As this crazy, unprecedented year finally comes to a close, the one thing we could all find solace in was music in 2020. The New York Country Swag team is highlighting the wide range of our team’s favorite songs and artists when it comes to the country music genre by featuring our favorite album picks of 2020. At the end of the day, we are all fans first with a passion for country music and are eager to share with you all the albums we’ve had on repeat this year.
Find below each of our team member’s favorite albums and why in our 2020 best country album picks.
Pick: Southern Symphony – Russell Dickerson
Although the album has only been out a few weeks, I would be lying if I said I haven’t been playing it on repeat nonstop since its release. It’s one of those albums you can listen to over and over again and each time fall in love with a new song. This was one of the records I was looking forward to most this year and I’m so glad that in a year of uncertainty, this new music from Russell Dickerson has made its way out into the world. I can not wait to see songs from this project performed live!
Honorable Mention: Southside – Sam Hunt – When I think of the early days of quarantine, I think of this album and listening to it on repeat night and day. It’s full of jams, relatable lyrics, and clever twists that made it easy to listen to over and over again.
Pick: The Other Side – Cam
Throughout this unprecedented and unpredictable year music has been healing and also very painful to listen to. Missing live music and the way our old life played out was something I had to come to grips with early on in the pandemic but each time a new album was released, I fell deeper and deeper in love with music and was able to really focus on my favorite part of the country genre – the lyrics.
Picking a favorite album of 2020 was nearly impossible. Three different albums were constantly playing throughout the year, the first half of the year was Nightfall by Little Big Town, then came my favorite singer-songwriter HARDY with A ROCK. Both of those albums were chosen by two of our writers so finally, released at the end of October was Cam’s sophomore project, The Other Side.
Cam’s impeccable vocal ability blew me away from the moment I first heard her sing but with this second project, she proves her power in this genre. Each song tells a different story from heartbreak, divorce, growing older, and a love that is envied by all. “Happier for You”, “Redwood Tree”, and “What Goodbye Means” are highlights but even choosing three songs to showcase was hard. I am so glad that “Diane” is getting a second life on this project as well after being released back in 2017.
For any fans of real country music that tells a story, The Other Side will instantly become a favorite for years to come.
Pick: The Dream – Hailey Whitters
2020 has felt like multiple years rolled into one. Between a global pandemic, civil unrest, and ultimately, vast unpredictability, the true silver lining has been the incredible music released over the last 12 months. This year has produced some of my favorite works of all time, two being Brett Eldredge’s risk-taking Sunday Drive, which I got to review in July, and Hailey Whitters’ magical and brilliant The Dream. Choosing between these albums was hard because they are both my favorites on different ways, but when it came down to it, I had to choose Hailey Whitters’ The Dream.
The Dream is a dream album. It’s cohesive and gorgeous, insightful and witty, heartbreaking and hopeful. “Dream, Girl” and “All The Cool Girls” have a real groove and mystique to them, making them standouts. “Janice At The Hotel Bar” is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of song. I remember where I was when I first heard the song, walking in Central Park, so moved I had to stop. I immediately played it for my parents and my sister. Lyrically, it’s incredible, as is any story-song written by Whitters and the unparalleled Lori McKenna. “Paris in the spring of 1973/She said if there is a heaven, that’s where I’ll be”. Something about the delivery and production makes it incredibly evocative, with Whitters’ reverbed vocals and a shimmering acoustic guitar gliding you along. It’s the kind of musical moment you never forget.
It’s hard to encapsulate what music has meant to me this year. “The Days” gave me the closure I needed to end my senior year of high school; “Heartland” and “Janice At The Hotel Bar” got me through my first semester of college. Whenever I hear this record, I will always be transported back in time to 2020, a year that even if we try to forget, we never will. I can’t wait to see what Hailey Whitters does next.
Pick: Southside – Sam Hunt
With all live shows being canceled this year, we needed artists to drop a lot of new music to fill the void and get through quarantine. Luckily, country artists delivered and we got a ton of great albums from Luke Bryan, Kelsea Ballerini, Dustin Lynch, Brett Eldredge, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Carly Pearce, Chris Stapleton, and many others. My favorite was Sam Hunt’s Southside.
Hunt covered a lot of themes on this record. Being that his last album was released five and a half years ago (which could’ve been another reason why I loved Southside so much), he had a lot of stories to tell. His songs are very personal to him, but are general enough where others can relate as well.
If you want to dance and have a good time, “Kinfolks” and “Hard to Forget” are great tailgate anthems. If you want to get in your feels and maybe even cry, “2016” and “That Ain’t Beautiful” are for you. “Young Once” and “Sinning With You” paint great pictures of young love if you want to reminisce on your youth. There is a song for every type of emotion on this record which makes it so versatile and relevant.
Honorable Mentions: A ROCK-HARDY, The Lemonade Stand-Tenille Townes, The K Is Silent-Hot Country Knights.
Pick: Tullahoma – Dustin Lynch
Pick: Rollin’ On – Jesse Daniel
If your knowledge of country music relies solely on what’s played on country radio, you probably wouldn’t have heard of Jesse Daniel. But, if you listen to country radio and also keep up critics’ reviews, you would have heard the buzz about the California native. Though Daniel released his debut album back in 2018, it is his sophomore (and latest) effort that caught the ears of many. Rollin’ On is a throwback to the warmth of classic country, whilst also giving a nod to the Bakersfield sound made famous by icons like Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam.
The twelve-track project boasts plenty of fiddle, steel, mandolin, and all your favorite traditional country elements. Sometimes, you hear the phrase “my life is a country song” tossed around in lighthearted humor. But Daniel’s life truly is a country song. He’s lived through poverty, drugs, substance abuse, jail time, rehab and more. This roller-coaster journey is on full display in Rollin’ On. “Champion” boasts a story of overcoming odds, “If You Ain’t Happy Now (You Never Will Be)” is a timely reminder of true contentment, while the rollicking title track celebrates the adventure of life everyone is on. Like classic country? Like authentic songwriting? Like a record with impeccable production? Then Jesse Daniel’s Rollin’ On is definitely for you. Look out for him in 2021! This album is just the beginning for the rising country star.
Pick: Lady Like (Deluxe) – Ingrid Andress
This “More Hearts Than Mine” singer-songwriter and piano ballad enthusiast did not only release LadyLike, her debut record, in a time when the word quarantine was still freshly coming off the tongue like a foreign island that protrudes its way onto the coast, impacting the nation in more ways than could have been anticipated. But, Ingrid Andress followed up with a deluxe edition just six months after the collection itself.
LadyLike (Deluxe) deepens and expands a presence of the crisp, lovable yet heartbreaking sentiment that exceeds an already palpable sense of her artistry in the original album. A stripped-down and honest production is only accentuated in the follow-up project with a rearranged tracklist that is said to tell the story in the order that it occurred. Each song acts as a chapter of Andress’ life whether it highlights emotional distress or an attempt at a real relationship, though intentions vary throughout depending on where you left off in the story. LadyLike (Deluxe) acts as a true representation of modern ideologies of romance while not closing the curtain on inner frustrations and insecurities along the way.
Pick: kelsea– Kelsea Ballerini
There were a few albums that I found myself playing on repeat this year, including The Speed of Now Part 1, What you see Ain’t Always What You Get, and Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley, Chapter 1: Snake Oil. But when it came to what album got me ~through~ this year, it was kelsea.
Too many of these songs felt like Kelsea wrote them just for me. I’ve never heard a song that was so lyrically perfect for me before I listened to “club”. Seriously if you know me, this song is my anthem. I had already loved “homecoming queen?” and “la” because of how vulnerable and relatable they were and when I heard the full album, I felt the very same way about “overshare”, “half of my hometown”, and “a country song”. I related so strongly to these songs to the point that I felt I could have written them myself. (not that I could have done that, but you know what I mean).
The artistry in the songwriting and production of this entire album is a pure example of a true and rare talent. No matter what song you come across on this record, it will be some of the most vulnerable and honest music you have heard. Ballerini shares her highs and lows and everything in between. It’s not that common for an artist to be so open and forward about their struggles with anxiety and introversion, especially this early on in their career, but Ballerini showed that side of her and then some with this album.
My heart hurt for her when this album came out the week the world shut down. I wanted her to get to play these songs live and receive all the glory she deserved for this beautiful work of art. However, the way that she was able to spin that negative into the reimagining of the very same songs on ballerini in order to give herself the chance to re-fall in love with these songs was extraordinary and a lovely example of music that would not exist if it weren’t for this year’s events. The re-imagined ballerini album just made fans understand even more how much love she had for this collection of songs.
The pair of albums was meant to show that there are two sides to every story and every person. Understanding that we all have more to us than what is seen on the surface is an important and beautiful lesson that we can take away from these albums and this year. When the day finally comes for Kelsea to play these songs on tour, I will be the first one in line to see it.
Pick: Starting Over – Chris Stapleton
2020 has been a certain kind of year, so I was looking for something that told a complete story. As soon as I heard Starting Over, I knew it captured everything I was feeling about how the year had gone: some of the anger, some of the resentment, some of the just getting up every day for a brand new day that looked very similar to the one before. While Stapleton always manages to speak truth to listeners in ways no one else can, this year we needed comfort and assurance unlike any other that we will make it through this. “Cold” is one of my favorites, using his iconic tone and lyricism to hit raw emotion. “Starting Over”, just like the title of the album, reminds us that through this journey, we can still learn and grow, find moments of joy, and serves as a reminder that we must accept what has happened, and use that as a pivotal moment for the path forward.
Pick: Nightfall – Little Big Town
My favorite and most listened to album of 2020 was easily Little Big Town’s Nightfall, which came out in simpler pre-pandemic times back in January. In fact, their phenomenal concert at the Apollo was my last taste of live music this year, so at least I went out on a high note.
What a year wild ride 2020 has been. While it was so strange not going to any concerts, new music from many great country artists certainly got me through. While this was a tough decision to make, my favorite album of 2020 had to be Granger Smith’s Country Things (Both Volumes). It just gives you such perspective to live in the moment and enjoy the little things. This was such an important message for 2020 as while we may not have gotten to enjoy the big events, we got to enjoy those moments with our loved ones we may not have gotten to if we had a year of our normal, busy schedules.
Pick: A ROCK – HARDY
If there is one thing that got me through this year, it was music. As 2020 comes to a close, I could not be more grateful for country music! With that being said, my favorite record of 2020 has to be HARDY’s album, A ROCK.
I am completely in love with everything HARDY does as a singer, a songwriter, and a performer. He continues to exceed my expectations and delivers music that I relate to, enjoy, and want to share with my friends and family. HARDY’s ability to craft lyrics is a skill I’ll never get enough of. Moreover, his record is a cohesive masterpiece that tells a full story from start to finish.
Songs like the title track, “A ROCK,” “GIVE HEAVEN SOME HELL,” and “SO CLOSE” are all so different, yet distinctly HARDY. Time after time, the singer-songwriter and superstar in the making proves that he has an IQ high above the rest when it comes to creating a captivating song and full-length project.
I truly cannot wait to see what he does next. Also, it is an added bonus that HARDY gave us all a live concert via streaming to celebrate this record. Even through the screen, I could feel how amazing the record truly is and will be when performed in front of a live audience; hopefully next year! Congrats to HARDY and his team for delivering a badass and unique record to an ever-growing fanbase!
Honorable Mention: Jordan Davis Self-titled EP
How do our favorite picks match up to yours? Let us know what music you’ve had on repeat in 2020. Already anticipating new music in 2021? Check out our list of albums to expect in the new year here.
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