Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Best Albums of 2015

2015 has seen an excellent year in Americana and country music album releases, including many of my favorite artists.  The selections range from industry veterans to newer artists, all having had a banner year in critical or commercial success.

Jason Boland & The Stragglers released their latest "Squelch" on October 9th.  A study in social and political issues, the band's eighth studio album delivers a heavy dose of reality, punctuated with pedal steel and fiddle throughout.  An exquisite example of what modern country music should be, intelligent, hard hitting lyrics and heartfelt vocals.  Standout tracks include "Bienville," "Heartland Bypass," "Holy Relic Sale," "The First To Know," and "Break 19."  

One of the best of this year came from the April release of Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers' collaboration "Hold My Beer Vol. I."  Beginning to end, this album is a wonderful listen, richly steeped in pedal steel, fiddle, and impeccable harmonies.  Favorite cuts are "Til It Does," "In My Next Life," "Standards," and "El Dorado."

June saw the release of "So This Is Life" by Courtney Patton.  This album is about as perfect as a traditional country album can get.  Full of heartbreaking lyrics, lovely instruments, and Patton's beautiful voice, every song is a story brought to life in stark detail.  Favorites are the title cut, "Little Black Dress," "War Of Art," "Need For Wanting," "Twelve Days," "Killing Time," and "But I Did."  

Jamie Lin Wilson released her first full length solo album in May.  "Holidays & Wedding Rings" is a captivating journey in heartbreak, cheating, murder, and love.  Wilson's honeyed vocals soar on favorites "Just Like Heartache," "Yours & Mine," "Moving Along," You Left My Chair," and the stunning duet with Wade Bowen "Just Some Things."  

The Turnpike Troubadours released their fourth album, self-titled, in September.  Continuing where "Goodbye Normal Street" left off in 2012, the band has a unique country/bluegrass/Americana sound with smart lyrics.  Standouts include "Ringing In The Year," "The Mercury," "Long Drive Home," "Fall Out Of Love," and the revamped version of "Easton & Main."  

August saw the release of Lindi Ortega's fourth album "Faded Gloryville."  Always lush on vocals and instruments, "Faded" offers a glance at the downtrodden, which seems to be a theme running through this collection.  Favorites include the title track, "Ashes," I Ain't The Girl," and " Someday Soon."  

The Black Lillies released their highly anticipated fourth CD in October.  "Hard To Please" is breathtaking in places, soaring on heartbreak and murder ballads, as well as tender love songs.  Favorite tracks include "That's The Way It Goes Down," "The First Time," "Bound To Roam," "Dancin'," "Desire," and the title track.  

October also saw the release of Corb Lund's "Things That Can't Be Undone."  Possibly Lund's finest album to date, the songs range from the comical to the serious regarding war, ranching, and loss.  This album should resonate with fans more than ever, considering there's a new maturity to the music.  Standouts include "Weight Of The Gun," "Run This Town," "Sadr City," "S Lazy H," and "Goodbye Colorado."  

Kacey Musgraves' second major label album "Pageant Material" dropped in June.  Another heavy hitting collection of songs full of humor and small town themes, Musgraves never fails to surprise with an array of subjects.  "Pageant" has a very retro sound, as if it could have been recorded 40 years ago, yet the modern characters in the songs keep it squarely in 2015.  Favorite tracks include "Dime Store Cowgirl," "This Town," "Good Ol' Boys Club," and the title cut.  

Honorable mentions for releases this year are Aaron Watson's "The Underdog" which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, a feat for an indie artist.  Released in February, Watson continues on his mission of delivering solid, honky tonk country.  Don Henley released a fabulous country album in September.  "Cass County" is Henley's fifth solo release, following numerous albums from the Eagles.  Despite being known for his classic rock sound from the Eagles ("Hotel California") and solo ("Boys Of Summer"), Henley's voice is at home with the traditional pedal steel and fiddle found on this album.  Not surprisingly, the collection debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart.  Carrie Underwood released her fifth studio album in October.  Although mostly a pop album, Underwood still manages to hook listeners with her soaring voice and story songs.  My favorite of this bunch is the live Micky & The Motorcars release from July, "Across The Pond:  Live From Germany."  There aren't any new songs but this is a wonderful collection of their songs throughout the years.

Albums make great gifts and with 2015 coming to a close and the holidays upon us, it's a great time to pick up some of these selections.  Here's to 2016!