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 

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – January 2015

The Lone Bellow

What a great month for country music! I was absolutely blown away by the amount of quality music. There were numerous great albums and singles that kept this country music fan quite happy. Narrowing it down to ten songs proved to be challenge, but after much deliberation I’ve narrowed down my top ten country songs for January 2015. Onto the list!

  1. The Lone Bellow – “Cold As It Is” – There were a lot of great songs on the fantastic new album from The Lone Bellow, but this is the song I find myself playing the most. It’s the perfect blend of country, rock and blues. It’s impossible not to marvel at how great this song is. My favorite country song released in 2015 so far.
  2. Justin Townes Earle – “Call Ya Momma” – Without a doubt the standout from Earle’s new album Absent Fathers. Earle displays the perfect amount of emotion in his voice to draw the listener in. The bluesy country instrumentation is pretty great too. This song is a home run all-around.
  3. The Lone Bellow – “Then Came The Morning” – The opener and title track of The Lone Bellow’s new album will floor you upon first listen. The uplifting melody makes this a pretty good song. The harmonies, especially in the last quarter of the song make this a great song.
  4. Jamey Johnson – “Alabama Pines” – After going years without hearing any new non-holiday material, we finally got a new song from the Alabama artist in “Alabama Pines.” And it’s pretty damn good. It’s the first single off of his new upcoming album and if this is a precursor to it then we’re in for a potential album of the year candidate. Just imagine this is probably not even the best song off of it. To hear it click here.
  5. The Lone Bellow – “Marietta” – The Lone Bellow make up three of the top five spots in my top ten list. Not a surprise considering it’s the first candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. I connected with this stirring love ballad from the first listen. To me the trio perfectly captured the emotion of a love struck person trying to win back their love.
  6. Cody Jinks – “Cast No Stones” – I’ve been waiting for a while for a country song that tackles judgmental bible thumpers and Jinks delivered it to me. Mainstream country artists today wouldn’t have the balls to make a song like this and I would venture to say not a lot of independent artists would either. Too many would fear they’re alienating their fan base. This is one of the many great songs off his new Adobe Sessions album. Jinks also does a great job getting his message across, without it coming out the wrong way.
  7. Justin Townes Earle – “Day and Night” – This song immediately follows “Call Ya Momma” on Earle’s album. A tough act to follow, but this song is nearly just as good. This song is all about Earle’s voice guiding the story and the emotions involved. It’s a self-reflective story of how his former life and current life are night and day. Earle is celebrating his newfound happiness and I think all listeners can appreciate this.
  8. First Aid Kit – “Brother” – Surprise! I bet not too many of you were even aware of this song just being released. I didn’t either until I was randomly searching around the web. Turns out this song didn’t make the cut on First Aid Kit’s 2014 album Stay Gold and was only released as a bonus track on the Japanese version. It was just released this month along with “America” (which was only available before in vinyl) and two Stockholm Session recordings of “Stay Gold” and “My Silver Lining.” This song is dedicated to the sisters’ brother and it’s a really moving tribute. I can’t wait for their next album.
  9. Cody Canada & the Departed – “All Nighter” – For those who didn’t read about this song in my review of Cody Canada and the Departed’s new album HippieLovePunk, here’s what it’s about:The song deals with how life is short, so you should live it up and not be afraid to have fun. It should be noted Canada is joined on vocals by all four Braun brothers, Willy and Cody of Reckless Kelly, along with Micky and Gary of Micky & The Motorcars. The song is dedicated to Mark McCoy, a former bassist for the latter band who drowned to death in Idaho a few years ago. It’s a pretty cool tribute with a nice story behind it.
  10. Ryan Bingham – “Broken Heart Tattoos” – Rounding out the top ten is the emotional “Broken Heart Tattoos” from Ryan Bingham’s new album Fear and Saturday Night. I didn’t enjoy this album as much as others did, but I thought there were some pretty good songs off of it. I thought this one stood out the most. From Derek’s great review: “I hear a ton of Bob Dylan influence in Ryan Bingham on this album, and this song is particularly evident of that influence. Here, Bingham is singing to his child. Children are born into innocence, without worry and without pain at first. However, this song encourages, “take your sweet time and walk a straight line. And don’t you be shy of your wilder side or be afraid to let loose with broken heart tattoos.”

Honorable Mentions:

Derek’s Top Country Songs – January 2015

We are off to a great start to 2015! There were several great album releases this month, and a few singles that are equally as impressive. To be honest, I could have easily made this a top-20 list, but in sticking with Country Perspective’s tradition, I’ll keep it at the 10 songs I enjoyed the most from this month. Two of my top songs are not currently on Spotify, so I’ve put the YouTube clips of the songs here, but you’ll find the rest of the songs in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post.

  1. “Alabama Pines” Jamey Johnson – As Josh said in his review, “It’s beautifully simple and traditional with a feel good message. It will also create a sense of nostalgia in many listeners I think too, something many mainstream country songs tried to do in 2014 and failed at doing so.” “Alabama Pines” is simply great country music; the best song of the month!
  2. “Diners” The Lone Bellow – This Americana trio’s new album, Then Came the Morning, is simply fantastic. My favorite song from the collection, The Lone Bellow sing of broken love and a realization that the love is true. They use an analogy of old diners and jukeboxes to tell the story. They sing with such emotion and passion that sell the story. This song is special.
  3. “Island in the Sky” Ryan Bingham – Without a doubt, this is the standout track from Bingham’s new album Fear and Saturday Night. Bingham sings this song of hope with genuine passion, and the inclusion of the harmonica in the production is a welcome addition.
  4. “The Messenger” Stanford Road – A heartbreaking tune about a woman not wanting to face the truth of her husband, a soldier, dying on the battlefield. This husband-wife duo deliver on this track. Again, as Josh wrote in his review of the song, “ It’s a song filled with emotion that will certainly move most listeners. The lyrics are simple, yet very effective. The instrumentation drives the mood of this song perfectly.
  5. “Snow Falls in June” Ryan Bingham – A love song where Bingham devotes himself to his love. If she’s depressed or feeling down, he’ll always be there for her. It’s a beautiful, well written song.
  6. “Call To War” The Lone Bellow – A driving acoustic production with beautiful vocals. “Call To War” has the feel of a preparation for a new journey.  Great writing with equally great vocals help this song stand out among the crowd of a great album.
  7. “Rock and Roll” Cody Jinks – As Josh wrote in his review of Adobe Sessions, “The lyrics are kept simple to tell a complicated story like someone going through alcohol addiction. It’s a real sentimental song that caps off this album well.” Jinks tells a compelling story and sings with authenticity that draws the listener into the song.
  8. “Broken Heart Tattoos” Ryan Bingham – A third Bingham song on this list. Fear and Saturday Night was an album with several standout tracks, and this is one of them. Written as a letter for his son, Bingham speaks of his youthful innocence and encourages him to let loose if need be.
  9. “All Nighter” Cody Canada & The Departed – Off their new album, HippieLovePunk, a song written about the passing of Mark McCoy of Micky and the Motorcars. Cody Canada recruits the Braun brothers from Reckless Kelly and the aforementioned Motorcars to help sing the tribute song.
  10. “Homegrown” Zac Brown Band – The new single off an upcoming album. The men from Georgia blend modern influences with their own sonic style and tell a story of appreciation for simple life and great friends.

Honorable Mentions

  • “If You Don’t Love Me” The Lone Bellow
  • “Dirt” Cody Jinks
  • “Leave Me Another Day” Judson Cole Band
  • “Take My Love” The Lone Bellow
  • “Farther From Me” Justin Townes Earle

 

Billboard Top 25 Country Albums This Week [Jan. 31]

  1. Sam Hunt – Montevallo  (Grade: 1/10)
  2. Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine (Grade: 7.5/10)
  3. Jason Aldean – Old Boots, New Dirt (Grade: 3/10)
  4. Carrie Underwood – Greatest Hits: Decade #1
  5. Florida Georgia Line – Anything Goes (Grade: 0/10)
  6. Luke Bryan – Crash My Party
  7. RaeLynn – Me (EP) (Grade: 0/10)
  8. Chase Rice – Ignite the Night (Grade: 2/10)
  9. Cody Canada and The Departed – HippieLovePunk (Grade: 8.5/10)
  10. Eric Church – The Outsiders
  11. Blake Shelton – Bringing Back The Sunshine (Grade: 4/10)
  12. Zac Brown Band – Greatest Hits So Far…
  13. George Strait – The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium
  14. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  15. Lady Antebellum – 747 (Grade: 4.5/10)
  16. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Grade: 10/10)
  17. Brantley Gilbert – Just As I Am (Grade: 5/10)
  18. Lee Brice – I Don’t Dance (Grade: 5/10)
  19. Cole Swindell – Cole Swindell
  20. Kenny Chesney – The Big Revival (Grade: 4.5/10)
  21. Little Big Town – Pain Killer (Grade: 3/10)
  22. Tim McGraw – Sundown Heaven Town (Grade: 7.5/10)
  23. Brett Eldredge – Bring You Back
  24. Alabama – Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites
  25. Dierks Bentley – Riser
Source: Billboard

Album Review – Cody Canada and the Departed’s HippieLovePunk

Cody Canada became a household name in the Red Dirt/Texas scene with his former band Cross Canadian Ragweed, releasing four straight top ten albums. Most bands would stick together and keep making top ten albums. Instead they parted ways and now a few years after the breakup Canada makes a return to the sound of his Cross Canadian Ragweed days with his new band The Departed. They’ve also re-added Canada’s name to the front of their name after just being called The Departed last year. This is also the return of Canada to being the sole main vocalist of his band since Seth James, who had been sharing vocal duties with Canada in The Departed, left the group. With Jeremy Plato on bass guitar, Steve Littleton on keyboards and Chris Doege on drums, does Cody Canada and the Departed deliver with their new album HippieLovePunk? Yes they do.

The album begins with “Comin To Me.” It starts with some slick electric guitar play that sets a fast pace. It’s definitely classic Canada with his brand of rock country. This is a song you can move your feet to with its infectious rhythm and pace. The piano play with the electric guitar in the bridge is phenomenal. This is followed up with “Inbetweener,” another song with a very likable southern rock sound. The song has a swagger attitude about it, giving it a nice edge. The album then slows down with “Easy.” It’s about how everyone strives to make their lives easier, whether it’s avoiding the crap on television or finding a good woman to love. Once again I like the combination of the guitar and the piano.

This is followed with “Revolution,” which has more of a punk rock feel to it, especially since the theme of it is starting a revolution to make the world a better place. It’s a rock country anthem that is pretty much guaranteed to get your head moving as your listening to it. It’s edgy, in your face and I love it. Canada and the Departed slow it down again with “Back Closer.” The song seems to be a reflective song about the band touring on the road and singing their songs; the song deals with how every night varies, where some are good and others are bad. It’s an honest and revealing look into life on the road for a band.

“Got It” is a song that doesn’t do much for me. It’s kind of boring, as the pace of the song feels uneven and there’s really nothing to sink your teeth into. The lyrics are a little puzzling and don’t do a good job of explaining what this song is about. This is definitely the weak link on the album. The band goes back to what they’re best at with “Great Big Nothin” though. It’s a fast paced foot-stomper. The song questions the integrity of society and wonders if everything is “just a lie.” Just like “Revolution” earlier in the album, this song has a punk rock attitude. The electric guitar is loud and proud in this song.

The band trades electric guitars for acoustic guitars in “Maker.” The song is about waiting on the “maker man” and how the drive for this makes you want to keep living. I’m really not sure where they’re going with the theme on this song. It’s kind of confusing. The lyrics could definitely be better. The instrumentation and Canada’s vocals are great though. “Stay” is a mid-tempo heartbreak song where the man deals with the falling out of a relationship. He never meant to bring her down and walk away, but he wonders why should they stay. Upon first listen this song may not seem like much, but I think it grows on you the more you listen to it. The instrumentation is once again flawless and works really well with the lyrics.

Without a doubt the highlight of this entire album is “Boss of Me,” a song about a man telling his woman that she isn’t the boss of him. Despite his pleas, she sounds very much to be the boss of him. The attitude is edgy, rough and aggressive. Everything in this song works brilliantly, from the lyrics to the instrumentation to the tone. It does a good job of creating the right feel for the what man is coming from in this song. The lyrics avoid painting the man to be condescending and bossy; instead it paints the picture of a man who isn’t in control, even though he likes to think he is. What else can I say: this song flat-out rocks!

The album concludes with “All Nighter,” a very sobering song about life. The song deals with how life is short and how you should live every day to the fullest. It’s quite somber, but it also offers some light too. It should be noted Canada is joined on vocals by all four Braun brothers, Willy and Cody of Reckless Kelly, along with Micky and Gary of Micky & The Motorcars. The song is dedicated to Mark McCoy, a former bassist for the Motorcars who drowned to death in Idaho a few years ago. It’s a pretty cool tribute with a nice story behind it. From an interview with Texas Monthly, Canada explains the story and meaning behind “All Nighter”:

“There was a loss in our music family that hurt pretty badly, and I wanted that person to know that we thought of him every day,” Canada explains of the collaboration. “Micky Braun passed on writing the song to me. I think it was a little too close to the chest for him. So on New Year’s Eve of 2013, I finished it. I played it a month later for [their father] Muzzy Braun up in Idaho by his wood burning stove. I noticed the stove had ‘All Nighter’ etched on the front. I had no idea. It was meant to be.”

Canada wrote the song for Mark “Gus” McCoy, the Micky and the Motorcars bassist who drowned in 2012, and says that he was inspired to write it after his wife had a conversation with Braun family patriarch, Muzzy, about how he and his wife raised their sons. “He told us to raise good kids you have to keep them close by your side,” Canada recalls. “I took that in and finished the song with a Braun in mind for each verse.” 

Right after “All Nighter” a nameless, hidden bonus track plays where it’s just Canada singing while playing an acoustic guitar. It deals with the same themes as “All Nighter” and proves Canada is just as good with slowed down, acoustic songs as he is with his normal rock country songs. I recommend hearing this song for yourself.

Cody Canada and the Departed’s HippieLovePunk is a pretty solid album for the most part. The instrumentation on this album is pretty close to perfect. The Departed should be quite proud of this. I can say the same of the vocals, with the best performance in this aspect coming on the final song “All Nighter” where Canada and the Braun brothers exceptionally express the right emotion behind their performance. Other than the final two songs, there weren’t any other “big” moments that stood out on this album to me and I was hoping for a couple more of these type of songs. Nevertheless there are very few weak moments on this album and while there weren’t a lot of big songs as I mentioned, it’s pretty damn good in all aspects. HippieLovePunk is definitely an album worth checking out, especially if you love rock country music.

Grade: 8.5/10