Mar 3, 2022
Dec 29, 2021
By Kevin Broughton
1. Jesse Daniel – Beyond These Walls
If FTM had a “follow-up album of the year” category, this one would win it unanimously. Stretching his legs from the Bakersfield love fest that was Rollin’ On, Daniel – by focusing on the simple things in life – has broadened his focus, showing a grateful audience just how great country music can be. He’s made a great leap forward with his vocals and songwriting, and those were already high bars. There’s not a weak cut on this album.
2. James McMurtry – The Horses And The Hounds
He’s just the Godfather.
I picture a room full of accomplished singer-songwriters trading shop talk when McMurtry walks in, and all of a sudden you can hear a pin drop. It’s been six years since his last album, and just like last time, there’s an effortless feel to this magnificent work of art. McMurtry combines imagery, geography and unrequited love better than Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett or Townes. I literally listened to “Canola Fields” seven times before moving on to the second cut. It’s on par with “Tangled Up In Blue.”
3. Mike & The Moonpies – One To Grow On
I’ll be shocked if this one doesn’t win the FTM overall prize. It’s merely flawless.
4. Charles Wesley Godwin – How The Mighty Fall
Speaking of great follow-ups, Geez. Seneca, Godwin’s stellar breakout record from 2019, was just a warmup, it seems, for his 2021 offering. There’s an intensity to his writing this time around that solidifies a rightful claim to be mentioned in the same breath as his Appalachian brethren: Simpson and Childers.
5. Jeremy Pinnell – Goodbye L.A.
One of the best pure country albums of the year. Ties of Blood and Affection in 2017 was a phenomenal record, but with a solid assist from quirky producer Jonathan Tyler, Pinnell has written his masterpiece. We should all give thanks that there’s a longer road in front of him than there is behind. And, who wants a monthly FTM Q & A with this jiu-jitsu practitioner on the intersection of mixed martial arts & country music?
6. Zach Schmidt – Raise A Banner
This was a record a long time in the making, but the Pittsburgh-born artist made the most of his time. Is it nice to walk into a studio with The 400 Unit for a backing band and Sadler Vaden producing? Sure. But this writing stands on its own, and even if You Don’t Know Zach Schmidt…you know the deal.
7. Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
Twenty years strong. Only a small handful of artists* can begin to make Southern rock like these guys. They’ve added some personnel to fill out the sound and become one of the darlings of the elite Yellowstone set-list crowd, but what you hear is what you get. “Hey Delilah,” one of many gems, is a love letter to Lowell George.
8. *Rob Leines – Blood, Sweat & Beers
This legit blue-collar rocker fronts a power trio turned up to ELEVEN, reminding the world and his Los Angeles environs of his proud Georgia roots. Skynyrd and CBD fans, step on up.
9. Tennessee Jet – South Dakota
A toned down follow-up to (my #1 in 2020) The Country gives the listener an even more intimate setting to sample this man of letters’ writing. “William Faulkner,” just like the author, indeed.
10. The High Hawks – The High Hawks
What started as a fun thing for a collection of jam/string band guys became a passion project – with tours to boot. Open, free and joyous, smart money says this ain’t a one-off.
11. Mac Leaphart – Music City Joke
Just outstanding writing that leaves folks wanting more.
Dec 16, 2021
Staff vote included me (Trailer), Kevin Broughton, Megan Bledsoe, Robert Dean, Scott Colvin, Travis Erwin, Jeremy Harris, and Matthew Martin.
20. Cole Chaney - Mercy
19. Langhorne Slim - Strawberry Mansion
18. TK & the Holy Know-Nothings - The Incredible Heat Machine
17. John R. Miller - Depreciated
I had never heard of JRM, but this album changed that and for good reason. The lyrics are reminiscent of John Prine. The voice is reminiscent of Jay Farrar. What more could you ask for? ~Matthew Martin
16. Mastodon - Hushed and Grim
Mastodon has been one of my favorite bands for over a decade…even before I learned drummer/singer Brann Dailor went to my high school…or that he grew up less than a mile from my house. How I didn’t know him back then still baffles me. Anyway, I thought this was an OK Mastodon release when it came out, but after hearing these songs live…WOW…it’s one of their best. ~Scott Colvin
15. Mac Leaphart - Music City
Music City Joke is an album that is sneaky good with simple intelligence and honest observation at the heart of the writing and a traditional sound to the music. ~Travis Erwin
14. Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
This album is so good it hurts. The first time I heard it all I could think was it reminded me of Billie Eilish’s groundbreaking “When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?” That special…unique. Trust me, in 10 years people are going to treat this release like Taylor Swift’s “Red” album…now. This record has legit bangers like “Brutal” “Jealousy, Jealousy” and “Good 4 U” to thoughtful heartbreakers like “Déjà vu,” “Driver’s License” and “Traitor.” ~Scott
13. Jason Boland & The Stragglers - The Light Saw Me
12. The Steel Woods - All of Your Stones
11. Margo Cilker - Pohorylle
Margo Cilker’s debut album is a classic case of the sum being better than its parts. There are no lyrical masterpieces and nothing to reinvent the wheel from a musical standpoint. Nevertheless, the simple yet lush arrangements, the production which carefully and thoughtfully enhances each song, Cilker’s excellent capacity for writing melodies and hooks, and the sense of place and general mood surrounding this whole record all come together to make one of the year’s standout albums. ~Megan
10. Emily Scott Robinson - American Siren
Simple honest writing that speaks with a genuineness. ~Travis
For me, the most intoxicating voice in roots music, and she backs it up with knife-edge honesty and conversational poetry that reaches into your soul. ~Trailer
9. Sturgill Simpson - The Ballad of Dood & Juanita
When Sturgill goes country, Sturgill is at his very best. When Sturgill creates an album using Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger as a template, you know you’re in for something seriously good. And, Sturgill doesn’t disappoint. The album explores all different aspects of mountain music while telling a compelling story throughout the album. If this is, in fact, Sturgill’s final album, it’s a hell of note to go out on. ~Matthew
8. Jesse Daniel - Beyond These Walls
If FTM had a “follow-up album of the year” category, this one would win it unanimously. Stretching his legs from the Bakersfield love fest that was Rollin’ On, Daniel – by focusing on the simple things in life – has broadened his focus, showing a grateful audience just how great country music can be. He’s made a great leap forward with his vocals and songwriting, and those were already high bars. There’s not a weak cut on this album. ~Kevin
7. Billy Strings - Renewal
With a voice that makes old men listen, a look that makes old women run, and lyrics that make anyone think, Billy Strings hits it out of the park with Renewal. From start to finish a bluegrass legend is being built. This is the sound and the man that will define and carry the genre for years to come. ~Jeremy
6. Brandi Carlile - In These Silent Days
With vocals that are unmatched and songs written with real heart, In These Silent Days is the album and song we all need after coming out of quarantine. Brandi continues to define herself and her songwriting which are featured on “Right on Time,” “Broken Horses,” and the title track. A masterpiece from start to finish as well as the perfect way to continue to add impressive accomplishments to Grammy-winning producer Shooter Jennings’ resume that began with once making Trailer’s worst vocalist in country music list. ~Jeremy Harris
Not a single miss for me here and Carlile had the best performance on SNL in a long while. this album is just one that rises above its competitors in ways I haven’t found an album since Isbell’s Southeastern stood out from other albums that year. ~Travis
5. Mike & The Moonpies - One to Grow On
...merely flawless. ~Kevin
An album that sounds like the world’s best bar band captured their true sound and appeal. I haven’t heard them live yet, so I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it sure feels that way. A record that’s consistently inspired and inspiring. ~Trailer
4. Sierra Ferrell - Long Time Coming
Without fail there seems to be one album every year that sneaks up on me, transfixes and ultimately knocks me on my ass. I had never heard of this artist before Trailer hyped her upon the album’s release. I can’t even wrap my head around this record. This is probably a horrible comparison, but take the best parts of Camper Van Beethoven, Kat Edmonson and Lindi Ortega and multiply it by 100. ~Scott
3. James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds
James McMurtry’s songwriting is like that of no other. His prose is vividly rich in detail but composed in such a plainspoken manner that it remains accessible and relatable to us all. There is something uniquely charming about his frankness, something inherently poetic and refreshing in reflecting on all of the world’s hardships and then expressing a problem so mundane as constantly losing one’s glasses. These ruminations constitute some of the best songs of the year, and McMurtry remains one of the most interesting songwriters of his generation. ~Megan
He’s just the Godfather.
I picture a room full of accomplished singer-songwriters trading shop talk when McMurtry walks in, and all of a sudden you can hear a pin drop. It’s been six years since his last album, and just like last time, there’s an effortless feel to this magnificent work of art. McMurtry combines imagery, geography and unrequited love better than Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett or Townes. I literally listened to “Canola Fields” seven times before moving on to the second cut. It’s on par with “Tangled Up In Blue.” ~Kevin
2. Charles Wesley Godwin - How the Mighty Fall
Charles Wesley Godwin, through the poetry of his songs and the haunting qualities of his voice, has managed to set Appalachia to music. If Seneca was a perfect encapsulation of the place, then How the Mighty Fall can be called a perfect encapsulation of the region’s people. More than that, it is a commentary on desperation itself, both the circumstances which lead to it and the various lengths to which one will go when faced with it. Artists are often plagued by the idea of the sophomore slump, but Godwin second album is just as exceptional as his first. ~Megan
Speaking of great follow-ups, Geez. Seneca, Godwin’s stellar breakout record from 2019, was just a warmup, it seems, for his 2021 offering. There’s an intensity to his writing this time around that solidifies a rightful claim to be mentioned in the same breath as his Appalachian brethren: Simpson and Childers. ~Kevin
1. Morgan Wade - Reckless
There’s not much to say about this album that hasn’t been screamed from the rooftops already. Morgan Wade is an exceptional talent writing catchy songs. The production on this album is top notch and the band matches the energy on each song. The future is bright for Morgan Wade and if you aren’t on the bandwagon, hurry up and hop on. Top Song: Wilder Days ~Matthew
There are notes of Lucinda and Elizabeth Cook – and Garbage and Matchbox 20 oddly enough – in Morgan Wade’s presentation, and I can’t get enough of it. There’s a knowing tone of confidence mixed with a questioning undercurrent of sadness all through the album. She’s enough of the way through the journey of finding herself to have an air of comfort taming the tension. The balance of those two feelings makes Reckless a real winner. ~Trailer
(Others receiving multiple votes: Flatland Cavalry, Drayton Farley, Red Shahan, Vincent Neil Emerson, Yola, Carly Pearce, Ashley Monroe, Tennessee Jet)
Dec 10, 2021
Nov 26, 2021
Nov 8, 2021
Oct 2, 2021
Sep 30, 2021
Sep 17, 2021
Sep 1, 2021
The usual disclaimer: Our year-end list will be staff-voted; this is just Trailer’s list.
8. The Steel Woods - All of Your Stones
11. James McMurtry - The Horses & The Hounds
12. Carly Pearce - 29
13. Vincent Neil Emerson - s/t
14. Austin Meade - Black Sheep
15. Sturgill Simpson - Ballad of Dood & Juanita
16. The Killers - Pressure Machine
17. Paul Thorn - Never Too Late to Call
18. Blackberry Smoke - You Hear Georgia
19. The Marfa Tapes
20. Melissa Carper - Daddy’s Country Gold