Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2015 Country Perspective has had the pleasure to review a lot of music from country, Americana, folk and alt-country. There’s been a lot of good and a lot of bad too. The world is filled with a lot of average and at times downright terrible music. But this article is not about that music. This is all about the great music and not just the great music, but the very best of the best. While there are a lot of people in country music and really music in general that have forgotten about the art of an album, there are many out there who still appreciate the ability to make a project of 10-12 songs (or more) and make something special.

When deciding what album will win the 2015 Country Perspective Album of the Year Award, we will take into consideration some key aspects: songwriting, instrumentation, production, accolades, impact on genre, consistent quality in the album and how memorable they are. Derek and myself will both ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But we’re not the only ones deciding. We encourage feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly be considered when determine who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. There were several albums to receive a grade of 10/10, too many in fact. This is pretty much on me getting carried away in a few reviews and next year there won’t be as many 10/10 grades given out. After much discussion Derek and myself narrowed it down to the eight albums we believe that are most worthy of being considered for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year award. Here are the eight nominees (in no particular order)…

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

For the second straight year the New Zealand country artist is nominated for Album of the Year. Neilson has one of the biggest and most dynamic voices in country music and once again she demonstrates it beautifully. This album was dedicated to her late father Ron, who was also an artist and one of the main inspirations behind most of the songs on it. While last year this was Sturgill Simpson’s award to lose, this year it’s wide open and Neilson has a chance again to win our top award.

Tami Neilson is proof that artistry is alive and well in country music. She channels her emotion so well into Don’t Be Afraid and the end result is beautiful music that will touch the minds and hearts of all that listen to it. This album is a true picture of life and love that doesn’t shy away from reality. Everything about this album is flawless and at its absolute best. 

Bowen & Rogers Hold My Beer

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Two of the brightest names in the Red Dirt/Texas Country scene united together to bring us an album that blew away all of our expectations. While a lot of people respect them and know they’re capable of good music, nobody expected them to deliver an album of this high of quality. Fans who were still wary of their music after both tried to cut it on Music Row were even more surprised. This collaboration reminded us all of the golden years of country music when legends like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard would get together and make an album.

Hold My Beer is simply put a fantastic album. There are no down moments in this album and it holds the listeners’ attentions the whole way through it. The rich and traditional instrumentation makes you want to listen to every song over and over again. I don’t think you can find too many pairs that would gel better than Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers either. This is a perfect example of why I want to see more collaborations in country music. On this album this two great artists in their own right came together and produced something amazing. I like how the full album name is Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. because that means this is the first of hopefully many more collaboration albums from these two.

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

There’s nobody in country music in right now hotter than Chris Stapleton. Really he’s one of the hottest artists in all of music, with only Adele eclipsing him in attention. The mainstream emergence of Stapleton occurred a few weeks back when he shocked the world winning three CMA Awards, including Album of the Year. While the rest of the world was introduced to Chris Stapleton that night, I knew back in May that his longtime coming debut album would be one of the finalists for Album of the Year. It’s hard to believe it took this long for Stapleton to put out a solo album, but as they say it’s better late than never. For many fans this is the album to beat.

I don’t think I could ask anymore from a country album than what I hear on this album. It has everything a country music fan should want in their music. What impressed me the most out of all is Stapleton’s voice. Holy shit I did not expect him to blow me away so much vocally. He’s easily one of the best in country music today. The songwriting is top-notch, but we knew that already. The instrumentation and production are spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary.

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

A lot of people love to anoint Sturgill Simpson as the modern-day Waylon Jennings, but if anyone deserves this comparison it’s Whitey Morgan. From his look to his music to the “Fuck Pop Country” shirts in his online store, Whitey Morgan is the modern-day Waylon. Sonic Ranch is his best work yet and for the first part of the year it was head and shoulders above the rest of the field. A lot more competition came about in the middle and latter part of the year, but this album is still one of the best and could easily be crowned the very best.

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more.

Don Henley Cass County

Don Henley – Cass County 

It’s 2015 and the drummer for the Eagles has released one of the best country albums of the year. If you had told me this back in January I would have questioned your sanity. But as this project came closer to release, the more my confidence grew in it. Henley brought together a top-notch group of country artists and put his full force of creativity behind it. The result is an album that is filled with memorable and emotional songs. Henley made a country album that many country artists who have been around for years haven’t come close to matching in quality.

Cass County excels in pretty much every area a country album needs to excel in. Henley’s voice is excellent, the songwriting is strong, the instrumentation even stronger and each of the guests on the album contribute something meaningful. It’s 2015 and Don Henley has delivered one of the best country albums of the year. Can you believe it? There have been a lot of pleasant surprises in country music in 2015, but this may be the biggest. Each time I listen to this album it gets better, which I think will allow this album to age well. It’s something you can play a couple of years from now and still sound just as good.

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

The King of Americana has had himself one hell of a year. As usual he played in front of packed venues across the country, alongside his wife Amanda Shires, fellow critical darling Sturgill Simpson, legend Dwight Yoakam and a host of others. He followed up his critically-acclaimed 2013 album Southeastern with Something More Than Free, which reached #1 on the country, rock, folk and Americana charts. And he welcomed to the world his first child. It’s been a busy, yet really successful year for Isbell.

I didn’t think it would be possible for Jason Isbell to craft an album even better than Southeastern, but he’s done it with Something More Than Free. While Southeastern was the painful rebirth of Isbell, Something More Than Free feels like a celebration of life and finding your true happiness. There are still plenty of somber and sobering moments on the album, but I think it makes the bright moments feel that much brighter. It’s a true representation of the spectrum of life we live each and every day. I’ll admit that it took me a few listens to really get into this album, but trust me once it clicks you’ll fall in love with it.

Turnpike Troubadours Self Titled Album

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

The Oklahoma-based band made their long-awaited return to making new music in 2015 and they did not disappoint. Like the aforementioned Jason Isbell, the Turnpike Troubadours have made quite a name for themselves as independent artists. They’re proof you don’t need the support of country radio or mainstream country labels to be successful and prosperous. And while members of the band have come and go they’re still making great music.

With the return of the Turnpike Troubadours, marks the return of arguably the best Red Dirt group today. Really they’re one of the best groups in music today. This album is definitive proof of it and I hope we never have to wait three years for another album again. If you’re a fan of country music, this album is a must-buy. We can only hope that this album is what launches this group to even greater heights. You won’t find many better than the Turnpike Troubadours.

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

If you had to pick an underdog amongst these nominees, it would be newcomer Americana group Houndmouth. Based out of Indiana, this group was one of my favorite surprise discoveries of 2015. This group pretty much borrows from every genre and produces music that entertains and moves you. I feel like a lot of people have ignored this group, but you shouldn’t. And despite this they might just walk away with Album of the Year.

Little Neon Limelight is flawless in every aspect. Houndmouth’s vocals are dynamic and the harmonies will stick with you for a while. Each song tells a story or conveys some sort of emotion in the listener, which is what great music does. While there are a few somber songs, this album is mostly fun and even mixes in some good humor. This is an album I thinks some people might let slip through the cracks and miss out on. Don’t be one of these people. Anyone who appreciates great music should hear it.

That’s your nominees for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award. Be sure to voice who you believe should win in the comments below. 

23 thoughts on “Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year Nominees

  1. Amanda December 4, 2015 / 11:09 am

    Out of all of these, my vote goes to Chris Stapleton. So glad to see mainstream radio giving him a chance. He is extremely talented. 🙂


  2. NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2015 / 11:26 am

    Wow, what an outstanding field! =D

    I’m going to have to go with Whitey Morgan’s “Sonic Ranch” when all is said and done. That one stands out in that I think it’s the most well-rounded country album of 2015. There’s a couple where I think the lyricism was even better (“Complicated Game”, “Blackbirds”) and one which obviously wins on net appeal (“Traveller”)…………but Whitey Morgan’s is like cherry oak barrel country gold in all forms. His vocals are so intimate and textured, the production so raw and lively, the songs themselves stand up triumphantly on their own weight………….there’s not a single flaw to be found. And though his attempt at broader appeal is coming slower than that of Sturgill Simpson, he has gained considerable traction with this release via sites like TheNeedleDrop: which mostly praised this record.

    Again, a solid field all around, but when it comes to definitive country gems, “Sonic Ranch” walks away with the crown jewel to me! =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin Davis December 4, 2015 / 11:58 am

      I agree. Sonic Ranch is my pick for the win. As much as I love Stapleton, there are some flaws on the album, which is unduly long and the production could have used a little more creativity at times. But with Sonic Ranch, it’s hard to find any faults at all.


      • NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2015 / 2:42 pm

        I agree, and would add I thought the lyricism on “Traveller”, while enjoyable in its own right, lacked a particular point of view or lacked a particular depth on a number of tracks. I concede it may just be me, but I prefer lyricism in traditional-leaning country music to be more “worn-in”, if you will, rather than a hodge-podge of songs that try a little too hard to be anthemic (like “Parachute”, “Might As Well Get Stoned” and even his current single).

        That also explains why “Something More Than Free” didn’t grab me quite like “Southeastern” did. I mean, it’s a great album either way. But I thought a handful of tracks were slightly lacking in context, or drawing connections.

        And I agree, as great as David Cobb is as a producer, I felt the production on both albums would have benefitted from a little more teeth. They both plateau for considerable stretches, and while it’s a high plateau for sure………….I’m just saying I think both could have been better handled.


  3. George December 4, 2015 / 11:28 am

    The Deslondes should be on this list


  4. Raymond December 4, 2015 / 11:36 am

    For me, the top albums would be Chris Stapleton out of the 8 selections. Now for my personal picks, I have Maddie & Tae, Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe as my top albums and I really found those albums to be very awesome and just full of great songs. I still haven’t quite made up my mind on which is the top album but I’ll probably have it down by the time you guys crown yours.


    • NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2015 / 2:47 pm

      All three are solid mainstream country efforts, no argument there! =)

      Of those three, I’d probably give it to “The Blade” even though it’s easily the least successful among them. “Pageant Material” and “Start Here” both had weaker moments, but as wholes were both very enjoyable: certainly compared to most everything else released in the mainstream this year with the exception of Eric Church and Jon Pardi’s EP.


      • Raymond December 4, 2015 / 5:15 pm

        Any songs in particular standout on The Blade. Ooh I forgot Eric Church album, that’d probably be my 4th album. Now I’m not counting Jon Pardi since that was an EP so probably the 5th album would be Tim McGraw Damn Country Music.


  5. Stew December 4, 2015 / 11:47 am

    I think I would go with Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen.. Like you said above it’s great to see two artist come together and make an album like some of the older artists used too.. Merle & George Jones, Willie & Waylon, etc. Plus the album is great to listen to start to finish!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Zack December 4, 2015 / 1:05 pm

    I kind of wondered how this would pan out considering there were 20 10/10 albums this year haha. But yeah, phenomenal field. Here’s my thoughts for the candidtes:

    Tami Neilson- “Don’t Be Afraid” – Well………unfortunately I haven’t heard this yet 😦 the end of the semester has been very busy for me, so I haven’t had the chance to actually sit down and listen to this. So….with that in mind, I have no opinion.

    Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen- “Hold My Beer Vol. 1” – Great album, definitely two guys having a load of fun and delivering traditional country music. BUT……..(And this is an unpopular opinion so bear with me), I never felt like this album was AOTY worthy. Don’t get me wrong, I consider it a solid 8.5/10, but that’s it. The album left me wanting a little more for starters, and second, the album has some great knockout moments (Standards, El Dorado), but it also some filler (in my opinion) with “It’s Been A Great Afternoon” and “Ladybug”. Not bad tracks mind you, but I feel an album of the year should really make you feel something and this didn’t. WITH ALL THAT BEING SAID, I still think this is a great album, and a solid Top 20 candidate.

    Chris Stapleton- “Traveller” – Solid contender here. This album shows not only how you can make some damn good traditional country music, but also how to incorporate other genres (in this case, Southern Rock, Blues, and even a little Soul) the right way. The only issue I have with the album is “Might As Well Get Stoned” for some lyrics I don’t agree with. Other than that this album is phenomenal and the best of the mainstream by far, if we can even REALLY call it that.

    Whitey Morgan- “Sonic Ranch” – This is tied with Don Henley for my pick for album of the year (at least on your list). You want a true badass underdog? Turn to Whitey Morgan. The guy is absolutely amazing and this album is no exception. Solid, no BS, 100% true country music done the right way. You know you’ve made a great album when the covers don’t actually feel like covers.

    Don Henley- “Cass County” – Again, tied with Whitey Morgan for my pick. I can’t believe it took a rocker to show me how country music can truly make you feel. This is an insanely big project, and the love and hard work and care that went into this simply can not be ignored. Don may not have always been Country, but in terms of actual Country music, Don arguably made the best album this year, and that shows a lot.

    Jason Isbell- “Something More Than Free” – Another strong contender. There is no need to compare this to “Southeastern”, as both albums are phenomenal in their own rights and completely different projects at that. There’s a perfect balance of sound and themes on “Something More Than Free” that appeals to people who found “Southeastern” a little too dark. This is another album that proves Isbell is the Americana king.

    Turnpike Troubadours- s/t – Great album, but I wouldn’t say AOTY worthy. There’s some phenomenal stuff here don’t get me wrong. “The Bird Hunters” and “Fall Out Of Love” are awesome songs, but there’s also material that could have been cut like “Time Of Day” or “Down Here”. Great album, but I wanted a little more.

    Houndmouth- “Little Neon Limelight” – I love this album, really I do. But only when we call it Americana. For a Country award, I don’t think I could give this album that chance, but as an overall album this is absolutely fantastic and definitely a Top 15 on my list.

    Here’s how I would rank them:

    1. Sonic Ranch/Cass County
    3. Traveller
    4. Something More Than Free
    5. Little Neon Limelight
    6. Turnpike Troubadours
    7. Hold My Beer Vol. 1

    Here’s my personal top 20:

    1. Gretchen Peters- “Blackbirds”
    2. The Black Lillies- “Hard To Please”
    3. William Clark Green- “Ringling Road”
    4. Don Henley- “Cass County”
    5. Whitey Morgan- “Sonic Ranch”
    6. James McMurtry- “Complicated Game”
    7. Chris Stapleton- “Traveller”
    8. Jason Isbell- “Something More Than Free”
    9. Eric Church- “Mr. Misunderstood”
    10. JD McPherson- “Let The Good Times Roll”
    11. Rayland Baxter- “Imaginary Man”
    12. Hailey Whitters- “Black Sheep”
    13. Houndmouth- “Little Neon Limelight”
    14. Blackberry Smoke- “Holding All The Roses”
    15. Jonathan Tyler- “Holy Smokes”
    16. Ward Thomas- “From Where We Stand”
    17. Dwight Yoakam- ‘Second Hand Heart”
    18. Maddie and Tae- “Start Here”
    19. Turnpike Troubadours- “Turnpike Troubadours”
    20. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors- “Medicine”


    • NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2015 / 2:57 pm

      Again, we agree “Blackbirds” is easily in the Top Three of our year-end lists! =D

      I have to add Don Henley’s “Cass County” definitely would round out my Top Five. Our main disagreement is with regards to “Hold My Beer, Volume I”. I liked it more than you did and do believe it deserves a Top Three finish. But both “Complicated Game” and “Cass County” directly follow it. =)

      I’d say Don Henley was the single greatest pleasant surprise of 2015 to my ears, while Jason Boland walks away with the single greatest disappointment. Lindi Ortega also fell short of my hopes this year, but it happens.


      • Derek Hudgin December 4, 2015 / 3:05 pm

        I’ll chime in and say ‘Blackbirds’ is also in my personal top 3 for albums this year. Had we decided on 9 finalists, ‘Blackbirds’ probably would have been that final nominee.


      • Josh Schott December 4, 2015 / 3:07 pm

        Jason Boland walks away with the single greatest disappointment

        Even over Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Zack December 4, 2015 / 3:16 pm

        Like I said, I don’t want to come off as thinking that I absolutely despised the album or anything (because I certainly didn’t). I just don’t hold it in as much of a high regard as others on here. I really did enjoy it! 🙂

        Speaking of disappointments, I have to go with Josh here, “Jekyll + Hyde” was the biggest disappointment of the year. I understand wanting to experiment with other genres and make your own music. I totally respect it. But to come across as commercial as they did with this project left a sour taste in my mouth.

        I will also add that Lindi’s album wasn’t as great as I hoped it would be, but I still thought it was relatively solid.


      • NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2015 / 6:41 pm

        Actually, yes.

        It all comes down to intention and knowing your audience. And as you may recall, I didn’t think “JEKYLL + HYDE” was a bad album by any stretch and still don’t. I HAVE and DO consistently think it is a step down from its two predecessors and also suffers from incohesion, but I find myself getting worked up not over the album as a whole but, rather, the hypocrisy of Brown as of late and trying to shove “Beautiful Drug” down the throats of country radio.

        With Jason Boland, there’s even less of an excuse. “Squelch” is such a tragic misfire that just sticks out as a jarring directionless shot in the dark.

        I do expect more from the Zac Brown Band than what they’ve delivered this year, too, at any rate.


      • southtexaspistolero December 7, 2015 / 9:25 am

        Jason Boland walks away with the single greatest disappointment.

        Ah, so I’m not the only one! Like I said at Saving Country Music, it PAINS me to say that, but it’s true. My wife described it as Jason Boland’s “old man yelling at the clouds” album, and that’s as good a description as any. He had been damned good up to that point, and even a subpar Boland album beats many other artists’ magnum opuses, but there’s not a song on there to my ears that measures up to “Devil Pays in Gold,” “Shot Full of Holes,” “Mary,” “Sons and Daughters of Dixie,” “False Accuser’s Lament,” or “Ludlow.”

        And it’s not the political commentary itself that bugs me. I just think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that sort of thing. I mean, I loved “Sons and Daughters…,” “Farmer’s Luck,” and “They Took It Away,” but “It’s Alright To Be An Asshole” and “Fuck, Fight and Rodeo,” not so much. I think the latter is probably my least favorite Boland song of all time because of that talk-singing business. It’s a really fun song instrumentally, though. I don’t know. The whole thing might grow on me with repeated listens.

        I might have considered the ZBB album a disappointment had it been on my radar. As it is, though, I pretty much tuned out of the mainstream about the time George Strait stopped getting played on country radio.

        I really don’t know what my choice for top album would be here. There are so many good choices. I just know that it wouldn’t be Traveller. I do think Chris Stapleton’s success is a good thing for country music, but most of what was on it just didn’t click with me — and I can’t really say why beyond the fact that it was a bit too much blues and Southern rock-influenced for my tastes.


  7. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria December 4, 2015 / 7:01 pm

    Great list! My top 5 would be:

    1. “Sonic Ranch” (This has been the album to beat this year IMO, ever since I first heard it. Henley and Isbell came close, but I have some minor gripes with those records that leave Morgan at the top.)
    2. “Cass County”
    3. “Something More Than Free”
    4. “The Turnpike Troubadours”
    5. “Hold My Beer, Vol. 1”

    Although in terms of positive impact on the genre, “Traveller” (which I’d probably rank either No. 6 or 7 if I’d extended the above list) would obviously take the cake.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Zack December 4, 2015 / 7:34 pm

    Ok, so I listened to “Hold My Beer” for the first time since I think like June to see if my thoughts changed. It’s actually much better than I remember it, and if I redid my list I would probably put it in my Top 10


  9. jess December 4, 2015 / 7:55 pm

    I love both Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen album and Chris Stapleton. Both are absolutely incredible.


  10. brettp December 5, 2015 / 1:10 pm

    All great picks, couldnt argue with any of them. I am still torn between Stapleton and Whitey and have been that way since the summer at least. Wade and Randy i discovered later and is growing on me immensely. As for an album that i felt a little underrated was Dwights Secondhand Heart. Ive played that album to death this year and really thought it was a return to form for him. All of these are wonderful though, great job guys.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. John December 5, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    And SAM OUTLAW ?


  12. Chase Rice December 6, 2015 / 9:32 am

    Yo man where’s my album? Also you’re forgetting some fine traditional country music with Kill The Lights (And Smack The Ass, am I right?), and Meat and Candy! (That chick on the cover does it for me man!) And I mean wtf guys? Jekyll + Hyde and Tangled Up were diverse masterpieces that mixed country with other cooler genres! Like fucking A man! Fuck this Whitney shit or this Hold My Beer crap. Country has to evolve! We can’t be in bars, we gotta go to clubs man! And who da fuck is Tami Neilson? The only females we need in Country (and this is two to many anyway) are the smoking hot Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert!

    Country Perspective my ass man, you’re missing out on the true country gold here.


  13. Len December 6, 2015 / 11:15 am

    I would have put cody jnks, dwight and maybe aaron watson on the list.
    Whitey, cody, randy and wade, dwight, aaron watson.
    That all sounds damn country to me!


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