Last year was a good one for country music, but judging from the way things are shaping up for 2013, we should be in for lots more fabulous music in the coming months.

Exciting albums on the near horizon include those coming from The Band PerryTim McGrawGary AllanAshley MonroeKacey MusgravesNatalie MainesThe Mavericks, and Brad Paisley.

The list below includes our most highly anticipated country albums of 2013. It’s focused on the first few months of the year because, well, that’s what we know so far. Stay tuned for more album news as it develops.

The items on the list, of course, aren’t set in stone–dates can change, and new surprises can (and likely will) come along. For instance, the list of artists who have been recording lately (but have not announced any title or release date) includes Keith UrbanGeorge StraitSheryl Crowthe Pistol AnniesBrantley GilbertBlake Shelton (he’s cut one brand new song, at least), and Jake Owen.

In addition, Eric Church will be recording a live album this year, Faith Hill will have something in the spring (her “American Heart” single was the first taste), and the Eli Young Band was also planning to record new material early this year. Darius Rucker also has a new album, but the release date is still being determined.

The year’s most-anticipated country albums, organized by release date:

Gary Allan, Set You Free – (Jan. 22)
The veteran vocalist’s latest single “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)” has been, um, storming up the singles chart (and it also went Gold), so the album’s release date was smartly moved forward. Note that the album isn’t titled after a song on the album but refers to a lyric in one of his songs.

Randy HouserHow Country Feels (Jan. 22)
The man who cowrote “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” for Trace Adkins, among other singles–and who’s charted a few on his own (including “Boots On” and “Whistlin’ Dixie”)–is ready to make a big push this year with his third album and first for new label Stoney Creek. The title track is already grabbing attention–it’s currently in the Top Ten and could wind up battling Gary Allan’s “Every Storm” for the Number One spot.

Kris KristoffersonFeeling Mortal (Jan. 29)
Once among the hot young stars of Nashville, who opened Music City’s ears to new ideas with songs like “Me & Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Kris has grown into a true music legend–while still remaining something of a rebel and outsider. Which is the way we like him, of course. “I always try to be as honest as I can in the songwriting,” the 76-year-old singer-songwriter said recently. “I hope I’ll feel this creative and this grateful until they throw dirt over me.”

Tim McGraw, Two Lanes Of Freedom (Feb. 5)
Between switching labels, battling lawsuitstouring with Kenny Chesney, recording new material, and coheadlining a Vegas residency with his wife, Tim McGraw had a busy 2012. This year, though, he may fly even faster, thanks to the high-profile release of his first album for new label Big Machine. And if the title is any indication, it seems like Tim is exactly where he wants to be.

Courtesy Big Machine Records

Courtesy Big Machine Records

JewelGreatest Hits (Feb. 5)
Though the bulk of this album will showcase some of the best-known songs from the Alaska poet/songwriter’s career, Greatest Hits will also include two brand-new songs. In addition, Jewel has re-recorded duet versions of a couple of her ‘hits’–Kelly Clarkson helps her sing “Foolish Games,” and the Pistol Annies appear on “You Were Meant For Me.”

Townes Van ZandtSunshine Boy (Feb. 5)
Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt passed away in 1997, so obviously these aren’t new recordings. Instead, this two-CD set contains studio outtakes and acoustic demos from 1971 and ’72, which fans will recognize as a point when Townes was producing some of his strongest work. The versions here are all surfacing for the first time, and they help illuminate the powerful musical legacy of a songwriter many consider among the 20th century’s best.

The Mavericks, In Time (Feb. 26)
After a decade-long wait, this one-of-a-kind, Latin/soul-inflected country band has regrouped and recorded another studio album. And if the first single “Born To Be Blue” is any indication, In Time will sound fresh, lively, and very much true to form for Mavericks fans. Lead vocalist Raul Malo–who happens to have one of the best voices this side of Roy Orbison–wrote or co-wrote all of the songs.

Rodney Crowell & Emmylou HarrisOld Yellow Moon (Feb. 26)
Crowell first played with Emmylou as a member of her Hot Band in 1975, so this ‘reunion’ album is an exciting project for fans of each of these country legends. The 12 songs are all duets and include four written by Crowell as well as a handful of classics including Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues” and Allen Reynolds’ “Dreaming My Dreams,” the latter made famous by Waylon Jennings.

Ashley Monroe, Like A Rose (March 5)
Best known as a member of the Pistol Annies, Ashley actually recorded as a solo artist before that; Like A Rose will be her sophomore album under her own name. Vince Gill is the producer this time around, and she cowrote the powerful title track with one of her “favorite songwriters of all time,” Guy Clark.

Ashley Monroe Like a Rose cover art

Courtesy Warner Music Nashville

The Band Perry, title TBD (April 2)
This is the band’s second album, and it’s helmed this time by superstar producer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with such legends as Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, and even metal band Slayer. “Jumping in the studio with Rick Rubin has been life changing,” Kimberly Perry said in an interview last fall. “The guy is a song doctor. We’ve torn apart all the songs, rewritten them a couple of times. We’ve made very slow, creative decisions this go-round, mainly because we’ve had the opportunity to do that.”

Brad Paisley, Wheelhouse (April 9)
Brad has made the process of making his album somewhat public, and that’s part of the fun. He released the first single “Southern Comfort Zone” last fall–an intriguing, big-production song that breaks apart preconceptions of what country music is or can be–and the video during a live web chat last month. He’s talked about how he’s recording it in a studio on his property, away from the hullabaloo of Music Row. And this month, he announced the album title during a late-night TV program.

Natalie Maines, Mother (May 7)
Natalie released the title track (a cover of a Pink Floyd song) this month on the soundtrack to a documentary about the West Memphis Three. Like that song, her debut solo album is said to be more rock than country. It’ll be fascinating to see the direction she moves in a post-Dixie Chicks world (though the group hasn’t broken up, mind you–they’re playing two festivals this summer in fact).

A few more albums we’re very curious and excited to hear are below–though release dates for these are still pending (all are currently projected to be released in the spring of this year):

Kacey Musgraves, title TBD
Could Kacey turn out to be one of the biggest breakout artists of 2013? Judging from the attention her debut single “Merry Go Round” has been getting–and the fact she’s been added to Kenny Chesney’s 2013 stadium tour, and is cowriter on Miranda Lambert’s current single “Mama’s Broken Heart”–it’s certainly a good bet. Kacey’s much-anticipated debut album was co-produced by Kacey, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird and is set for release in the spring 2013.

Faith Hill, title TBD
Superstar singer Faith Hill has been out of the spotlight for a while, due to her choice to focus on raising her kids. She re-emerged last year to begin a Las Vegas residency with her husband Tim McGraw, and also released the single “American Heart.” Her label, Warner Music Nashville, confirmed to that her album will be released this spring.

LeAnn RimesSpitfire
With all the tabloid crossfire and Twitter shenanigans LeAnn has been enduring (or, some my say, creating) the past couple years, it’ll be refreshing to hear some good, honest music from this vocal powerhouse. Her website says the album will be released in “spring 2013,” but Amazon lists Spitfire with a hard date of April 30.

– Kurt Wolff,


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