Great albums have great songs, but the best lay a thread from the first song to the last. Fewer and fewer artists are passionate about creating a 10-, 12- or 14-song work of art than ever before, but these acts prove it's still possible — and still important.

We learn who Lainey Wilson is through her debut album, and we learn what Alan Jackson has been through across the 21 songs on his first project in six years. Eric Church and Miranda Lambert (with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall) went on journeys to record their latest albums, both included on this annual list of the best in country and Americana music. For Joy Oladokun, it was about finding her voice.

More than ever, the best country and Americana albums of 2021 list relies on artistic merit and a diverse group of music critics. There's a difference between what's popular and what's truly brilliant. By only studying the charts, the top albums list would miss reflective efforts from Charlie Worsham and Morgan Wade, and a strong return from Loretta Lynn.

Keep reading for the best albums of 2021 — so far:

Best Country Albums of 2021 - Critic's Pick

There have been many creative country albums in 2021, but not all have hit the mark. Artists are more than ever toying with distribution methods and packaging as much as they are new sounds, so you get double and triple albums, Part 1 and Part 2, and digital EPs in lieu of a traditional 10 or 11-song release.

The bar for an EP on this list of the best country albums of 2021 is higher than an LP, but one project did crack the Top 10. Too much music proved to dampen other artist's efforts, although Alan Jackson's first album in years was filled with country music we couldn't turn away from. Where Have You Gone has 21 songs, but somehow no filler.

More than ever, this relied on staff opinion and artistic merit to allow for some parity among major label artists and independents. The 10 albums listed below are not ranked, although the year-end list published in the fall will crown a true best album of 2021.
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Top Country Songs of 2021, Ranked

You'll find much more than just the Top 10 Country Songs of 2021 on this list.

Our team has sourced fans to create 10 superlatives for this mid-year version of the year-end songs list. Best Country Tearjerker? Best Country Baby-Maker? Best Country Breakup Song of 2021? Keith Urban, Carly Pearce, Chris Bandi and more help make up this portion of the Top Country Songs list, while hitmakers like Thomas Rhett and Little Big Town lead the 10 best songs portion.

Did your favorite song of 2021 make this list? To be considered, the song must have been released in 2021 or have actively charted for a portion of the year (see "Wine, Beer, Whiskey"). New artists including Lainey Wilson, Breland and Triston Marez crack the Top 10. Let us know your favorite song of 2021 at Twitter or email, at staff@tasteofcountry.com.