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.
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.”
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.
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.