track helped make sure traditional instrumentation maintains a presence on country radio, new songs "It Ain't Always the Cowboy" and Lauren Alaina duet "Don't Blame It On Whiskey" share a softer side of Pardi.

—Bobby Moore

Traveling Mercies, Emily Scott Robinson

Emily Scott Robinson wrote her debut album Traveling Mercies while living in an RV with her husband and exploring the highways and byways of America. "A lot of rural America and middle-of-nowhere places don't feel like they necessarily matter so much as bigger places. I have found that people living in those places have the most amazing and interesting stories," Robinson told Wide Open Country earlier this year. The North Carolina native brings those stories — and her own — to light throughout Traveling Mercies, a portrait of dusty towns ("Westward Bound"), family heartbreak ("Delta Line"), the life of a touring musician ("Borrowed Rooms and Old Wood Floors," "White Hot Country Mess") and the simple joy of growing older with the love of your life ("Better With Time"). And there may be no more powerful or haunting country song released this year than "The Dress," which centers on a rape survivor finding the dress she wore the night she was assaulted.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

White Noise/ White Lines, Kelsey Waldon

Kelsey Waldon is an example of what happens when you "keep your nose on the grindstone and your hand on the plow," as she sings on White Noise/ White Lines opener "Anyhow." In 2019, she became the first artist signed to John Prine's Oh Boy Records in more than 15 years. And just like her label boss, she remained true to herself along the way. Waldon's third album gives further insight into the pride of Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky with "Kentucky, 1988," one of many album highlights.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

The Highwomen, The Highwomen

The Highwomen, the country supergroup made up of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris, came out swinging with debut single "Redesigning Women."  The song's video features Tanya Tucker driving a pickup truck filled with female country singers ready to burn down the patriarchy and everything it represents. From day one, it was clear: The Highwomen are here to kick ass, take names and "break every jello mold." The Highwomen are part of the much-needed movement to address the (huge) gender gap on country radio and, while helping to lead that charge, they made a damn great and fun country album. "Crowded Table" is made for singing along with your best friends while "Loose Change" and "Cocktail and a Song" address universal heartbreaks. Like Dolly Parton's "Just Because I'm a Woman" and Loretta Lynn's "The Pill," some of country music's best songs were born out of women speaking their truth and having fun while doing it. Thanks to The Highwomen, we get yet another soundtrack to the revolution.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

While I'm Livin', Tanya Tucker

Had Tanya Tucker recorded a decent new album with a couple of should-be radio hits, it would have made for a feel-good comeback story within country music circles. Instead, she cut a great collection of songs with fans turned co-producers Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings.  In the process, a new generation of fans discovered a true renegade through "Hard Luck," "Seminole Wind Calling," "Bring My Flowers Now" and other songs responsible for the biggest Grammy nomination haul by any country artist.

—Bobby Moore

Wildcard, Miranda Lambert

"Yeah, I'm a turner, I turn pages all the time/ Don't like where I'm at/ 34 was bad, so I just turn to 35," Miranda Lambert sings on "Bluebird," a centerpiece of her seventh studio album Wildcard and one of many examples of the honesty and brilliant wordplay throughout the record. Fifteen years after her studio album debut, it would be easy to take Lambert for granted. (Between her solo efforts and work with the Pistol Annies, she's delivered eight stellar albums this decade alone.) But that would be a mistake, because the Texan is still taking chances and evolving. For Wildcard, she worked with producer Jay Joyce for the first time to create a freewheeling and heartfelt album that feels classic and innovative at the same time. Lambert addresses life changes (and the questions that go with them) on "Settling Down" ("is happiness on the highway or is it parked in the driveway?" she ponders), finds marital bliss on "Locomotive," explores hard times and hope on "Bluebird" and still manages to call out tabloids in the most Miranda way possible on the riotous "Pretty Bitchin'": "I've had a pretty good time in the checkout line with all the free press I've been gettin'." 

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

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