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The 10 Best Country Albums of 2013

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It’s tough to say what constitutes a country album these days. 2013 was a year that saw arena-filling acts feud over pop’s influence in the genre, Nashville stars record with Norwegian pop Svengalis, and a country-rap collaboration become the longest-running No. 1 country hit of all time. Ten gallon hats and Wrangler jeans now feel out of place in a sea of trucker caps and wallet chains.

Plus, the rise of Americana, a somewhat amorphous genre that’s not considered fully folk, fully rock, or fully pop — but one that shares so many roots (and so much instrumentation) with county music — has further blurred the lines. Much of what we call “Americana” or “singer-songwriter” today falls more into the classic “country” category in storytelling and song structure than the pop-infused output of Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, or certainly Taylor Swift.

In short, the genre is something of a mess right now. It’s telling that the country format is both more popular and more criticized than it has been in decades. I spent quite a bit of time this year writing about country’s problems (the aforementioned feuds, the lazy lyrics, the lack of women on the radio) but even so, I’m happy to report that there was great music to be found. A lot of it. Music that has me hopeful for 2014. Some mainstream albums broke the mold, and more than a few shining stars from Nashville’s fringes made a major impression.

So, taking all of that into account — and taking into account that we all might have different definitions of what constitutes a country album — here are my picks for the genre’s ten best discs this year. (Spoiler alert: Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr, Justin Moore, Jake Owen, and Thomas Rhett definitely didn’t make the cut.) READ FULL STORY

Meet Shane McAnally, the Nashville songwriter behind country's biggest hits

He’s written smashes for nearly everyone on country’s current A-list — Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, The Band Perry — but Nashville powerhouse Shane McAnally’s rise to the top didn’t exactly follow the most direct route.

The native Texan, now 39, began as a recording artist himself, and only returned to Music City in late 2007 after an almost eight year break from the business. It took Chesney taking a chance on his “Somewhere With You,” which hit No. 1 on the country charts in 2008, to take him from songwriter non grata to one of the industry’s most in-demand scribes.

“All of a sudden, everything I had been writing mattered,” McAnally tells EW in a feature in this week’s print edition. “He sort of anointed me, not even knowing he did it.” READ FULL STORY

New Releases Roundup: Read EW's reviews of Katy Perry, Arcade Fire, and more

Every Tuesday morning in New Releases Roundup, we’ll publish our reviews of the week’s top releases as found in the pages of Entertainment Weekly. This week: Katy Perry, Arcade Fire, The Head and the Heart, Brandy Clark, and Poliça.

Katy Perry, Prism  “Katy’s superpower, now more than ever, is minting songs so relatable that their insights quickly scale up to inspirational. ‘I don’t negotiate with insecurities,” she sings on ‘Love Me,’ a luminous ballad in Prism‘s otherwise sluggish last third. Insecurities are sorta like personal terrorists, and she defeats them with nü-disco jams like ‘International Smile,’ an air kiss to a jet-setting DJ girlfriend.” (Click here for Nick Catucci’s full review.)

Arcade Fire, Reflektor  “Butler & Co. have always known whose side they’re on when it comes to existential questions about war or suburbia. But here, with LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy as their new producer, they sound as separatist as they feel.” (Click here for Nick Catucci’s full review.)

READ FULL STORY

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