Album Review: Kellie Pickler, '100 Proof'
Album Review: Kellie Pickler, '100 Proof'

It's that time of year again. Time to look back at the best that country music had to offer in 2012. We'll look at top singles tomorrow (Dec. 20), but first let's nail down the best albums in the genre -- from a former TV star to an 80s pop icon to a tribute album to one of Music City's great tunesmiths, there was a little something for everyone.

The Year In Country 2012: Georgia Rules
With Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum + More

10) "Changed" - Rascal Flatts
Country's top vocal group released what was possibly their most varied work this year, with the Christian-themed title cut being a highlight.

9) Jana Kramer
The folks at Warner Music struck in a big way with the former "One Tree Hill" actress. Her debut single, "Why Ya Wanna," soared all the way to the top 5 on Hot Country Songs, and from listening to her possible choices for follow-ups, she just might stay there for awhile.

8) Edens Edge
The harmonies of this Arkansas-based trio are incredible, as is their songwriting. Hopefully, radio will stick with them in the coming year, as they did on their debut, "Amen." If they do, this group should be one to watch!

7) "Blown Away" - Carrie Underwood
Underwood's growth as a vocalist, interpreter, and songwriter is in full evidence on this project. A great example of that is apparent in her dark story song "Two Black Cadillacs."

6) Hunter Hayes
He writes, he sings, and he also plays. In fact, he played every instrument on this album, and his talent as a vocalist and songwriter has been fun to watch this year. Whether an up tempo crowd favorite such as "Storm Warning," or a heartfelt ballad such as "Wanted," Hayes might very well be the next breakout star of the format.

5) "Tuskegee" - Lionel Richie
Though to some, the marriage of Richie's music and country might have seemed odd, this was one of the most enjoyable discs of 2012. A great collection of superstars and legends, the success of this album proved the wisdom of Conway Twitty right, who encouraged the singer to record in Nashville when he covered the Commodores' "Three Times A Lady" in the early 1980s.

4) "Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran" - Jamey Johnson
Jamey Johnson -- one of Nashville's most talented artists, tipped the hat to one of the genre's greatest songwriters on this stunning collection. Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, Willie Nelson, and George Strait (among others) all lent their greatness to this one-of-a-kind history lesson.

3) "Tornado" - Little Big Town
While they just didn't become one of Nashville's most talented acts, this album helped to earn this highly-respected foursome the success they so long have deserved. As big as "Pontoon" has been, there's some other moments of brilliance here, such as the sweet "Sober" and "Night Owl," as the perfect for Summer 2013 "On Fire Tonight."

2) "Uncaged" - Zac Brown Band
A collection that ranks as the best album from the Georgia-based group yet. There's so many different styles represented on this album, and not one bit of filler anywhere to be heard. The only problem with being this good each and every time is that people take it for granted.

1) "100 Proof" - Kellie Pickler
Pickler might not have topped the chart with this release, but that is in no way a reflection on its quality. Producer Frank Liddell brought out the "American Idol" alum's best as a vocalist and a writer. The title cut, a simmering love ballad, was a highlight, as well as the musical question "Where's Tammy Wynette." As this album demonstrates, she is an artist who has found her voice. It's going to be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

HONORABLE MENTION: Mac Powell
I have to admit that I was just a little skeptical on this one, but the longtime lead singer of Third Day highly impressed me. He's got a southern soul that deserves to be heard by the masses.


• Q&As: One Direction, 5 Interviews
• COVER STORY: One Direction
• OVERVIEW The Year in Pop
• YEAR-END ISSUE: Order It Here

• HUB: The Year In Music 2012
• 2012 CHARTS: Hot 100 Songs
• 2012 CHARTS: Billboard 200
• 2012 CHARTS: Top Artists

2012: The Year In Music - Main Page

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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