Josh’s 2015 Mid-Year Country Music Outlook

Both Derek and myself are taking a look back at what we considered the highs and lows of country music in 2015 so far. You just saw Derek’s outlook and now I’ll give you mine. This will give you a good idea of our overall thoughts on the year. And of course be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Favorite Album So Far: There are so many choices for my favorite, but there are two in particular I would consider my favorites: Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and Houndmouth’s Little Neon Limelight. I knew Stapleton was going to have a good debut album, but I never thought it would be this good. At first I thought maybe 14 songs was too many, but after giving it several more listens I really have no complaints about the length. It feels just right actually. From the top-notch songwriting to the brilliant instrumentation to Stapleton’s bluesy, powerful voice this is enjoyable from start to finish. Little Neon Limelight is certainly not one of the most buzzed about albums in country music this year, but it should be. It has everything I want in an album and hooks you from start to finish. It also may be the most fun album of the year, as there are several rollicking tracks and you can tell Houndmouth had fun making it.

Favorite Song So Far: Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers’ “Standards” has been the standout song to me so far. It’s a song that perfectly sums up the state of country music right now. You’re either an artist with hits or standards. You really can’t have both. This is probably one of the most polite country protest songs ever, but I think this helps get the point across even more. Protest songs have pretty much become cliché themselves, but Bowen and Rogers get it just right here. “Standards” is one of many great songs on their new album Hold My Beer. Honorable mention goes out to The Mavericks’ “What Am I Supposed To Do.”

Thomas Rhett Crash and Burn

Worst Song So Far: Wow! We’ve reviewed a lot of terrible songs this year, but there’s one song in particular that annoys me the most out of all of them and that’s Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn.” Where do you begin with this train wreck? First off it’s not country at all. It’s a blatant pop tune where Rhett tries to imitate Bruno Mars and fails miserably because Rhett doesn’t have near the talent or charisma of Mars to pull this type of song off. Number two he blatantly rips off Sam Cooke. Third it has an annoying ear worm that can haunt you for days. Fourth the smug arrogance of Rhett as he sings this type of song just pisses me off. Really this song epitomizes what mainstream country music is in 2015.

Biggest Surprise: The great amount of awesome country albums that have been released so far. This year the amount of quality music that’s being released is astounding and really a country music fan’s dream. 2015 will far surpass 2014 in terms of the quantity of quality. The race for album of the year will be as tight as possible and as Farce The Music said on Twitter it’s guaranteed there won’t be a consensus on best country album this year. There are too many choices for the top spot as it is and we still have several big releases to come.

Biggest Disappointment: Even though I’ve warmed up on it a little bit, Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde album has to be the biggest disappointment of country music in 2015. There was such high hopes for this album and instead we got a hodgepodge of sounds that had absolutely no direction. While there were some good moments, this album was so all over the place it was hard to grasp what the band was going for here. At times it felt like a Zac Brown solo project and the band was completely buried in the background. I believe this wasn’t a sell-out moment though and I think the next album will be a return to their normal sound. I would chalk this up to a huge creative misstep.

Best Male Artist: Chris Stapleton without a doubt is the best male artist so far. He produced one of the best albums of the year in Traveller and continues to be one of the few writers on Music Row who can write creative songs.

Best Female Artist: In 2014 the female artists dominated our end of the year awards and produced some of the best albums of the year. In 2015 it’s been a slower start and we have yet to hear new material from some prominent female artists. But of the few that have released new music, Gretchen Peters has been the standout female artist. Her new album Blackbirds has been quietly one of the best of the year and arguably the darkest album in Americana. It’s full of emotional tracks that will rip your heart out and really make you listen to the music.

Breakout Artist: There have been several artists that have broken out in my eyes, but none more than Whitey Morgan. Coming into 2015 I wasn’t as sold on Whitey as some independent country fans, but he changed that with Sonic Ranch. It’s easily one of the best of the year, with its gritty, honky-tonk style. While there are a good amount of covers, he really makes these songs his own and puts his own spin on them. “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” and “Waitin’ Round To Die” are two of my favorite songs of the year. I hope this album makes Whitey a bigger household name because he deserves to reach higher heights with this album. I also give a special shoutout to Striking Matches, who completely surprised me with their debut album.

Worst Artist: I could choose so many different artists for the worst of the year, but I’m going with Derek here and giving it to RaeLynn. It’s 2015 and she is still a thing. RaeLynn is the only artist to receive multiple 0/10 reviews this year, with her Me EP and her single “For A Boy.” She also has the most 0/10 reviews all time on the site with three total. There are several talented female artists out there in the independent scene who deserve the shot RaeLynn got, but since they aren’t buddies with Blake Shelton they don’t get a deal. RaeLynn is nothing but a product of corporate executives and Blake.

Sturgill Signs With Atlantic Records

Most Anticipated Release in the Second Half of 2015: I could easily say July 17 is the day I’m looking forward to most (Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson’s new albums). But that would be a lie. The release I’m looking forward to most is Sturgill Simpson’s third album and his first under a major label.  This hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it’s highly speculated and Trigger at Saving Country Music has said multiple times it’s happening. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was easily the best country album of 2014 and one of the best in country music the last several years. What’s scary is this third album could be even better! Along with Simpson and July 17, I’m also looking forward to Jamey Johnson’s return album. It hasn’t been officially announced yet either, but I’ll be shocked if it isn’t out by the end of the year.

The first half of 2015 has certainly been interesting in country music and can’t wait for the second half, where I’m sure there will be plenty more intriguing stories to come.

10 thoughts on “Josh’s 2015 Mid-Year Country Music Outlook

  1. brettp June 16, 2015 / 2:57 pm

    Enjoyed the article josh. It sounds like im really gonna have to check out that Houndmouth record. I remember obtaining a copy of their initial ep years ago and it was indeed pretty good. I was already complaining about going broke on music this year but if Sturgill and Jamey both release new ones im very screwed. Ah oh well…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RG June 16, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    Hurry up Sturgill!! Most anticipated album for me by far.

    Like

  3. RG June 16, 2015 / 3:33 pm

    Keith Urban’s 3 John’s diarrhea of a song is a very close runner-up to Thomas Rhett’s disaster.

    Like

  4. Noah Eaton June 16, 2015 / 5:34 pm

    Here’s mine:

    *

    Favorite Album: James McMurtry’s “Complicated Game” (I am one who is primarily drawn to lyrics; especially those that are nuanced and speak poignantly to all sorts of individual experiences and slices of life…………..and it is for that reason why “Complicated Game” stands out above every other release to my ears in what is an amazing field as is. Whitey Morgan and Randy Rogers/Wade Bowen’s latest efforts are runner-ups, with Brandi Carlile getting the highest honorable mention.)

    Favorite Song: Randy Rogers/Wade Bowen’s “Standards” (Here’s one we absolutely agree on. James McMurtry has the most compelling, complete album to my ears, but as far as individual songs go, “Standards” is the clear standout because it is in equal measures fun, hilarious and having unapologetic social commentary that also doesn’t hit you over the head. Plus the chemistry here is impeccable as is the instrumentation. Easily the frontrunner for 2015’s chief anthem.)

    Worst Song: Haley Georgia’s “Ridiculous” (I know this has not been reviewed here as of yet, and all the power to the both of you for refusing to do so. Because where unworthy challengers including Bret Michael’s “Girls On Bars”, Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn” and David Fanning’s “Doing Country Right” (ranked #2, #3 and #4, respectively) resemble the seventh circle of “country music” hell, this is eighth-circle-of-hell awful. In a desperate bid to be the Iggy Azalea (who herself is commercially floundering over the past six months, so it is beyond me why this even makes sense from a BUSINESS standpoint) of “country radio”, this epitomizes the absolute worst of mainstream radio trends, regardless of genre. Thankfully, this will not be a hit. But it is absolutely telling EMI signed her in the first place and are doing their level best to push this mind-bogglingly stupid #Redic campaign.)

    Biggest Surprise: (Watching the Zac Brown Band crossover to Mainstream Rock radio and score a #1 hit there with “Heavy Is The Head”. I already was well-aware of Zac Brown’s adoration of rock and roll as reflected by their live renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Enter Sandman” in their live shows, but I was NOT expecting them to actually send a radio single to another format, let alone become the second group in history to have singles top both the Country and Active Rock charts. And that’s among the best songs on the album, in my opinion.)

    Biggest Disappointment: (I’d honestly have to say, where 2013 and 2014 resembled the Year of Women Mopping The Floor With Their Male Counterparts In Terms Of Quality Country Singles, 2015 is shaping to be the Year of the Underwhelming/Disappointing Debut Or Return Single By A Female Country Artist. Kacey Musgraves greatly underwhelmed with “Biscuits”, Ashley Monroe greatly underwhelmed with “On To Something Good”. Miranda Lambert has been on a losing streak with official radio singles. RaeLynn continues to find every possible way to embarrass herself. The women of the mainstream format are slipping as a whole this year so far, with the most obvious exception being Jana Kramer’s excellent “I Got The Boy”. Jana Kramer is showing true leadership, and here’s hoping the aforementioned artists rebound to their 2013-2014 heights while Lindi Ortega returns as grand as ever among other possible returns.

    Best Male Artist: (Though James McMurtry deserves the album, and I honestly still believe “Traveller” is slightly overrated as an album (still great, don’t get me wrong, just not quite “Album of the Year” worthy), this is where Chris Stapleton clearly earns his due. No male artist has been more influential this year than Chris Stapleton so far: whether it be a lead artist in his own right or as a songwriter contributing elsewhere. Anyone who doesn’t think this is clearly lying at this point, in my opinion.)

    Best Female Artist: (I have yet to hear Gretchen Peters in all honesty, but would really love to as soon as possible. That said, at this point it’s a surprising toss-up between Brandi Carlile and Jamie Lin Wilson. Carlile’s advantage is, in my opinion, having the more cohesive and engaging album as a whole that I always find more to unravel upon repeated listen, with her disadvantage being the fact “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” is only country-ish and is actually predicated on numerous sounds. Jamie Lin Wilson’s advantage is having a much more accessible album that cuts right to the bone and never fails to elicit an emotional response with the excellent songwriting, but it disadvantage being it doesn’t take much risks with the production or musically. You know what, both are outstanding so I’m going to call this one a draw! =) )

    Best Breakout: (Have to give this to Whitey Morgan for reasons already stated above. Needless to say, Striking Matches are awesome too.)

    Worst Artist: (Oh boy, where do we go here? There’s definitely a strong case to be made about RaeLynn, yet part of me is declining because she actually has failed to develop any staying power. I feel more inclined to choose someone who is BOTH utterly irritating AND has gained some commercial traction so far. And on that note, I’m going to give this one to Michael Ray for his absolutely disgusting and On The Verge-tainted “Kiss You In The Morning”. Among returning artists as well, it’s easier: Thomas Rhett takes the cake for not only failing to release ONE listenable single to date, but even plagiarizing Sam Cooke in the composition of his current single “Crash and Burn”.)

    Most Anticipated Release in the Second Half of 2015: (Lindi Ortega’s “Faded Gloryville”. I think we have a potentially marvelous album in the wing there that can shake up this entire field. Yes, I seriously am more excited about this release than even Jason Isbell’s forthcoming album, and that’s saying an enormous lot because I’m obviously pumped about Isbell’s album too! ^__^ )

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    Liked by 2 people

    • NoahHibiscusEaton June 16, 2015 / 5:36 pm

      How did I forget to mention Sturgill Simpson’s forthcoming album in the last portion of my reflection?

      Lindi Ortega is still the artist I’m most excited about upon forthcoming album,s but obviously Sturgill Simpson’s a big one too.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Raymond June 17, 2015 / 8:43 am

    Here is mine.

    Favorite Album. Don’t tear me apart but Kelsea Ballerini The First Time. She just exhibits so much personality like in XO or sadness in Secondhand Smoke and The First Time. Also Kelsea is about to be history in being the first woman to take a debut song to #1 since Carrie Underwood. Is there gonna be a Mainstream Pulse this week. Just Curious

    Honorable Mentions Traveller B-SIdes Jekyll + Hyde Love Somebody The UnderDog

    Favorite Song. I might haven’t loved her album but Reba’s Just Like Them Horses easily. Pure country poetry.

    Favorite Single. Jana Kramer I Got The Boy. Do I Need To Explain.

    Worst Song So Far Tie. Kick The Dust Up and Ridiculous not catchy not well written over produced I rest my case.

    Best Male Artist. Dierks Bentley. Riser is gonna be sent to radio please tell me Josh you love this song. Also Josh I know you de-test radio but you should’ve hear Country Countdown USA last weekend Dierks Bentley Maddie & Tae Kip Moore and Canaan Smith hosted it and they all were so funny.

    Best Female Artist Tie. Jana Kramer or Kelsea Ballerini. Both pop-country princesses who are both good performers and have a certain energy that makes me love them

    Biggest Surprise. Tyler Farr releasing good music I previously thought he was worse than Chase Rice. He clearly listened and delivered.

    Biggest disappointment. Gloriana Three. I was so pumped for their album since the previous one was so organic and fresh give that one a listen Josh you wont be dissapointed. But Three was a trash heap of garbage

    Breakout Artist. Kelsea Ballerini self explanatory. Love her hate her. She is clearly talented and you cant deny that.

    Worst Artist. FGL keep churning out the garbage boys and sound like morons. At least Raelynn comes off as a nice person those 2 can’t claim that.

    Most Looking forward too. Maddie & Tae Start Here . Fly is beautiful Sierra and Shut Up and Fish are amazing Girl In A Country Song is still awesome. After The Storm Blows Thru. I expect maybe one dud but these girls should get a good score I would imagine.

    Like

    • Josh Schott June 17, 2015 / 11:15 am

      Yep there’s still a Pulse post today. Today we take a temporary break from mid-year posts before resuming tomorrow. Of course I love “Riser.” It’s a great song, written by talented songwriter Travis Meadows (who also wrote “What We Ain’t Got”) and it shows Dierks cares about quality. One of the top three songs on the Riser album along with “Here On Earth” and “Hold On.”

      Maddie & Tae’s album should be pretty good. Really I’m also looking forward to some great female releases, as we haven’t gotten many yet. That changes in the second half with Maddie & Tae, Emily West, Lindi Ortega and possibly Karen Jonas’ new album. Carrie will probably have a new single at least and possibly an album.

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  6. Zack June 18, 2015 / 4:10 pm

    Was too busy to address yours or Dereks lists yesterday but here’s mine: (Great picks to both of you btw)

    Favorite Album: Gretchen Peters- “Blackbirds”

    Yes, up until yesterday Ringling Road took this honor, but Gretchen just suits my tastes perfectly. Dark, melancholy country/Americana that is haunting and beautiful.

    Favorite Song: Gretchen Peters- “Everything Falls Away”

    This song means a lot to me personally. I hear it and just get punched in the f**king gut. It’s that powerful for me.

    Favorite Single: Probably Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”, though Dierks Bentley’s Riser is close.

    Worst Single: Haley Georgia- “Ridiculous” A trainwreck is too nice to describe this

    Male Artist: William Clark Green

    Love his “in your face” style of songwriting. One of my favorite discoveries this year

    Female Artist: Gretchen Peters

    I’ve said enough about her, but she is truly an amazing artist who I’d love to hear more from

    Biggest Surprise: All the awesome albums so far this year!

    Biggest Disappointment: My favorite artist, Gary Allan trying to cash in on trends with “Hangover Tonight”. Thankfully this seems to be the outlier for his album

    Most Anticipated Release: Idk, I guess Alan Jackson and Lindi Ortega

    Like

  7. Zack June 20, 2015 / 3:42 pm

    I just thought of something Josh, I thought Whitey Morgan was originally your favorite album? Has it just not held up as well as Traveller or Little Neon Limelight? Just curious is all

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    • Josh Schott June 20, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      It changes daily for me. Haha! But those three are a little better than the rest of the field for me.

      Like

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