Just like any other partnership, business or family, the Old Dominion bandmates have felt the strain and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on their relationship as a group. After all, the unexpected touring hiatus delivered a significant shakeup to their day-to-day lives, and the five group members admit that — at least at first — their relationships with each other took a hit.

"Absence makes the heart grow ... frustrated with each other. Irritable," they joke during a recent conversation with Taste of Country Nights.

"We were on the road for many, many years and spent a lot of time together, and then we were off, and we realized in that time away from each other, a lot of the decisions that get made within this band happen on the road while we're just hanging out, drinking coffee and whatever," they go on to explain. "Once we were off the road, those decisions got harder to make. Everyone has to schedule the Zoom, get together to talk — everything just got kinda tense."

It was when they got together to start working on their next album — Time, Tequila & Therapy, which will be out on Oct. 8 — that the group started falling into a familiar, comfortable groove again. Instead of recording their new album at home in Nashville, the band made a trip east to Asheville, N.C., to create the new batch of music.

"And once we got the plan to make this album together, and we actually went to Asheville and were together again, it sort of righted the ship, a little bit," they continue. "... When we got together, we were like, 'Oh yeah, we love each other.'"

When it arrives, Old Dominion's new project will feature their current single, "I Was on a Boat That Day," as well as a collaboration with soul legend Gladys Knight. That duet, called "Lonely Side of Town," arose from what the bandmates describe as a "serendipitous moment," after they realized that the woman who ran the studio where they were recording knew Knight personally.

"Gladys actually lives in Asheville, N.C. So [the person who runs the studio] said, 'I can ask,'" Old Dominion explain, adding that they weren't expecting the iconic singer-songwriter to have ever heard of their band before.

"... We were even like, 'When you call her, can you tell her we're legit? We have some hits and awards and stuff,'" they added.

But as it happened, not only did Knight know who they were, but she was already a fan. "That was trippy," the group admits. "... Gladys said, 'Yeah, absolutely, I love those guys. I'd love to do it.'"

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.