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. 

Album Review – Tami Neilson’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid’

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

One of the joys of having a music blog is the constant search and discovery of new artists that blow you away. It was one of the most interesting things I learned in 2014 as I started this blog, as I came across several talented artists I never even heard of before. One of the best I came across was Tami Neilson, a New Zealand artist who combines country, soul, rockabilly and blues to create a brand of music that will catch any listeners’ attention. Her 2014 album Dynamite! was one of the top five best country albums of the year. Neilson also won Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year award for her song, “Cry Over You.” Needless to say we at Country Perspective are impressed with Neilson and is an artist that is forever on our radar.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard Neilson was coming out with a new album just less than a year later after Dynamite!. But I wasn’t sure if it would be available in the United States for listening or purchase. That’s one of the problems you can encounter with covering an artist outside of the states and you may have to wait over a year to get it. Luckily, there’s no wait as the album is available through Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. It’s titled Don’t Be Afraid and the inspiration behind the album is a sad one. This past year Neilson lost her father (also a country artist) Ron Neilson and this album is focused around this large loss in the life of Neilson. And with these deep-running emotions, Neilson creates some of the beautiful music of her career. Don’t Be Afraid is arguably even better than Dynamite!.

The album opens in the most appropriate way, with its title track and the final song Tami’s father ever written. There’s really only one word that describes this song and that’s powerful, from the instrumentation to the vocals to the songwriting. Tami is at her absolute best with this song and takes the songwriting of her father to another level with her vocals. Neilson won our Song of the Year award last year and this song is a strong contender for her to win it again. The upbeat “Holy Moses” is next. Once again you get to hear Neilson’s voice just unleashed behind a gospel meets rockabilly sound. The song itself is your “everyday prayer,” as Neilson describes it. The instrumentation is engagingly great. It’s definitely the type of song that makes you want to get up and dance. “Lonely” is the lone duet of the album. Ron Neilson originally started to write this song 20 years ago and Tami finished writing it. Fellow New Zealand country artist Marlon Williams, who is another artist worth checking out, joins her on the song. Their voices go together perfectly, as they both have a throwback sound.

The mysterious feeling “So Far Away” follows. And while it has a mysterious vibe, it also feels so familiar too. It’s a western desperado journey meets a soul search. Words really can’t describe it, as this is one of those songs you have to feel to understand. Neilson reflects on love and family in “If Love Were Enough.” She ponders throughout the song if she’s loved the people around her enough and how time seems to fly by so fast that you wish you could have had one more day with the person you loved. You can feel the emotion from Neilson in this song, as she longs for another day with her dad. And I’m sure this song will make many listeners feel the same about a lost loved one.

Neilson channels her soulful, gospel side again with “Bury My Body.” This was apparently the last song her father ever heard and his favorite on the album. The song is about how your body can be buried, but never your soul. A person can die, but their spirit and impact can felt for years to come. “Loco Mama” is a Latino-flavored, fast song that shows off Neilson’s fun-loving side. It’s a nice change of pace in an album full of somber ballads about life and death. Neilson further explores her feelings of grief over the death of her father in “Heavy Heart.” She has a heavy heart now and knows it will take time for her wounds to fully heal. The pedal steel guitar that lingers throughout the song, along with the strings production, gives this song a perfect feel for the theme.

“Only Tears” is your classic heartbreak ballad. Neilson wrote this song with the album’s producer Delaney Davidson and I’m assuming he’s also providing backing vocals throughout the song too. Neilson’s voice absolutely soars in this song. “Laugh Laugh Laugh” is the shortest song of the album. But it’s one worth paying attention to, as the song is about laughing to hide your true feelings. It’s more of a coping mechanism than a representation of true feelings. This is the type of song that speaks to the artistry of Neilson.

Don’t Be Afraid closes with another song where Neilson just lays all of her emotions out about the special relationship she shared with her father from the beginning of her life to the end of his life. In “The First Man,” Neilson sings about how her father was the first man who loved her, kissed her and was there for her when she needed someone the most. She knows no man will fill his shoes and that her life won’t be the same without him. It’s poignant, it’s real and an absolute touching way to conclude the album.

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. The field for album of the year was already crowded and you can now add this album to it. This is an album you have to hear for yourself. I didn’t think it was possible, but Neilson has shined to a new height with Don’t Be Afraid.

Grade: 10/10