As 2019 comes to a close, 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 2019. 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 2019 album picks.
Pick: GIRL – Maren Morris
It was an interesting year for new music in the country genre and I am so proud of the eclectic mix of choices that our team chose for their favorite album picks. For me, Maren Morris’ GIRL was absolutely iconic. During a time when it feels like women needed it most, Maren Morris reminded the world of female empowerment. Morris sings on the album with such fearlessness and delivers each and every track with empathy, compassion, and encouragement.
Delivering a sophomore record after your debut does so well is not always an easy task but Morris stepped up, included tracks that showcased her maturity over the years as well as the changes that occurred in her life between albums. While HERO had standouts like “My Church”, “Second Wind”, and “I Could Use A Love Song”, Morris dug deep for GIRL, producing an album that highlights messy love, empowering emotions and a sense of Girl Power that men, women, young and old will enjoy for years.
Pick: Hixtape Vol. 1 – HARDY
There was no question in my mind which album I was going to choose this year. The concept behind HARDY’s Hixtape is genius, taking artists from different generations, different genres and different major labels in country music and put them all on one project that showcases the best parts of living in a small town. The guest features include Keith Urban, Morgan Wallen, Trace Adkins, Lauren Alaina, Devin Dawson, Mitchell Tenpenny and many more, totaling 17 stars.
Being an early fan of the project, it was particularly incredible to sit down with HARDY and discuss the decision to release this collaboration album during our Swag Session earlier this year.
While each song on the album makes me want to move to a small town in the south, they are still relatable for this country-music-loving New Yorker.
HARDY’s masterful songwriting is on full display with lines like “Somewhere the dirt will stain your boot soles red, like the words I was raised up on” referencing Jesus’s words in the Bible (“My Kinda Living”) or “But when I get to missin’ my roots, sittin’ somewhere West of wherever, you can find me tapping these Red Wing boots together, cause there ain’t no place like home town” referencing The Wizard of Oz and the ruby slippers (No Place Like Home Town”).
Hands down my favorite song on the record, however, is “One Beer”, a modern-day “There Goes My Life” story that has an infectious chorus and features Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson. While HARDY narrates the story, Dawson and Alaina become the couple who experienced one beer turning into a whole lot more, eventually ending up with a baby in the carriage. The kicker and the moment that gets me every single listen is the fact that the drumbeat is a baby’s heartbeat, one that you hear for the first time during that initial sonogram.
HARDY’s persona, his clever wordplay, and his impeccable delivery make our team so truly impressed and excited to see what comes next for him in 2020.
Pick: How Do You Remember Me – Josh Kerr
There were so many albums that came out in 2019 that I loved start to finish, like Kelleigh Bannen’s Favorite Colors and Maren Morris’ GIRL. But my favorite was Josh Kerr’s debut album, “How Do You Remember Me”. Kerr has been one of the most sought-after songwriters in Nashville for almost half a decade, and his debut is absolutely phenomenal. It’s cohesive, fun, and vulnerable, and it’s as purely singer-songwriter as it is crisp pop-country. Songs like “In Case I Never See You Again” and “It Wasn’t That Long Ago” are upbeat, hit-ready songs, although the latter is a sad song disguised by its poppy elements, which I love.
The standout tracks on Kerr’s project are the confessional “If I’m Being Honest”, and “Love Me Now”. “If I’m Being Honest” is cinematic and pulsing; a song that is impossible not to feel when listening to and stops me in my tracks every time. “Love Me Now” is softer, but is equally as gut-punching. Kerr’s lyrics and artistry are reminiscent of John Mayer and Sam Hunt, as reflected throughout all 11 songs. This is an example of an album that is amazing shuffled or in order, and that is equally strong in lyrical content and production.
Pick: Can’t Say I Ain’t Country – Florida Georgia Line
Honestly, not many albums reach my ridiculously high expectations on the first few listens, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country did and then some. A great country album to me is one that can get the party started and then pull at your heartstrings right after. This album has something for everyone; feel-good jams like “Y’all Boys”, slow ballads like “Women” and everything in between. FGL showed their softer side on Dig Your Roots, which I loved, but the ability to do both makes this one really special.
“May We All” was a song I really related to and I didn’t think Florida Georgia Line would ever come back with a song I loved like that one; then I heard “Simple”. Right after hearing the first two lines, (The way your fingers fit in mine / It’s five plus five, not rocket science) I was hooked and couldn’t turn it off repeat. Also, one of my favorite music videos in the past few years.
Another underrated aspect of this album are the skits with Brother Jervel. First off, he’s hilarious. Second, it’s a unique way of bringing their hip-hop influence into country music. Finally, they support the overall theme ‘you can take the boy from the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.’
In a year that featured a number of fantastic album releases, I would be remiss if I didn’t reveal my honorable mentions: Center Point Road – Thomas Rhett, Real Friends – Chris Janson and Heartache Medication – Jon Pardi.
Pick: Different ‘Round Here – Riley Green
Pure country is what comes to mind when I first heard the album Different ‘Round Here by Riley Green. I had high expectations after Green’s “There Was This Girl.” There are tracks similar to that like “In Love by Now” and “Same Old Song,” but it’s the deep yet simple songs like “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” and “Hard to Leave” that really sold me on this album.
“And I wish even cars had truck beds / And every road was named Copperhead / And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light / And I wish high school home teams never lost / And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught / And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high / I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time / And I wish grandpas never died”
I love an artist who’s not only a performer but a songwriter and that’s exactly what Green is. He co-wrote all of the 14 tracks on the album and even gave writing credit to both his grandfathers, who he wrote “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” about. He sings about love, family, hometown friends which almost every country fan can relate to.
Pick: Magnolia – Randy Houser
It perhaps is no surprise that one of the most underrated albums emerges as one of my top favorite country records of this past year. Randy Houser has an incredible way of blending his powerhouse (and also smooth) vocals and the genres lines of country and soul together to a perfect musical concoction. Highlights include “No Good Place To Cry,” “What Whiskey Does (feat. Hillary Lindsey),” “Running Man” and the Lucie Silvas duet, “Our Hearts.” However, the best song on this album has to be “No Stone Unturned.”
With lyrics that everyone can relate to on this roller-coaster journey of life and a great hook of a chorus (“no stone unturned, no turn unstoned”), I would boldly declare this song as one of Houser’s career highlights. If you haven’t checked this record out, you need to. And if you haven’t since him live yet, you also need to. Get ready to be blown away, I know I was.
Erin Crosby, Contributing Writer
Pick: What You See Is What You Get – Luke Combs
Luke Comb’s What You See Is What You Get was released last month and is the perfect addition to his earlier album themes of both good-time party vibes and lovey-dovey ballads. This sophomore release opens with “Beer Never Broke My Heart” which is a fun, upbeat track devoted to loving beer and its constant loyalty despite other setbacks. For instance, the lyric “a couple beautiful girls tell me goodbye/ trucks break down and dogs run off” acts as examples to solidify the argument that beer is one of the few creations worthy of relying on. To quote Combs, “long neck, ice cold beer never broke my heart”.
Rightfully so, there are several tracks that take on more heartfelt, sentimental tones, such as “Even Though I’m Leaving”, “New Every Day”, “Dear Today” and “Better Together”. This is where Combs stands out from the rest of the genre. The raspy, hardcore tone stripped down to a subtle instrument backdrop and honest, poetic lyrics is simply an addictive “match made up in heaven”; a lyric from “Better Together”, arguably the most played song on the What You See Is What You Get collection. This track closes the album and establishes Combs’ songwriting abilities, with credit to Dan Isbell and Randy Montana who together created this metaphorically dense piece.
There are two collaborations within this album, which is new for Combs, though it came at an appropriate time in his career and not a minute too soon. Eric Church plays a role in “Does To Me” while Brooks and Dunn put down vocals on “1,2 Many”. These tracks are successful in the feel-good song that usually fits into the male country song partnerships. Church and Combs mesh well together so much so that I wouldn’t mind the special guest to have a more evident vocal presence. The same goes for “1,2 Many”, Brooks and Dunn are introduced late in the song without giving the listeners a sense of the chemistry between the two acts. Still, a great addition to the album that breaks up the continuity of the seventeen track production.
What You See Is What You Get is a great cluster of songs from Combs and is a step in the right direction so early on in his career, definitely an artist to pay attention to if this level of artistry is achieved after only a couple of years in the industry.
Pick: A Very Kacey Christmas – Kacey Musgraves
When I think of country music in 2019, I think of discovering Kacey Musgraves’ music and falling in love with her as an artist! I’ve spent the last 9 months, since “Golden Hour” won Album of the Year at the Grammys exploring her past and present music.
What better way to close off the year than Musgraves releasing a Christmas special, The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, 11/29. Alongside the Amazon special, Kacey re-released an updated version of her Christmas album from 2016, A Very Kacey Christmas. This album includes interludes from the show, in addition to the music, making it especially entertaining and unique.
dir=”auto”>Musgraves invites an exciting array of collaborators to join her for both old and new songs. My favorite is a new song on the album called “Glittery”, performed by Musgraves and Troye Sivan. This love song uses a holiday take to describe the feeling of ‘butterflies’ towards your significant other. The song feels magical and evokes the holiday spirit.
Other highlight guest performances include Camila Cabello, who joins Musgraves for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and Lana Del Ray, who helps sing the classic Christmas ballad, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. One of the most emotional moments of the album is when Musgraves sings her original song, “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” On this tune, Musgraves sings about feeling sad emotions during a time where everyone helps seems to be happy.
Pick: Rivers – King Calaway
From their first show ever in front of an audience in New York City (put on by New York Country Swag), to opening for Garth Brooks, playing the Grand Ole Opry, and releasing their first album, 2019 has been an exciting year for King Calaway. And they definitely don’t disappoint.
This band works so hard, and seems to have a blast doing it. Rivers is an album I keep on repeat now, never getting tired of the beautiful harmonies and interesting arrangements. “Rivers” is probably my favorite on the album, with such a cool rhythm to jam to. “World for Two” and “I Do” have a bit more laid back feel, that is great background music, or a love song, if you’re looking for it. “Driver’s Seat” picks it up again for an awesome song for a drive on the open road. Their cover of “Love the One You’re With” is such a cool new spin on the classic. The vocals show the band’s true talent and individuality.
Whether you want to jam or chill, Rivers gives you all you need. The band is finding their voice, and I think they definitely have a lot to say. If they did all this in 2019, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them in 2020.
Pick: GIRL – Maren Morris
It always feels impossible to pick an album of the year when there is so much amazing music coming out of Nashville. However, the first release that came to mind when I looked back at 2019 was Maren Morris’ GIRL. In what Nashville could call the “year of the women,” this album just about sums up what it means to be a woman in this crazy world right now.
From “A Song For Everything,” which takes me back to every melody that is connected to a memory, to the honest and heartbreaking title track, “GIRL” — it’s by far one of the most cohesive, emotional, and well-written albums of the year. A perfect listen from start to finish.
Pick: Ocean – Lady Antebellum
Although there were a ton of great albums released in 2019 that I’ve had on repeat, my favorite is probably Lady Antebellum’s, Ocean. I’ve been a huge fan of Lady A since the beginning of their career, and the best part about this album was seeing them return to their roots as a trio.
The album is full of the country songs and stellar harmonies that made them a superstar group and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of it. Over the years, Lady A has sampled with solo projects and different sounds, but this album is them in their wheelhouse on songs like “Ocean,” “What If I Never Get Over You,” “Be Patient With My Love,” and the up-tempo, “You Can Do You.” On top of all of that, there’s a collaboration with Little Big Town on “The Thing That Wrecks You” that’s absolutely magical.
It was very hard to pick a favorite album of 2019, but Spotify doesn’t lie, and TR’s latest project was my most-played for a million reasons. I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning, but this album seemed to let fans into his life like never before. Every track tells not just a story about his life, but reminds us that even though his lyrics are uniquely his, we can all relate to the sentiments he describes.
From the love songs about his wife Lauren like “Notice”, “Look What God Gave Her” and “Blessed” (they are the definition of couple goals) to the picture he paints of living a simple life away from the spotlight in “That Old Truck” and “Center Point Road”, the album takes you on a journey. Full of ballads, fun upbeat anthems, and killer collaborations, this project definitely defined my year. It’s tough to pick a favorite song, but I can’t listen to “Remember You Young” without getting chills no matter how many times I hear it, and seeing it live twice, once during his “Very Hot Summer Tour” and again at the CMA Awards were unforgettable (pun intended).
To be honest, when the first single, “Look What God Gave Her,” was released, I was nervous about the album, but that quickly changed. If you haven’t given it a listen yet, be sure to add it to your playlist ASAP.
Pick: Center Point Road – Thomas Rhett
My favorite album of 2019 would definitely have to be Thomas Rhett’s “Center Point Road.” In the past, I’ve always thought Thomas Rhett had lovable and catchy songs based off of “Die a Happy Man”, “Life Changes”, and “T-Shirt”, and an adorable family, but never actually took the time to listen to his albums all the way through. Over the summer, I realized it was time for me to stop limiting myself to the same couple of songs that everyone knows by him and actually give his new album a listen, especially after watching the touching video for “Life Changes.”
Some albums take some time to get used to, but being that I really invested myself in actually listening to the lyrics and songs instead of having it on as background music while I looked at other things online, I felt an instant liking towards so many of the songs on Center Point Road. I feel like this album is the perfect balance of nostalgic while at the same time celebrating life and being thankful for everything it is in the current moment.
Songs like “Remember You Young” and “Center Point Road” make me think back to all of the special memories I’ve shared in my younger life, even though I’m only 21, while at the same time, “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” and “Beer Can’t Fix” provide the perfect mix of tailgate friendly summertime songs that fit perfectly right into where I am in life right now, just having turned 21.
“Blessed” and “Things You Do for Love” are the type of songs I want to play at my wedding, with some of the most touching country lyrics I’ve ever heard, and every country music fan knows, there are far too many. Last night, I was surprised to actually find out Thomas Rhett was my Spotify most-streamed artist of the year, which is a huge deal considering I listen to John Mayer almost 24/7. I can’t wait to hear all the music Thomas Rhett will release in future years and hopefully, 2020 will include me seeing him in concert for the first time! (Fingers crossed)
Pick: Let It Roll– Midland
This year there were so many incredible albums released that picking my favorite one made it very difficult. However, Midland’s album Let It Roll is traditional, fun, honky-tonking music at its finest.
After seeing Midland live in New York City, I was hooked. Their album Let It Roll had been released earlier that week, so I was listening to it on repeat. I love their authenticity and defined style they bring to each track. Their massive hit “Mr. Lonely” set the foundation for the record, and their clever songwriting mixed with their unique twang on some of my favorite tracks like Playboys” and “Let It Roll” proved they really are the best “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band.”
Pick: The Highwomen – The Highwomen
The Highwomen’s self-titled debut released earlier this year influenced me heavily as a country music listener, creator and music journalist. I commend the album’s dynamic steal on family and love while disentangling the stereotypical frame society views women through.
This project embroiders conventional country music aesthetics which tends to be my favorite projects coming out. My favorite tracks on this September release are “If She Ever Leaves Me,” written by one of the female-powerhouse fronts Amanda Shires with husband and fellow bandmate Jason Isbell, featuring Brandi Carlile on lead. Second, “Cocktail And A Song” is another front-runner. I look forward to the supergroup’s impending endeavors.
Pick: k, i’m done – Lacy Cavalier
This year has been a great year for country music. 2019 gave us so much new music from emerging artists, as well as, records from established singers. I went back and forth trying to decide, which album I wanted to highlight as my favorite of 2019, either Christina’s pick, HARDY’s Hixtape Vol. 1 or Lacy Cavalier’s k I’m done. It was a close call, but I went with the latter because I truly believe 2019 was a monumental year for women in country music.
Technically Cavalier’s record was an independent EP release with only six songs, but those six songs are so special. Almost instantly, the songstress had me rooting for her success. I really believe in her talent and her knack for writing vulnerable, personal, yet deeply relatable song lyrics. “Single” and “Cheating on U” are two of the standout tracks off the EP and my personal favorites.
Furthermore, a mark of a good record is one you never get tired of, and k i’m done has that appeal. I cannot wait to see how Cavalier’s career evolves and how her artistry grows, as she moves passed the period of her life in which this record was created from. I can only hope that her connection to her fans and to her music continues with her next project. If you haven’t managed to listen to her just yet, do yourself a favor and listen to the record!
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