Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today I take a look at the top ten albums from all other genres in 2020. So this list was a bit of a crapshoot. As you can see before this list I had no problem formulating lists for country, hip hop and pop. Then I was left with a bunch of albums scattered across multiple genres and not enough in any of those categories to make a long enough list for each. Not to mention determining the genre that some of these albums felt like a rather pointlessly tiresome exercise. At the end of the day I don’t concern myself much with this anymore and just focus on if the music is good or not. So rather than just forego putting them on any list, I decided to make a list of the best of the rest outside of the three genres aforementioned. The whole point of these smaller lists is to cover more artists and specific niches, while also showcasing the variety of great albums talked about on this blog through 2020. Just throwing up my top ten albums of the year didn’t feel like it was wide-reaching enough. So on this list you’ll find R&B, indie, alternative, rock and more. Without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020:

10. DUCKWRTH — SuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best.

9. CeeLo Green — CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. CeeLo Green is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others. Green’s voice really excels in the more dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time.

8. The Mavericks — En Español 

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. So I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks.

7. Khruangbin — Mordechai 

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one this year.

6. John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

5. Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush sees Tame Impala once again delivers a memorably great album. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Kevin Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. The songwriting mostly hits and the hooks are some of the best from Parker. You really couldn’t ask for much more from an album like The Slow Rush.

4. AC/DC — POWER UP

POWER UP showcases this group at their best. There’s anthemic, blaring riffs, strong hooks and powerful vocals. This record is a fantastic swan song and a perfect way for a legendary band to take their final bow. The entire band is on their A game and you couldn’t ask for better performances from these guys. I’ve seen some say this one of the group’s best albums and I can absolutely buy this argument. Personally I wouldn’t put it in my top three, but maybe top five. Regardless, I find this album to be quite poetic. Everybody thought this group was done when Bon Scott passed, but then they made their career-defining album in Back In Black. And everybody again thought they were done when Malcolm Young passed amidst other group issues. But once again they have surpassed expectations and made a damn great album.

3. Sturgill Simpson — Cuttin’ Grass – Volume 1

Now I expected this album to be good. Sturgill Simpson’s love and appreciation for bluegrass has always shined through. But man I did not expect this album to be this good. The melody on this album is so damn infectious, making old songs sound completely new and giving real vibrancy to his previously unrecorded Sunday Valley songs. Simpson is clearly in his element on Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1. He takes to bluegrass like a duck takes to water. Who knows what direction he will go on his fifth and supposedly final studio album and who knows when he’ll release Volume 2 of Cuttin’ Grass. In a tumultuous year, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy this wonderful surprise from Simpson.

2. Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

1. The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2020.

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

The Hodgepodge: Blake Shelton, He Doesn’t Have a Way With Words

Creepy Blake

This past weekend social media was abuzz over Blake Shelton. It wasn’t the tabloids talking about his relationship with Gwen Stefani and whether if it’s on the rocks. That’s just a standard weekend. No, this was something else entirely. Apparently some tabloids and vindictive fans decided to dig through Blake Shelton’s old tweets. The results turned up some pretty damning words from the country superstar. Here’s some screenshots of a couple of them:

Stupid Blake Tweet #1

Stupid Blake Tweet #2

The first one is obviously homophobic and the second one is racist and islamophobic. There’s actually more offensive tweets, but I think these two get the point across enough. There’s no need to be spreading anymore ignorance. Yesterday Shelton issued a statement apologizing for the tweets, which you can read by clicking here. Ironically also issued on Twitter, I can imagine Shelton got quite the talk from his label for this incident. These are obviously the not the type of “jokes” anyone should be making, let alone a major country artist who is regularly on national television. For fans outside country music, Blake is one of the first people they will think of when they think of country music. Yes, this sounds ridiculous to us that Shelton is one of the first you think of when you think of country music. But it’s the (sad and frustrating) truth. One thing many will point out is the date of the tweets, which are 2010 and 2011. Two things in regards to this point. One, it shouldn’t be dismissed because they’re old. Two, I understand that at this time the culture was different and the greater public might have been more receptive to these attempts at jokes. If any of you watch South Park, they regularly made these offensive-based jokes at this time (granted they were much more clever and actually funny).

Now I could spend an entire post talking about how dumb these tweets are and how Blake Shelton continues to taint the reputation of country music in different ways. I could talk about how this reinforces negative stereotypes of the genre. But it feels like I’m beating a dead horse. I think we can all pretty much agree at this point that it’s well established that Blake Shelton is a certified moron with a loud mouth and little regard for decency (in music and society). There’s a reason we did not review his album: it would have been a waste of time and energy when there’s so much more music out there worth reviewing. Talking about Blake Shelton is pointless because he’s going to do what he’s going to do and nothing we say will affect it. So while Blake Shelton’s management team deletes thousands of his tweets (they’ve already deleted about 10,000 of them) and tell the judge of The Voice to mind his manners so he can get his corporate paydays, I decided to do something constructive. I wrote a little song about the ex-husband of Miranda Lambert. It’s called “He Doesn’t Have a Way With Words” (A Parody of “She’s Got a Way With Words”). Enjoy…

He Doesn’t Have a Way With Words

 

When you put it all together

You figure out dumb has four letters

I should have known that when I heard “Boys ‘Round Here”

But he tweeted it out for me

After little second guessing

It was a pretty easy lesson

Hell it’s clearly spelled out in front of me

And now I understand perfectly

 

He put the sell in sellout

He put the foot in his mouth

He put the pop in country

He put the red-red-red-red-red in redneck (redneck)

He put the ache in headache

He put the ass in classless

He put the creep factor in album covers

Yeah he doesn’t have a way

He doesn’t have a way with words

Yeah he doesn’t have a way with words

 

Little words like bad and fads

Pompous, egotistical, rude

Yeah all the words that represent Blake

They got a whole new meaning now

 

He put the sell in sellout

He put the foot in his mouth

He put the pop in country

He put the red-red-red-red-red in redneck (redneck)

He put the ache in headache

He put the ass in classless

He put the creep factor in album covers

Yeah he doesn’t have a way

He doesn’t have a way with words

(insert stupid oh-oh-ohs here)

Yeah he doesn’t have a way with words

(insert even more stupid oh-oh-ohs here)

 

[Add the chorus and more oh-oh-ohs here until your label tells you that hits their song length quota]

 

[End the song with generic, mediocre guitar riff]

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow is a big day for releases! The following albums are out tomorrow:
    • Dolly PartonPure & Simple (I’ll have a review of this one really soon)
    • BJ Barham – Rockingham 
    • John Paul WhiteBeulah 
    • Lydia LovelessReal
    • Drake WhiteSpark
  • Next week Jack Ingram will release his first new album in seven years, titled Midnight Motel
  • Matt Woods will be releasing a new album on October 7 titled How To Survive 
  • The Mavericks are set to release a live album this fall and will be releasing a new album in April 2017. These are the first releases through their self-created label and first since leaving Valory Music (Big Machine)
  • This past weekend I saw The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band perform at a concert. It was an entertaining and fun show (go check them out). During it they passed along the news they will be releasing a new album “this winter.” We’ll keep an eye out for an official release date

Throwback Thursday Song

Darrell Scott – “It’s a Great Day To Be Alive” – Everyone associates this song with Travis Tritt, who made it famous and gave it a big platform. But it’s a Scott song and I’ve always liked his more restrained performance of the song (ditto “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”). You can never go wrong listening to Scott.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

The Traveling Wilburys – “End of the Line” – Next to The Highwaymen, this was the most star-powered supergroup of all-time. Made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, this group only put out one album with the five of them and another with only four (Orbison passed way after the first one). But that one album is pretty terrific and it’s amazing that this much talent was in one group.

Tweet of the Week

I make the same face, Margo.

iTunes Reviews from Pissed off Justin Moore Fans

Angry Justin Moore fans

I’m going to be honest. I’ve never been a fan of Moore’s music and thought it was disingenuous attempts at being outlaw country at best and annoying bro country at worst. But he did stick to sounding country. On his new album his sound takes a turn and his fans aren’t happy as you can see. Just another mainstream country fan base swindled by their favorite artist.

Review – The Last Bandoleros’ “Where Do You Go?”

The Last Bandoleros Where Do You Go

Tejano music, or more commonly referred to as Tex-Mex music, has a long and rich history stretching all the way back to the turn of the 20th century. Of course it has also made an impact on the history of country music, where it really started to influence the genre starting in the 1950s and 1960s. This was back when it was still called country and western. It was Texas where it primarily influenced country artists, as the dancing for country and western in Texas has the same style as the polka and waltzes that originated from Europe that ultimately helped shape Tex-Mex music.

Fast forward to today and Tex-Mex is gone from popular country music in both Nashville and Texas. Really the only notable groups to have a Tex-Mex influence on their music in country and Americana are The Mavericks, Los Lobos and Calexico. That is until Warner Music Nashville recently signed a new band called The Last Bandoleros, a Tex-Mex band out of San Antonio. The group is made up of Diego Navaira (vocals & bass), Jerry Fuentes (vocals & guitar) and Derek James (guitar & vocals). They’re also joined by a button accordionist. They self-describe their music as one part Tex-Mex, one part Brit-Pop and two parts country and rock. Navaira himself comes from a musical family, as his father is the late great Tejano artist Emilio Navaira (who was a great influence in helping connect Tejano music and country music). They’ve just released their debut single for Warner to country radio titled “Where Do You Go?” and I have to say I’m immediately intrigued on what they can bring to the table.

“Where Do You Go?” is an upbeat tune you’ll instantly be tapping your toes along with as you listen to it. The song itself is a simple heartbreak song about a man who goes out on the town with his woman who leaves him after he’s had enough to drink to not realize she’s left him. While the songwriting doesn’t have a lot of meat to it, it’s not supposed to because this song relies on its catchy instrumentation to be the meat of the song. And this really works well. The aforementioned accordion is there throughout the song and has some really nice solo parts in the bridge to give the song a decidedly different feel from anything else you’ve heard on country radio recently. When was the last time you can say you heard an accordion at country radio? I would guess The Mavericks in the 90s. The group also does a great job harmonizing, another element that has been missing from group songs at country radio.

I think The Last Bandoleros are a group worth watching after hearing “Where Do You Go?” I think it would be pretty cool to have a Tex-Mex based group have a regular presence at country radio if they would catch on. A lot of people aren’t familiar with Tex-Mex, but I think would enjoy it if they gave it a chance. It’s not only usually upbeat and fun, but a call back to the earlier days of country music. Anyone that is a fan of The Mavericks I think would enjoy The Last Bandoleros. Think of this group as a younger version of The Mavericks. Of course they have a way to go before they can put themselves in the same league as an iconic band like The Mavericks. “Where Do You Go?” is a solid start for this upstart band and I’m intrigued to hear more from them.

Grade: 7/10

Written by: Jerry Fuentes, Emilio Navaira, Derek James and Diego Navaira

Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.