With 2013 dawning, we’re looking forward to a new year of new music as everyone from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to The Band Perry and Kris Kristofferson ready albums. Now, however, it’s time to take a look back at 2012 as we unveil our 10 Favorite Albums of the year that was. Some recalled the twang of classic country, while others moved the genre even further into uncharted musical territory, but all grabbed our attention from the moment we pressed “Play."
- Livin’ for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran – Jamey Johnson
The only real outlaw in Nashville followed up 2010’s sprawling double album The Guitar Song with this moving tribute to his late friend, revered songwriter Hank Cochran. George Strait, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss were among the heavy hitters duetting with Jamey, but it’s the songs that rightfully got top billing.
- 3 Pears – Dwight Yoakam
Dwight’s first album in seven years was so worth the wait. A collection of Bakersfield Sound rockers and heart-tugging ballads—plus the brilliantly quirky “Waterfall”—3 Pears was the apple of our eye.
- Tornado – Little Big Town
LBT’s fourth album (and first with producer Jay Joyce) has more than a couple of twists. From the funky summer smash "Pontoon" to the eerie, vengeful title track, and on to the poignant "Your Side of the Bed"—there's plenty here to ensure we'll keep spinning this one round and round.
- Free the Music – Jerrod Niemann
Without question, the most adventurous album released this year. And for all its forward-thinking risks—horns on every song!—it was also, surprisingly, one of the most traditionally country.
- 100 Proof – Kellie Pickler
The album where Kellie Pickler finally found her voice. With its twangy, boozy feel, it may not have garnered her radio play like her past poppier work, but 100 Proof proved Kellie is 100 percent authentic.
- Up All Night - Kip Moore
Kip Moore showed great promise on his debut album, bringing a blue-collar charm reminiscent of Tom Petty and a slew of characters grappling with an assortment of life's victories and obstacles. He made the pickup truck and farm trope sound positively sexy on his hit "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck," and then bragged unapologetically about his own screw-ups in "Reckless (Still Growin' Up).”
- Home – Dierks Bentley
Combining the bluegrass and poignancy of Up on the Ridge with the party-hearty, good-time anthems that he does so well, Home was a big (duct-taped) boot-step forward for Dierks, one that has us excited to hear just what he’ll do next.
- Hope on the Rocks – Toby Keith
After the mega-success of “Red Solo Cup,” Toby could have easily rolled out “Blue Solo Cup,” “Yellow Solo Cup” and any other cup-colored variation to cash in. Instead, he released one of his most mature albums to date, smoothly continuing his transition into one of the genre’s elder statesmen.
- The Time Jumpers – The Time Jumpers
You likely won’t hear The Time Jumpers and their brand of western swing on country radio, but you’d be wise to pick up this gem of an album, which features “newest” Jumpers member Vince Gill. Somewhere, Bob Wills is smiling.
- Red – Taylor Swift
Taylor’s latest may lean heavier on the pop than her past albums, but darn if it doesn’t dazzle. The lyrically beautiful “Begin Again,” the call-to-arms album opener, “State of Grace,” and the title track reflect an artist with a clear eye on who she wants to be.