Without a doubt, 2016 brought some big country records into the fold. Some hit the mark (Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark, Brothers Osborne, Miranda Lambert to mention a few) and some left us wanting more.
But don't fear a letdown in a new year. With 2017 kicking off, there's no shortage of big names releasing new music. And a few familiar newcomers, too (hit songwriter Natalie Hemby just released an excellent album). Here are the most anticipated country albums of 2017.
Aaron Watson, Vaquero
Aaron Watson's last record, The Underdog, was massive both for the singer and independent country acts alike. The album went No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart in 2015 -- the first time ever for an independent male country act. On Feb. 24, Watson follows it up with Vaquero. The first single, "Outta Style," sees Watson wade into contemporary country territory. But it's a 16-track effort, so expect some vintage Watson in there, too.
Zac Brown Band, Welcome Home
The road warriors just announced a massive tour to support Welcome Home, their fifth full-length release coming out May 12th. They had lots of success with Jekyll + Hyde, but also confused a few folks with its wide-spending genre reach and range. Brown previously said this record returns a bit more to the simplified roots sound of debut album The Foundation.
Little Big Town, The Breaker
After massive critical and commercial success with 2014's Painkiller, Little Big Town return with The Breaker on Feb. 24. The group stuck with producer Jay Joyce, who helps craft some of the cooler records in country music. Lead-off single "Better Man" is on its way to No. 1 on the charts as we speak, and also represents Taylor Swift's pseudo-return to country music (she penned the song).
Brad Paisley, Love and War
When Brad Paisley released new single "Today," fans knew upcoming record Love and War would be vintage Paisley. What fans don't completely know just yet, is the album's release date. Originally slated for March 3, Paisley's team recently postponed the date. Whenever he does release it, Paisley's 11th studio album will likely be a hit with fans.
Rodney Crowell, Close Ties
Rodney Crowell said his new record Close Ties will be pretty autobiographical, and that's a great thing from one of country's most interesting storytellers. His first single "It Ain't Over Yet" features former wife Rosanne Cash and John Paul White. And it's really, really good. Which is a really good sign! Other collaborations on the record reportedly include Sheryl Crow. It drops March 31.
Alison Krauss, Windy City
Windy City marks Alison Krauss' first new solo record in 17 years, which is a big deal. The Grammy's most-awarded artist of all time, Krauss says this new record came completely inspired by iconic Nashville producer Buddy Cannon. She covers country and bluegrass classics such as "Losing You" and "Dream Of Me," which means you're probably about to have some new favorite versions of those songs. Windy City drops Feb. 17.
The Mavericks, Brand New Day
Legendary country/tejano fusion group The Mavericks release their first independent album ever on March 31. Titled Brand New Day, the record sees Raul Malo and company taking a political bent, but in an optimistic way. But it also features one fewer founding member. The band let go of bassist Robert Reynolds due to opiate addiction issues in 2014.
Sunny Sweeney, Trophy
Sunny Sweeney's fourth record Trophy may be the one that finally puts the Texas singer over the top. Sweeney co-wrote eight of the 10 tracks with stellar writers like Lori McKenna and Caitlyn Smith. Producer Dave Brainard, who headed up Brandy Clark's Grammy-nominated effort 12 Stories, took on production duties. Look for Sweeney's new record Trophy on March 10.
Country pop queen Shania Twain hasn't released a record in 14 years, but she's not worried about any rust. After mounting a massive comeback tour, Twain revealed she never stopped writing or working. We don't have a name or a date just yet, but we know 2017 is the year. And we know it'll be a big deal when it drops.
Smith could be working on new music for a 2017 release. Even though his label debut Remington released in 2016, Smith completed it long before then. The second single off that album, "If The Boot Fits," just cracked the top 10. This year presents a great opportunity for Smith to build on that momentum.
Country crooner Darius Rucker's fifth country album likely drops in 2017. How do we know? Well, the debut single "If I Told You" came out last year and hit in the top 30 on the charts. A reliable force in country music, Rucker has four consecutive No. 1 albums. Don't expect that to change.
After a monstrously successful debut, 22-year-old Kelsea Ballerini says a lot of life happened. Expect that to be the focus for the pop country newcomers sophomore album, which no doubt attracted a lot of eyes. Ballerini could be on her way to an astounding fourth No. 1 single from her debut as talk of the second album bubbles up.
If Dustin Lynch's next album takes a little while to release this year, that's only cause he's still riding the success of the last one. Lynch has been touring pretty regularly off three No. 1 singles in a row. His current single "Seein' Red" is a dance rock jam making its way up the country charts. Whether he has anything on the new album that feels like "Cowboys and Angels" remains to be seen, but folks are anticipating big things for his third album.