*Note: some of these records were released towards the tail-end of 2015, and therefore were not eligible for last years categories, so they were included this year.
Country and R&B meet on this incredibly soulful EP, but while still respecting the country genre. From cheating anthems like "Adeline" to slow-burner ballads with some incredible vocals from Myles like "Nobody Better Than You," Myles truly creates her own vein of country music, mixing soul and country in a way that nobody else has done before.
Best tracks: "Adeline", "What You Do To Me"
Containing the throwback jam "Class of 2000" and the girl-power anthem "Fight Like A Girl," Shorr molded her debut EP into a concept album of sorts. She embraces the trends of the early 2000's and fights for the girl power that was so prevelant back there, today. Pop is woven through this EP, but just like Morgan Myles, Shorr creates her own sound while still respecting the genre that she loves so much.
Best tracks: "Rearview", "Fight Like A Girl"
Songwriter Palmer Lee only occasionally releases her own music, but when she does, it's exceptional. Her first full length record, Too Close is a beautiful mixture of country and contemporary, and of happy and conflicted emotions. The record mostly tells the story of heartbreak, and figuring out how to let go of someome toxic. Lucky for us, those life lessons come in the form of a great, nine-song record
Best tracks: "Last Call," "I Should Know Better"
Morgan Dawson could be seen just as another Carrie Underwood, as her vocals and her looks are similar to the superstar. But, Dawson's EP proved that she has her own, unique sound and story to bring to country music. The emotion in songs like "Why Ya Gotta Be That Guy" mark her as more than just another powerhouse vocalist, but an artist with a great voice, and an excellent writing voice.
Best tracks: "Lyin'," "This Ain't War"
Ballerini is easily written off as just another pop-country star by many people in the country music industry. But Ballerini has talent, and a lot of it. This little acoustic EP contains acoustic versions of 5 tracks off of her debut record, and it's incredible. Her voice shines, and especially on "First Time" and "Peter Pan," so does her writing.
Best tracks: "First Time (Acoustic)" & "Peter Pan (Acoustic)
Featuring nine tracks co-written by Harrison, and a couple of carefully picked cuts, Kree Harrison's debut record was worth the wait. The blues in the title track, to the old school country vibes in 'Something Else" cover all the bases. She's country, but she's also a little bit of everything. The throwback concept of this record was perfect for a year of a lot of contemporary music.
Best tracks: "The Time I've Wasted," "Something Else"
This was Bannen's first project after leaving Universal, and she let loose on this project. The writing and production of this EP are near-flawless, showing that Bannen has been ready to put out an EP for a while. The experimental tracks like "Once Upon A" succeed, and the country classics like "Landlocked" feel new rather than reused. Bannen killed it on this EP.
Best tracks: "Cheap Sunglasses," "Once Upon A"
With each song recorded in a room in Veltz's house, this was one of the most impressive projects of the last year. The fan-funded EP is an acoustic based project incorporating pop, folk, and country sounds, but everything focuses on Veltz's breathy, beautiful vocals. More than anything Veltz has released before, this EP is completely and totally her. This is worth the listen whether you are a country fan or not.
Best tracks: "Round", "Home to You"
This album began as a question mark, because the lead single "Girl Next Door" was far from the Brandy Clark we all love But despite the single, this album proved to be one of the best releases of the year. The album is about small town life, telling the stories of moms ("Three Kids No Husband") and lost dreams ("Homecoming Queen"). Clark remembers the stories that country music has started to forget.
Best tracks: "You Can Come Over"
The best pop country of the year can be found, right here, on Parker McKay's debut EP. This isn't Kelsea Ballerini's brand of pop-country: it's got soul, rocky elements, killer vocals and great lyrics. This is country music at the heart, but the pop elements on this EP make the songs infectious and addictive. McKay has serious star potential, and as her debut single says, she's truly destined for Rolling Stone and the big leagues.
Best tracks: "Flip," "Call It Off"
Sellers came into 2016 with a self-released garage-country record, and ended it with a record deal with Warner and a re-release of that excellent record. On New City Blues, Sellers is unfiltered and honest, and provides the perspective of the industry from someone who has quite literally grown up in it. She's critical, but with this record, she has become one of Nashville's most special artists.
Best tracks: "Paper Doll," "Like the Rain"
Molly Brown's EP was the most surprising breakout of the year. Produced by Brown and Hunt Hearin, this EP embraced the traditions of country music while bringing in elements of folk rock and Americana. To make this record, Brown worked with less money than she had expected, six songs she had written, and created a fantastic record by herself. That's artistic excellence right there.
Best tracks: "He Ain't Gonna Call," "The High Road"
If you're looking for some traditional country music, look no further than Margo Price's record. Price is a quirky and honest songwriter, with one of the best lines on this album being, "You wouldn't know class if it bit you in the ass," from "About to Find Out." She's honest and funny, but also tells the story of real life, and of her life.
Best tracks: "Four Years of Chances," "Hands of Time"
The most under-the-radar Big Machine signee up until this year was Lauren Jenkins. But as soon as she put out an EP, it's obvious why Scott Borchetta snapped her up. Jenkins has a breathy, smoky voice unlike anyone else in country music. Her writing is also relevant and powerful on this EP, making her an artist to watch in the coming years.
Best tracks: "Blood," "My Bar"
When Hero came out, there was a lot of backlash, with cries of "This isn't country.' And you know what, it's not the country music that used to be on the radio. But this new blend is great, and even though this album is far from traditional country music, it's great music. From the poppy hook of "Sugar" to the soaring vocals in "Once," this album managed to cover every genre that makes Maren Morris, Maren Morris in ten songs.
Best tracks: "Once," "Rich"
Dori Freeman has become a rising star in the Americana scene, and there's a reason why. She's got a beautiful voice, and with a style shaped by American roots music, this record brings back the best parts of country music and blends them with modern Americana sounds. The simple writing on this album is more powerful than more complex writing ever could be, with Freeman crafting her stories simply and beautifully.
Best tracks: "Ain't Nobody," "You Say"
2016 was the year when songwriter and vocalist Caitlyn Smith finally got the recognition she deserved. The first part of the full record coming next year, Starfire was a great introduction to Smith as an artist, not just as a writer. Featuring her version of the Garth Brooks cut, "Tacoma" and the bluesy Spotify hit "Before You Called Me Baby," this 5 song EP is the best EP of 2016.
Best tracks: "Do You Think About Me," "Tacoma"
Songwriter Alyssa Bonagura's first country record excels as a subtle criticism of Nashville and the industry. This was a much needed record that brought attention to all the talent in Nashville, just below the commercial surface. Bonagura has a throwback seventies folk-rock sound, but she incorporates it with modern country in a way no one else did this year.
Best tracks: "Rebel," "Crying"
24 songs, and not one skip. That's a feat that most artists can never achieve, but Miranda Lambert managed it on her sixth record. Lambert has been in the press a lot over the last couple years, and this record was the perfect, subtle response to her divorce and the critics of her life. She speaks of heartbreak, and being broken down, but also of getting back up, stronger than ever.
Best tracks: "Tin Man," "Well-Rested"
2016 was the year of the songwriter, with many talented writers releasing excellent records. This isn't McKenna's first album, but it's definitely her best. The acoustic production allows the lyrics to speak for themselves, a mark of great country music. This record is incredible from start to finish, and McKenna continues to prove that she is one of the best writers of this generation.
Best tracks: "Halfway Home," "Humble & Kind"