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GAC’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2012

Every year, music reviewers pull from the year’s releases to create Top 10 lists. 2012 was a fantastic year for country music, offering album after album of quality titles to choose from while overall sales for the genre rose 3.2% compared to this point last year. By the very nature of a ‘Top 10′ list, not every title can be included, but the albums below make up our list of releases that stood out. If you don’t happen to see your favorite album on the list, let everyone know what you thought was the best country album of the year by leaving a comment. Now, in no particular order, onto GAC’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2012!

Carrie Underwood's 2012 CD, Blown Away

Carrie Underwood’s 2012 CD Blown Away. Photo courtesy of Sony Music Nashville.

Carrie Underwood‘s Blown Away:

Carrie Underwood’s fourth studio album, Blown Away, is a musical tour de force so strong listeners are best off grabbing hold of anything they can find before pressing play. Read Our Original Review >> With an opening tri-fecta that includes the hook-heavy, “Good Girl,” the mesmerizing and emotional title-track, “Blown Away” (nominated for two Grammy awards including Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song), and the dark tale of vengeance, “Two Black Cadillacs,” Carrie displays the greatness ‘pop country’ can achieve in just the first 13 minutes of the album. Working again with producer Mark Bright, the platinum certified, Blown Away, is Carrie’s most polished work to date. Whether she’s moving through tender, patient melodies (“Forever Changed”), dipping into sunny, island-inspired rhythms (“One Way Ticket”), or showing off some serious fire (“Cupid’s Got A Shotgun” with Brad Paisley dropping some twang guitar), Carrie is a master of melody and vocal expression. Carrie co-wrote more than half the songs on the album, including the traditional-leaning, “Wine After Whiskey,” which captures loneliness and heartache with breathtaking clarity. Key tracks – “Blown Away,” “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Forever Changed,” “Wine After Whiskey”

Little Big Town's 2012 CD, Tornado

Little Big Town’s 2012 CD, Tornado. Photo courtesy of Sandbox Entertainment.

Little Big Town‘s Tornado

Harmony quartet Little Big Town scored a massive hit with their 2012 CMA Single of the Year and Grammy-nominated “Pontoon,” a laid-back summer tune that powered the group’s fifth studio album to a No. 1 Country album chart debut. Read Our Original Review >>  Working for the first time with producer Jay Joyce (the man behind Eric Church’s CMA Album of the Year, Chief), Tornado sounds vastly different than any of LBT’s previous work as it stretches from shimmering harmony to atmospheric grooves. Though the songs are shorter and many buzz with electric guitars, an infectious live energy runs through the project to ignite each song. The album-opener “Pavement Ends,” the muddy water rocker “Front Porch Thing,” and the bluesy “Self Made,” highlight LBT’s delta spirit while the spaghetti western title-track brings the storm straight through the speakers. However, it’s still the sparkling harmonies and spellbinding chemistry on songs like the emotionally-estranged, “Your Side of the Bed,” and the sexy, “Night Owl” that make this one of the best records of the year. Key Tracks – “Tornado,” “Your Side of the Bed,” “On Fire Tonight,” “Pontoon”

Jamey Johnson's 2012 CD, Livin' For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran

Jamey Johnson’s 2012 CD, Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran. Photo courtesy of UMG Nashville.

Jamey Johnson‘s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

Nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album of the Year, Jamey Johnson proves once again that he is one of the genre’s finest traditional artists.  Read Our Original Review >> Here, on a loving and heartfelt tribute to his friend, the late Hank Cochran, Jamey assembles a guest list of epic proportions (how’s seven Country Music Hall of Famers for a start?) to pay tribute to the iconic songwriter. Jamey draws from Hank’s deep catalog to perform classics including “I Fall To Pieces” (sung here with Merle Haggard), “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” (with Willie Nelson) and “Make The World Go Away” (with Alison Krauss). If pulling together such an impressive cast wasn’t enough, Jamey’s anticipation, timing and expressive range show just how deeply connected he is to the sad honky tonk sounds under the collection’s strikingly stark arrangements. It’s all about the song here, and when Jamey moves from pointed judgment (“This Ain’t My First Rodeo” with Lee Ann Womack) to guarded restraint (“Don’t Touch Me” with Emmylou Harris) and soul-bearing vulnerability (“Would These Arms Be In Your Way”), he surpasses even his own previous achievements. Hank, however, has the line of the album when he’s heard singing, Life’s so full of melodies, with words that rhyme and harmonies, on the project’s captivating title-track. Key Tracks – “Living For A Song,” “The Eagle,” “I Don’t Do Windows,” “This Ain’t My First Rodeo”

Easton Corbin's 2012 CD, All Over The Road

Easton Corbin’s 2012 CD, All Over The Road. Photo courtesy of UMG Nashville.

Easton Corbin‘s All Over the Road

When Easton Corbin scored a No. 1 hit with his 2009 debut single, “A Little More Country Than That,” fans and critics were reminded of a young George Strait with his smooth drawl, laid-back delivery and clean sound.  Read Our Original Review >> The Florida native is still the same neo-traditionalist at heart, but on his sophomore record, All Over The Road, Easton takes a big step in carving out his own sound. The lighthearted lead single, “Lovin’ You Is Fun,” shows off his flawless timing with a whole lotta swing, while the title-track changes rhythms with such ease that listeners can’t help being wrapped up right inside the melodies. And while Easton nails the technical part of the program, it’s his willingness to take chances that brings home the checkered flag. The pulsing, open-ended love song, “Are You With Me,” is a thing of unmistakable beauty standing in stark sonic contrast to others like the understated, “A Thing For You,” which finds simple sincerity in trying to tell her how you feel. On a record full of exciting turns, Easton takes listeners on a fantastic ride. Key Tracks – “Lovin’ You Is Fun,” “Are You With Me,” “Hearts Drawn In The Sand,” “Tulsa Texas”

Dierks Bentley's 2012 CD, Home

Dierks Bentley’s 2012 CD, Home. Photo courtesy of Capitol Nashville.

Dierks Bentley‘s Home

After releasing 2010’s bluegrass-flavored, Up On The Ridge, Dierks Bentley returned with a much more commercial-sounding project on his next release, HomeRead Our Original Review >> The album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Country albums chart, produced three straight No. 1 radio hits: the rollicking “Am I The Only One,” the elegant title-track “Home,” and the urgent “5-1-5-0.” Though the radio friendly sound was a return to Dierks’ pre-Up On The Ridge work, the emotionally-charged songwriting and downright poetic elements that made Ridge so rich carryover onto Home. The understanding and insightful patriotism of the title-track (Grammy nominated for Best Country Solo Performance), the palpable loneliness of “When You Gonna Come Around” (a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild), and the touching father/daughter ballad “Thinking of You” provide striking moments on an album that effortlessly blends artistic vision with commercial taste. Key Tracks – “Home,” “When You Gonna Come Around,” “Thinking Of You,” “Am I The Only One”

Marty Stuart's 2012 CD, Nashville Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down

Marty Stuart’s 2012 CD, Nashville Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down. Photo courtesy of The Greenroom PR.

Marty Stuart‘s Nashville Vol. 1: Tear The Woodpile Down

To celebrate 40 years in Music City, country music icon Marty Stuart delivered the blistering, Nashville Vol. 1: Tear The Woodpile Down. Read Our Original Review >> Blending traditional country with pounding rockabilly straight from the Honky Tonk Highway, Marty dishes up a gritty dose of reality that speaks out on the darker side of fame (“Sundown In Nashville”), political discontent (“Tear The Woodpile Down”) and blue-collar desperation (“Picture from Life’s Other Side” featuring Hank III). They might say they’re out to ‘tear’ it down, but really Marty and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, set a match to everything in sight as they move through scorchers like the instrumental, “Hollywood Boogie,” and slow-burning Honky Tonkers like “The Lonely Kind.” Completely unafraid to ruffle some feathers, Marty goes for broke on Nashville Vol. 1 with the same no holds barred attitude found in the songs’ characters. Key Tracks – “Sundown In Nashville.” “Picture from Life’s Other Side,” “Going, Going, Gone,” “Hollywood Boogie”

Taylor Swift’s 2012 CD, Red

Taylor Swift’s 2012 CD, Red. Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

Taylor Swift‘s Red

Dating, boys, break-ups, getting back together after break-ups…many of Taylor Swift’s themes have remained consistent throughout her career. Read Our Original Review >> However, as she shows on 2012’s already triple-platinum release, Red, the way these subjects are addressed continues to develop to match her age. Sure, the pep rally send-off, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (nominated for all-genre Grammy Record of the Year), can come off as a little over the top, but really, isn’t that exactly the anthem for many 22-year-olds in the same situation? And right there is the beauty of Taylor’s fourth studio album. Taylor speaks to, and connects directly with, her audience because she is in fact one of them. Songs like the electronic, dubstep-influenced “I Knew You Were Trouble.” and age-specific “22” embrace youthful energy with a sense that she’s still trying to figure it all out.  And though the album pulses with a more pop-oriented sound than any of her previous album, the rootsy “Begin Again,” and rolling “I Almost Do,” show off Taylor’s extraordinary ability to craft melodies to expressive lyrics. Key Tracks – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Begin Again,” “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” “The Last Time”

Zac Brown Band's 2012 CD, Uncaged

Zac Brown Band’s 2012 CD, Uncaged. Photo courtesy of Southern Ground Artists/Atlantic Records.

Zac Brown Band‘s Uncaged

Raise your hands if you thought it possible to mix country, reggae, Southern rock and jam band limitlessness into one – coherent – album. Read Our Original Review >> On Zac Brown Band’s third major label record, Uncaged (Grammy nominated as Country Album of the Year), that’s exactly what the boys from Georgia do. Uncaged delivers magnificently on its title’s promise with a mix of styles easily setting it apart from other mainstream country records. With an early knockout punch that includes the island sing-along, “Jump Right In” (co-written with pop star Jason Mraz), the revolving psychedelia of the title track and the acoustic purity of current Top 10 single, “Goodbye In Her Eyes,” ZBB make it known that so-called boundaries don’t mean a whole lot to them. Bringing together such diverse guests as modern jazz virtuoso Trombone Shorty (“Overnight”) and folk singer/songwriter Amos Lee (“Day That I Die”), Zac and the boys keep the ship steady with a consistently sharp voice and an authentic love for music that comes across in every song they play. “The Wind” combines cowboy country with roaring musical energy while the epic, “Natural Disaster,” fuels up on rich harmonies and wild earth metaphors. Uncaged pushes the envelope in extraordinary ways while maintaining the group’s signature Southern sound. Key Tracks – “Goodbye In Her Eyes,” “Sweet Annie,” “Uncaged,” “The Wind”

Jason Aldean’s 2012 CD, Night Train

Jason Aldean’s 2012 CD, Night Train. Photo courtesy of Broken Bow Records.

Jason Aldean‘s Night Train

Listening to Jason Aldean’s fifth album, Night Train, you can’t help but wonder if this is where his sound was destined to go since the release of his debut in 2005. Read Our Original Review >> The album, which entered at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard Top 200, combines the best characteristics of his previous work while also pushing into exciting new territory. Jason certainly draws on his long-standing themes, praising the working class (“The Only Way I Know” with Luke Bryan and Eric Church) and small town America (“This Nothin’ Town”). However, his delivery takes on new dynamics as songs like the nostalgic “Water Tower,” and the bluesy, “Staring At The Sun,” show new depth in his voice. Jason also explores darker and moodier material on Night Train. The haunting “Black Tears” tackles seedy subjects that might have been deemed too controversial for the singer in the past. Night Train isn’t all serious, though, as the rockin’ lead single, “Take A Little Ride,” and glorious mullet-meets-modern hip hop track, “1994,” show it’s still undoubtedly Jason’s kinda party. Key Tracks – “Take A Little Ride,” “Staring At The Sun,” “1994,” “Black Tears” (explicit)

The Time Jumpers 2012 CD

The Time Jumpers 2012 CD cover courtesy of Alison Auerbach Public Relations.

The Time Jumpers The Time Jumpers

Formed in the late ’90s by a group of A-list Nashville studio musicians looking to cut loose on traditional country and western swing, The Time Jumpers were one of Music City’s best-kept secrets for more than a decade. Read Our Original Review >> With the release of their self-titled debut in 2012 and Grammy nominations for Country Album of the Year and Best Country Duo/Group Performance for lead single “On the Outskirts of Town,” the troupe is beginning to receive the type of widespread recognition they so richly deserve. Featuring top names like Vince Gill, steel player Paul Franklin and vocalist / guitarist “Ranger Doug” Green, The Time Jumpers wrote nine of the album’s 12 songs that move from straight up western swing (“Texas Saturday Night” and instrumental “Texoma Bound”) to countrypolitan (“So Far Apart” and “Faint of Heart”). And with a group comprised of musicians whose album credits range from Merle Haggard to Carrie Underwood, The Time Jumpers offers quite literally the best-playing heard on any release this year. Key Tracks – “Texoma Bound,” “So Far Apart,” “Texas On A Saturday Night,” “On The Outskirts Of Town”

Because there were definitely more than just 10 great country albums released this year, we had to add this “bonus” album to our list:

Kip Moore's 2012 CD, Up All Night

Kip Moore’s 2012 CD, Up All Night. Photo courtesy of UMG Nashville.

Kip Moore‘s Up All Night

Newcomer Kip Moore matches a warm troubadour rasp with coming of age stories and reverb-rich arrangements to create this year’s most compelling debut. Read Our Original Review >> Whether it’s the sensual blues of the No. 1 hit, “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” the youthful abandon of “Reckless (Growing Up),” or the anxious midnight energy of the title-track, Kip peels back layers like a master storyteller to reveal ever-deepening currents. The dark delta trip of “Fly Again” and the pace shifting “Where You Are Tonight” take on loss in profoundly different ways, while “Crazy One More Time” just wishes for one last encounter that may or may not come. I guess I’ll always have this longing in my heart, Kip sings out on the song, subtly letting listeners know that this is probably just the beginning.  Key Tracks – “Where You Are Tonight,” “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck,” “Crazy One More Time,” “Fly Again”

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