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Gone Country: The most anticipated albums of 2017

Country fans had a lot to celebrate last year, but 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, if not better than 2016. Artists like Maren Morris and Eric Church are headed back on tour, and old legends like Marty Stuart and Reba McEntire are recording new material, and young up-and-comers like Luke Combs are poised to make 2017 their breakout year.

While there’s been a fair amount of speculation on who’s headed back into the studio, there are still a lot of confirmed release dates that are already on my calendar. Here’s a list of the albums I’m most excited for, divided up by month:

February

Alison Krauss, “Windy City,” Feb. 17

Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss perform at the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic at Austin360 Amphitheater on July 4, 2016. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss perform at the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic at Austin360 Amphitheater on July 4, 2016. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Krauss’ first album in 17 years is a collection of bluegrass and country rarities and standards by artists like Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Bill Monroe and the Osborne Brothers. Her take on Brenda Lee’s “Losing You” is heartbreaking and beautiful, replacing the trumpets on the original with lilting steel guitars.

Rhiannon Giddens, “Freedom Road,” Feb. 24

Rhiannon Giddens plays ACL Fest 2015. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Rhiannon Giddens plays ACL Fest 2015. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

2016 saw Giddens’ profile rise after she became that year’s recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass and also sang the backup vocals on Eric Church’s election-year antidote “Kill a Word.” Oh, and she also played a killer set at her “Austin City Limits” taping. The Americana/roots artist is slated for a Feb. 24 release of “Freedom Road,” only her second album. The 12-track LP will feature nine originals plus a Staples Singers cover (the title track).

Aaron Watson, “Vaquero,” Feb. 24

Photo from Flickr user Amy Claxton.

Photo from Flickr user Amy Claxton.

Watson’s 2015 album “The Underdog” shot him to a wider audience in 2016 after it became the first album from a male artist to ever reach Number One on the country charts without a record deal. While the title may belie the fact, “The Underdog” was Watson’s 12th album. His next, “Vaquero,” seems to stick to his formula of traditionalist country with a little bit of modern flair.

March

Sunny Sweeney, “Trophy,” March 10

Sunny Sweeney.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sunny Sweeney. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas-born Sunny Sweeney’s latest album features four songs penned with Lori McKenna and guest spots from Trisha Yearwood, Ray Benson and Jack Ingram.

April

Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child”

Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Nelson’s latest album will feature “Delete and Fast-Forward,” his take on the 2016 election, as well as a song co-written by Jamey Johnson. The Red-Headed stranger’s age hasn’t slowed his creative output, and I’m hoping Austin’s favorite hippie finds a way to live forever.

May

Zac Brown Band, “Welcome Home,” May 12

The Zac Brown Band closes out the concert season at Circuit of the Americas. Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media

The Zac Brown Band closes out the concert season at Circuit of the Americas. Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media

After taking a detour with “Jekyll + Hyde” and Brown’s ill-advised side-project Sir Roosevelt, ZBB is going back to their stripped-down style, complete with a new tour to go along with it. The “Welcome Home” tour will kick off in Atlanta on the same day as the album’s release.

“The album will be straight back to our roots, ‘Foundation’-style,'” Brown told Rolling Stone Country.

To Be Announced

The following artists have all promised upcoming albums this year, but haven’t set dates yet:

Jason Isbell

Isbell tweeted on New Year’s eve that he was hard at work on a follow-up to “Something More Than Free.” Early reports say Isbell will again put Dave Cobb at the controls, and that the album has started tracking this month.

Marty Stuart, Early 2017

Stuart’s followup to 2014’s “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning” will focus on California, where the bulk of the album was recorded.

Shania Twain

Twain’s last album was the 2002 double-album “Up!” In the 15 years since, she’s performed a residency in Vegas, gotten divorced and written a book. Expect some personal material from the Canadian superstar.

Chris Stapleton

Stapleton’s sophomore album should be coming soon, and he’s already been trying some of the songs out on tour. It’s rumored to be coming out in the spring; a single should be released in the next couple of months.

Margo Price

One of the biggest travesties in country music last year was the lack of major awards recognition given to “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” Price’s debut. She tweeted on Dec. 21 that her new album was in the works. She told Rolling Stone Country in December that she’s “been writing a lot, because there is so much going on in the world and so much going on with me internally.” Her NPR Tiny Desk concert from November might point to some of the album’s subject matter.

Corey Smith

The Jefferson, Ga. wordsmith is famous in the southeast for three things: his rigorous touring schedule, his poignant songwriting and his N.W.A.-by-way-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line anti-police screeds “F The Po-Po” and “Chattanooga.” He tweeted in November that he has new songs and is going out on tour again. In the meantime, his latest, “While The Gettin’ Is Good,” is available now.

Straight-Up Speculation

None of these have been formally announced, but I’m holding out for these dark horses for 2017:

A Jamey Johnson album

Johnson hasn’t released a full-length solo project full of original songs since 2010’s “The Guitar Song.” He’s been content to write songs for others for the most part, and those are all fantastic, but hearing other people sing his words just makes me want a new album even more.

A Cody Jinks album

The Fort Worth native just today announced a new song, presumably a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” That might mean he’s following up the stellar “I’m Not The Devil” with something more experimental. Or it could just be a one-off.

A Josh Turner album

Turner’s been in the middle of album woes (presumably brought on by his record label) for five years. His last full-length album, “Punching Bag,” came out in 2012. “Lay Low” and “Hometown Girl” have been the only singles he’s released since then, and he’s told news outlets as recently as 2015 that he has an album ready to go, but it’s his record album that’s holding him back. Hopefully this will be the year his deep-based voice gets released from record label purgatory.

A Gary Allan album

Allan is in the same boat as Turner. “Set You Free,” Allan’s last album, was released in 2013 and he’s only put out some lackluster songs since then. He was supposed to have a new album out in 2015. Maybe this year will be his year.

A Dixie Chicks album (live or studio)

You don’t go on a world tour and NOT release a DVD, or an album, or something. Come on.

Gone Country aims to thoughtfully explore the country music genre and where it’s headed, with a focus on national trends and buzzworthy news of the week. For info about album releases and concerts, check out this week’s Country Music Roundup.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @jakeharris4 or through email at jharris@statesman.com.


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