The 20 Best Folk And Country Records Of 2018

Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it’s meant to highlight the best work in the genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.

For fans of country and folk, 2018 was as good a year as any, even if it felt like these artists in these genres on the margins had to fight even harder than ever for the recognition they deserve. Still, if there’s anything the country and folk-minded among us are excellent at, it’s fighting for what they rightly deserve, and plenty of artists put their all on the line in order to get their just deserts. From radio hits and Billboard chart toppers to independent, brand new artists with nothing to their name but a collection of folk songs and a dream, here’s a look at the shining stars in this realm for 2018.

13. Ruston Kelly, Dying Star

Ruston Kelly is another entry on our list married to a beloved country star, his wedding last year to the genre’s beloved Kacey Musgraves was a news story in its own right. Now, he’s back for what he’d rather be in the headlines for — an album of his own. And the lonesome and blue Dying Star is cold and bright in all the right ways. As the title suggests, most of the album concerns itself with bright things that are losing their staying power, a meditation on loss, pain, and the whole damn thing. Even when these songs are tinged with heartache, Kelly’s velvety, rough voice makes the bitter go down sweet. “Faceplant” and “Blackout” will be familiar territory for those who find themselves perpetually single, relying on outside uppers to numb the pain or sabotage the best things they’ve had. If you’re into harmonica-heavy, whiskey-drenched ballads, this record is for you. After all, there’s plenty of kinship to be found in melancholy — and it takes some of the bite out of these drained ballads to know that, in reality, Kelly is happily in love.–C.W.

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Jesse Atwell