Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2015 So Far

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2015, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music. Up first we take a look back at the best country albums of 2015 so far. There has certainly been a lot of great albums and the competition for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award is already tightly contested.

Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country albums of 2015 so far (in no particular order)….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

The hype was high heading into Chris Stapleton’s album. Not only did he meet the hype, he surpassed it with Traveller. 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 is spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary. Traveller is a must-own and is easily one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far 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. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

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. If you’re into groups like Shovels & Rope or The Lone Bellow, you’ll enjoy Houndmouth even more. I highly recommend this album. Without a doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015.

Blackberry Smoke Holding All The Roses

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Overall, Holding All The Roses is what southern rock is all about. Each song is unique and adds quality to the album. The lyrics are fresh and just damn fun to listen to; it’s really hard to find a song on here that’s bad. The album is paced well and even when Blackberry Smoke venture down a country alley for a song or two, those country songs are better than pretty much everything that radio offers. Holding All The Roseshas a throwback feel to a golden era of rock and country music, delivering on every track. Their previous album, The Whippoorwill, was fantastic in its own right, but Blackberry Smoke followed it up with an equally outstanding record. Holding All The Roses will be a tough act to follow.

Bowen & Rogers Hold My Beer

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

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. I definitely recommend buying this album. It’s a must-own for fans of country music.

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Very rarely am I left speechless and a loss for words when listening to a great album, but this is the case with The Malpass Brothers’ new self-titled album. This is just pure, classic country that words can’t do justice. I’ve listened to this album over and over. I can’t get over how great it is and how two young artists like Chris and Taylor Malpass get country music so damn well. These guys were born to make country music. If you’re a fan of pop country music, don’t listen to this album. It’s simply too country for you. For those who love traditional and classic country, buy this album, press play and prepare to be amazed. You can’t get anymore country than this album. This is one of my favorites of 2015 and I can’t wait to hear more music from The Malpass Brothers for years to come.

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

There’s no other way to say it: Second Hand Heart is awesome. You aren’t going to hear many country albums as good as this one for the rest of the year. It has touching ballads, rocking honky-tonk and some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard on an album in recent memory. Yoakam’s voice is as brilliant as ever. I think I speak for Yoakam fans everywhere when I say this: don’t ever leave music again. While I enjoyed Yoakam as Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, I would much rather listen to him produce amazing albums like this one. I give Second Hand Heart my highest recommendation, as it’s definitely a top candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Just like he did back in the 80s, Yoakam brings us traditional country in a world that badly needs it.

The Mavericks Mono

The Mavericks – Mono

Mono from start to finish seduces you with its sultry songs. The deeper you go into this album, the more you will love it. I thought In Time was the best this group could do, but they proved me wrong. Mono is even better than In Time, which I did not think could be possible. They have just set the bar pretty high for everyone else in country music in 2015. There’s a lot of heavy hitters yet to release their albums in 2015, but they better bring their all if they want to top this album. Without a doubt, a top contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Go buy this album and listen to it over and over. The Mavericks’ Mono is a shining example of not only how country music should be done, but really how all music should be done.

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Overall, Blackbirds is dark and heartbreaking, but there’s an ironic beauty to the darkness. Gretchen Peters is a seasoned, award-winning songwriter. Her writing onBlackbirds is top-notch; with scenes and feelings described perfectly within each song while still driving the story forward. And as I mentioned before, the production on each track adds even more to the mood of the songs. Regardless of how dark the album may be, the consistency and focus put into making every aspect work in conjunction pays off. Blackbirds is a fantastic album.

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning simply blows me away. The year is still new, but this album will hold up as one of the best in country music all year. I don’t think it would be a stretch to call this trio one of the most dynamic in music. If you’re looking for a comparison, I would say the closest is Shovels & Rope, except more bluesy and not quite as dark. So if you love Shovels & Rope, you’ll love this group. Some may say this isn’t a country album, but I don’t care what genre you put it under. This is just great music that everyone should hear. This is without a doubt a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Diamondwolf – Your Time Has Come

Overall, Your Time Has Come, is a fantastic album. Many times, it’s the Indie music artists who are the most talented in both writing and instrumentation, and Diamondwolf is no exception to that thought. In fact, they’re a great example of that thought. The deep metaphors and meaning found in the writing of these songs are a lost art in mainstream music. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper sing these deep lyrics beautifully on every track. Even though you may have to listen to some of these songs a few times to fully grasp the meaning, it’s worth it. The reality and honesty grounded in each track only makes Your Time Has Come that much better. I highly recommend this album.

Other Highly Recommended Albums

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP 

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie 

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays and Wedding Rings 

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat 

Reba – Love Somebody

Ryan Bingham – Fear and Saturday Night

Cody Canada and the Departed – HippieLovePunk 

The Western Swing Authority – Now Playing 

Judson Cole Band – Eastern Skies 

Striking Matches – Nothing But The Silence

Aaron Watson – The Underdog 

William Clark Green – Ringling Road

American Aquarium – Wolves 

Album Review – Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery Leaves Me Near Speechless

karenjonasmusic.com

Country Perspective didn’t come into existence until late May 2014. This means there was a lot of great country music released before then we had to catch up with, along with keeping up with all of the other country music being released at the moment. It’s impossible of course to cover everything released. So as we reach the end of another year, I went back and looked at all of the albums that were released that have not yet been covered here on Country Perspective. This is probably going to be the last review I do this year because I’ll be focusing on the year-end awards here. I went back and forth on which album I should review, but the one I kept coming back to was Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery. Several of the fellow critics I respect have given this album high praise and I was eager to give it a listen to see if it meets these high expectations. Does it meet these expectations? No. It exceeds them!

If you have not listened to this album yet, do yourself a favor. Go buy it and listen to it. This is one of the best albums in country music this year. The album starts off with “Suicide Sal,” a song about a girl named Suicide Sal who’s on the lam for committing a crime she didn’t commit. It’s a catchy song with an interesting story you need to really hear for yourself. Jonas’ vocals are great and draws the listener into the album quite easily. This is followed by “Get Out of My Head.” It’s a song about a woman trying to get her ex out of her head. She’s doing everything she can to get rid of his memory, but she can’t shake him. Jonas’ raw vocals create that conflicted emotion of a woman who can’t shake love, but yet doesn’t want to. This is true artistry.

The album’s title track is the best song on the album and one of the best country songs of 2014. I can’t do the song justice with words. It’s so damn fantastic in every single element. Just listen for yourself:

 

One of the more fast paced songs on the album, “Money” is about how money isn’t everything and that it can’t get what you really want in life. It has a similar vibe to Sturgill Simpson’s “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean.” The messages of both are the same: the world sucks and you may have to sacrifice a lot of money to be happy. “Thinkin’ of You Again” is a slow and sultry feeling love song about a woman who can’t stop thinking about a man who was in her life. She’s done a lot since moving on from him and been with a lot of other men, trying to shake her memory of him. Yet she can’t stop thinking of him. Again Jonas does a great job conveying the conflicted emotion in the song.

“I Never Learn” is about a woman who continues to be fooled by men who only use her and then leave her, but she continues to not learn from this situation that continues to happen to her over and over again. There is some damn solid instrumentation in this song. Jonas takes a more bluesy approach with “Lucky.” This is a song about luck in life. The woman in the song recounts moments through her life where she lucky and unlucky as she’s playing poker. Jonas’ vocals are perfect in this song.

As I listened to the final three songs on this album, (“Steppin’ on Your Toes,” “The River Song” and “White Trash Romance”) I became speechless. I felt it was unnecessary to continue to repeat over and over again how great the songs are. So I’ll just say this once about the final three songs: they’re great vocal wise, instrumentation wise and each bring something different to the table. And you know me. I’m rarely at a loss of words.

If there was something bad about this album or any album, I would point it out with hesitation. When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s Swimmin’ Time

When the Civil Wars announced they were officially splitting, there was now a void for a powerful duo in country music. No, Florida Georgia has never been nor will be a powerful duo anywhere close to the Civil Wars. Well that void was temporary because the duo that is more than capable of taking their spot has officially emerged: Shovels & Rope. One thing that make Shovels & Rope more cohesive and less likely to split is they are a husband and wife duo. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst show no signs of their marriage nor band breaking apart anytime soon. They’re starting to become more and more popular too, as last week they appeared on Conan and continue to receive praise from critics abroad. I’m about to praise them also because their new album Swimmin’ Time is one hell of a record.

The Best Songs on the Album

The first thing I look at when analyzing duo is how well they harmonize. And Shovels & Rope certainly get an A+ in this department. Their harmonies are absolutely flawless throughout the entire album. The best example of their harmonies shining is on “After The Storm.” Hearst’s vocals are especially strong on this song as she shows great emotion in the exact spots there should be emotion. The inclusion of the harmonica in this song is also a nice touch. But their harmonies are showcased front and center in the last-minute or so in the song when there is no instruments playing and it’s just the two harmonizing together. It hits you right in the gut.

Shovels & Rope show their silly side in “Fish Assassin.” When preparing to listen to a song with a title like this you really don’t know what to expect. What you get with it is a short, but fast and upbeat song. The song is actually about fishing and then frying said fish up. Pretty funny stuff. It’s also a song you can’t help, but get up and dance to as you listen. The tambourine and drum combination make for an infectious beat that’s easy to get stuck in your head. The song is only one minute and twenty-three seconds long, but this duo knows how to pack a punch in a small song. Of course then they follow this song up with a song that is even better in “Coping Mechanism.” This song has the total package. The vocals and instrumentation are absolutely stellar. This is a throwback country song with 50s doo-wop  that makes you want to bob your head back and forth. I guess that would make it Americana? Whatever you want to label it, this song is awesome. The harmonies are so great on this song that you can’t help but smile as you listen to it. It’s hard to properly describe how good this song is and it’s best just to listen to it multiple times.

It’s hard enough to have one song on an album that has the whole package, but Shovels & Rope have second song on the album that shines in all facets too. “Swimmin’ Time” is a song about dealing with incoming consequences and is basically a warning song to a person about to receive payback. There’s also an underlying sinister attitude to the song that really gives it a bite (really there’s underlying sinister attitude on a lot of song on this album). The harmonies and instrumentation are excellent of course. “Stono River Blues” is a bluesy rock influenced song with balls. Just before the two-minute mark there is a guitar solo that is face melting. Just a fantastic arrangement of instruments on this song. Shovels & Rope show off their storytelling chops in “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan.” It’s a song that tells the story about two people falling in love with each other. When Mary and Dan “talk” in the song, Trent voices Dan and Hearst voices Mary, making for a cool dynamic between the two throughout the song. It’s a real upbeat, love song that incorporates the horn instruments quite well.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Nope.

The Rest of the Album

“The Devil Is All Around” is a song about making mistakes in life and finding ways to fix them. I thought it was a solid way to kick off the album, although it took me a few listens to figure out exactly what the song is about. They follow this up with the heartbreak song, “Bridge On Fire.” The lyrics do a great job of painting a picture in the listener’s head of how the breakup transpired. The mood and pacing of the song is spot on. The dark side of Shovels & Rope is shown in “Evil.” There’s a constant presence of the steel guitar in the background that really gives it a dark vibe and sets the tone perfectly. The song is what the title says it is, it’s about evil and sinister topics such as child abuse and dead dogs on the side of the road being mentioned. That’s how evil this song gets. They get just as dark in the song “Ohio.” The horns and electric guitar makes for a real interesting combination. I’m really not sure what the song is about, but I know I like it. It’s more of an instrumental song. There’s a reference to a rich man in Dallas making money off suckers in Ohio towards the end of the song that gives it a sinister mysteriousness mood to the song.

Great harmonic play is present again in “Pinned,” a song about learning lessons from others. The lighter side of Shovels & Rope can be found in “Save The World.” It’s a folksy song about two people falling in love that feels genuine and heartfelt coming from a husband and wife duo. They go back to the dark side in the final track, “Thresher.” This song is about the mysterious sinking of a boat tragically killing people. It has a real dark vibe. The song just feels so haunted that you can hardly tell what’s happening. You kind of get lost in the music on the first listen. Upon second listen you’ll be able to appreciate the fantastic songwriting. I think it’s a good song to cap off the album.

Overall Thoughts

My only regret with Shovels & Rope is that I didn’t listen to their music sooner. This is a pair of musicians that simply understand what country music is all about. It’s not about partying and drinking beers on a tailgates nor driving on a dirt road. It’s about telling a story that the everyday person can relate to and feel as they listen. This is a group that has so many influences from other genres that you honesty can’t even place a label on them. The closest label I could put on them is alt-country. The only other group I’ve listened to in recent years that I could say is similar in the fact you can’t place a concise label on them is The Mavericks. When you’re compared to The Mavericks you know you’re pretty damn great. I’m very picky about giving an album a 10 because I feel an album and band truly need to earn it with their music. I just gave a 10 last week to Lucette’s new album and didn’t expect to consider giving a 10 out again so soon. But there’s no other choice with an excellent album like this one. Go buy Swimmin’ Time. You won’t regret it. This is a Country Perspective Album of the Year candidate without a doubt.

Grade: 10/10

To preview and purchase Swimmin’ Time, click here.

 

The Best Country Albums of 2014 (So Far)

With it being around the halfway point through 2014, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the best country albums that have been released so far. There has been some great country music this year, but it’s quite difficult to pull off an entire album that is good all the way through. At the end of the year, Country Perspective will crown it’s Country Album of the Year. Keep in mind with this list that Country Perspective can’t listen to every single country album that gets released and I’m only going off what I’ve listened to so far in 2014 (I’m also picky when it comes to naming top albums). Country Perspective isn’t even a month old yet, so I don’t have a review for everything listed either. The end of the year list will be more detailed and prolific than this list. I’m sure there will be more candidates that reveal themselves in the coming months, so let’s look at the current top five candidates for Album of the Year (this is no particular order).

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

“I fell in love with the album after a few more listens and officially became a fan of Simpson. So when he announced early in 2014 that he was releasing another album on May 13, I became excited in anticipation. That leads us to the review of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. And folks this is the best album in country music this year. Outlets all over the web, from Grantland to Billboard are praising it. I have nothing bad to say about this album because it is flawless from beginning to end. This won’t be much of a review because I’m just going to praise every song on the album.”

Click here to read the entire review.

Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain

“With Love From Brushy Mountain is one of the best country albums of the year and I can’t recommend it to you more. While some may feel Woods’ voices hurts some of the songs, I feel he makes up for it with great effort and emotion. The songwriting and instrumentation are fantastic throughout the whole album. This album deserves more praise than it’s getting.”

Click here to read the entire review.

Johnny Cash – Out Among the Stars

This album is music that was originally supposed to be released in the 80s, but didn’t come out until earlier this year. While this obviously isn’t Cash’s best work ever, there is still some pretty damn good songs on it. The two standouts on this album are “She Used to Love Me A Lot” and “I’m Movin’ On,” with the latter also featuring Waylon Jennings. This album reached #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart too when it was released, proving people still enjoy and buy traditional country music.

Moot Davis – Goin’ In Hot

I wish Country Perspective existed when this album came out because I would’ve gave it a glowing review. This album is full of traditional country songs that will please the listeners’ ears. Most of the songs on the album deal with relationship and heartbreak, as Davis said on his site that he had just gotten out of a relationship when he began to write songs for Goin’ In Hot. To me the two best songs on the album are “Walk Alone” and “Midnight Train.” “Walk Alone” is the perfect song to listen to after a breakup and “Midnight Train” is about being stuck in a bad relationship and not being able to get out of it. Davis and his band are quite talented and I hope more people listen to his music.

 

Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke

The ageless Dolly Parton made another great album. It’s her first new album in three years and Parton said she wanted to take her time making Blue Smoke because she wanted it to be good and sound just right. I wish more artists today took patience in making quality songs because Dolly’s careful approach pays off. The best songs on this album to me are “Home,” “Blue Smoke,” and “You Can’t Make Old Friends (feat. Kenny Rogers).” These songs are about life and relationships and will cause listeners to experiences many emotions while listening to the whole album. Blue Smoke peaked at #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, proving once again there is a thirst for traditional country music and nobody is tired of listening to “old fart country” music.

Other Great Country Albums in 2014:

Alaina Blair – Here I Am (Read review here)

Robert Ellis – The Lights From the Chemical Plant

Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark

Be sure to come back to Country Perspective later this week as I take a look at the best country songs of 2014.