Throughout the past couple of years, it has been undeniable that the world of country music has exploded in the best possible way. It’s not just the genre that our parents or those down in the South listen to anymore – in fact, it’s quite possibly the most popular genre around the country once again, which is something we arguably haven’t seen since the original country heyday several upon several decades ago. It is thanks to some breakthrough artists in the industry that the genre has been able to leap such bounds throughout the past couple of years. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re ones to thank for the expansion and deserved popularization and respect of such a rich sound that has had deep roots sewn in America’s history.
This year in particular has had its share of country success, and this article aims to name-check those dedicated trend-setters who have set the country world aflame once more. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the read.
5. “Hunter Hayes (Encore)” – Hunter Hayes
Hunter Hayes seemingly came out of nowhere with the release of his self-titled debut album in 2011, but that didn’t stop his work from reaching #1 in album sales on the US Billboard Chart, nor did it stop him from winning five awards and being nominated for several more between 2012 and 2013. In all actuality, Hayes had been hard at work in the music world for eleven full years prior to the release of his hit mainstream debut, having produced five independent albums before finally being fully recognized for his real talent and ingenuity. This is why it should come as no surprise that his five track bonus edition of that same self-titled debut album released in 2013 appears on this list, because Hayes is just now hitting his stride in the country music world and is undoubtedly inspiring many young people just like him to keep on trying their hardest, because on day they might just make it there.
He’s been a real tour de force these past couple of years, and it’s certain that his career is just beginning with performances with Stevie Wonder already under his belt. His current single from off of “Encore”, “I Want Crazy”, debuted at #3 on the US Country Airplay charts and is still chugging strong. We’re sure this release is far from the young singer-songwriter’s last “encore” yet.
4. “Golden” – Lady Antebellum
This year in many ways marks the real return of the popularity of country bands and duos. The Band Perry and Pistol Annies are both rockin’ the charts, and The Swon Brothers just recently nabbed a Rising Star Award from the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, but it was arguably Lady Antebellum thatbegan this new age country group revolution. “Golden” soared in sales within its first wees, making it an easy third #1 on the US Billboard charts for the trio. With that amount of mass pop appeal, having even appeared on a Maroon 5 album at some point, easy to see that the group is truly “golden” and will continue to inspire upcoming collective country acts for years upon years to come.
3. “True Believers” – Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker is one example of an artist who just never gives up. He’d gone from rock riches with his band Hootie & the Blowfish back in the day before releasing a solo R&B album in the early 2000s that really didn’t chart much at all. From there, he sat back for the next six years and really re-assessed his career, leading to the release of his first hit country solo album, “Learn to Live”, which lead to his being the first black artist to reach number one on the Hot Country Songs chart with his hit single “Don’t Think I Think About It.” The hits kept coming for Rucker – his greatest one yet coming in the form of an Old Crow Medicine Show cover song from off of his 2013 effort, “True Believers”, “Wagon Wheel”, featuring star duo Lady Antebellum.
Without a doubt, “Wagon Wheel” became one of the most played country songs on the radio within days flat of its release, having reached #1 on the Country Airplay chart this past May. This was also the song to push Rucker over the edge and into the Grand Ole Opry in October 2012. Without a doubt, many aspiring artists, and not just those into country, are looking to Darius Rucker for inspiration now more than ever.
2. “Wheelhouse” – Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley has always been recognized as one of the world’s most influential Southern rockers since his debut in 1999, and it’s always been for good reason. With the release of his 2013 effort, “Wheelhouse”, Paisley reinvented the country genre in a way that proved he wasn’t afraid to toss convention out of the window when one takes into account such songs as “Southern Comfort Zone”, “Those Crazy Christians”, and the highly controversial “Accidental Racist”, featuring rap icon LL Cool J. Say what you will about the song itself as it seems that everyone has their own opinion on it, but Paisley and LL arguably set a new trend afire with their history-making collaboration. The two dared to break down a genre barrier that had seemed to be emblazoned in stone, and since then, they’ve managed to elevate fellow acts such as Florida Georgia Line with their collaboration with popular rapper Nelly, and so on and so forth.
Paisley, as controversial as he has been this year for it, has taken the world by storm by breaking country conventions by all means possible and tackling some of the nation’s most hard-hitting topics and underlying social issues. He’s helped to revolutionize the genre and music in general, whether one listener necessarily enjoys that fact or not, and there is no doubt that there are droves out there who are inspired by the award-winning artist’s bravery displayed in 2013.
You can read my official review of “Wheelhouse” right here.
1. “Based on a True Story…” – Blake Shelton
This much should have been seen miles and miles away. Blake Shelton is, without a doubt, the current king of country music as we know it. He’s gone beyond being “just” a country star- the man is “a” star by all means. Not only is “Based on a True Story…” the top-selling country album of the year so far, but Shelton himself, with his electric personality in tow, is one of the most well-known faces around the world with his “Voice” career in mind. People love him and people hate him, but if one thing’s for sure, in the world of country music, people want to be him.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that he tops the list of influential albums this year with that much in mind alone, though it is also arguable that, like with “Wheelhouse”, “Based on a True Story…” dares to break convention in a couple of ways. The entire album doesn’t open with a croon, but instead a rap, with the well-known hit single “Boys Round Here” featuring his wife Miranda Lambert’s Pistol Annies and more in tow. From there, it’s a steady dedication to the world of country music in and out of convention for the entirety of the album, making for a sweet overall listen. Blake isn’t just inspiring country artists- he’s inspiring the world as a whole, and it’s without a doubt that many families across the country have all generations listening to “Based on a True story…” with a full smile to this day.
Make sure to check out this list of five underrated songs released by Blake Shelton here.
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