Music

The Best Southern Albums of 2019

A Nashville-by-way-of-England country-soul stunner, a scintillating take on modern bluegrass, and nineteen more of this year’s best releases
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Yola | Walk Through Fire 

A potent mix of steel guitar, nimble fiddles, sharp lyrics, and powerhouse vocals, Walk Through Fire makes it immediately clear why the U.K.-born singer-songwriter Yola found a welcoming home in Nashville. The ‘60s-soul sound of “It Ain’t Easier” gets some Music City twang from an ever-present steel guitar, while on the standout track “Ride Out in the Country,” lilting strings provide a lush backdrop for a soul-satisfying escape on the back roads.
Essential Tracks: “Ride Out in the Country,” “It Ain’t Easier”


MORE: READ G&G’s Q-AND-A WITH YOLA

Kelsey Waldon | White Noise, White Lines

From the steel-guitar-backed declaration of self-sufficiency on its lead single, “Anyhow,” to the bluegrass bona fides of the Ola Belle Reed cover “My Epitaph,” White Noise, White Lines—Kelsey Waldon’s third full-length album, and first with John Prine’s Oh Boy Records—finds the classic-country torchbearer at the top of her game. This new record is probably the most self-reflective record I’ve made so far,” Waldon told G&G in July. “And I’m not done yet.”

Essential Tracks: “Anyhow,” “Kentucky, 1988”

Brittany Howard | Jaime
Previously best known as the charismatic frontwoman for Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard gets personal on her debut solo album, Jaime, named for the sister Howard lost to retinoblastoma as a teen. “It’s a new beginning, a blossoming, if you will,” Howard says of the album in G&G’s August/September issue, and songs like “Georgia,” a slick R&B song from one woman to another, or “He Loves Me,” a daring exploration of religion set to a heavy backbeat, are apt examples of her fearless explorations in sound and lyricism. The album’s opener, “History Repeats,” may prove to be Jaime’s most enduring legacy—the track received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
Essential Tracks: “History Repeats,” “He Loves Me”

Charley Crockett | The Valley
“Anywhere I’ve gone in the world, Texas carries a lot of weight,” Charley Crockett told G&G in September. His music bears that weight proudly, rife with steel guitar, fiddle, and a country croon that would be right at home in dance halls and honky-tonks. The fast-clapping, fiddle-tinged standout “Borrowed Time,” a co-write with Turnpike Troubadours’ Evan Felker, wrestles with mortality atop a snappy tempo, while “10,000 Acres” seems destined to become a new sad-country standard.
Essential Tracks: “Borrowed Time,” “10,000 Acres”

The Highwomen | The Highwomen

Blending lush harmonies with scintillating wit, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, and Natalie Hemby exceeded already sky-high expectations when they joined forces for their self-titled debut as the Highwomen. Fighting for inclusivity and equal representation throughout the music industry, the supergroup maintains that their collective is more of a movement than a band, and appearances from Sheryl Crow and rising star Yola add even more layers to an album sure to become a country classic. 

Essential Tracks: “Crowded Table,” “If She Ever Leaves Me”

Mandolin Orange | Tides of a Teardrop
On their third album, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz continues to lean into fuller instrumentation—without abandoning their bluegrass roots. “Golden Embers,” the album’s opener, is a study in restraint, ambling along with intimate harmonies before giving way to a lush, full-band sound. Fans of Mandolin Orange’s 2016 breakout single “Wildfire” will be drawn to new song “The Wolves,” a narrative about overcoming obstacles to find joy, set to glittering strings.
Essential Tracks: “Golden Embers,” “The Wolves”

Hayes Carll | What It Is
Whether an argument over haint blue ceilings on the love song “None Ya” or a search for redemption via George Dickel on the poignant “Jesus and Elvis,” Texas native Hayes Carll’s sixth album is full of Southern touchstones. Current affairs get their due, too. “Times Like These” laments a culture of divisiveness, while “American Dream” describes visions of hope and hardship. But even as Carll takes on society’s shortcomings, he maintains a relatable, self-deprecating knack for making light of his own—a quality that will endear What It Is to longtime fans as well as those discovering Carll for the first time.
Essential Tracks: “None’Ya,” “Jesus & Elvis”


MORE: READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH HAYES CARLL

Maggie Rogers | Heard it in a Past Life
Growing up in rural Maryland, Maggie Rogers found her musical calling with the banjo before a stint in Europe turned her on to the nuances of dance music. She would go on to create her own blend, making for a sound that left the producer Pharrell Williams speechless in 2016. But the hype around her single “Alaska,” released last October, elevated Rogers to the international stage, and the rest of her Capitol Records debut, Heard It In a Past Life, shows she belongs there. 
Essential Tracks: “Light On,” “Alaska”

Billy Strings | Home
Twenty-six-year-old Billy Strings is well on his way to household-name status—and his sophomore album, Home, provides ample evidence as to why. Best known for his dexterity on the guitar, the progressive-bluegrass phenom is a nimble songwriter as well, with lyrics that touch on corruption and greed (“Watch It Fall”) and the opioid epidemic (“Enough to Leave”) as well as lighter fare, such as the psychedelic “Highway Hypnosis.”
Essential Tracks: “Home,” “Enough to Leave”


MORE: READ G&G’S OCTOBER/NOVEMBER STORY ON STRINGS

Our Native Daughters | Songs of Our Native Daughters
The brainchild of MacArthur fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Songs of Our Native Daughters finds Giddens and three other female African-American songwriters and banjo players—Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah, and Leyla McCalla—joining forces for a project that confronts the generational consequences of racism and slavery. On “Quasheba, Quasheba,” Russell traces the life of an ancestor who was sold from Ghana to work sugar plantations in Grenada. “Black Myself,” written by Kiah, tackles the history of discrimination in many forms (“I don’t pass the test of the paper bag / ‘Cause I’m Black Myself”) and closes with a forward-looking message: “I’ve washed away my blood and tears / I’ve been born brand new. / There’s no more workhorses / but there’s still some work to do.”
Essential Tracks: “Black Myself,” “Quasheba, Quasheba”

Miranda Lambert | Wildcard
One of country’s most consistent stars, Miranda Lambert does it again with Wildcard. From the full-throttle Southern rock on “Locomotive” to the retro country waltz of “Tequila Does,” the album shows an unflappable artist capable of bouncing between a variety of sounds and influences while delivering an overall message of hope.
Essential Tracks: “All Comes Out in the Wash,” “Dark Bar”


MORE: READ G&G’S INTERVIEW WITH LAMBERT

Tyler Childers | Country Squire 
If Tyler Childers’s 2017 barn-burner, Purgatory, put him on the map as a rising voice of Appalachia, the Kentucky native’s major label debut, Country Squire, firmly establishes him as one of roots music’s most compelling young artists. Childers again worked with Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson as producers, and every song burns with emotion. “All Your’n” infuses sentimental lyrics about a forever love with Childers’s endearing snarl, while the foot-stomping anthem “House Fire” seems primed for one of his rowdy, unforgettable shows.
Essential Tracks: “All Your’n,” “House Fire”

Maren Morris | GIRL
Is 2019 the year of Maren Morris? The Texas singer-songwriter is one of four members of the buzzed-about new supergroup the Highwomen, appeared in a jaw-dropping Grammy tribute to Dolly Parton, and her sophomore album, GIRL, released in March, has continued to propel the Texas singer-songwriter even further into country-pop-crossover superstardom. Anthems such as the title track are balanced by slower-burning ballads, all showing off Morris’s forceful vocals and knack for down-to-earth lyrics. 
Essential Tracks: “Girl,” “All My Favorite People” (featuring Brothers Osborne)

Josh Ritter | Fever Breaks
Ten albums into his career, Josh Ritter’s Fever Breaks expands on the heartfelt songwriting and warm delivery that have made him a favorite among Americana and folk fans—with the added grit of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit as his backing band. Recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium and produced by Isbell, the album showcases both Ritter’s writing talent and his substantial range, from the forceful tempo and outlaw spirit of “Ground Don’t Want Me,” to the careful picking and quiet sincerity of the “Blazing Highway Home.” 
Essential Tracks: “Ground Don’t Want Me,” “I Still Love You (Now and Then)”

Allison Moorer | Blood 

The audio counterpart to Allison Moorer’s memoir of the same name, Blood tackles childhood trauma and domestic abuse with nuance and empathy. “Cold, Cold Earth,” written twenty years ago and released for the first time on Blood, recounts the night Moorer’s father killed her mother and then himself when she was fourteen, while “The Rock and the Hill” looks at the hardships her mother endured in an abusive relationship. But the album ultimately carries a hopeful, forward-moving message, closing with the track “Heal”: “Help me lay my weapons down / Help me give the love I feel / Help me hold myself with kindness / And help me heal.”
Essential Tracks: “Heal,” “Bad Weather”


MORE: STREAM BLOOD IN FULL

MORE: READ G&G’S OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2019 FEATURE ON MOORER

Caroline Spence | Mint Condition
Nashville’s Caroline Spence has quietly been building a name for herself as a stellar songwriter. On her latest full-length, Mint Condition, soft guitar behind the title track allows the lyrics to shine as they praise a long-term love that forever feels brand new. “Nothing ’bout you ever gets old,” she sings, and it feels like nothing about this record will either.
Essential Tracks: “Mint Condition,” “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes”

Mavis Staples | We Get By
Mavis Staples has accomplished multitudes in her decades-long career, both as a musician and a prominent voice of the Civil Rights Movement, and her latest work is as strong as ever. The title track exudes Staples’s well-known love and positivity (“We get by with help from our kin / We get by through thick and through thin”), while the lead single, “Change,” is a powerful reminder that there’s a lot of work left to be done. 
Essential Tracks: “Change,” “We Get By”

Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors | Dragons
Drew Holcomb’s seventh studio album with his band the Neighbors builds upon what the Tennessee native does best—finding warmth, poetry, and common ground in everyday moments. Featuring contributions from an impressive roster of songwriters (Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, and the Lone Bellow all make appearances), Dragons employs hand-claps, sing-along-able choruses, and Holcomb’s heartfelt baritone on songs that would feel as natural around a campfire as they would from an amphitheater stage.
Essential Tracks: “Family,” “Dragons”

Baby Rose | To Myself
Born in Washington, D.C., raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and now based in Atlanta, Rose Wilson has been writing and performing her own songs since she was fourteen. The twenty-five-year-old’s debut album, To Myself, finds her flexing those skills on the heels of a breakup—to stirring effect. The raw emotion behind her lyrics is perhaps most palpable on the album standout “All to Myself,” a bare-bones R&B ballad that shows off Rose’s vocal range and packs a punch for anyone who’s ever had a broken heart.
Essential Tracks: “All to Myself,” “Mortal” 

Tanya Tucker | While I’m Livin’
The news that country music pioneer Tanya Tucker would be releasing a new album for the first time in seventeen years was exciting enough—that Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings would be producing it almost seemed too good to be true. Carlile and her frequent collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth wrote many of the songs on While I’m Livin’, including the harmony-laden standout “Wheels of Laredo,” and Tucker’s husky vocals manage to infuse both power and vulnerability into every note. Meanwhile, younger listeners may find their path to Tanya fandom through the album’s few covers, including a heart-rending take on Miranda Lambert’s “House That Built Me.”
Essential Tracks: “Wheels of Laredo,” “House That Built Me”

Tyler Ramsey | For the Morning
Even if you don’t know Tyler Ramsey’s name, you likely know his work: The Asheville, North Carolina, native was the guitarist for folk rockers Band of Horses for ten years. But Ramsey has been writing and releasing solo material since 2005, and For the Morning is ample proof that he’s only refining his craft. The quiet strumming, vivid imagery, and echoing vocals on songs such as “White Coat” will make it a favorite of fans of Fleet Foxes or Lord Huron.
Essential Tracks: “White Coat,” “Breaking a Heart”

Get a taste of these 2019 releases—along with more new music—by following our New Music playlist on Spotify.

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