Once again, country music showed its muscle with one strong release after another. Hundreds released, but here are the best 5, and why.



4. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound: On the first track, the Alabama singer asks if he's the last of his kind. In a genre which often is chastised for supposedly choosing style over substance, it's fair question. Then again, there has never been a singular approach to country music, and detractors of the mainstream like to romance the idea they are the last of a breed. Jason's plain spoken delivery through characters is the real winner here. Most do not agree with everyone who lives on their street, and neither to the people in these songs. Great songwriting.

3. Midland - On The Rocks: Just as I wrote upon it's release, Midland made the best 1992 record of 2017. One of the biggest knocks on the band is the perceived insincerity to the cowboy retro they obviously embrace. They came out swinging. Face it, "Drinkin' Problem" sounded different than anything on country radio this year, and it's only the seventh best song on the album. There's a nod to Jon Anderson here, and early 90's Dwight Yoakam there. Closing track "Electric Rodeo" recalls Glen Campbell at his Rhinestone height. Best debut of 2017.

2. Marty Stuart - Way Out West: Marty takes the listener on a trip through the desert, in only a way one of the last direct links to Johnny Cash could. Young Marty joined the Man in Black's band in the 1980, and the cautionary tale of the title track (pill kicked in, and I shut down, and the world went spinnin' round and around and around) is something that wouldn't be out of place in Cash's discography. Elsewhere, "A Whole Lot of Highway" stomps along, and in a rare feat, the interludes actually add to the record's landscape. Something Marty wrote in the liner notes of the Marty Party Hit Pack (essential listening BTW) stuck with me. True or not, he wrote of a fortune teller wary about his distant future. That was over 20 years ago, and Marty is making the best music he's ever made.

1. Chris Stapleton - From a Room: Volume 1: Culled from sessions over the last 10 years, Chris split From A Room into two short records. With only nine cuts, Volume 1 narrows the focus that Traveler meandered over 2 LP's. That said, the record ultimately succeeds from it's variety. Whether lamenting through the should've been huge "Either Way," covering Willie Nelson's "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning," or going full Otis Redding in "I Was Wrong," Chris made the best country album of the year by owning songs he didn't need to live to write, but you'd swear he did.



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