3 PearsIt has to be said that 2012 was a bit of an odd year for country music, particularly of the mainstream variety. After all, the biggest country album of the year was an album that was only nominally country: Taylor Swift's rather brilliant pop platter Red. There were other terrific big, glossy country-pop records -- Little Big Town's Tornado, Carrie Underwood's Blown Away -- and a couple of good straight-ahead mainstream country records like Toby Keith's Hope on the Rocks and Tim McGraw's Emotional Traffic, and then there were records that defied any easy category, such as Jerrod Neimann's joyfully weird Free the Music and Zac Brown's jam-happy Uncaged. Still, most of the noteworthy albums came from somewhere outside of the mainstream, whether it was Jamey Johnson's earthy, heartfelt tribute to songwriter Hank Cochran, Elizabeth Cook's bracing Gospel Plow, Turnpike Troubadours' gritty plain-spoken narratives on Goodbye Normal Street, or veterans like Bobby Bare, Don Williams, and Marty Stuart delivering fine latter-day work.Bobby Bare - Darker Than LightBlackberry Smoke - Whippoorwill Zac Brown Band - Uncaged
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Ashes and Roses
Elizabeth Cook - Gospel Plow
Shooter Jennings - Family Man
Jamey Johnson - Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran
Toby Keith - Hope on the Rocks
Little Big Town - Tornado
Tim McGraw - Emotional Traffic
Jerrod Niemann - Free the Music
Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World
Kellie Pickler - 100 Proof
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - Lion The Beast The Beat
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives - Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down
Taylor Swift - Red
Turnpike Troubadours - Goodbye Normal Street
Carrie Underwood - Blown Away
Don Williams - And So It Goes
Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears

Listen to the best tracks from our favorite Country albums of 2012 in this playlist: