So, I recently got some feedback that the concept of a top ten Country Album list from 2000-2010 was kind of a strange idea. First off, I don’t mean to say “that’s the greatest decade of music any genre has ever seen.” But second off, I am a man of the people, so here are your top ten country albums of 2015. This was a contentious year for the country music scene, in which each album release resembles an epic battle between the traditional and the pop/metro/bro/whatever other stupid new trend is going on. While the politics of country music are beyond heated, the musical elements often are forgotten amidst the chaos. And with that, I present to you the top albums of 2015.
*Annotation on the list: I would argue that there is a substantial jump between the quality of the top 5 albums of the list and that of the bottom 5.
10) “Something More Than Free” – Jason Isbell
For most people, Jason Isbell would either not be present on this list at all or be the Number One selection. This is a result of the polarizing nature of his music and his lack of exposure. Isbell’s music is unlike anything else on this list as well; it is an incredibly different style, often acoustic and more focused on story over melody. “Something More Than Free” is not Isbell’s best album – that accolade would belong to “Southeastern” – but it is nonetheless solid. I do, however, immensely respect Jason and what he stands for, and, while I pledged not to be political and his rank reflects his music, in my opinion, this man deserves more popularity. I definitely suggest listening to him and gauging your own reaction.
9) “Angels and Alcohol” – Alan Jackson
Ah, Alan Jackson, perhaps the most consistent country artist over the last two and a half decades (although George Strait could give him a run for his money.) This is because, with Jackson, you know what to expect. On “Angels and Alcohol,” he once again stays true to himself. It is not flashy or catchy by any means, but there is no reason to complain, and there are a lot of above-average songs across the board. While Jackson may have only slid onto the list due to the lack of pop country productivity, don’t let that detract from the quality of his music. (Favorite Songs: “Jim and Jack and Hank”, “You Can Always Come Home”, “Gone Before You Met Me”, “Mexico, Tequila and Me”)
8) “Southernality” – A Thousand Horses
Let me start this off by acknowledging the fact that there are some downright miserable songs on here (“Trailer Trashed” and “Southernality” are the worst, as you can probably tell from the titles). But there are also some amazing Stapleton-esque songs that improved the album, and the good most definitely outweighs the bad. A Thousand Horses is a southern rock band, not a country band, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and their uniqueness without a doubt adds to the appeal of their sound. (Favorite Songs: “Tennessee Whiskey”, “Sunday Morning”, “Hell on the Heart”, “Heaven is Close”)
7) “I’m Coming Over” – Chris Young
Perhaps the one true pop country singer featured on this list, Chris Young definitely pulls off this album. While the songs can be bland, boring, and similar at times, there is a sense of consistency provided by Chris’ amazing voice. His voice has been described as too perfect by some, but the album is not complete without moments of flash. “I’m Coming Over” is not great and it does not meet Chris Young’s potential, but it is a solid album. (Favorite Songs: “I’m Coming Over”, “Sober Saturday Night”, “Callin’ My Name”, “Think of You”)
6) “Wild Ones” – Kip Moore
If I were to describe “Wild Ones” by Kip Moore in one word, that word would be steamy. To say that there are sexual themes in this album would be an understatement. And while this can be potentially problematic, Kip Moore presents his music differently than bro and pop artists. Moore has his own unique lingo and instrumental choices which contrast with the “checklist lyrics” and “mindless background noise” much of country music is guilty of today. Kip Moore pulls off this hard-rocking affair because the album is honest and true to Kip, even if that truth can be at times misguided. There are also many moments throughout the album when it is impossible to not feel the power of Kip’s music, be truly in the moment, and at one with the sound. (Favorite Songs: “I’m to Blame”, “Come and Get It”, “That Was Us”, “Magic”)
5) “Jekyll and Hyde” – Zac Brown Band
Jekyll and Hyde is the perfect name for this album. On one hand, Zac Brown Band’s potential is evident in both their carefully crafted songs and unreal instrumental ability. However, “Beautiful Drug” and “Tomorrow Never Comes” both made the album, so Zac Brown is at a serious risk of becoming Avicii. The attempt at trying to knock down the fences of genre failed miserably because, at the end of the day, there is bad music in every genre. In fact, EDM artists should be insulted by Zac Brown’s failed attempts at EDM, and Zac Brown should have more respect for country music. Those two songs were absolutely embarrassing, but, as far as the rest of the album goes, it was good, but not up to the standards of Zac Brown Band. (Favorite Songs: “Homegrown”, “Loving You Easy”, “Wildfire”, “Dress Blues”)
4) “Mr. Misunderstood” – Eric Church
Is Eric Church “the man,” or is Eric Church “the man”? I mean, his was one of the coolest moves in the world, dropping an album unannounced and sending free copies to fans. What is more, I more or less fell in love at his CMA performance of “Mr. Misunderstood,” the greatest country song to be released in a while, possibly ever. While the rest of the album was on a level below the lead single, it definitely delivered and saw Eric Church heading in a much better direction than his song “The Outsiders,” ditching the hard rock attitude of that song for maturity and greater musical attention. (Favorite Songs: “Mr. Misunderstood”, “Knives of New Orleans”, “Round Here Buzz”, “Mixed Drinks About Feelings”)
3) “Start Here” – Maddie and Tae
Wow. Did anyone see that coming? A couple of 19-year-olds picking up a bronze medal on the most prestigious Country Album Countdown? I’m not gonna lie, I was skeptical of Maddie and Tae; after “Girl in a Country Song,” could they rise above their role as a symbol of discontent with bro country and demonstrate true musical talent? Well, the short answer is “yes.” These girls are so much more than “Girl in a Country Song” (which is in fact one of the worst songs on the album, as ironic bro country effects were added, interestingly decreasing music quality but increasing popular appeal). Maddie and Tae are a perfect blend of The Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift, and I am incredibly excited to see how the duo matures. (Favorite Songs: “Sierra”, “Shut Up and Fish”, “After the Storm Blows Through”, “Downside of Growing Up”)
2) “Turnpike Troubadours” – Turnpike Troubadours
So, quick reader poll: How many of you have heard of the Turnpike Troubadours? … That’s what I thought. Well, let me tell you, they are absolutely worthy of the number two spot on this list and are currently the best band in country music (Yes, Zac Brown, that was directed at you and your “Beautiful Drugs.”) Their music is simultaneously powerful and fun. They straight rock while managing to stay true to who they are, and they are unwilling to bend their sound to the constraining ear of the populous. (“Bird Hunters”, “Down Here”, “Bossier City”, “The Mercury”)
1) “Traveller” – Chris Stapleton
Please. Just listen to it. Words do not describe the power of this man’s voice. The awards and hype are finally correct on this one. In fact the only thing exceeding Stapleton’s voice is his songwriting. The simultaneous diversity and quality of Stapleton’s songs are astounding. There is not a single throwaway song on the album. I can confidently say Stapleton is the best, and I am proud to rank him number one. Next time you’re thinking of “bumping some Cole Swindell” or “tossing some Florida Georgia Line on the boombox, baby,” please, please, please, noooooo! You will enjoy Stapleton with all your heart, and he will make you a better person.
Chris Janson, “Buy Me a Boat” – This is a solid first album. The energy and attitude is great. But he definitely needs to tidy up his sound before he can compete with the big boys. A+ lyrics (see “Power of Positive Drinkin’”).
Carrie Underwood, “Storyteller” – Carrie was oh so close to making the list, and she has proven to be a formidable force on the charts. But why does she always have to be so angry? Her sound is far superior when she doesn’t take up the whole “Before He Cheats/Something Bad” persona. Also, “The Girl You Think I Am” is a jam.
Luke Bryan, “Kill the Lights” – Oh, Luke, what to do with you: such a great voice, but such awful songs. Free from substance, musical creativity, even instruments. And then he hits you with songs like “Love It Gone,” displaying the full potential he showed before 2011’s “Tailgates and Tanlines.” Luke Bryan is temptation. There is simply no other way to describe it. I won’t put Luke on this list because I knew I would regret it in the morning.
Thomas Rhett, “Tangled Up” – This album is downright offensive to the ear, mind, body, soul, puppies, morality, and the concept of good.