Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

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.

The Best of the Best

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

The Awesome Ones

Don Henley – Cass County 

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

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

Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Pretty Damn Great

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Rick Elliot – West of the Rockies EP

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart 

George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation

Alan Jackson – Angels & Alcohol

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

A Little Bit of Everything

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Banditos

Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Tony Furtado – The Bell

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet

The Black Lillies – Hard To Please 

13 thoughts on “Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

  1. Jonathan December 22, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    First time commenting here but I’ve been reading for your site for the last few months. This is a great list of albums, although I’m rather surprised that so many year end album lists are missing Geronimo by Shane Smith and the Saints. They are another Texas/Red Dirt band, but they mix other genres including Brit folk, Appalachian, and Celtic. In my opinion it is the best album of 2015, and it sure had a lot of competition. Geronimo features outstanding musicianship and powerful songwriting. Even though the list has already been published I would strongly recommend giving it a listen. I think you’ll be impressed. I’m just surprised more people don’t seem to know about them. Also glad to see The Black Lillies included on this list. The pedal steel on the album is so good gives me the chills. Just want to say again, great list and great website.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom December 22, 2015 / 2:21 pm

      I recently just heard about that band/album. It’s awesome; I can’t recommend it high enough. Their sound, harmonies and lyrics are top notch. Geronimo is up there with the rest of the very best of 2015, even if it doesn’t have the buzz of Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton’s record.

      Like

    • Josh Schott December 22, 2015 / 2:49 pm

      Welcome! Glad to see you commenting and thank you for the kind words!

      I have not heard of that album or group, but I’ll definitely check them out. Always great to come across more talented artists and quality albums.

      Like

  2. Zack December 22, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    Awesome list! I’ll post mine later, but I was curious,

    Josh, are these albums in exact order or no?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 22, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      The top three are in order, but the rest is not. I’ve thought about making a top ten list each year, but it’s just so difficult to me to rank these albums. My top five though would be in order: Isbell, Whitey, Stapleton, Henley and Wade & Randy.

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  3. Danik Gillespie December 22, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    I absolutely loved Small Town Dreams. I’ve listened to it almost every day since its release.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ron December 22, 2015 / 2:52 pm

    Nice list. The only one I would add is Ryan Culwell’s Flatlands. It was released early in the year. I found it fairly recently but I’m surprised I haven’t seen more mentions of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Frank the Tank December 22, 2015 / 9:19 pm

    Nice list! I’m glad to see Corb Lund and Jamie Lin Wilson on here. I would also add Ashley Monroe to the list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nadia Lockheart December 22, 2015 / 9:35 pm

    Here’s how my totem pole would be arranged! =D

    Note that, unlike here, I seldom ever designate 10/10 scores to albums and only reserve them for rare albums I think will be looked back upon as sea change-inducing cultural relics of sorts (though I respect why both reviewers here grade differently). At any rate, know that doesn’t diminish the genuine praise I have for many efforts this year, and “Sonic Ranch” would come the closest to that! =)

    *

    *

    *****The Best of the Best (9/10 Or Greater)*****

    Whitey Morgan & The 78s: “Sonic Ranch”
    Gretchen Peters: “Blackbirds”
    Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers: “Hold My Beer, Volume 1”
    James McMurtry: “Complicated Game”

    *

    *****The Marvelous Ones (8.5)*****

    Daniel Romano: “If I’ve Only One Tim Askin’”
    Don Henley: “Cass County”
    The Black Lillies: “Hard To Please”
    Ryan Bingham: “Fear and Saturday Night”
    Jamie Lin Wilson: “Holidays & Wedding Rings”
    John Moreland: “High On Tulsa Heat”
    Eric Church: “Mr. Misunderstood”

    *

    *****The Awesome Ones (8/10)*****

    Jason Isbell: “Something More Than Free”
    Turnpike Troubadours: “Turnpike Troubadours”
    Tami Neilson: “Don’t Be Afraid”
    Brandi Carlile: “The Firewatcher’s Daughter”
    Maddie & Tae: “Start Here”
    Charlie Parr: “Stumpjumper”
    Jon Pardi: “The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP”
    Will Hoge: “Small Town Dreams”

    *

    *****The Pretty Damn Great Ones (7.5/10)*****

    Whitney Rose: “Heartbreaker Of The Year”
    Blackberry Smoke: “Holding All The Roses”
    Cody Jinks: “Adobe Sessions”
    Sam Outlaw: “Angeleno”
    Dwight Yoakam: “Second Hand Heart”
    Kasey Chambers: “Bittersweet”
    Allison Moorer: “Down To Believing”
    The Lone Bellow: “Then Came The Morning”

    *

    *****The Great Ones (7/10)*****

    Ashley Monroe: “The Blade”
    Chris Stapleton: “Traveler”
    Houndmouth: “Little Neon Limelight”
    Kacey Musgraves: “Pageant Material”
    Alan Jackson: “Angels & Alcohol”
    The Malpass Brothers: “The Malpass Brothers”
    Corb Lund: “Things That Can’t Be Undone”

    *

    *****Not Great, But Good*****

    Lindi Ortega: “Faded Gloryville” (6.5)
    George Strait: “Cold Beer Conversation” (6.5)
    Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard: “Django & Jimmie” (6.5)

    *

    *

    Note: I haven’t heard Jonathan Tyler, Rick Eliot, The Banditos and Tony Furtado’s latest efforts in full to have a final opinion on them.

    *

    *

    So, when comparing our lists, it looks like I praise Gretchen Peters, James McMurtry and John Moreland’s efforts significantly more than you do, while you both praise Chris Stapleton and Houndmouth’s efforts more significantly than I do.

    All in all, though, we have similar impeccable tastes! We know great music! =D

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Zack December 22, 2015 / 11:26 pm

    I thought about going for 40….but damn it I couldn’t help going to 45 haha. Anyway, much like Nadia I’ve lately been the type of reviewer who saves the coveted 10 for those albums that truly deserve it (in my mind at least). Before I share my list I just want to list (based off of Josh’s piece and Nadia’s comment) which albums I never got to this year:

    “If I’ve Only One Time Askin'”
    “Don’t Be Afraid”
    “Adobe Sessions”
    “The Traveling Kind”
    “High On Tulsa Heat”
    “Absent Fathers”
    “The Bell”
    “Bittersweet”
    “SS
    “Stumpjumper”

    And now onto my list! Note, these are not in exact order, only in order by rank.

    *****10/10*****

    Gretchen Peters- “Blackbirds”
    Michael Monroe Goodman- “The Flag, The Bible and Bill Monroe”
    Whitey Morgan- “Sonic Ranch”

    *****9/10*****

    William Clark Green- “Ringling Road”
    Jason Isbell- “Something More Than Free”
    Courtney Patton- “So This Is Life”
    Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen- “Hold My Beer Vol. 1” (I know that I said this wasn’t AOTY material, but I went back to it….and it’s damn solid)
    James McMurtry- “Complicated Game” (the closest one to a 10 on here)
    Don Henley- “Cass County” (Also close to a 10)
    Chris Stapleton- “Traveller”
    Houndmouth- “Little Neon Limelight”
    The Black Lillies- “Hard To Please”
    Jonathan Tyler- “Holy Smokes”
    Whitney Rose- “Heartbreaker Of The Year”
    Eric Church- “Mr. Misunderstood”

    *****8.5/10*****

    Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors- “Medicine”
    Blackberry Smoke- “Holding All The Roses”
    Christian Lopez Band- “Onward”
    Dwight Yoakam- “Second Hand Heart”
    Ward Thomas- “From Where We Stand”
    Brandi Carlile- “The Firewatcher’s Daughter”
    Ryan Bingham- “Fear and Saturday Night”
    JD McPherson- “Let The Good Times Roll”
    Hailey Whitters- “Black Sheep”
    Turnpike Troubadours- “s/t”
    The Yawpers- “American Man”

    *****8/10*****

    Will Hoge- “Small Town Dreams”
    Maddie and Tae- “Start Here”
    The Lone Bellow- “Then Came The Morning”
    Jamie Lin Wilson- “Holidays and Wedding Rings”
    Kacey Musgraves- “Pageant Material”
    George Strait- “Cold Beer Conversation”
    Alan Jackson- “Angels and Alcohol”
    Sam Outlaw- “Angeleno”
    Ray Wylie Hubbard- “The Ruffians Misfortune”
    Jason Boland and the Stragglers- “Squelch”
    Corb Lund- “Things That Can’t Be Undone”

    *****7.5/10*****
    Steve Earle & The Dukes- “Terraplane”
    Allison Moorer- “Down To Believing”
    The Malpass Brothers- “s/t” (the only reason this is lower is because I really wanted to hear some more original material on here)
    Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard- “Django and Jimmie”
    Aaron Watson- “The Underdog”
    Tim McGraw- “Damn Country Music”
    Dean Brody- “Gypsy Road”

    With me being off of school I finally got to make an actual list. I think in the future I’m going to stop individually ranking them since it’s just too damn hard haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. darkhornetlsu December 23, 2015 / 9:09 am

    My second favorite album of the year didn’t make the cut: Aaron Watson’s “The Underdog.” I still have it second behind Traveller, but I am very grateful for discovering Watson this year.

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    • Brandon December 28, 2015 / 12:35 am

      The Underdog is one of the best this year for sure, comparing it to Traveller I have to say that the best Aaron Watson songs are better than the best Chris Stapleton songs. Overall, traveller may be a little bit better.

      My opinion, the best female album would be Courtney Patton.

      Like

  9. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria December 23, 2015 / 8:23 pm

    Thanks for this list! I haven’t listened to quite a few of these albums, so I’m glad you did a post on this.

    Liked by 1 person

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