It’s been another phenomenal year in country music. We looked back on some of our favourites from 2015!
10: AARON WATSON – ‘THE UNDERDOG’
Aaron Watson is an artist who goes under the radar. No radio exposure, no TV appearances, no awards, yet ‘The Underdog’ reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Country Albums chart. A real testament to the sheer quality of Aaron’s songwriting, and also an indication that the traditional side of the genre is still alive and kicking. As he says in ‘Fence Post’, Aaron will not give into mainstream trends. “I’m gonna wear what I wanna wear, I’m gonna sing what I wanna sing” – and we’re mighty glad you do, Aaron. This is the best work of his career, quality from start to finish. Pure country music, with heart-felt, personal lyrics and wonderful melodies. It just had to be in our top 10.
Stand-outs: ‘That Look’, ‘Bluebonnets’, ‘The Underdog’
9: DARIUS RUCKER – ‘SOUTHERN STYLE’
This man never fails to impress. We often use the phrase “he’s never made a bad song”, but we truly believe this applies to Darius. Album after album, he continues to produce absolute classics, and ‘Southern Style’ included many. From the incredibly catchy single ‘Homegrown Honey’ (co-written with Charles Kelley) to the deep, personal ‘So I Sang’, this album really has it all. In all honesty, every track on here has the potential to be released as a single, particularly ‘You, Me and My Guitar’, which is up there with the best songs of the whole year. So so catchy, and trust us you won’t be able to get it out of your head! Darius tweeted a while back that he is planning to come back to the UK in 2016….fingers crossed!
Stand-outs: ‘Perfect’, ‘You, Me and My Guitar’, ‘So I Sang’
8: ANDREW COMBS – ‘ALL THESE DREAMS’
If you reacted to the Country2Country line-up with some confusion regarding Andrew Combs’ inclusion (as we did at first, we must admit!), please give ‘All These Dreams’ a chance. With this, Andrew has demonstrated his incredible musical talent, as well as his infectious, unique sound. The more you listen to the album, the more you appreciate the sheer quality of the production. Andrew is a very old-school artist with a sound not too dissimilar to the likes of Roy Orbison and The Mavericks, therefore he is great for the C2C line-up, adding something new to the festival. Andrew is definitely one to watch and will surprise many in March.
Stand-outs: ‘Nothing To Lose’, ‘All These Dreams’, ‘Suwannee County’
7: KRISTIAN BUSH – ‘SOUTHERN GRAVITY’
‘Southern Gravity’ was the first solo album from Kristian Bush, star of the platinum-selling country duo Sugarland. Kristian said “what’s interesting is that, with Jennifer doing her own thing and me doing my thing, fans are getting to hear the DNA of Sugarland” and this is so true with ‘Southern Gravity’. The album is packed full of fun, catchy tracks which could easily find their way onto a Sugarland album, particularly ‘Waiting On An Angel’ and ‘Feeling Fine California’. This is another one which went under the radar – aside from ‘Trailer Hitch’, country radio didn’t seem to embrace it, however in our opinion it is certainly one of 2015’s best. It’s a real feel-good album and it has something for everybody.
Stand-outs: ‘Trailer Hitch’, ‘Flip Flops’, ‘Walk Tall’
6: ERIC CHURCH – ‘MR MISUNDERSTOOD’
Just a few weeks back, we weren’t expecting to have an Eric Church album on our list! On the night of the CMA Awards, Eric released a surprise new album, titled ‘Mr Misunderstood’, and boy did he pull it out of the bag. In our opinion, this is his best album yet, and certainly his most ‘country’. It’s one of those where you won’t skip a single track. Every track has its value on the album. Powerful from start to finish, ‘Mr Misunderstood’ offers a range of terrific productions, from the rather autobiographical title track, to the more subtle and very personal ‘Three Year Old’. This is an album which also lends itself to Eric’s live show, particularly with ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ and ‘Mistress Named Music’. A solid all-rounder.
Stand-outs: ‘Mr Misunderstood’, ‘Record Year’, ‘Three Year Old’
5. WILL HOGE – ‘SMALL TOWN DREAMS’
OK, maybe not what you were expecting in the top 5, but we believe Will Hoge thoroughly deserves it. ‘Small Town Dreams’ is the most under-rated album of the year by a million miles. It reached #15 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, Will’s highest position to date, but still an unfair reflection of the sheer quality of the album. Will’s gritty, raspy voice, combined with catchy melodies result in a truly phenomenal collection of songs which you will have on repeat for weeks. This is another album that really comes to life when performed live, particularly ‘Growing Up Around Here’ and ‘Middle Of America’ which have become regulars on Will’s set lists. He is back in the UK to play a London show in March.
Stand-outs: ‘Little Bitty Dreams’, ‘Middle Of America’, ‘Just Up The Road’
4: ASHLEY MONROE – ‘THE BLADE’
Two years after the release of ‘Like A Rose’, a very impressive album which reached #10 in the charts, Ashley Monroe released her third studio album, ‘The Blade’, in July. Ashley has one of the most pure, angelic voices in country music, not to mention her incredible song-writing abilities. Once again, she has provided us with another memorable album. It’s difficult to choose stand-out songs for this, but a special mention has to be given to ‘From Time To Time’, which has such an atmospheric chorus and beautiful lyrics, and is right up there with our favourites of 2015. Ashley will be playing at C2C in March on the Yamaha Stage, and she is also appearing at the CMA Songwriters Series.
Stand-outs: ‘Weight Of The Load’, ‘From Time To Time’, ‘If Love Was Fair’
3: KACEY MUSGRAVES – ‘PAGEANT MATERIAL’
What a year it’s been in country music. Proven by this album’s position at #3 in our list. Any other year, this would be at the top of the list without question and in truth, #3 is perhaps rather harsh on Kacey. ‘Pageant Material’ is exactly what the genre needed; with the likes of Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett pushing the boundaries of the genre, Kacey brought back the raw, traditional ‘country’ sound in one of the most beautiful, authentic albums we have heard in a long long time. Her exposed, personal style of song-writing is second to none, displayed here by classics like ‘Somebody To Love’ and ‘Fine’. The album has played a part in the refreshing revival of good old country music alongside a certain Mr Stapleton……..
Stand-outs: ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’, ‘Late To The Party’, ‘Somebody To Love’
2: CHRIS STAPLETON – ‘TRAVELLER’
Since the CMA Awards, this man’s career has exploded into life. Highly regarded as a songwriter, writing hits for the likes of Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker and Thomas Rhett, it was time for Chris Stapleton to step into the spotlight. ‘Traveller’, which Chris describes as his life story, won Album Of The Year at this year’s CMAs and Chris also sent shockwaves through the world of country music by winning Male Vocalist Of The Year. This is as ‘country’ as it gets. Credit has to go to Stapleton’s co-producer Dave Cobb (who has previously worked with the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell) for channelling the emotion and honestly in the music and allowing it to transcend beautifully into a piece of art.
Stand-outs: ‘Traveller’, ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, ‘When The Stars Come Out’
1: KIP MOORE – ‘WILD ONES’
And finally, we come to our number 1 album of 2015! After much deliberation, we decided on ‘Wild Ones’, the stunning sophomore album from Kip Moore, an artist who doesn’t get the credit or recognition he deserves. Although Kip’s very unique, raspy voice may not be everybody’s cup of tea, his musical talent can never be doubted. From the anthemic ‘Wild Ones’ to the foot-tapping ‘What Ya Got On Tonight’ to the wonderfully simplistic ‘Comeback Kid’, this album is an absolute masterpiece. After the unsuccessful singles of ‘Dirt Road’ and ‘Young Love’, Kip went back to the drawing board and started a brand new project, making music which Kip says “encompasses everything I’ve felt over the past couple of years and embodies everything we are as a band”. Every track is delivered with so much passion, and it is clear that this work of art is a very personal project. Usually it takes a few listens to fully engage with an album; that was not the case here. It will require something very special next year to beat this one.
Stand-outs: ‘That Was Us’, ‘What Ya Got On Tonight’, ‘Comeback Kid’