The singular quality shared by country music's best albums of 2021 is that each was made as an album, not a collection of songs. There's an intentional thread that ties the first song to the last, and even when it's not definable, one instinctively feels it.

Years from now, one will be able to identify "Things a Man Oughta Know" and "Rolling Stone" as two songs from Lainey Wilson's debut album, Sayin' What I'm Thinkin' (No. 6). Thomas Rhett's retro vibes across Country Again: Side A will always stand out, as will the era from which tracks from Alan Jackson's latest album, Where Have You Gone, were produced.

Distribution models have complicated the previously thoughtless process of differentiating album from EP or hits package. Carly Pearce added a few songs onto her 29 EP to make an album, released in September. Eric Church technically released three different albums as each had its own release day, but for the purpose of this list, Heart & Soul was treated as one artistic statement.

Sales and streaming numbers were not as heavy a factor on this list of the best country albums of 2021 as they are on Taste of Country's Top 21 Songs of 2021 list, also found below. An artist's vision and their ability to achieve goals is paramount, however, followed by overall creativity and accessibility to a mainstream audience. Award nominations and wins also helped shape this list. You'll find 2022 Grammy nominees at No. 2 and No. 3 below.

Best Country Albums of 2021 - Critic's Picks

This list of the best country albums of 2021 was curated by Taste of Country staff, with help from fans and with consideration of industry acclaim and mainstream accessibility.

The top album of the year is a traditional country record that makes subtle efforts to include more progressive-minded fans. Elsewhere, find projects from a dynamic mix of artists and and visionaries.

Top Country Songs of 2021, Ranked

You'll find much more than just the Top 10 Country Songs of 2021 on this list. Enjoy the 21 best country songs of the year, based on Taste of Country staff and country music fan opinion, plus commercial data (sales, streaming, airplay).

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, Larry Fleet and Morgan Wade crack the top songs list, while hitmakers including Thomas Rhett, Jason Aldean and Luke Combs make the Top 10.

Let us know your favorite song of 2021 on Twitter, or email us at staff@tasteofcountry.com.