With the holiday season behind us and all those "Best of 2012" lists thankfully over with, let's turn our attention to new music coming down the pike in early 2013.
Tim McGraw and Gary Allan both have new releases in the works. Plus, some of country's brightest new stars, like Randy Houser, Ashley Monroe and The Band Perry, are pushing ahead with new projects.
Established favorites like Brad Paisley and LeAnn Rimes are hoping to mount another charge to the top of the charts, while legacy artists like Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell show there's no substitute for the wisdom of experience.
Here's a small taste of what's to come, listed in alphabetical order.
Gary Allan, Set You Free
Gary Allan says he feels a renewed sense of energy on his ninth studio album, Set You Free. Slated for a Jan. 22 release, the album features a few firsts for the Californian. Allan decided to gain new perspective by co-writing with women for the first time ever (Sarah Buxton, Hillary Lindsey and Rachel Proctor), plays lead guitar on a number of tracks and recently had a polyp removed from his vocal cords, revitalizing his signature smoky vocals. And longtime fans will appreciate a purpose-built track listing that reveals the personal struggles Allan has endured over his career. "It's all about healing," he says. "It's all about the evolution of getting better."
The Band Perry, Title TBD
The Band Perry's highly-anticipated sophomore album features the chilling single "Better Dig Two," another dark take on love and obsession in the vein of "If I Die Young." That latter track ended up going platinum four times over, leaving this family trio with a tough act to follow. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, the Avett Brothers, Kid Rock and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), the band has been focused on overcoming that pressure. "[Rubin] has just been a masterful mentor, so I think we felt a little bit more of the sophomore jitters before we actually pushed the record button," Kimberly Perry told Billboard magazine. "Now we're feeling really, really excited about everything."
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Old Yellow Moon
The creative partnership between Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell dates back to the mid-'70s and Harris' Hot Band, of which Crowell was a member. Since then, the pair's solo careers have orbited each other and sometimes crossed paths, but never before have they collaborated on an entire project like Old Yellow Moon. Set for a Feb. 26 release, the duets album was produced by Brian Ahern (Harris' former husband and longtime producer) and features four songs written by Crowell. According to Crowell, the album's tone recalls the classic Southern California blend of country and rock that made Harris famous. "I always hoped we would someday do this record," Harris admits. "And now I can finally cross it off my bucket list."
Randy Houser, How Country Feels
Randy Houser's personal and professional lives have been better than ever in the last year. "I don't know how it happened, but everything in my life has started lining up," says the golden-voiced Mississippi native. He hopes to keep the trend going with the release of his third full-length album, How Country Feels, on Jan. 22. Named after the Top 10 single of the same name, Houser's latest project explores his new family life (he welcomed his first son, West, in 2012), his upbringing in the deep South and, of course, his penchant for good times. Zac Brown contributes as a co-writer.
Kris Kristofferson, Feeling Mortal
Legendary singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson will complete his trilogy of Don Was-produced albums on Jan. 29 with the release of Feeling Mortal. It's his first album of new material in four years and follows 2006's This Old Road and 2009's Closer to the Bone. "I hope I'll feel this creative and this grateful until they throw dirt over me," says the 76-year-old. That ominous-but-gracious outlook is explored in-depth on Feeling Mortal as Kristofferson examines the twilight years of his life and his most formative past experiences. The album's 10 tracks were recorded over three days and feature a stable of top-notch musicians, including pedal-steel player Greg Leisz and violinist Sara Watkins.
The Mavericks, In Time
After nearly a 10-year hiatus, the Grammy award-winning, Latin-infused country band the Mavericks are back on Feb. 26 with an album of all-new material. In Time features all the playful energy and heartfelt romance that fans have always loved about this band of musical misfits. Cuban-American crooner Raul Malo still leads the group and also takes on co-producing duties for the new album which includes in 14 tracks like the Roy Orbison-influenced "Born to Be Blue" and the horn-blasting "Back in Your Arms Again." Malo says, "The idea that we came together and made this record is a testament to faith, fate and chance. This is the record we are most proud of."
Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
In some ways, Tim McGraw's Two Lanes of Freedom is a lot like a second debut for the veteran country star. It represents his long-awaited move over to a new record label and an unleashing of creativity that the singer has admitted to bottling up over the past few years. "This album was a way to reach a little further back, to all that I'd done throughout my career, and bring both sides together," he says. "It's a combination of that discovery, along with some rediscovery." The new project comes out Feb. 5 and features the fist-pumping "Truck Yeah," the nostalgic "One of Those Nights" and a collaboration with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban on "Highway Don't Care."
Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose
As one third of the trio Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe has finally stepped into the spotlight she deserves. But now the spunky 26-year-old Knoxville, Tenn., native is ready to show what she can do on her own. Like a Rose will be the singer-songwriter's second full length album, although her first (Satisfied) was only released digitally. Coming out March 5, Like a Rose was produced by Vince Gill in the old-school tradition. "We just got the band in a circle and started playing," Monroe says. "I never went back in to do a second vocal." That traditional approach also reveals itself in creative co-writes with Guy Clark, Jon Randall Stewart, Shane McAnally and Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild. Meanwhile, Monroe duets with Blake Shelton on the clever "You Ain't Dolly (and You Ain't Porter)."
Brad Paisley, Title TBD
Brad Paisley says he pushed himself while recording his new album, which has yet to be officially named. Instead of following the standard procedure for recording a country album -- fancy studio, well-known session musicians and digital editing -- Paisley built a home studio on his property and kept everything as simple as possible. He even refused to fix any mistakes that were made. "My goal when I set out to do this record was to completely be on a ledge and challenge myself that way," the charismatic singer said. The first single, "Southern Comfort Zone," is another example of Paisley's desire to shake things up. The album is due April 9.
LeAnn Rimes, Spitfire
With tracks names like "Borrowed," "I Don't Wanna Give You Back" and "What Have I Done," it appears that LeAnn Rimes is ready to musically vent the emotions surrounding her relationship with actor Eddie Cibrian. After their very public affair and eventual marriage, Rimes has weathered a storm of detractors and abusive onlookers, even going so far as to check herself into a rehab facility to deal with the stress. She hopes to have made it to the other side now, and her new album, Spitfire, is due April 30.
Also on the way are albums from Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Darius Rucker and Thompson Square, although no release dates have been set.
Bryan will submit the fifth installment of his Spring Break series of EPs, while Church turns in a live album recorded in Chattanooga, Tenn. A sassy young songwriter with a few Miranda Lambert cuts already under her belt, Musgraves is releasing her debut album featuring the anti-ballad of small-town life, "Merry Go Round." Rucker is highlighting his True Believers set with a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" featuring Lady Antebellum. And Thompson Square look to follow up on a stellar 2012 with their sophomore album, which includes their romantic new single, "If I Didn't Have You."