2015 has been one hell of a year for Country Perspective, as we’ve grown to new heights and reviewed a lot of good and bad music along the way. We’ve gained a lot of new readers this year too and we could not be more thankful. So thank you for reading, commenting, following us and all of your support throughout 2015. We wouldn’t keep doing this if you didn’t care. This is the final post of 2015 and I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all. Don’t worry we’ll be back in 2016 and ready to tackle the latest in country and Americana music.
On behalf of Country Perspective, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
We’ve reached the end of 2015 and as you’ve seen over this last month there have numerous best of and worst of lists and everything in between. The “listpocalypse” as many dub it is finally ending and we can start focusing on new music really soon. But before we look forward to the new music of 2016, we want to look back one last time on the music of country and Americana in 2015. These are the albums we consider the absolute must listen albums of 2015 if you’re a fan of country and Americana. We should point out that this year’s essential albums list is different in that last year’s list was all albums that we ranked 8/10 or better. This year’s essential list only contains albums (and a few EPs) ranked 9/10 or better.
Originally we wanted to just have it narrowed down to 25 albums, but then it grew to 30 and then 35 before eventually 40. We wanted to make sure we go all of the great music on the list! Keep in mind if we didn’t put an album on this list it’s not because we’re haters or we’re attacking your favorite artist. Do not turn the comments section into “Well you didn’t put (insert name) on the list and you didn’t put this on the list, so I hate it.” Instead put together your own list in the comments if you want, as this is more constructive and creates more interesting conversation.
Now that I’ve gotten all of the ground rules out of the way, let’s get to the music. These are what we consider the 36 most essential country and Americana albums of 2015.
When it came to determining the winner for Group or Duo of the year, the main factor we took into determination was impact. All five groups we nominated delivered quality music and carry a dedicated fan base, but which of the five made the biggest impact to Country and Americana music? Maddie & Tae’s Start Here left quite the impact on mainstream country. Start Here is a great album and showed that Maddie & Tae are poised to take a position of leadership in country music, but this is just the beginning for the duo. The fact remains that they have room to grow and certainly have the potential to improve, build off Start Here and be the female leaders of country music that the Dixie Chicks were once upon a time. However, there was one other pair whose traditional country music album release left a bit bigger impact. Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo of the Year is Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen’s Hold My Beer album was a career defining album for each Texas singer. In a time where Texas country musicians continue to let the new Nashville sound influence their music more, blurring the line that once separated Texas country from the rest of the genre, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen showed leadership expected from two of the genre’s most well-known names.
Rogers and Bowen both dabbled their feet on a mainstream label, while not entirely abandoning their roots in the process. After failing to make a mainstream impact, they’ve both returned to independent labels for their new music. Rogers and Bowen said country music can still be country music and proved it with Hold My Beer. From traditional country heartbreak in “Til It Does” to fun protest with “Standards;” from covers of country greats like Merle Haggard to originals celebrating friendship, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen let their talents speak for themselves. And even though “Standards” was rightfully named Song of the Year, “El Dorado”, the five-minute chronicle of a dying cowboy, may be the album’s best song. Randy & Wade are established enough in the genre where their decisions carry more weight than newcomers. In respect to their position in the genre, this leadership in the fight for traditional country music cannot go unnoticed.
Randy Rogers has been hard at work this year with his own band recording new music. He has promised that the band’s new album due out next month will continue his delivery of traditional country music. This year Wade Bowen also appeared on Jamie Lin Wilson’s debut album in a traditional country duet about lovers regretting their affair. Hold My Beer doesn’t appear to be an anomaly, as both Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen seem poised to continue bringing traditional country music to the forefront of the genre.
In 2015 one of the major topics of the year was the infamous Tomato Gate. It brought a lot of attention to the ongoing issue of female country artists not getting a fair shake on country radio. While there were a few tongue in cheek comments and a few angry tweets, the female artist of mainstream country music really didn’t do anything about it and that left me disappointed. This left the field wide open for Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year and gave more unknown names a shot at winning. For Derek and myself it ultimately came down to the music. We asked ourselves who pushed the boundaries the most and brought something new to the table we haven’t heard before. Two artists’ fans rallied behind them and flooded our nominees post with numerous votes of support, but we could only choose one to win. The winner of Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year is Whitney Rose.
As I said above it came down to the music for us and who pushed the boundaries the most with it. Whitney Rose’s album Heartbreaker of the Year clearly did this better than the other nominees’ albums. Teamed up with producer Raul Malo, Rose did something with this album I don’t say very much after hearing an album and that is “I didn’t expect this at all.” This album is clearly rooted in traditional country and even country and western. It’s palpable throughout the album. But then the influence of Raul Malo starts to shine through. There’s influences of retro pop, Motown, gospel, jazz and blues. Anyone who has ever heard an album from The Mavericks knows how much they love to blend genres. It doesn’t work for every artist, but for Rose it fits perfectly. And what’s brilliant about listening to Heartbreaker of the Year is not knowing what you’re going to hear next.
You start off with “Little Piece of You,” which undoubtedly has a Motown influence laced with traditional country. Then you have an upbeat, western-style song like “My First Rodeo” and a stirring love ballad like “The Last Party.” The Motown sound returns with “Only Just a Dream” and then this is followed by the album’s title track, which is arguably the best on the record. Mixing vintage pop with traditional country, it tells a gripping story about an intriguing man who has caught Rose’s eye. But what really makes this song shine is Rose’s voice, which is at it’s best on this song. Raul Malo joins Rose on multiple songs on this album, but it’s his duet with Rose on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” where you really hear him. Their voices are like warm butter and together they’re a dream pairing. Malo is one of the best voices in country music and Rose is well on her way to joining him. If they made an entire album of duets, I would buy it in a heart beat.
Rose shows her fun side on the quirky “The Devil Borrowed My Boots,” “Ain’t It Wise” is another song that sounds like it was straight out of the 50s and “Lasso” is one of the most pure country songs on Heartbreaker of the Year. It’s the final song on this album though that shows how fearlessness of Rose. She covers the famous Hank Williams’ song “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and does it admirably. Covering Hank is daunting enough. Rose chooses to not only cover Hank, but close her album with it. The final song on an album is pretty important, as it’s the last thing the listener hears and is the final impression. This was a big risk by Rose and it ends up paying off beautifully.
This is only the second album Whitney Rose has ever released and already I can tell her future is bright. She has the potential to make stunning and memorable music for many years to come. I think I can speak for many in saying that I look forward to what comes next for this Canadian country artist. This is only just the start for her. The best is yet to come for Whitney Rose.
When looking at who should be determined Country Perspective’s Male Artist of the Year, we look at a variety of factors. One of the biggest that can help an artist stand out is the impact they’ve made on their genre over the past year. In 2014 there was one artist who clearly had a bigger impact than his peers and he walked away with the win. In 2015 we have the exact same case. There was one artist who made a bigger impact than all of the other candidates’ impacts combined. It was pretty obvious to Derek and myself. The winner of Country Perspective’s 2015 Male Artist of the Year is Chris Stapleton.
Just like Sturgill Simpson in 2014, Chris Stapleton set the country music world on fire in 2015. Except Stapleton has managed to have an even bigger year and shows no signs of slowing down. When his long-awaited debut album was announced early in 2015, many critics, Stapleton fans and Nashville insiders were highly anticipating it to be something great. Stapleton’s album Traveller came out in May and immediately generated critical buzz in the country music community. It opened up at #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and for many it was a nice accomplishment to see. Little did anyone know that the big accolades would be coming months later.
When the 2015 CMA Awards were announced one thing that immediately stood out was the amount of nominations Chris Stapleton racked up, being nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year. It was great to see Stapleton get recognition and to be mentioned along the biggest names of country music because he was more than deserving. But we all told ourselves he had no chance in hell of winning all of these, giving only a slight chance with Album of the Year. Perhaps the first sign we should have seen Stapleton was poised for a big night was the announcement of him performing with friend and pop superstar Justin Timberlake on the show. This was enough to make me “boldly” predict Stapleton winning Album of the Year, but I wasn’t confident.
The 2015 CMA Awards arrive and one of the first awards given out is New Artist of the Year. Stapleton wins, much to all of our surprises. Stapleton beat out the likes of country radio favorites Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett. There’s no way he could win another, could he? Stapleton then won Album of the Year, along with the hottest producer in country music right now Dave Cobb. Once again we all thought there’s no way he sweeps, does he? And he does just that by winning Male Vocalist of the Year, ending Blake Shelton’s long reign. To top it all off, he and Timberlake end up have the most exciting and eye-popping performance of the night, getting the entire crowd worked into absolute frenzy. The look on Jerry Douglas’ face was how all of us looked during it.
Ever since this historic night Chris Stapleton has been conquering the music world. His album Traveller sat atop the iTunes all genre chart for weeks, even beating out the best-selling album of the last decade, Adele’s 25. It’s still #1 on the country albums chart as of this writing, both iTunes and Billboard. Many publications and critics have named it the best album of the year, not just in country music, but in all of music. We had it as a finalist for our album of the year award. Even country radio, who has largely ignored critically acclaimed artists in recent years, is recognizing Chris Stapleton. His current single “Nobody to Blame” is in the top 25 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart and continues to make steady gains. Bill freaking Murray loves Chris Stapleton!
The sky is the limit for Chris Stapleton going into 2016. We all said he couldn’t win at the CMA Awards and we all thought he couldn’t make an impact on country radio and we’ve all been proven wrong. At this point it’s pretty obvious we need to stop doubting what Stapleton is going to do next. Thanks to the 2015 CMA Awards sale bump, Traveller has now sold over 500,000 copies, making it certified Gold. It will undoubtedly sell over a million and become certified Platinum, which is unheard of nowadays unless you’re Adele or Taylor Swift. Pretty successful company, huh? Stapleton has a chance to clean up even more on the awards circuit, as he four Grammy nominations for the 2016 Grammys, including the biggest award Album of the Year. He could win all four awards. This will take him to even higher heights. “Nobody to Blame” will be a #1 song on country radio. Tell me I’m wrong. But you can’t.
What makes this story even better is that while Chris Stapleton is a great artist, he’s an even better person. You could see the humility and look of shock on his face when he accepted all of those awards at the CMA Awards. He didn’t expect any of this either. Stapleton is just a guy who loves to make music and could care less about the accolades, radio or fame. It’s his genuineness and honesty that makes not only the man someone you want to root onto victory, but his music something you want play over and over again. Is he a country music savior? Is he the next Waylon or Willie? Is he traditional country? No, no and no. But that doesn’t matter. Chris Stapleton is Chris Stapleton. Stapleton is just a traveller taking this ride wherever it may go next. Wherever it goes you can bet Stapleton is doing what he does best and that’s making quality music.