Like I did in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, I'm providing my top twenty some albums that came out this year. After the top twenty, there's a list of albums that deserve honorable mention.
As for the year in music, I see it as a decent year. On a personal level, halfway through the year, my car's cd player malfunctioned, so I've had the misfortune of having to listen to the radio stations around here. iTunes and my iPad have given me solace.
The year saw some solid albums from artists who have been on my end-of-the-year list before, but there are some new bands featured.
If there are other albums you would recommend, please let me know in the comments section.
1. Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks
I listened to this album a lot this year. Like his other albums, Ritter puts together interesting arrangements and lyrics. On first listen, some of the songs will surprise you from a musical standpoint. Some sonic curveballs. This is one guy who has the misfortune of not getting noticed enough by the mainstream music scene. If we were still in the 90s, he would have racked up a number of hits. "Getting Ready to Get Down" is one of my favorite tunes of the year.
Favorite songs: "Homecoming," "A Big Enough Sky," "Where the Nights Goes," and "Getting Ready to Get Down"
2. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
Some readers might be surprised that Isbell's album got second on this year's list. He shows off his songwriting craftsmanship again on this album. It's an opus that bears witness to listening to it from start to finish, especially the lineup of songs five, six, seven, and eight in the middle of the album. My only minor complaint is that I want more uptempo, rock-oriented songs. Isbell is a very good guitarist, and I wish he showed that off more often. Still "Speed Trap Town" is the best song of 2015, and in these times it's easy to understand these lyrics from "24 Frames": "You thought God was an architect./ Now you know he's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow./ And everything you built was all for show goes up in flames."
Favorites songs: "Palmetto Rose," "Speed Trap Town," "24 Frames," and "The Life You Chose"
3. The Bottle Rockets, South Broadway Athletic Club
Huzzah for straightforward rock and roll. As is the band's character, this album gives you the perspective of the everyman, the regular joe who might visit the South Broadway Athletic Club in South St. Louis to watch wrestling matches. Themes include Monday sneaking up on you, just relaxing, building cars, and man's best friend.
Favorite songs: "Building Chryslers," "Big Fat Nuthin'," "Shape of a Wheel," and "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)"
4. Punch Brothers, Phosphorescent Blues
This outfit has put out albums and EPs at a steady clip over the past few years, which makes me wonder what will happen once Chris Thile takes over for Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion. Regardless, this is a stunning album with the usual intricate arrangements and soaring lyrics. I've sat on the couch and just let the album wash over me. It's something.
Favorite songs: "Little Lights," "Magnet," "My Oh My," and "I Blew It Off"
5. Chris Cornell, Higher Truth
Soundgarden is one of my favorite bands, and Chris Cornell is one of the major factors why I like the band so much. I only have one other of Cornell's solo albums. I like this one much more. And it's not often you see an artist put out an album with sixteen songs. There's a lot to listen to here. The album's lineup generally alternates between slower and more uptempo songs. It's a fun ride. Lyrics to ponder: "Time ain't nothing if ain't fast,/ Taking everything that you ever had,/ Giving nothing in return but a cold bed in the quiet earth." It's a modern day "Thanatopsis."
Favorite songs: "Before We Disappear," "Let Your Eyes Wander," "Our Time in the Universe," and "Murderer of Blue Skies"
6. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
This is a fun record. Though this description could lurch toward an oxymoron, this album could be described as introspectively peppy. Barnett is an Australian singer-songwriter who was recommended to me by a reader of this blog. I guess if people are going to label her work, it could get filed under alternative rock or college rock. The songs certainly have a young person's perspective to them although the lyrics reveal an old soul.
Favorite songs: "Nobody Cares If You Don't Go to the Party," "Dead Fox," "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)," and "Pedestrian at Best"
7. Dawes, All Your Favorite Bands
Dawes' fourth album is another strong offering. If you like their sound like I do, you'll enjoy this album. Like Ritter, this band would have done well in an earlier musical era. They compose strong rock-pop musical arrangements and have good lyrics. "I Can't Think about It Now" is yet another song that makes me wish the band had more songs in which Taylor Goldsmith had guitar solos. That song has great lyrics too.
Favorite songs: "I Can't Think About It Now," "All Your Favorite Bands," "Things Happen," and "Somewhere Along the Way"
8. Langhorne Slim & The Law, The Spirit Moves
Even if you're not familiar with this artist, you've probably heard the first part of one of his songs, "Changes," via a commercial for something I can't remember. Once again, Mr. Slim brings his distinctive voice to the fore often with jangling guitars that remind me of early R.E.M. (to a small degree). The album is gritty, fun, and jaunty.
Favorite songs: "Strangers," "Bring You My Love," "Southern Bells," and "Spirit Moves"
9. The Bad Plus Joshua Redman
Combine one of the most innovative jazz trios with one of the best jazz saxophonists, and you get a fine album. Pretty simple math.
Favorite songs: "Dirty Blonde," "County Seat," "Lack the Faith but Not the Wine," and "Friend or Foe"
10. Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher's Daughter
This young lady has some pipes. Offering a mix of rock, country, and bluesy tunes, this album is on par with Bear Creek.
Favorite songs: "Mainstream Kid," "The Eye," "The Things I Regret," and "The Stranger at My Door"
11. James McMurtry, Complicated Game
The salty singer-songwriter put out another fine album this year. Like Isbell and The Bottle Rockets, he spins narratives about common folks. One of my favorite songs on the album, "These Things I've Come to Know," has the persona talking about and admiring a female bartender.
Favorite songs: "How'm I Gonna Find You Now," "Deaver's Crossing," "These Things I've Come to Know," and "Carlisle's Haul"
12. Lucero, All a Man Should Do
Some fans of Lucero complain about the band's new sound. I don't. I certainly like the older albums that are gritty and very guitar oriented. But I like the more recent sound (with horns) that Lucero is putting out. I like this album better than Women & Work. It seems like a more complete album.
Favorite songs: "Can't You Hear Them Howl," "Young Outlaws," "Baby Don't You Want Me," and "I Woke Up in New Orleans"
13. The Yawpers, American Man
This is one of the stranger album covers I've seen in a while. I have very little background on this band, but they play a strong brand of rock ~ no frills, guitar-oriented rock and roll. They take their name from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, and their music is reminiscent of "barbaric yawp"s. I'd like to see them perform. I imagine they'd put on a fun show.
Favorite songs: "Doing It Right," "Burdens," "Deacon Brodie," and "Walter"
14. JD McPherson, Let the Good Times Roll
I got introduced to this artist this year. This is his second album, and it's a raucous, 50s-rock-inspired affair. Good stuff, people.
Favorite songs: "Let the Good Times Roll," "It's All Over But the Shouting," "It Shook Me Up," and "Mother of Lies"
15. Radkey, Dark Black Makeup
The Wikipedia article on this band describes them as a "garage punk band." That's a fair description of what they do. The band consists of three brothers who were home-schooled in St. Joseph, Missouri. Their first major performance was opening for Fishbone. That's awesome.
Favorite songs: "Love Spills," "Le Song," "Feed My Brain," and "Glore"
16. The Railsplitters, The Faster It Goes
I always have time for some traditional bluegrass, and this album fills that need. The singers have beautiful voices backed by sometimes traditional sounding arrangements.
Favorite songs: "It's a Little Late," "The Estuary," "Goosetown," and "Tilt-A-Whirl"
17. American Aquarium, Wolves
I've enjoyed AA's raucous rock over the years. Dances for the Lonely and Small Town Hymns are excellent albums. Wolves is a good one though some of the lyrics tend to either complain about the road or discuss personal demons. Those are decent themes, but the former can get tiresome. "Southern Sadness" is one of my favorites: "There's a certain kind of despair/ that hangs heavy in the air./ And everywhere I go I always smell the Piedmont pines./ There's a Southern sadness that won't let go of this heart of mine."
Favorite songs: "Southern Sadness," "Wolves," "Wichita Falls," and "Old North State"
18. JJ Grey & Mofro, Ol' Glory
If this dude puts out an album, it's highly likely it'll be on my annual list. His soul-rock-funk sound moves me. I wish he'd play the harp more often because he's an outstanding harmonica player. Regardless, it's another fine album by Mr. Grey.
Favorite songs: "Light a Candle," "Turn Loose," "Brave Lil' Fighter," and "Everything Is a Song"
19. The Turnpike Troubadours, self-titled
Along with Sturgill Simpson and Hayes Carll, this outfit is one of finest country artists out there right now. There isn't Nashville-inspired pop-country @#$% smeared all over their sound. It's good stuff.
Favorite songs: "Bossier City," "Ringing in the Year," "Down Here," and "The Bird Hunters"
20. Joe Pug, Windfall
It's not that he ever had a weak voice, but on this album Joe Pug's voice sounds stronger. Maybe it's just me. If you like traditional folk-rock songs, this is a good choice.
Favorite songs: "Stay and Dance," "Burn and Shine," "Bright Beginnings," and "Veteran Fighter"
Blitzen Trapper, All Across This Land
Ben Folds, So There
John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat
The Lone Bellow, Then Came the Morning
Robert Earl Keen, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions
Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi
Jayme Stone, Lomax Project
Gary Clark Jr., The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Justin Townes Earle, Absent Fathers
Calexico, Edge of the Sun
Craig Finn, Faith in the Future