Thomas Rhett May Give Country Its First No. 1 Album of 2017 on the Billboard 200

John Shearer
Thomas Rhett

Country music fans are plenty busy today (Sept. 8), as four big names in the genre are all dropped new albums. It’s sure to be a big day for Thomas Rhett (Life Changes), Kip Moore (Slowheart), Dustin Lynch (Current Mood) and Toby Keith (The Bus Songs), and could lead to a huge benchmark for the genre as a whole: 2017’s first country No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

It’s hard to gauge how those sets will perform in their first week at this point, considering there is little data to work with at this point (as the albums only arrived to retail and streaming services this morning). That said, super early guesstimations from industry forecasters, based on pre-orders and song streaming activity, suggest that Rhett’s Life Changes is a contender for the top of the chart (dated Sept. 30) -- though adult alternative singer/songwriter Jack Johnson is also in the running for No. 1, as his new All the Light Above It Too arrived on Sept. 8. We’ll have a better idea of how Rhett and Johnson, along with the rest of the Sept. 8 slate of new releases – and there are many – will perform on Monday (Sept. 11), once there are a few days of activity under the albums’ collective belts.

So far in 2017, no country title has led the Billboard 200, and the last country effort to do so was Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know on the Oct. 1, 2016-dated tally. (Further, Aldean had the only country title to lead the list in 2016.) Rhett’s never previously hit No. 1, though he’s notched a pair of No. 6-peaking sets (It Goes Like This and Tangled Up). As for Johnson, he’s in the hunt for his fifth No. 1, and he will benefit from a concert ticket/album bundle sale redemption promotion in association with a slate of upcoming tour dates.

This year, four country albums have debuted (and peaked) at No. 2: Brantley Gilbert’s The Devil Don’t Sleep (Feb. 18), Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1 (May 27), Zac Brown Band’s Welcome Home (June 3) and Brett Eldredge’s self-titled set (Aug. 26).

2017 has seen a rather soft year for major country releases, as a number of the genre’s most established stars (Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean) put out albums in 2016. (Though, as noted earlier, Aldean had the only country album to hit No. 1 in 2016.) And the man behind the biggest country single of the year, Sam Hunt -- whose crossover smash “Body Like a Back Road” just tallied its record-extending 30th week atop Hot Country Songs -- seems in no hurry to capitalize on that success with an LP follow-up to 2014’s hit Montevallo.

Outside of the well-known country men and Johnson, other acts that delivered LPs on Sept. 8 include some familiar names like MUTEMATH, Neil Young, The National and Tori Amos — all chart forces in their own right, but none of whom have proven as of late to be as powerful in the mainstream as Rhett, Moore, Lynch and Keith. All four of those country stars have released albums in the last three years, each breaking the top 20 of the Billboard 200 and spawning a combined 13 Billboard Hot 100-charting singles.

In fact, all but Keith reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with their previous full-length studio releases, as Moore’s last effort, Wild Ones, reached No. 4, Rhett’s Tangled Up No. 6, and Lynch’s Where It’s At No. 8 -- Keith’s last set, 2015’s 35 MPH Town, stalled at No. 14. (Keith, however, is the only gent among the quartet of country gents with a No. 1 on the Billboard 200: In fact, he’s led the list four times, most recently in 2010 with Bullets In the Gun.)

Leading up to the release of Rhett’s Life Changes, he notched a No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart with the set’s Maren Morris-assisted “Craving You.” His latest single, “Unforgettable,” has reached the top 20 of the list.

As for Lynch’s Current Mood and Moore’s Slowheart, Lynch is the current champ of the Country Airplay chart with his album’s “Small Town Boy,” while Moore’s “More Girls Like You” jumps 11-9. Switching gears to Keith, he hasn’t charted on the Country Airplay chart since 2016 (and hasn’t notched a top 10 since 2012). His new album, The Bus Songs, is a compilation of sorts, including a mix of re-recorded and previously released tracks -- with just two brand-new songs on the track list.