With summer almost here and the mercury rising, let's dip into a freshly-filled pool of country albums. They're always good for some much-needed relief.
Veterans and newcomers alike are submitting new projects in the next couple of months, and all are hoping to become your favorite warm-weather jam of 2012. Some are best suited for cruising with the windows down, and others will do nicely with a hammock and a shade tree. TV stars, rockers and gospel singers are all in the mix.
In alphabetical order by artist, here are a dozen fresh albums poised to help you wring the last drop of juice out of your early summer.
Chris Cagle, Back in the Saddle
When Cagle faded from the spotlight in 2008, it was a much needed break. "I had become somebody who I didn't want to be," says the singer. In the years since then, he's regained a sense of purpose by building his dream ranch, getting married, having a daughter and spending his time raising and training horses. With his aptly-titled Back in the Saddle arriving May 29, Cagle returns to show he's still "as rowdy as redneck can get." But more importantly, he's healthy. "I'm happy," he says. "You're gonna hear the smile through the radio."
Kenny Chesney, Welcome to the Fishbowl
After years performing as the undisputed king of summer concert tours, Chesney knows what it means to live with all eyes on you. For his 13th studio album, out June 19, he brings that idea down to ground level. "You don't have to be in the public eye for your business to be everybody's business," says Chesney. He's titled the new project Welcome to the Fishbowl to highlight that idea. Along with the title track and his familiar country-meets-the-beach flavor, the new album also includes his duet with Tim McGraw, "Feel Like a Rock Star."
Edens Edge, Edens Edge
Edens Edge are a gospel-influenced trio from Arkansas that have recently been profiled as artists to watch. The group reached the Top 20 with their debut single, "Amen," and are really taking their follow-up, "Too Good to Be True," literally. "For years, we played music in our hometowns, so it's been thrilling to do what we love on a broader scale," says lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock. "And now, to release our first album ... is just 'too good to be true.'" The self-titled album comes out June 12, and they will open concerts during Rascal Flatts' Changed tour.
The Farm, The Farm
The Farm, a new trio, think of their group as a musical melting pot. Pulling influences from country, pop and R&B, Nick Hoffman, Damien Horne and Krista Marie met in Nashville as songwriters but quickly realized their vocal harmony was unique. "It's really three elements that you bring together," says Marie. "Like earth, wind, fire -- and there we are." Aiming for a July 17 release, their self-titled debut album features the single "Home Sweet Home," which is currently at No. 23 on Billboard's country songs chart. You might also recognize the tune as the theme song to CMT's new series, Jennie Garth: A Little Bit Country.
Alan Jackson, Thirty Miles West
Jackson's incredible career is a long way from slowing down. In fact, it's at least Thirty Miles West, the title of his upcoming album. Planned for a June 5 release, the title comes straight from his childhood. "I grew up on Highway 34 outside of Newman, Ga.," he says. "I think we were about 30 miles west of the Dixie Highway" which runs all the way from South Florida to Michigan. He's currently heading north toward his 36th No. 1 country song with "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore."
Jana Kramer, Jana Kramer
This former TV starlet had a big role on the CW's hit show One Tree Hill as femme fatale Alex Dupre. Her real-life persona is slightly kinder and gentler, though, since she regularly says in concert that she doesn't want to kill her ex-boyfriends, just make them suffer a little. Jokes aside, her self-titled debut was produced by Scott Hendricks, the hit maker responsible for some of Blake Shelton and Brooks & Dunn's most enduring work. Featuring "Why Ya Wanna," a bouncy tune about running into an ex, the album comes out June 5.
Aaron Lewis, The Road
Following the success of "Country Boy" and his Town Line EP last year, Lewis is moving ahead with The Road, his first full-length country album. The hard-rocking Staind frontman had originally planned to add five new songs to Town Line and call it a day, but inspiration intervened, and a whole new batch of material was recorded. His first single, "Endless Summer," is out now, and you can start pounding the pavement with the rest of his tunes on June 26.
Love and Theft, Love and Theft
Love and Theft have reinvented themselves after trimming down from a trio to duo, but the band members say they're actually much closer to their original vision now. "Stephen [Barker Liles] and I have always been on the same page as far as the vision for Love and Theft," says co-lead singer Eric Gunderson. "We feel like we have made the record we've always wanted to make." Splitting vocal duties on their self-titled debut, out July 24, the pair come up with a smooth sound that will steal your heart. Check out their "Angel Eyes" video on CMT.com.
Willie Nelson, Heroes
At age 79, Nelson connects modern classics with the days of old on his just-released new album, Heroes. On it, his inspiring takes on Coldplay's "The Scientist" and Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe" stand shoulder to shoulder with dusty gems from the '30s and '40s. A highlight of the project has got to be "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I'm Gone," a new tune featuring Jamey Johnson, Kris Kristofferson and Snoop Dogg. Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Sheryl Crow, Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah and Ray Price also show up on other tracks.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, The Lion the Beast the Beat
Potter introduced herself to country fans this year as the sultry voice tempting Kenny Chesney on "You and Tequila." She'll be opening shows on Chesney and Tim McGraw's super-sized Brothers of the Sun stadium tour with her well-equipped rock band, but for her new album, The Lion the Beast the Beat, the Vermont native is pushing into new territory. On top of her striking vocals, her latest single "Never Go Back" ditches the rock and soul mix in favor of electronic pop. Find out where Potter's vision leads on June 12.
Josh Turner, Punching Bag
After spending two years building a songwriting cottage in his backyard, Turner came up with the perfect idea for his new album's title track. "I had just had one of those days," he says. "And I came home and was standing in the closet with my wife, and I unloaded on her about my day. I told her, 'Sometimes I feel like a punching bag, like life is just beating me up.'" A total of 27 songs came out of the cottage, and eight made the final cut for his new album. The first single, "Time Is Love," is already helping count down the days until we can hear the rest on June 12.
Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
The Zac Brown Band picked up a new member for their third major label album, Uncaged. Percussionist Daniel de los Reyes has laid down the groove for artists like Earth, Wind & Fire and Jennifer Lopez, and Brown boasts that the new lineup "creates a new kind of pulse within the band." Already know for a smooth reggae-meets-country rock feel, the band members say they just want to make people dance. With this new addition, you can bet the scruffy Georgians will be able to stretch out their jams even longer. Uncaged lets loose on July 10.