As with 2014, mainstream country music saw some horrendous releases. But mixed in with those were a few glimmers of hope on the horizon, an indication that maybe, just maybe, a tide might be turning. As the year moved on, there seemed to be some signs that 2016 might see some improvement.
I’m going to start a bit differently this year. I’m going to give a few non-country recommendations and a few honorable mentions in the country genre (I mean, to me, it seems a bit anti-climactic to countdown a list to Number 1 and then end the list with honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut. Am I right?)
So, first, a few non-country recommendations that I found to be particularly strong releases this year:
Yeah, I’ve been touting this album since it came out, and I’m still doing it now. If you haven’t listened to it yet, go buy it, because this album is a masterpiece.
Dave & Phil Alvin – Lost Time
A really great blues album from a couple of stellar musicians.
Collective Soul – See What You Started by Continuing
This is a band I’ve loved since high school, and they finally put out a new album this year and it was well worth the wait.
Ryan Adams - 1989
I'm not sure where I stand in comparison to other critics in regards to my views on this album, but I actually really liked Adams' take on this album (and this is from someone who is not a big Taylor Swift fan).
Next up are a few honorable mentions – some country albums which were good, even leaning towards great, but just didn’t make my cut of Top 15 for one reason or another.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie
It was difficult for me not to put this into the Top 15. But there were a LOT of great releases this year and as good of an album as this was, I just didn’t find myself returning to it as much as other releases.
Tim McGraw – Damn Country Music
McGraw managed to avoid trend chasing songs on this release and put out a truly worthwhile album near the end of the year.
Ryan Bingham – Fear & Saturday Night
After I really did not care for Tomorrowland, Bingham’s 2015 release was a much more consistent release, really returning to that smoky gravelly voice that made albums like Mescallito so enjoyable.
So, with little more ado, I am presenting my own list of the Top 15 Country Albums of 2015.
15. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood
I honestly can’t stop listening to this album. When this album was released with no notice and no promotion, no one knew what to expect. But when people talk about blending genres, this is the kind of album they should be talking about. There’s enough country to call it a
14. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
While a couple of songs on this album felt a bit like rehashes of songs from her debut album, this album was otherwise completely original and was a solid traditional country album. Musgraves showed no signs of a sophomore slump, and the long wait between her first
13. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville
Lindi Ortega has now put out four albums and each one seems a little bit better than the last. She has one of the most unique female voices in the business right now and there isn’t a dull moment to be found on this collection. Standouts include "Ashes," the title track, and
12. George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation
George Strait also released an album with little flair and promotion in 2015 and it was the type of solid and consistent release we’ve all come to expect from Strait. Filled with his traditional country sound, Strait didn’t break any new ground here. It’s certainly not his best
10. Striking Matches – Nothing But the Silence
Credit to CountryPerspective.com for introducing me to this duo. This album was absolutely fantastic and the chemistry between Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman is undeniable. Their voices blend together wonderfully and this album showcases an amazing talent from
8. Christ Stapleton – Traveller
Chris Stapleton surprised everyone when he pretty much owned the CMAs back in November. But it was well deserved. This was a remarkable debut album which showcased Stapleton as a vocalist and a songwriter. There’s not much else that needs to be said. This album speaks for itself. And along with those CMA wins came a bit of
7. Don Henley – Cass County
No one should be too surprised about a former member of The Eagles putting out a country album – there was frequently country influences in the music of The Eagles. What was surprising was that a 70s rock star put out one of the best country albums of the year. And not just one of the best,
6. Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings
Also a member of the group The Trishas, Wilson put out her first solo album this year and it was a knockout. This was a masterful album. With strong songwriting throughout, highlights of this album include the lead-off track “Just Like Heartache,” “You Left My Chair,”
5. Turnpike Troubadours – S/T
This was an album that a lot of critics were talking about the moment it was released. From a band who has grown stronger with each subsequent album, this album showcased their songwriting and performing talent. While the entire album was strong, standout tracks included “The Bird Hunters,”
4. Stoney LaRue – Us Time
This was an album that seemed to be under-reviewed and underappreciated, but personally, I loved this album. It was filled with great moments. It had some great original songs as well as some great cover songs from LaRue. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of “Empty Glass.”
3. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
It was hard to imagine that Isbell could possibly improve upon the masterpiece of Southeastern. Part of me, when listening to Southeastern is still not sure that he did, but with each subsequent listen to Something More Than Free, I’m convinced that he did. It’s an album
2. Courtney Patton – So This Is Life
As with many albums on this list, every time I listen to this album, I love it more and more. With a host of great albums from great female vocalists this year, this was my favorite. Patton put out a pure traditional country record here. Singling out any specific tracks as
1. Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1
This was it. This was the album I kept returning to throughout the year, listening to over and over. This was the kind of album that makes me proud and excited to be a country fan. It had everything: up-tempo songs, slower songs, a couple of great covers of classic
Chime in below with your thoughts on the best of 2015!