Carrie Underwood’s fifth studio album, Storyteller (19/Arista Nashville/Sony Music Nashville), arrives atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart (dated Nov. 14) and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The set starts with 164,000 in pure sales during the week ending Oct. 29, according to Nielsen Music, and 177,000 equivalent-album units. (The Billboard 200 ranks the most popular albums of the week based on multimetric consumption.)
Underwood becomes the first artist in the survey’s 51-year history to post six consecutive career-opening No 1s. Additionally, all of her albums have opened atop the list, starting with 2005’s Some Hearts. Carnival Ride followed in 2007, and she continued with Play On (2009), Blown Away (2009) and Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (2014). Underwood passes Miranda Lambert, who has posted five successive career -- starting Top Country Albums No. 1s (with all also debuting atop the tally). Underwood’s 164,000-unit pure sales week is the biggest for a female country act since Lambert’s Platinum moved 180,000 upon its June 21, 2014 debut.
“Everything about this album feels like a new chapter for me,” Underwood tells Billboard. “It’s the start of my second decade in music. It’s so hard to believe it has been 10 years, but I’m as proud of this album as any I’ve ever done. The fans have been so loyal to me since American Idol. To see how they continue to believe in me makes me want to invest more of myself into every song I give them.”
Adds SMN executive vp promotion and artist development Steve Hodges, “This has been an incredibly detailed album launch, spearheaded by country radio’s huge support of the lead single” -- “Smoke Break,” which is No. 6 on Hot Country Songs.
HUNT MIXES IT UP Sam Hunt’s surprise acoustic mixtape Between the Pines (Out in It/MCA Nashville/Universal Music Group Nashville), released Oct. 27, debuts at No. 7 on Top Country Albums (10,000), a notch below his breakthrough studio album Montevallo. Hunt is the first act to claim two spots in the top 10 simultaneously since April 4, when Luke Bryan held down Nos. 1 and 9, respectively, with Spring Break... Checkin’ Out and Crash My Party.
Pines has 15 tracks, including acoustic takes on his Hot Country Songs No. 1s “Leave the Night On” and “Take Your Time,” plus hits he penned for others, such as “Cop Car” (Keith Urban) and “Come on Over” (Kenny Chesney). UMGN president Cindy Mabe explains the mixtape’s off-cycle Tuesday release: “The idea was to release it on the same date as Montevallo, as a one-year anniversary gift to the fans -- Sam’s way to offer more music and a thanks for the support.
“Deciding to come off-cycle, and unannounced, allowed fans to find Between the Pines on their own,” adds Mabe. “All of our marketing and radio exposure is still coming from Montevallo.”
RHETT RULES Thomas Rhett achieves his first No. 1 on Hot Country Songs as “Die a Happy Man” (Valory) strides 2-1. The track logs a fourth week atop Country Digital Songs (62,000 downloads sold, up 2 percent). “I am blown away by the reaction to this song,” says Rhett. “It’s a very personal, very special song for my wife and me. Seeing fans connect with it so quickly and already singing it at our shows is just unreal.”
DOMINATION Also nabbing a first, Old Dominion’s major-label debut single, “Break Up With Him” (RCA Nashville), steps 2-1 (49 million in audience, up 8 percent) to become its first leader on Country Airplay. “We are absolutely beside ourselves,” the band says in a group statement. “The ride that this single has taken us on has been nothing short of magical. The support we’ve gotten from country radio and country music fans is something we will never forget.”
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- subscribe here.