Her first offering since 2012's Blown Away, Carrie Underwood is back, but this time with a baby, and a slightly different perspective on life and music. The reigning queen of country music experimented more with genres on this record, going both more country and more pop influenced. Hits and misses aside, Carrie Underwood is back, with a new, and enthralling record that pleased fans across the world.
Best track: "Choctaw Country Affair"
Canadian singer and songwriter Whitney Rose blends pop and country on this masterpiece of a record, but not in the way you would think. Rose blends old school pop music with more traditional country music to create a genre that she calls "vintage-pop-infused neo-traditional country." Produced by Raul Malo of The Mavericks, Heartbreaker of the Year delves deep into Rose's unique and specific form of country music.
Best track: "Little Piece of You"
Untamed is a perfect example of contemporary pop country. It doesn't lean too much in either direction, and is a full introduction to the single-named star taking the radio by storm with a ballad this year. She experiments, with the electro-gospel-country fusion of "Runaway Train," to the cheeky "Country Ain't Never Been Pretty," and then back in her comfort zone with ballads. But the eclectic mix of influences are all a part of what makes Cam, Cam.
Best track: "Village"
The breathy, beautiful voice of 'Toronto's Best Kept Secret' came back this year, with a new effort, which has to the most part, lived up to expectation. Ortega is not a mainstream country artist by any stretch of the word, but that doesn't seem to bother her at all. This album is honest, unfiltered, and depicts a lifestyle that is less than perfect. Faded Gloryville is an album about real life, something that doesn't come along in music much anymore.
Best track: "I Ain't the Girl"
Logan Brill is one of the most underrated artists in the industry. Signed to Carnival Recording Company, this is her second record, and is a beautiful blend of country, rock, pop, and Americana. The album is a love-obsessed record, and is a lot about unrequited love, horrible breakups, and unhealthy relationships. Brill's vocals are powerful and interesting, and she is also a writer, making this beautifully written and sung album a perfect representation of her as an artist.
Best track: "Far Cry from You"
Maddie & Tae turned heads with "Girl in a Country Song," but this album is the best way to describe them as artists. Two friends from Texas and Oklahoma with a commitment to country music came through and created an album under Big Machine Label Group that could be categorized as country without much discussion. On top of that, this record is full of incredible harmonies, and though provoking lyrics about growing up.
Best track: "After the Storm Blows Through"
Carnival artist Hailey Whitters is an artist that sort of came out of nowhere, but with her debut, showed so much potential and talent. Black Sheep is centered around its title track, a song that speaks about being a 'black sheep,' or sticking out, not being the same as everyone else. This record is like that. Whitters didn't create a pop-country radio friendly record, but that is the beauty of the record. It shows that country music still exists in the new generation.
Best track: "Get Around"
Pageant Material was poised to be a disappointment, given the perfection of Musgraves's debut, but it was not at all. The record was a mix between heavily sarcastic tracks about small town life and the country music industry, along with emotional songs, that were somewhat different for Musgraves. It's a perfect sophomore record, as she acknowledges that her life is quite different than it used to be, but that she's still the same 'dimestore cowgirl' making country music.
Best track: "Fine"
Peters is no newbie to the country music industry — she's been writing hits for Martina McBride, George Strait, and Patty Loveless for years now. This is her eighth studio album, and it is masterfully written, as you would expect. One of the lesser known records on this list, Peters brings country, folk, and Americana influences together on this record, and all of them together result in a ballad heavy and gloomy, but still beautiful record.
Best track: "Pretty Things"
Monroe tried a bit harder to be accepted by radio and mainstream country music for this album, but it didn't poison the record at all. The Blade maintains Monroe's traditional leaning sound, and lyrics about life and love. She goes jaunty and sarcastic with "Winning Streak," more commercial with "On to Something Good," and heartfelt with "Bombshell." This Vince Gill produced record is a level above all other albums released by women in country this year.
Best track: "The Blade"