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 

EP Review – Rick Elliot’s ‘West of the Rockies’

Rick Elliot EP

Throughout 2015 here at Country Perspective we’ve come across numerous fresh faces in the country and Americana scenes. While it’s always exciting to see an old favorite release something new, it’s even more exciting find someone new doing great things. One of the artists that has excited Derek and myself the most is 18-year-old traditional country artist Rick Elliot. Hailing from California, Elliot’s voice sounds like something straight out of the golden days of country music in the 60s and 70s. It’s only fitting he considers Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson two of his biggest influences. Elliot particularly reminds me of Haggard, which is praise I rarely throw out to an artist, let alone a new artist like Elliot. He’s so great that Derek and I both agreed that the “no EP reviews” rule needed to be broken to cover the just released EP from Elliot, titled West of the Rockies. And I’m glad because it’s once again another great offering from Elliot.

The EP opens with “Lovers & Liars,” a song about a man who can’t hold onto a wife or a job. The man has went through the blues and everything in-between. His life is so unstable that he has nowhere to go and no place to call home. It’s your classic country song about the blues. There’s plenty of steel guitar throughout this song, enough to make the most jaded traditional country fan smile. Elliot’s voice really shines in this song too. This is followed by the EP title track, which I reviewed several months back. My thoughts haven’t changed on it, as it’s a fantastic song. From my original review: It’s a self-reflection song where Elliot sings about life past the Rocky Mountains, from everyday life to love to drinking. Elliot sings about a lifestyle not too many country artists today sing about and it’s great to hear a song with a western theme again. The song itself and the instrumentation is great, but it’s Elliot’s voice that impresses me the most. His voice is deep, has great presence and is mature beyond his years.

Elliot recounts the days of a rowdy lifestyle in “Why.” The lyrics are quite strong throughout and Elliot’s delivery of them are dead-on. The instrumentation is of course great and it’s very much in the Bakersfield sound wheelhouse. See why I compare him to The Hag? Everything in this so flows together well to make one cohesive, enjoyable song. Elliot’s second single from the EP, “Let It Shine,” follows. I also covered this single when it came out and it’s once again another quality song. From my review of it: The song is about dealing with heartbreak and getting over an ex-girlfriend. Well the man didn’t just get over this heartbreak, but another heartbreak in a long line of heart breaks. Clearly the man is in pain and feeling sorrow. He just can’t seem to buck this trend of blues. Not only that he can’t shake these feelings, as he feels it wouldn’t be appropriate to “raise it up and let it shine.” Elliot says he would describe this song as “a little gospel with a sinister twist. It’s an upbeat country rhythm and screaming guitar make it a perfect driving song.” And I gotta agree with Elliot, as this song would great to listen to on a long drive.

“If I Agreed With You” is an upbeat, fast-paced song about a man and woman disagreeing. The man likes the country, while the woman likes the club. As Elliot sings, “if I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.” By the end of the song the man realizes that this relationship just isn’t going to work, so he leaves her and goes his own way. The steel guitar, electric guitar and piano combine to make one hell of a fun sound that will surely get you tapping your feet. While Elliot knocks the heartbreak songs out of the park, it’s nice to hear a more fun and lighter song from him too. West of the Rockies closes out with “Delta 88.” It’s a slower, darker feeling song about a man reflecting back on a woman from his past and the car they spent so much time in, the “Delta 88.” It’s the nickname for the popular full-size car, the Oldsmobile 88, which was produced from 1949 to 1999. Elliot really shows off his storytelling-chops with this song and after a few listens it’s easy to get sucked into this song. This is arguably his best, as it’s just complete in every way. As I said it takes a few listens, as I really didn’t grasp it upon the first listen. Once this song clicks for you though you’ll want to play it over and over.

Rick Elliot absolutely delivers with the West of the Rockies EP. It’s up there with Jon Pardi’s The B-Sides EP as my favorite EPs of the year. This EP is full of pure, traditional country goodness and gripping lyrics that will impress almost any country music fan. Elliot’s voice is mature beyond his years and is further ahead at 18 than a lot of artists twice his age. Not very many people are born with a golden voice like Elliot’s and thankfully he’s using it to make great music, as not every golden-voiced singer uses their talent to make the best music they possibly can. As I said before, Elliot is one of my favorite new artists I’ve come across in 2015 and I continue to look forward to hearing more from this promising artist. If for some reason you haven’t checked out Elliot, you need to change this quickly. Get familiar with the name Rick Elliot because he has all the potential to be the next big name to emerge in the independent country scene.

Grade: 10/10

 

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

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Another month in the books, and another group of artists releasing great albums and songs. True, honest lyrics and songs keeping the heart and spirit of country music alive, albeit in lesser of a light compared to those in Nashville. Jason Isbell owned this month; Something More Than Free is one of the best albums this year. Though, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe both offered up great albums as well!  It was a slower month in the release department, but one of the best months in terms of quality. Let’s take a look at my favorites from the month.

  1. “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell – This is one of the best songs released this year. Isbell does a great job painting the picture of life changing in the blink of an eye. The lyrics hit you hard and drive the point home that the things we have in life aren’t permanent and can fall apart in just one measly second.
  2. “The One Your Waiting On” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson has a natural charisma as a singer that captures the listener with every song. As Josh wrote of this song in his review of Angels and Alcohol“Only an artist like Jackson could pull off a song like this one due to the nuance of the theme. If you give this to a bro country artist, you end up with a song like Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him.” Jackson hits this song out of the park.
  3. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell – With my first listen of Something More Than Free, this was the song that captured me the most. Isbell rips your heart out with the song about a man coping with his father’s impending death. It’s damn near impossible to describe what makes this song great, it’s one of those you need to listen to understand.
  4. “Gone Before You Met Me” by Alan Jackson – The melody of this ramblin’ man song is infectious. The description of meeting Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac who pride themselves as ramblin’ men help Jackson realize how much he loves his life at home with a wife and kids.
  5. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe – This breakup song off Ashley Monroe’s album uses great imagery to tell the story. Love can be a brutal thing for people and catching a falling knife from either end is a great description for it.
  6. “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell – The title track to Isbell’s album is an excellent ode to the blue-collar workers, with great poetry in the lyrics. Isbell approaches the subject with enough pride to show that there’s no shaming in working hard for your life. Country music was built on blue-collar attitudes, and “Something More Than Free” captures that attitude perfectly.
  7. “Still A Southern Man” by Will Hoge – When Will Hoge puts his protest cap on, you know he means business. “Still A Southern Man” finds Hoge pondering the meaning for the Confederate Flag in the wake of so much negative news surround the symbol. Hoge’s conviction in the song is noticable, and he isn’t afraid to let his emotions run the show.
  8. “Why” by Rick Elliot – Rick Elliot’s reflection on a wild lifestyle hits many strong notes. From the Bakserfield country sound to the honest lyrics and Elliot’s deep, matter of fact delivery, “Why” is as true to country music as you can get. And to think he’s only 18…
  9. “Angels and Alcohol” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson sings a typical country drinking song, but tells the story well by comparing the downside of booze to the upside of love, happiness, and faith. The song is paced well and Jackson’s vocals are a bright spot.
  10. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe – This love song from The Blade is beautifully sung by Monroe. Her desire to tell her love the things she admires about him, and making sure that he’s heard them, is a sweet gesture.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jason Isbell’s “Flagship” and “Palmetto Rose”
  • Alan Jackson’s “When God Paints’ and “You Can Always Come Home”
  • Rick Elliot’s “If I Agreed With You”
  • Ronnie Dunn’s “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If The Devil Don’t Want Me”

As always, I’d love to hear your favorite songs from this month!

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

July 2015

How about the month of July? Or I should rather say how about Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe? These three artists dominated the month of July with their brand new albums because outside of these three major releases there wasn’t a ton of great new music to talk about. But hey these three albums were more than enough to keep me satisfied for the month. We’re set for a lot more releases coming up in August. But we’ll get to those at another time. For now let’s look back on what I considered the absolute best songs from the month of July.

  1. Jason Isbell – “24 Frames” – The absolute gem off of arguably the best album of the year tops this list for me. Isbell’s new album Something More Than Free is a fantastic listen from start to finish and it’s only gotten better the more I’ve listened to it. Despite all of the great songs, the one that sticks out most to me and resonates with me the most is “24 Frames.” It’s a song about life so rooted in reality. In addition it’s catchy and the instrumentation for it is flawless. By the way it sounds just as good live too, as I highly recommend you see Isbell live, as it made me appreciate this album even more.
  2. Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free” – I debated back and forth for a while on these top two songs’ placements, but I gave “24 Frames” ultimately by a hair. The album title track is pretty damn good itself and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more praise for it. It’s a beautiful song that shows off Isbell’s vocal and songwriting ability.
  3. Alan Jackson – “The One You’re Waiting On” – There’s a reason country music fans were waiting in anticipating for months for July 17 to come, as new albums from Isbell and Alan Jackson will certainly do this. And they definitely lived up to hype. Jackson’s new album Angels & Alcohol was almost just as good as Isbell’s and there’s a reason these two battled it out for the top spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums this past week. The standout to me of the album was “The One You’re Waiting On,” one of those songs you know is just another instant classic from Jackson. Only an artist like Jackson can pull off this type of song with such grace and respect.
  4. Alan Jackson – “Gone Before You Met Me” – Jackson sings about the importance of family to him in this song. Again like the top two Isbell songs, these two Jackson songs are pretty much equally good in my eyes. This song reminds us there are still country artists out there not afraid to sing about family, something missing from mainstream country radio.
  5. Ashley Monroe – “Has Anybody Ever Told You” – I didn’t enjoy Ashley Monroe’s new album The Blade as much as I wanted to enjoy it, but it’s still a good album nonetheless. My big problem with it was that it had too many songs trying to be radio friendly, instead of staying in Monroe’s traditional wheelhouse. One of the songs that did though and was my favorite of the album is “Has Anybody Ever Told You.” It’s a tender love song that allows Monroe to shine her brightest.
  6. Will Hoge – “Still A Southern Man” – Will Hoge is not one to shy away from singing controversial songs and “Still A Southern Man” is another example. The amount of conviction and attitude behind the lyrics of this song, along with the rollicking guitars throughout it, thoroughly impressed me. We need more bold songs like this one. (This song is currently not on Spotify, which is why it isn’t on the playlist below)
  7. Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town” – Isbell’s new album is a pretty happy one for the most part, but you knew there would be at least one tear jerker on it and that song is “Speed Trap Town.” The storytelling skills of Isbell through his lyrics is on full display here and it’s simply a song you need to hear for yourself.
  8. Alan Jackson – “You Can Always Come Home” – The opener to Jackson’s Angels & Alcohol is a song many parents and their kids leaving home can all connect with. Jackson knows how to perfectly frame these songs to get the right amount of emotion out of you and “You Can Always Come Home” is yet another example of it.
  9. Ashley Monroe – “If The Devil Don’t Want Me” – This Chris Stapleton co-write was the other highlight of The Blade for me. This song is traditional country music in every way.
  10. Jason Isbell – “How To Forget” – The last song to round out my top ten is a fourth Isbell song, “How To Forget.” What I love the most about this song is the brilliant instrumentation. This is the shining moment for Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, on Something More Than Free. As I said in my review, this is band you absolutely need to see in-person, as they’re quite underrated.

 

Honorable Mentions 

  • Rick Elliot’s new EP, West of the Rockies, just came out and I didn’t get a chance to really listen to it enough to consider it for this month’s top ten. But we’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Ronnie Dunn – “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” – There were too many strong songs this month for Dunn to make the top ten.
  • Jason Isbell – “To A Band That I Loved”
  • Alan Jackson – “When God Paints,” “I Leave A Light On” and “Angels & Alcohol”
  • Ashley Monroe – “The Blade” & “Mayflowers”

 

The Hodgepodge: Good Songs from Sub-Par Country Artists

This past week was super busy for me and I haven’t had much time to think about this week’s opener. I haven’t spent much time around the blogosphere and didn’t really find anything current that I could provide a unique voice to or a new angle on the topic. Obviously the biggest news in country music this week was Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson going 1-2 on album sales which is huge, and I’m happy for both artists on that achievement.

Like I said, since I don’t have a new or unique perspective to provide for that story line, this week’s opener won’t be too involved. The mainstream pulse is still rather bad, and upcoming releases don’t look to improve it much, if at all. I’m going to look at some sub-par artists; country singers and groups that I predict will get a C grade or lower in Josh’s updated grades which he’ll provide via The Country Perspective Show podcast. I’m going to list a few songs from these artists that I think are good songs, be it past single releases or album deep cuts.

Jason Aldean – One of my favorite singles from him is “Amarillo Sky.” A cut off My Kinda Party called “Church Pews or Bar Stools” is a nice, honest look at small town life and chasing dreams. But “The Truth” might be his best song he’s ever recorded.

Luke Bryan – Did you know Luke wrote “Good Directions” that Billy Currington recorded? As for Luke’s recorded singles, “Do I” from Doin’ My Thing is pretty dang good, even “Drink a Beer” showed some effort to have a bit of depth. But I admit that my favorite song of Luke’s is “We Rode In Trucks.”

Miranda Lambert – I classify Miranda as sub-par simply because the Platinum era has been full of mediocre to bad singles. Obviously the recent “Roots and Wings” is a great song, and singles like “Over You” and “The House That Built Me” are two very strong country songs. I’m also quite fond of “White Liar.”

Florida Georgia Line – Yes, even these two jokers have a few good songs. A guilty pleasure of mine from this duo is “Tip It Back” from their debut album; I think it’s a decent blue-collar, end of the work week drinking song. I don’t mind their cover of Black Stone Cherry’s “Stay” and even an EP cut called “Black Tears” is a good song they’ve written. Though, “Dirt” may forever reign as their best song.

Jake Owen – Mr. “Real Life” made some good country music before getting a number one with “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.” His early singles like “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” are fantastic. An album cut called “Life of The Party” isn’t half bad, and who can forget “What We Ain’t Got?” But Jake Owen’s first top-ten single is an absolute gem. Let’s remember “Startin’ With Me.”

Blake Shelton – Years ago, Blake was making some great country music, but a change in producers turned the page to pop country crap. “The Baby” stands as one of his most heartbreaking country songs, and even his cover of George Jones’ “Ol’ Red” isn’t that bad either. However, Shelton’s debut single, “Austin”, is arguably his best song.

Brantley Gilbert – Brantley Gilbert has been in the middle of the road for pretty much his whole career. Even with douchetastic singles like “Small Town Throwdown” and “Bottoms Up,” Gilbert’s had some decent offerings like “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and “More Than Miles.” But Gilbert’s first album, A Modern Day Prodigal Son, is better than his other two combined. Listen to “Picture On the Dashboard” and “The Best of Me” and you probably wouldn’t believe it’s Brantley. I thought the title track from that first album is an honest, well written song too. Unfortunately, a live recording is all I’ve tracked down on YouTube.

See? Even the bad have some good in them! This is just a small selection I’m choosing to highlight. For the most part I wanted to focus on artists who had a bit deeper catalog to choose from, and artists who seemed to have strayed far from their early quality. If you are curious about my opinions on other artists I didn’t highlight here, I’ll entertain a few questions as long as they stick with the topic at hand: good songs from bad/sub-par country artists. And, as always, I’d love to hear some of your favorites from these artists too.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Rick Elliot released his debut EP earlier this month. Two of the songs on the EP have been reviewed on the site with high praise. We will have a review on the EP soon.
  • Texas Country artist Kyle Park will release a new album this fall called The Blue Roof Sessions. Park currently has a new single out called “What Goes Around Comes Around.”
  • As reported by Saving Country Music, Canadian Country artist Corb Lund is working on a new album with producer Dave Cobb at the helm. The album will be called Things That Can’t Be Undone.
  • Brett Eldredge will release his second studio album, Illinois, on September 11th.
  • Alabama will release their first album of new music in over a decade on September 18 and it’s titled Southern Drawl.
  • Cassadee Pope just released a new single called “I Am Invincible.”

Today in Country Music History

  • Singer Neal McCoy (1958) and songwriter Gordie Sampson (1971) celebrate birthdays today.
  • In 1958, Johnny Cash began recording his studio album Greatest! which included the chart topping song “Get Rhythm.”
  • George Jones had the number one song in 1983 with the Merle Haggard penned “I Always Get Lucky With You.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Waiting on June” by Holly Williams. As Holly says at the beginning of the song, “Waiting on June” was written about her grandparents from her mother’s side (not about Hank). This is simply a beautiful story song from her critically acclaimed 2013 album The Highway. The writing and descriptions in this song are excellent, and I personally think Holly has one of the more captivating singing voices in country music.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. This is one of my all time favorite albums. Highway to Hell is great rock music, and the last studio album AC/DC made with original lead singer Bon Scott before his death in 1980. The opening guitar riffs on the title track are fantastic and Scott’s voice is well suited for rock. While AC/DC had two of their best songs (in my opinion) in the post Bon Scott era, I would have loved to see where AC/DC would be if Bon Scott hadn’t passed prematurely.

Tweet of the Week

That’s a good way of looking at country radio today!

An Album Review That Will Make You Angry

Jason Gottfried from a publication called The Independent in the Southern Utah, Northern Nevada area wrote a scathing review of Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol. Now, I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion; I’m very much a “to each their own” type of person. However, I can’t help to think that this review and Gottfried’s descriptions of Alan Jackson are quite misguided. I’ll leave a few snippets from the review linked above, but you really should read this in its entirety to get the full effect of how Alan Jackson’s music is equivalent to McDonald’s hamburgers:

All you dudes who love country music (or say that you do, at least) are getting your feathers all ruffled already. Take it easy. The fact that you can read alone sets you head-and-shoulders above your peers.

With $75 million burning a hole in your pocket, I’d hope that no matter how hopelessly mediocre your talents might be, you’d still be able to purchase the right dudes in Nashville to record your music and make it sound good. Other than the session players, there’s just not much going on here musically. Frankly, the best thing about Alan Jackson’s “Angels and Alcohol” is that it’s only 39 minutes long.

This track would be great if the theme—that being a drunk isn’t really the best approach to life overall—were genuine. However, it’s hard to take a guy who’s built an empire upon the graves of dead alcoholics seriously.

Well, Jason, it’s hard to take anyone who seems to write terrible reviews for shock value seriously.