Nashville Scene 2016: ballot

maren

Today, Pazz & Jop is out. Tomorrow, the Nashville Scene Country Music Critics Poll gets released. (The results are embargoed until 5am Thursday.) In anticipation, here’s my ballot, which I haven’t previously shared.

TOP TEN COUNTRY ALBUMS OF 2016:

  1. Big Day in a Small Town – Brandy Clark
  2. Vinyl – William Michael Morgan
  3. Hero – Maren Morris
  4. The Weight of These Wings – Miranda Lambert
  5. For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price – Willie Nelson
  6. Love Remains – Hillary Scott & the Scott Family
  7. New City Blues – Aubrie Sellers
  8. Down to My Last Bad Habit – Vince Gill
  9. The Ghosts of Highway 20 – Lucinda Williams
  10. Gunslinger – Garth Brooks

TOP TEN COUNTRY SINGLES OF 2016:

  1. Vice – Miranda Lambert
  2. Someone to Take Your Place – Tara Thompson
  3. ‘80s Mercedes – Maren Morris
  4. Love Triangle – RaeLynn
  5. Are You Ready for the Country – Hank Williams Jr. featuring Eric Church
  6. Forever Country – Artists of Then, Now & Forever
  7. Record Year – Eric Church
  8. I Met A Girl – William Michael Morgan
  9. Dirty Laundry – Carrie Underwood
  10. Girl Next Door – Brandy Clark

 

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST MALE VOCALISTS OF 2016:

  1. William Michael Morgan
  2. Willie Nelson
  3. Tim McGraw

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST FEMALE VOCALISTS OF 2016:

  1. Miranda Lambert
  2. Maren Morris
  3. Brandy Clark

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST SONGWRITERS OF 2016:

  1. Brandy Clark
  2. Shane McNally
  3. Miranda Lambert

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST DUOS, TRIOS OR GROUPS OF 2016:

  1. Hillary Scott & the Scott Family

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST NEW ACTS OF 2016:

  1. Maren Morris
  2. William Michael Morgan
  3. Aubrie Sellers

COUNTRY MUSIC’S THREE BEST OVERALL ACTS OF 2016:

  1. Maren Morris
  2. Miranda Lambert
  3. Willie Nelson

[I skipped categories like Best Live Act, and I forgot to vote for the Trio box set for Best Reissue.]

My favorite “rootsy” album, and for that matter my favorite album of 2016 period, is Bonnie Raitt’s Dig In Deep. But that doesn’t remotely feel country to me, Americana Association honors be damned. The same, kinda, goes for the debut collaboration case/lang/viers, though that’s more folk than Americana or country. Yet Lucinda Williams’ great The Ghosts of Highway 20 *does* read country to me, albeit on some seriously Southern gothic country shit. And I briefly considered putting both of Willie’s 2016 tribute albums in my top 10, but to my ears, his Gershwin record isn’t country, while his Ray Price one is.

I love that country music is big-tent enough to encompass Willie’s jazzy western swing stuff and Lucinda’s Carson McCullers-isms and Maren Morris’s pop-touched production. I love that Miranda Lambert’s marvelously ambitious double album is her least radio-friendly one. While I think he’s overrated by many (especially the “I don’t normally listen to country” crowd), I’m happy to see Chris Stapleton get the attention he’s getting from Nashville. I think Sturgill Simpson is bullshit; his 2016 album isn’t very country at all, but yet folks like the editors at Rolling Stone cream their jeans whenever he says anything negative about contemporary radio country, and that’s bullshit, too. (Not Rolling Stone Country, mind you, which is doing great work.) Jason Isbell I don’t think about much at all, but I consider him a rock artist, easy as that. If either Isbell or Simpson wins this year’s poll, I will be PISSED. Not only because I don’t consider either of them particularly country, but because 2016 was, artistically speaking, another year of the woman in country music, hands fucking down.

Maren Morris has my #3 album and #3 single of the year, is my best new artist by furlongs, and is also my best overall act. The impact she’s had in 2016 can’t be overstated, and I’m thrilled that the CMA saw it, too, in giving her the Best New Artist trophy. I have no idea where she goes from here, but I can’t wait to find out. I hope she doesn’t change a thing, at least not yet. The songs on Hero are pretty uniformly great, and I totally get off on how stylistically different “My Church” is from “‘80s Mercedes.” (Also, why the fuck does she keep hitting the Country Airplay glass ceiling? “Church” peaked at #10, and “Mercedes” can’t quite seem to get there.) She is, without question, the most exciting new artist in country music right now. I’m willing to bet that within a couple of albums, we’ll be talking about her in the same way we talk about Miranda Lambert, her spiritual big sister.

The Weight of These Wings knocked me out on first listen, but lessened with subsequent ones. It’s damned good, and as we critic types always seem to say about double albums, pared down to a single disc it could be THE ALBUM of 2016. But it’s not a single disc, and I’m good with that; Lambert’s to a point where even her less successful songs are still interesting. The production is superb across the board, the songwriting is superb-er (mostly credit her with that), and most of all, her singing just KILLS. That’s what I love best about “Vice,” which has been my #1 single of 2016 (overall, not just country) since I first heard it back in the summer: it’s Lambert’s vocal that really nails it and splits your heart in two. Also, it’s been a helluva year for me (and that’s not even with all the celebrity deaths and political nightmares — that’s just on a personal level), and “Vice” nailed that, too. So there’s not been any question what my favorite single of 2016, not a one.

My #2 single of the year wasn’t really a question, either: Tara Thompson’s “Someone to Take Your Place” is the Gretchen Wilson manqué fuck-you kiss-off we didn’t know we needed, and a blast to hear from one end of 2016 to the other. Her EP of the same name is a bit too uneven to have made my album list, but I’m very much looking forward to a full-length from Thompson, who’s loaded with potential and has all the attitude she needs to make it.

William Michael Morgan repped for the men this year, making the new-trad album of my Class of ’89 dreams in 2016. I feel like Jon Pardi (who I also like, just not as much) got more of the press this year, but WMM made the superior album. I mean, he even called it Vinyl: talk about critical catnip. The songs on it are beautifully, deceptively simple, which makes them all the easier to fuck up. But he didn’t, and for that he deserves all of our applause.

If Bob Dylan had cut The Ghosts of Highway 20, we’d all be tripping over ourselves to call it his ultimate comeback. Lucinda Williams’ voice is about as wrecked as Dylan’s — more, actually — and the songs here are easily the equal of his last couple of collections of originals. And goddamn the production on this album is perfect. This is easily her best album since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, only I like it a lot better. Where that one occasionally felt affected, this one feels lived-in and so fuckin’ sincere. 6 months from now I’ll likely end up bumping it way up my list. (And by the way, the title track from Highway 20 just missed my singles list.)

Brandy Clark made my favorite country album of the year by getting, courtesy of Jay Joyce, production that matches her phenomenal songwriting. So it follows that she’s my songwriter of the year, too.

Advertisements

About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
This entry was posted in 2016, country, lists. Bookmark the permalink.