Jul 1, 2015

Top 20 Albums of 2015: First Half Report

 1. Whitey Morgan - Sonic Ranch
Sonic Ranch is as strong a "real country album" as you'll hear in 2015. It's refreshing to hear such unfiltered honky-tonk music in this day and age of contrived edge and softened edges. Morgan and the 78s' version of modern outlaw country is a comparable sound to what Sturgill Simpson is doing, but with a blue collar approach and a more pronounced low-end. This album may not drive Morgan to acceptance/hype in the same circles as Jason Isbell and Sturgill, but it's a big statement album that will bring in new fans and make old ones very happy.

2. Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear
Indie-pop is a sub-genre I usually avoid due to the overly precious nature of its typical fare. Father John Misty doesn't do twee. He infuses his catchy pop tunes and lounge rollers with a strong dose of balls. His lyrics are clever, biting, and frequently downright asshole-ish. These songs comfort, provoke, enlighten, and annoy, often at the same time. Our narrator is a jerk, but a jerk that you have to stick around to see what he'll do or say next. This is a record that will gnaw at you and stick with you, each song taking its turn being an earworm or soundtrack to some odd moment.

3. Chris Stapleton - Traveller

5. Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen - Hold My Beer, Vol. 1
Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 sounds as much like a celebration of friendship as it does a duets album from the pair of popular Texas troubadours. There's a palpable sense of fun and camaraderie throughout the ten song collection.  It’s the soundtrack to a good Saturday afternoon barbecue, a party record for people who'd rather not fist-pump, a greatest hits collection of songs you haven’t heard yet (unless you've been to their summer tours of the same name as the album).

7. American Aquarium - Wolves
To say the musical arrangements are daring & a departure from past albums is true. Yes, the same basic structure is there, the skeleton is intact enough to keep the loyal fans sated. But BJ Barham & the boys take risks here. The lush "Man I'm Supposed To Be" could be something Chet Atkins produced, but the darkness that lurks in this most honest of love songs somehow makes the song even more powerful. -Kelcy Salisbury

8. James McMurtry - Complicated Game
This is McMurtry’s best record, and it ain’t close. And that was a high bar. He could put his pen and guitar down now, and his name will forever belong beside those of Lovett, Clark, Earle, and yes, Van Zandt. If you know those names, you know what the comparison implies.  If you don’t, listen to Complicated Game, and get a frame of reference. This one’s a crowning moment for one of the true and elite Texas craftsmen. -Kevin Broughton


11. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material

14. Wrinkle Neck Mules - I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
Maybe this fine album isn't to be analyzed. Find your own meaning in these literate, attitude-driven, poetic, anti-bucolic, abstruse (and surprisingly fun) lyrics and run with it. It's not like you're going to stop tapping your foot, either way. It's all too damn catchy; and so steeped in shine and cooked over some ridge dweller's firepit, I Never Thought It Would Go This Far can't help but captivate.

18. Benton Leachman - Bury the Hatchet
Benton Leachman has a reedy croon that gives off the impression of innocence or sweetness. While that may indeed be the case for Leachman personally, his debut album, Bury the Hatchet, presents several bits of evidence that are at odds with that starry-eyed delivery. He's clearly a complicated and real person, and this record shows you all his sides with a passionate honesty that's rare in first releases.



  1. Pretty good list...think I'd put William Clark Green's "Ringling Road" and Aaron Watson's "The Underdog" somewhere in there.

  2. I was very surprised to not find "The Underdog" by Aaron Watson on the list.

  3. Listen to Kayla Ray's Love and Liquor and you will almost certainly adjust your list.

  4. So far this year, there's a ton of really good music, and hardly any that's immediately and unquestionably great, so it's going to be hard to sort at the end of the year. If you rearranged anything on my list from #6-20, it wouldn't make much difference to me... it's all good. Aaron Watson's album is in my top 35, as is Dwight Yoakam's (another I've been asked about). Any of those could rise or fall by the end of the year. We shall see.

    Anonymous, I'm checking out the Kayla Ray album now and it seems good so far. I see that it's a 2014 release though, so it wouldn't make my official list.

    -Trailer (Farcer)

  5. Looks like a lot of new CDs to add to my 'want' list.

  6. Very nice list!

    I agree it's been a monumental year so far and honestly, I'm glad we don't have a consensus album of the year yet. The variety on these lists is amazing and fun to read

    Here's mine:

    1. Gretchen Peters- Blackbirds
    2. William Clark Green- Ringling Road
    3. Brandi Carlile- The Firewatchers Daughter
    4. Chris Stapleton- Travellers
    5. Whitey Morgan- Sonic Ranch
    6. Blackberry Smoke- Holding All The Roses
    7. Steve Earle & The Dukes- Terraplane
    8. Houndmouth- Little Neon Limelight
    9. Dwight Yoakam- Second Hand Heart
    10. The Lone Bellow- Then Came The Morning
    11. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard- Django and Jimmie
    12. The Malpass Brothers- s/t
    13. Will Hoge- Small Town Dreams
    14. Jamie Lin Wilson- Holidays and Wedding Rings
    15. Kacey Musgraves- Pageant Material
    16. Wade Bowen/Randy Rogers- Hold My Beer. Vol.1
    17. Dean Brody- Gypsy Road
    18. Aaron Watson- The Underdog
    19. Allison Moorer- Down To Believing
    20. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors- Medicine

    Yet to hear/need to hear more of:

    James McMurtry- Complicated Game
    Ryan Bingham- Fear and Saturday Night
    Banditos- s/t

    Your inclusion of Ray Wylie makes me want to listen to the album again because I feel like there's something there that I'm just not getting

  7. Cool list.

    Personally, I can't stand Father John Misty. Something about his attitude makes my skin crawl. To me, he's not a funny jerk I want to hang around, he's just a jerk. I think I actually like him less than Sam Hunt. But to each his own.

    I haven't listened to Whitey, but your description of his music had me salivating. There is something very satisfying about real, authentic outlaw country / honky tonk that really hits the spot, if you know what I mean.

  8. Awesome list.. add Kree Harrison and it would be even better!

  9. Trailer! Long time no see.
    Good things for the ears in that list.
    Was listening to some Pandora station in the truck the other day and a Wrinkle Neck Mules song came on the other day and I thought, man why did I put those guys away? Need to give the new one a listen. Loving Mcmurtry, RWH, and Chris Stapleton ...will check out some of the others. MikeMc



Related Posts with Thumbnails