by Julian Spivey
10. "There's Still a Little Country Left" by Daryle Singletary
Daryle Singletary’s There’s Still a Little Country Left is easily the album on this list that people have heard the least and I’m hoping its position on this list will go a little way in correcting that. Singletary’s first album in six years is exactly as its title implies – full of actual, traditional country music. With songs like the title track, “It’s Too Late to Save the World” and “Get Out of My Country” Singletary is doing his best to keep real country music alive and well while the mainstream seems content on killing it for good.
9. "Cass County" by Don Henley
Don Henley’s first solo country effort Cass County really shouldn’t be a surprise to many seeing how the Eagles were country-rock legends. Henley takes his Texas upbringing and puts it to good use on an album filled with terrific guests like Merle Haggard, Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Dolly Parton and Martina McBride. Be sure not to miss “Bramble Rose,” the stunning collaboration with Jagger and Lambert that’s country through and through.
8. "Squelch" by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
Jason Boland & the Stragglers have been red dirt country music’s finest group for more than a decade now and their eighth studio album Squelch has shown that there’s no sign of them slowing down anytime soon. In fact, they might even be getting better and Boland’s songwriting is certainly getting more political (almost surprisingly so) and the band’s sound getting heavier. Some of the tracks on Squelch, especially the acid-tongued “I Guess It’s Alright to Be An Asshole,” come off as punk rock mixed with Texas honky tonk. It’s one of the most pleasantly raucous recordings of 2015.
7. "Django & Jimmie" by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
When it was announced that longtime friends and country music icons Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard would be reuniting for their second duets album and first since 1983’s Pancho & Lefty it instantly became one of the most anticipated country albums of the year and Django & Jimmie certainly didn’t disappoint. The name of the album comes from the musical inspirations of Willie Nelson (Django Reinhardt) and Merle Haggard (Jimmie Rodgers) and the album sees the two legends reminiscing about their icons (on the title track), old friends (“Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”) and just having a blast (“It’s All Going to Pot”).
6. "Second Hand Heart" by Dwight Yoakam
Dwight Yoakam decided to meld the ‘60s rock sound of his critically-acclaimed 2012 album 3 Pears with that of his rockabilly cowpunk sound of the mid-80s on his 2015 release Second Hand Heart and what resulted was one of the most stellar albums of his 30-year career. The album mixes rip-roaring numbers like “Liar” and a terrific cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow” with thought-provoking ballads like “Dreams of Clay” and “Vs of Birds.” It’s everything a Yoakam fan could possibly want from country music’s coolest dude.
5. "Traveller" by Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton has proven to be the surprise of country music in 2015 going from hit songwriter that few people knew by name to a CMA Awards stunner winning three awards and getting four Grammy nominations. Stapleton is doing his best to bring a little traditional country music into the mainstream and his voice is an absolute stunner on tracks like “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Nobody to Blame” and “Sometimes I Cry.”
4. "Pageant Material" by Kacey Musgraves
When you have a debut album as critically beloved as Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park was (winning the Grammy for Best Country Album) the pressure to match it on the sophomore album is incredibly high. Musgraves’ second effort Pageant Material might even actually be a stronger album with fascinating portraits of small town life throughout like “Dime Store Cowgirl,” “Biscuits,” “Family is Family” and “This Town.” Musgraves has shown she’s no flash in the pan and is here to stay.
3. "Mr. Misunderstood" by Eric Church
Eric Church released Mr. Misunderstood in early November and absolutely nobody knew it was coming. Secret album releases have become the “it” thing to do in the world of music over the last few years and Church has brought that fad to country music. But, just because the album was a surprise and seemingly thrown together quickly it doesn’t mean it isn’t great. In fact, Mr. Misunderstood is likely a better complete album than Church’s preceding The Outsiders, which many critics hailed as the singer-songwriter’s best of his career. Church mixes everything from a passionate tale of misfits in the title track to the cutesy “Three Year Old,” about the innocence of life seen through the eyes of a child. It appears Church may be getting better with each passing record.
2. "Turnpike Troubadours" by Turnpike Troubadours
The Turnpike Troubadours are the definition of grass roots sensation. The Oklahoma-based red dirt country band has grown quite the fan base for themselves over the last half decade or so with three stellar albums, including their recent self-titled release. The group performs raucously traditional country music with some of the best lyrical pieces in the entire genre thanks to the talented pen, mind and Southern stylings of front-man Evan Felker. The group is an act you certainly don’t want to miss live and have a knack for making their recordings sound the most like their lives shows of any other act in the genre. Don’t miss stellar stories like “The Bird Hunters” and “The Mercury” and infectious tunes like “Down Here” and “Time of Day” from this release.
1. "Something More Than Free" by Jason Isbell
For the second time in the last three years the best album of the year (in country music or any genre for that matter) comes from Alabama singer-songwriter Jason Isbell. Some consider him more Americana than country, but his Something More Than Free did top the Billboard country albums chart (as well as the rock and folk charts) this year with its fascinating tales of real-life stories. Isbell has proven himself to be the best singer-songwriter of his generation with a knack of spinning tales and stories that have him reminding people of legends like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. He has a penchant for absolutely devastating listeners with his songs, but Something More Than Free is certainly more optimistic about life than the preceding and also terrific Southeastern.