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 

Album Review – Tony Furtado’s ‘The Bell’

Tony Furtado The Bell

The Americana genre is home to many talented artists and this is something I’ve been fully grasping as I’ve explored the music throughout it. There are so many different artists with different sounds and styles, yet at the end of the day I’ve found the majority of them all come from the same place: their heart. This is where the true music comes from and Americana artist Tony Furtado is certainly an artist who sings from his heart. The singer-songwriter from Oakland, California is a banjo player and slide guitar player. In the sixth grade he became a banjo player after writing a report about banjos and making a rough banjo out of materials around his house. So you can see why this artist of Portuguese and Italian heritage plays music today in the vein of Celtic folk and Americana. Earlier this summer he came out with his new album The Bell, released on his own label Yousayfurtado Records. It’s important to point out the inspiration behind this album before I review it. Furtado describes this album as “a very personal journey inspired by the loss of my father, the birth of my son and few uncontrollable changes in my career.” The entire album is in dedication to his father, William “Bill” Furtado, and you can certainly feel the pain he suffered as a result of his loss throughout it. I only wish I had come across The Bell sooner because it’s an album full of fantastic songwriting and instrumentation.

“Broken Bell” kicks off the album and it has a decidedly Celtic folk sound. The production and instrumentation on this song is very well done. The acoustic, especially the fiddle, are engaging and immediately grasp the listeners’ attentions. It was also a nice touch by Furtado to add the sound of rattling chains when he sings the line, “You will never chain my mind.” It helps the listeners connect with the song even more. The beautifully written “Tired Lions” follows this. Furtado says the inspiration for this song came from a sculpture of a lion he saw: The title of this song was inspired by a beautiful sculpture I saw at the DeYoung museum in San Francisco. It’s a sculpture of what appears to be a very tired, worn out lion. It made me think of my father. Then the song came. To be able to derive inspiration from a sculpture shows the true songwriting talents of Furtado. I don’t think a lot of songwriters could do this. I would also be remiss to not point out the great pedal steel and banjo play in this song that gives this song the perfect mood.

Up next is “Dying Language.” It’s a song about dealing with hateful and ignorant words. Furtado sings of how we all deal with it and how it can affect each of us in a different way. It’s definitely a song I think all of us connect with in some way, as we all have to deal with this negativity in our lives. Once again Furtado shows off his brilliant songwriting. The all-instrumental “Astoria” shows off the talent of Furtado’s band and leads us into “Low Road.” It’s a song short on words and deep in meaning. The brevity of the song itself really allows the reader’s mind to wander and imagine for them what this song means. To me the song is about watching someone you love destroy themselves with bad decisions and getting trapped in a bad situation as a result. But it’s not only harmed them, but the ones around them. This is definitely one of those songs where the “less is more” approach pays off.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the death of Furtado’s father was one of the inspirations behind his album and “Tall Grass” is certainly one of those songs that draws from it. It seems to be about how Furtado and his brother looked up so much to their father and how his lost makes them feel alone in the world without him. It’s a sobering and sad song that will surely touch those who have lost loved ones in their life. Another all-instrumental song in “Iowa” prefaces “Give Me Your Soul.” It’s a love song where Furtado professes his love for a woman. But he’s not interested in her looks, but rather her soul. Now upon first listen this song can kind of come off as creepy on the surface, with the somewhat serious tone of the instrumentation and the line about “flesh and bones.” It’s really though a sweet and catchy love song.

“Ashes of a Man” is another song where Furtado sings about the death of his father. And again Furtado really bears his soul in the music. You can feel the passion and love he felt for his father and the impact it’s made on his life. It’s really a sad song, but I find it to be a reminder once again that you should cherish all of the loved ones in your life. “The Collier’s Daughter” is a song about a man appearing to fall in love with a collier’s daughter. For those unaware, a collier is another word for coal miner. The man though seems to be unsure if he should run off with her or not. I didn’t connect with this song as much as I did others on the album, but it’s still a solid song nonetheless.

The last all-instrumental song on The Bell, “Jo Jo,” plays into the final two songs. Now I know some people don’t like these types of songs, but I find them to be effective when used properly. Furtado uses them properly in this album, as I find them to be nice breathers after the deeper and emotional songs. Plus his band is quite good. The next song, “Lie Alone,” is another song where Furtado expresses the pain of losing his father. It’s another heart breaker that will surely tug at your emotions. Furtado certainly proves to have a knack for writing songs that can rip your heart out of your chest. The Bell closes out with its happiest song, “Star.” While Furtado mourns the death of his father throughout much of the album, he also celebrates the beginning of life with his newborn son with this song. It’s an uplifting reminder of how life works in a circle. While you may lose the light of someone you dearly love in one instance, in the next you can gain the light of someone else you love dearly. Life is beautiful this way and Furtado expresses this well through his music.

Tony Furtado flat-out impresses me on The Bell. When I think of Americana music, this is what I want to hear. The songwriting is poignant and thought-provoking throughout. The concepts of life and death are really the main themes of this album. Furtado takes these themes and really meshes them together well to come up with messages that are heartfelt and impactful on the listeners. The instrumentation and production are well done on pretty much every song, allowing the lyrics to really shine and resonate. I highly recommend you check out The Bell. If you can appreciate great songwriting, you can appreciate Tony Furtado and his music.

Grade: 9/10

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [August 10]

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  2. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind
  3. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10)
  4. Richard Thompson – Still
  5. Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie (Grade: 9/10)
  6. Watkins Family Hour – Watkins Family Hour [Up 3]
  7. Dale Watson – Call Me Insane (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 3]
  8. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Up 5]
  9. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 3]
  10. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams – Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams [Up 1]
  11. Warren Hayes (feat. Railroad Earth) – Ashes & Dust [Up 4]
  12. Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet
  13. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Ruffian’s Misfortune [Down 6]
  14. Sonny Landreth – Bound By The Blues [Down 6]
  15. Rhett Miller – The Traveler [Up 1]
  16. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color [Down 2]
  17. Uncle Lucius – The Light [Up 1]
  18. Eilen Jewell – Sundown Over Ghost Town [Up 1]
  19. Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  20. The Deslondes – The Deslondes (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 1]
  21. Jimmy LaFave – The Night Tribe [Up 1]
  22. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  23. Ashley Monroe – The Blade (Grade: 7/10) [Up 8]
  24. Milk Carton Kids – Monterey [Down 1]
  25. Daniel Romano – If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ [Up 9]
  26. Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes [New]
  27. Whitey Morgan & The 78s – Sonic Ranch (Grade: 10/10) [Up 2]
  28. The Mike & Ruthy Band – Bright As You Can [Down 1]
  29. Honey Honey – [Down 3]
  30. Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree 
  31. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (Grade: 9/10) [Down 7]
  32. Dar Williams – Emerald [Down 7]
  33. John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat (Grade: 9/10) [Down 5]
  34. Yonder Mountain String Band – Black Sheep [Down 2]
  35. Steeldrivers – The Muscle Shoals Sessions [Up 1]
  36. Sugarcane Jane – Dirt Road’s End [Re-entered Chart]
  37. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves [New]
  38. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
  39. Kentucky Headhunters – Meet Me In Blues Land 
  40. Tony Furtado – The Bell

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [August 3]

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  2. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind
  3. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10)
  4. Richard Thompson – Still
  5. Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie (Grade: 9/10)
  6. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10)
  7. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Ruffian’s Misfortune 
  8. Sonny Landreth – Bound By The Blues 
  9. Watkins Family Hour – Watkins Family Hour
  10. Dale Watson – Call Me Insane (Grade: 8.5/10)
  11. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams – Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
  12. Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet
  13. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain
  14. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
  15. Warren Hayes (feat. Railroad Earth) – Ashes & Dust
  16. Rhett Miller – The Traveler
  17. Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart (Grade: 10/10)
  18. Uncle Lucius – The Light
  19. Eilen Jewell – Sundown Over Ghost Town
  20. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (Grade: 10/10)
  21. The Deslondes – The Deslondes (Grade: 8.5/10)
  22. Jimmy LaFave – The Night Tribe
  23. Milk Carton Kids – Monterey 
  24. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (Grade: 9/10)
  25. Dar Williams – Emerald 
  26. Honey Honey – 3
  27. The Mike & Ruthy Band – Bright As You Can
  28. John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat (Grade: 9/10)
  29. Whitey Morgan & The 78s – Sonic Ranch (Grade: 10/10)
  30. Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree
  31. Ashley Monroe – The Blade (Grade: 7/10)
  32. Yonder Mountain String Band – Black Sheep
  33. Calexico – Edge of the Sun
  34. Daniel Romano – If I’ve Only One Time Askin’
  35. Jackie Greene – Back To Birth
  36. Steeldrivers – The Muscle Shoals Sessions
  37. JD McPherson – Let The Good Times Roll
  38. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
  39. Kentucky Headhunters – Meet Me In Blues Land 
  40. Tony Furtado – The Bell