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 – February 2015

Feb. 2015

January produced a lot of great country music and once again we have another great month of country music! This is the kind of start I love. February produced two albums that earned 10/10 here on the site, along with a couple more pretty good albums. So once again it was a challenge to narrow it down to the top 10, but that’s a good problem to have. Without further ado here are what I considered the top ten country songs of February 2015:

  1. The Mavericks – “What Am I Supposed To Do” – The Mavericks once again produced another fantastic album in Mono and of course it’s filled with a lot of great songs. It took many enjoyable listens to figure out the best of this album and without a doubt I deemed it to be “What Am I Supposed To Do.” The lyrics are good, the beat is catchy and the instrumentation is flawless. I’ll be keeping this in mind for my best country songs of 2015 list.
  2. Gretchen Peters – “Everything Falls Away” – Going into The Mavericks album I had an idea what to expect, but with Gretchen Peters’ new album Blackbirds I had no idea what I would hear. After reading Derek’s excellent review of the album I immediately stopped listening to the music I had playing. Then I listened to Peters album. And I sat in silence after hearing such a hauntingly, dark album. The song that immediately stood out to me on the very first listen was “Everything Falls Away.” You know what the sign of a good song is? It makes you feel something and this song definitely made me feel something.
  3. American Aquarium – “Losing Side of Twenty Five” – The North Carolina band produced a solid album in Wolves and there were a couple of songs that definitely stood out to me on it. The one that was easily the best on the album to me is “Losing Side of Twenty Five.” Like Derek, I really connected with this song because I’m right around the age of the man in the song and I can relate to the feeling. The song has really great storytelling and killer instrumentation. Perhaps one of the best songs American Aquarium has ever released.
  4. Gretchen Peters – “Jubilee” – Derek’s description of “Jubilee” nails it: “Told from the point of view of a person on their death-bed, this song focuses on final thoughts and gearing up to go to heaven. This is a beautiful, gospel like song, with a piano driving the song and excellent vocals from Peters. Also, “Jubilee” features one of the best lines I’ve heard in a song. “My body’s broken, but not my soul. You know it’s love and only love that’s made me whole.” It’s simply a beautiful song.”
  5. The Mavericks – “The Only Question Is” – Raul Malo absolutely kills it on “The Only Question Is.” His dynamic vocal range flourishes throughout the song and keeps the listener hooked from beginning to end. The cherry on top is the equally great instrumentation, from the piano throughout to the saxophone in the bridge. This song brilliantly blends country, rockabilly and jazz to produce one hell of a sound.
  6. Gretchen Peters – “When All You Got Is a Hammer” – Did I mention Peters’ album is dark? There are a lot of dark songs, but the darkest track on the album to me is “When All You Got Is a Hammer.” The song is about a soldier dealing with post dramatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how everything around him is pretty much hell. It’s a raw and honest song that tackles a tough subject.
  7. The Mavericks – “Fascinate Me” – This is another song on Mono where Raul Malo simply amazes me with his vocal control. Some people may consider this a boring song, but to me it’s the perfect romance song. Malo is pretty much seducing your ears with his voice. To me what made Mono even better than In Time was how the romantic, slow songs on Mono were better executed and did a better job of conveying emotion in the listener. Essentially “Fascinate Me” is what put this album over the top for me.
  8. American Aquarium – “Man I’m Supposed To Be” – As I said in my album review of Wolves: “This is followed by the reflective “Man I’m Supposed to Be,” a soft, statement song. Lead vocalist BJ Barham certainly relates to the song, just being just a singer always on the road doing what he loves, as well as the rest of the band of course. As he sings, “Never first, never last just somewhere in-between, that’s the man I’m supposed to be.” This is one of the highlights of Wolves for sure.”
  9. Aaron Watson – “Fence Post” – Aaron Watson’s new album The Underdog has certainly caused a lot of buzz in the last week, from reaching #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart to his run-in with radio shock jock Bobby Bones. And of course it’s a solid album too. The big highlight and real ear-catcher of the album is “Fence Post,” the first big country music protest song of the year. Watson basically spells out the bullshit in the country music industry and reflects on his own career. Sure the country protest song has become a little clichéd, but I’m still a sucker for them.
  10. The Mavericks – “All Night Long” – The Mavericks sit at the top of the list and round out the bottom. While “All Night Long” is the last on the list, it was the song that kicked off Mono and set the tone. You want to start off an album with a song that will hook you and this song does it within the first ten seconds. I find this song impossible to like and impossible to dance to. Plus it’s a good pick-me up after hearing Peters’ dark album.

(Note: Deciding the top four was very difficult to me. I consider them pretty much dead even. I just wanted to point this out.)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Aaron Watson – “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)” & “Freight Train”
  • The Western Swing Authority – “Rocket To The Moon”
  • Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires – “Mutineer” & “I Follow Rivers”
  • Jana Kramer – “I Got The Boy”
  • Love & Theft – “Everybody Drives Drunk”

 

Derek’s Top 10 Country Songs – February 2015

Capture

Two months into 2015, and we’ve had two months of great country music releases. I found February a bit easier to narrow down to ten song, but the music is still, nonetheless, fantastic. From singer songwriters to bands we have a multitude of country styles and songs. I have a diverse top ten list this month:

  1. “Jubilee” by Gretchen Peters – A beautiful song told from the point of view of someone on death’s bed. Reflecting back on what made life meaningful and looking onward with your head held high in acceptance, Peters knocks this one out of the park. “Jubilee” is not only, in my opinion, the best song off Blackbirds, but is also my favorite song of the month.
  2. “Out The Door” by The Mavericks – On an album chock full of energetic and unique productions, this song stands out with is old-school Doo-Wop melody. Even the more somber material of a broken love doesn’t bring down the fun groove of this song.
  3. “When All You Got is a Hammer” by Gretchen Peters – A rough song dealing with the horrors and anxiety that comes from PTSD. This song about a soldier returning home has great detailed writing with a nice, rocking beat that compliments the material well.
  4. “Slow Boat to China” by The Western Swing Authority – A love song about wanting to spend as much time as possible with the one you love. I applaud the band for taking an original approach to a love song. The vocals and melody shine on this track, not to mention a pleasing instrumental break in the song. My favorite off Now Playing.
  5. “Mutineer” by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires – A love song told with pirate and maritime metaphors. What more can you ask for? I love the stripped down production of the song, and both vocal performances here are top-notch. The better offering off the two-song E.P Sea Songs.
  6. “What You Do to Me” by The Mavericks – Equally as fun and energetic as the other Mavericks’ song on this list, but a more light-hearted and positive love song.
  7. “52 Vincent Black Lightning” by Robert Earl Keen – This timeless song has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it a few years ago. An outlaw on a motorcycle falls for a girl, and leaves her his prized motorbike after his untimely death. A unique love story with great writing and rhyme schemes. Robert Earl Keen’s bluegrass rendition of Richard Thompson’s classic is well done here.
  8. “Blackbirds” by Gretchen Peters – The title track to Peters’ fantastic album cannot be overlooked. The intense guitar riffs combined with Gretchen Peters’ haunting vocal delivery and biting lyrics create a wonderfully dark, yet great murder ballad.
  9. Fence Post” by Aaron Watson – Songs that call out mainstream country are always a nice treat. The fearlessness and fun that Aaron Watson sings this song with are great. Watson is a true underdog, and he pulls no punches with this one. Plus, Watson does actual country spoken word on this song and not bogus R&B/Pop/Hip Hop spoken word.
  10. “Losing Side of Twenty Five” by American Aquarium – This is my favorite song off Wolves. As a man right around this age group, I like the way the story and life situations are presented in this song. It’s authentic and well told. Also, the guitar lick on this song is awesome.

That’s my top ten!  I’d love to hear some of your favorites from the month.

 

Album Review – The Western Swing Authority’s ‘Now Playing’

Now_Playing_Cover

One of my goals for Country Perspective this year is to broaden our horizons on types of country music we cover. Sure it’s easy just to cover more Texas country or even more obscure mainstream country, but I want to go beyond that even. I want to cover more international stuff, from Canada to Australia to the United Kingdom. I would also like to cover different types that aren’t given as much coverage. Well today I kill two birds with one stone. Meet The Western Swing Authority. They’re a Canadian country band that play, what else, Western Swing music (it’s right in the name). For those who aren’t familiar with Western Swing, a quote from Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis describes it best:

“Western swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have Western swing.”

Western Swing music is basically music that is usually led by the fiddle and is meant to be danced to. The Western Swing Authority is a seven-piece band made up of Shane Guse, Dan Howlett, Matthew Lima, Pee Wee Charles, Jim Boudreau, Stacey Lee and Paul Chapman. The group was nominated for three 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards this past week, as well as two 2014 Canadian Country Music Awards. The group also recently signed with eOne Music Canada as they just released their new album Now Playing.

The album opens with “Sweet Harriet,” a little ditty about a woman named Harriet living it up and dancing around the town. This song is really good at warming you up for the rest of the album because as said above Western Swing music is meant to be dancing music. Stacy Lee’s voice shines on “One Of Us Is Lying.” She does a great job conveying the smoky, romantic vibe surrounding this love song because her vocals have such great presence that draws the listener in. The premise of this song is the woman knows one of them is lying in their relationship, but tonight she is willing to overlook this because she wants someone in her arms.

“Swing Thing” is all about Western Swing music and why people love it. It’s about country music you can dance to and have fun. This is a song that’s meant to be danced to, not so much to be heard. Lee’s voice perfectly captures the vibe again in “Livin’ A Dream,” another romantic and slow love song. The fiddle play really impresses me on this song. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of the fiddle and I miss hearing it in country music nowadays. Perhaps this is the wake-up call I need to listen to more Western Swing.

“Miss Molly” is a quick little ditty about a woman named Molly and how a man has fallen in love with her. It’s a simple love story with a nice rhythm that makes you want to dance. The same can be said for “Old Dance Floor.” The song pretty much says this is the song you put on at the end of a long week of work and just cut the rug to. The Western Swing Authority take a unique look at love with “Slow Boat To China.” The title intrigued me because I had no idea what this song could be about. What it’s about is love. The woman wants to take her love on a slow boat to China, all by herself. Going on a boat from Canada to China is pretty damn far. I like this creative take on a love song and make it stand out compared to other love songs on this album.

My toe was tapping from beginning to end on “Rocket To The Moon.” The rhythm is similar to the old rock and roll, do wop music you heard in the 50s, which makes for a very danceable song. Lee’s vocals shine once again. All this combines for one of my favorite songs on the album. “Bapadoodle” is the lone instrumental only track on the album, as the talented Canadian group’s brilliant instrumentation captures the listener’s attention. I always enjoyed when Brad Paisley did one song like this on his past albums and it’s good to see The Western Swing Authority do this on their own. Texas is the scene of “Cowtown Queen,” a song about a couple who always enjoyed going down to the Lone Star state. They liked to dance and experience the nightlife, but they eventually grew apart. The woman is now down in Texas double-timing her man and he’s trying to deal with it back home. She has moved on, but he hasn’t. I think this is the most upbeat heartbreak song I’ve ever heard. But hey that’s how it is in Western Swing and I’m certainly not complaining.

“Swingtime Lullaby” is sung from the point of view of parents to their child, as they try to get them to go to sleep. I tell you one thing it would definitely put me to sleep if I was listening late night and that’s a good thing for a lullaby. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I can’t sleep. In all seriousness though I love the rich instrumentation in this song and the harmonies are smooth as silk. The final track on the album is “The Last Waltz,” which is also the longest song the album. The song is about the last waltz the woman ever wants to hear, which holds a special place in her heart. You’ll notice when listening that you’ll hear fuzzy sound, which is intended I think because this “last waltz” is on a vinyl record. It’s really a beautiful song to cap off a very good album.

What I love the most about The Western Swing Authority’s Now Playing album is how fun and upbeat the album is throughout, even on the songs with a more somber subject. Don’t get me wrong I love a real deep, dark album with a lot of hidden meanings. But it’s nice to have albums like this one that don’t take itself too seriously. It’s impossible to listen to this album and not feel happy afterwards. It also makes for great music to dance to at a party. This is a forgotten element in much of country music today and what’s considered party country music is not country at all. This is party country music that keeps it country 100% with plenty of fiddle play. I think Now Playing is an album that any country music fan can sit down and enjoy.

Grade: 8.5/10