2021 has come and gone. In its wake, dozens and dozens of country albums to sort through.
There were debut albums (Mickey Guyton’s Remember Her Name), duet albums (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raise the Roof), double albums (Cody Johnson’s Human and Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous), and even a triple album (Eric Church’s Heart & Soul). Zac Brown Band mounted The Comeback, Billy Strings had a Renewal, and Morgan Wade got Reckless. Loretta Lynn reminded us she is Still Woman Enough, while Alan Jackson sonically searched in Where Have You Gone.
Of course, there were concept albums (Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood and Juanita), destination collaborations (Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, and Jon Randall’s The Marfa Tapes), and family affairs (The Willie Nelson Family).
So we asked a trio from our crack staff to sort through the musical madness and pick their favorite country album of 2021.
‘One to Grow On’ – Mike and the Moonpies
Clayton Edwards: Outsider writer
Picking a favorite country album from 2021 was an easy task for me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve played One to Grow On from start to finish. It doesn’t matter if I’m working, working out, or relaxing, this album hits the spot. The fiddle, steel guitar, and toe-tapping beats brought me in. The blue-collar storytelling in the lyrics keeps me coming back. Listen to tracks “Paycheck to Paycheck” or “Rainy Day.” You’ll understand why One to Grown On tops my list this year.
‘Vincent Neil Emerson’ – Vincent Neil Emerson
Jim Casey: Outsider senior editor
There were numerous standout albums in 2021, including Hayes Carll’s You Get It All, Carly Pearce’s 29: Set in Stone, Morgan Wade’s Reckless, and James McMurtry’s The Horses and the Hounds, among others. But, for me, the best was Vincent Neil Emerson’s self-titled album.
I find myself constantly returning to the 10-song offering during road trips and whiskey-sipping Saturday nights. From the deeply personal lyrics of “Learnin’ to Drown” (which addresses his father’s suicide) to the historical heaviness of “The Ballad of Choctaw-Apache,” VNE makes a solid case that he’s cut from the same songwriting cloth as his Texas brethren—and heroes—Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Simply put, Vincent Neil Emerson features beautiful elements—from the lyrics and length to the songwriting and style—that meld together to form a beautiful album.
‘The Ballad of Dood & Juanita’ – Sturgill Simpson
Wes Blankenship – Outsider content producer
Juanita and Dood. Where to begin? Sturgill Simpson didn’t need to put this masterpiece together for us—based on his legendary Kentucky grandfather—but he did. And for that, I’ll always be as grateful for Sturg as Dood was for “Sam” (even though it makes me sad and think of my dog, it is a powerful tribute to canines throughout time).
A lot of albums kept my motor runnin’ in 2021, but none of them took the chances that Sturgill did with this concept album. It tells a story from start to finish, like the old county and westerns do. And it sounds so deep and pure. What a treat. My year in music wouldn’t have been complete without it.