The 10 Best Country Albums of 2018: Critics' Picks

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Country artists stretched their wings this yr, displaying the increasing breadth of the style. From initiatives that included rock, pop and even disco to ones that bolstered nation’s conventional twang, nation music’s large tent embraced all.

Fans in fact put out the welcome mat for confirmed nation stars, who injected their initiatives with a brand new vitality, but additionally embraced newcomers, who discovered themselves handled with the respect normally afforded longtime hitmakers. While streaming continues to select up pace within the nation world, albums stay the coin of the realm with artists desirous to make a well-rounded assertion. 

Here are Billboard’s employees and contributors’ 10 favourite nation albums of 2018. 

10. Sugarland, Bigger

Coming again after a six-year, self-imposed hiatus, Sugarland members Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles introduced what every had skilled through the time aside into the recording studio, and exited with essentially the most private album of their careers as a duo. They additionally crafted one of many extra political mainstream nation albums in recent times, tackling points starting from college shootings ("Tuesday's Broken") to psychological well being ("Not the Only"). It additionally doesn't harm to have a fan in Taylor Swift, who providing the pair "Babe," a music she had written with Train lead singer Patrick Monahan.  Swift offered visitor vocals on what would find yourself changing into the duo's greatest single in eight years. — ISAAC WEEKS

9. Kane Brown, Experiment

With back-to-back No. 1 nation radio hits and a history-making 5 nation charts topped concurrently with the singles from his major-label debut, Kane Brown set the bar excessive for his sophomore album. The crooner seemingly wasn’t fazed by the stress, although – all 13 tracks on Experiment exude confidence, and show his versatility with heartfelt ballads just like the sweetly longing “Homesick” in addition to lighthearted party-starter, “Short Skirt Weather.” The set’s lead single “Lose It” continued Brown’s spectacular run of chart wins, because the music ended Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha’s 50-week run atop Hot Country Songs with their crossover smash “Meant to Be.”— TAYLOR WEATHERBY

eight. Dan + Shay, Dan + Shay

After already scoring three No. 1s on Billboard's Country Airplay chart previous to this yr, Dan + Shay issued a self-titled album that solidified their place as hitmakers that attraction to each nation and pop audiences. The album’s juggernaut lead single “Tequila” — which gave the duo their first two-week No. 1 on Country Airplay, and their highest peak on the Hot 100 at No. 21 — kicked issues off on a dynamic observe, they usually adopted it with a set of melody-driven tunes that splendidly mix Shay Mooney’s powerhouse vocals with playful manufacturing. Romantic second single “Speechless” (which received a co-sign from Demi Lovato) not too long ago scored Dan + Shay their first Hot Country Songs No. 1, and their 2019 headlining tour in help of the album is all offered out. — T.W.

7. Brothers Osborne, Port Saint Joe

The sibling duo stored their rustic Southern rock sound very a lot alive on their second LP. Recording within the album’s titular Florida city, which resembles the brothers’ beachside Maryland hometown, made the set really feel even rawer than their full-blooded debut Pawn Shop. The album’s perceptive lyrics function a distinction to TJ Osborne’s low tone and John Osborne’s gritty guitar rifts, culminating in 10 tracks that seize you emotionally (take heed to “While You Still Can” and attain for the tissues) and make you stomp your ft (“Shoot Me Straight,” “Drank Like Hank”). The sophomore set has been loads rewarded by the trade, too: Brothers Osborne received their third consecutive vocal duo of the yr CMA Award in November, and the set obtained a nod for greatest nation album for the 2019 Grammys. — T.W.

6. Keith Urban, Graffiti U

Almost 20 years into making music as a solo artist, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year continues to make albums that merely sound good, whereas ignoring all musical boundaries. Whether on radio fare comparable to “Coming Home,” which options pop singer-songwriter Julia Michaels and opens with a distorted guitar interpolation of Merle Haggard’s basic “Mama Tried," the intimate gradual jam “Parallel Line” or the musically adventurous “Drop Top,” Urban continues to strike the best notes all the way in which round — and appears to be hitting a brand new stride at this later stage of his profession. — CHUCK DAUPHIN

5. Ashley McBryde, Girl Goin’ Nowhere

Despite the album title, McBryde positively went locations in 2018 with the Arkansas native’s beautiful main label debut drawing reward from all quarters — together with a Grammy nomination for greatest nation album — for her trustworthy, cliche-devoid, heart-filled songwriting, in addition to her robust melodies and chill-bump vocals. The acoustic title monitor, a powerful F-you to a hater who didn’t imagine in McBryde’s desires, made such a fan out of Garth Brooks that he included his model, “Boy Goin’ Nowhere,” on his Triple Live album. But that's solely one of many gems right here: On the hovering “American Scandal,” McBryde longs for her mate to like her with the eagerness of “Kennedy and Monroe," whereas single “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” exalts within the comforts present in a small-town bar, and the enjoyment that music can deliver. A treasure from an vital, recent new voice. — MELINDA NEWMAN

four. Dierks Bentley, The Mountain

When it involves his singles, Dierks Bentley’s catalog is chock stuffed with wit and hooks constructed for radio. The Mountain was his likelihood to not fear about mainstream success, and it helped confirmed a extra poignant aspect to the nation famous person. Aside from the fiery Brothers Osborne collaboration “Burning Man” and the impassioned lead single “Woman, Amen,” the remainder of the album’s 13 songs are pretty mellow. Yet, Bentley’s fervor resonates greater than it ever has, and his musicianship shines on the acoustic guitar-heavy tracks. Though the singer has at all times been real in his supply, The Mountain is a lovely illustration of the evocative artist he’s been his entire profession.— T.W.

three. Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel

The third venture from Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe supplied followers a musically various assortment of fabric, starting from the intelligent sass of “Stop, Drop, and Roll One” and “Got My Name Changed Back” to the beautiful balladry of “Masterpiece.” While radio could by no means catch on to the magic of the trio — "Name" solely simply cracked Country Airplay, debuting this week at No. 59 — the general public positively latched on to this album, making it their second to high the Country Albums chart. — C.D.

2. Kenny Chesney, Songs for the Saints

Kenny Chesney's stripped down Songs for the Saints is the singer's love letter to the Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. His reflective nature is showcased on the set's chart-topping first single and plea for tolerance, “Get Along," together with the reggae-flavored (and Ziggy Marley-featuring) "Love for Love City", and the Jimmy Buffett-assisted "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season." Stirring album nearer "Better Boat," that includes Mindy Smith, leaves the best impression: a music that touches on the aftermath of tragedy, Chesney's delicate vocals function a reassurance to listeners. — ANNIE REUTER

1. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves could have began out cheeky and impartial on her first two albums, however as her third studio set exhibits, love could also be her greatest muse in any case. Musgraves fell in love as she made the Grammy album of the yr nominee, and the change of temper — in addition to a swap in co-producers, to Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk — led to magical inventiveness. “Space Cowboy" is a intelligent, western-inspired breakup tune, whereas the glowing “Butterflies” and dreamy “Love Is a Wild Thing” element her romance with new husband (and fellow singer-songwriter) Ruston Kelly with an unabashed positivity — she even throws in a contact of disco on “High Horse.” Critics have at all times liked Musgraves' distinctive stylings, however they're until raving over Golden Hour, because it simply earned the album of the yr honor at this yr’s CMA Awards, along with an album of the yr nod for the 2019 Grammys — each firsts for the singer-songwriter — T.W.