Tag Archives: Don Henley

Country Exclusive’s Most Essential Albums of 2015

It must be noted that Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through 2015, so many albums were not reviewed. Others may have been considered for this list if this site had been in existence longer. Having said that, when I thought back over the albums I’d reviewed, ten stood out to me, and two stand out which I didn’t review but which it would be criminal not to mention on a year-end list, so Country Exclusive is declaring twelve albums “most essential” for 2015. It should also be noted that some of these albums have had more sustainability for me than others, and therefore albums that were reviewed higher earlier in the year may still not have made this list.

#12: Courtney Patton–So This is Life

This album seems to be getting overlooked in a lot of year-end lists, and that is unbelievable to me. This album has some of the best songwriting I’ve heard this year, and many songs that stood out above everything else this year. A couple tracks kept it from being one of the best albums of the year, but the songs on So This is Life are truly some of the best of 2015. From one-night stands to prison to divorce, Courtney Patton tells the real stories of life and relationships, all in simple acoustic arrangements. This is country music at its finest. I mentioned sustainability, and this album has it–I find myself going back to Courtney Patton’s album more than many which are ranked higher on this list.

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#11: Jason Boland & the Stragglers–Squelch

From the Texas country/Red Dirt scene came an album filled with politically charged material and social commentary. Jason Boland & the Stragglers have been a mainstay in the Red Dirt scene since 2001, and this album proves why. Much like Courtney’s album gave us some of the best songwriting, Squelch delivered some of the best instrumentation and production, making the political lyrics come to us in excellent ways. Even if you don’t like such material, you will find much to appreciate here, like the upbeat “Heartland Bypass” or the beautiful ballad “Bienville.”

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#10: Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves didn’t do anything spectacular with her second album–she just continued on a path that earned her success and plenty of hardware the first time. Though she has all but been blacklisted by country radio, Kacey Musgraves remains an important ambassador to the mainstream, and though Pageant Material is not the best album of 2015, it is certainly one of the most important. Kacey symbolizes the few artists still carrying a torch for traditional country and still being allowed to do so with mainstream success. It’s a solid album, and more than that, it’s the album Kacey Musgraves wanted to make. Not only that, but most artists these days are covering things like “Uptown Funk”–this album unashamedly features Willie Nelson and Kacey on a duet on one of Willie Nelson’s least-known songs.

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#9: Blackberry Smoke–Holding all the Roses

This album is more rock than country–in fact, it only features a couple of straight country tracks. But that is part of what makes this album wonderful. It is an album that does not seek to blend genre all the time at the expense of the music. It knows what it is and does not pretend to be something else. Some songs are rock; some are country. Both styles are done flawlessly. When the styles are blended, such as on the title track, it is a sound unique to Blackberry Smoke. This album had the distinction in February of becoming the first album by an independent artist to top the Billboard Country Albums chart, and its importance here should not be overlooked. It’s not the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel, but it has still earned its place–also, this album was the first to earn a ten by Country Exclusive.

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#8: Whitey Morgan & the 78’s–Sonic Ranch

This is the polar opposite of Blackberry Smoke’s album. If you want an album that is “stone cold country,” I refer you to this one. People who think Sturgill Simpson sounds like Waylon have obviously never listened to Whitey Morgan. Others would probably rank this album a bit higher even, and if you want an example of the best “country”–not Americana, not country rock, not pop country–album this year, it would probably be this one. Unfortunately, this was one album I did not get a chance to review–but if you miss the truly classic country sound and raw, honest songwriting of “outlaw country,” it is an album that should not be overlooked.

#7: Don Henley–Cass County

2015 has been the year of the washed-up rocker jumping on the country band wagon. In fact, I declared “B.Y.H.B.,” the first single from the “90’s supergroup” Uncle Ezra Ray, to be the worst song I’d ever heard. But then there’s Don Henley. He came to country to make an actual country record, one that would stand the test of time. This album features Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, and interestingly, Mick Jagger–and all contribute to make Cass County a standout country album. This got a nine when I reviewed it, but I was reviewing the deluxe version–the original Cass County would have received a ten. Thank you, Don Henley, for showing all the rockers and most of mainstream country what country really should be.

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#6: Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen–Hold my Beer, Volume 1

From the world of Texas country came a collaboration album in April. Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are both forces to be reckoned with within the Texas country scene, but many underestimated this album–until the first single, “Standards.” “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards” they sing–and the song became an anthem for Texas and independent artists and fans everywhere. This album is just fun to listen to. The friends have great chemistry throughout the record. And then when you think it’s all lighthearted fun, “El Dorado” comes on and takes your breath away. The best thing about this record is the “volume 1”; I look forward to many more of these collaborations.

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#5: Chris Stapleton–Traveller

This is another album which I did not get a chance to review–but what would 2015 have been without Chris Stapleton? Traveller is an excellent album filled with influences from country, soul, and blues. Chris Stapleton’s voice is remarkable, and his songwriting is what made him this name in the first place. Tracks like “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “Whiskey and You” simply speak for themselves. And then there’s all the CMA nominations–Chris Stapleton is forever changing the course of history with his wins for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Top Male Vocalist. If there was ever a time when the comments, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist,” rang false, it was the night Stapleton swept the CMA’s. Traveller is an excellent choice for Album of the Year, and the impact its success is having on country music only adds to the justification for it being on this list.

#4: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Before everyone starts freaking out that Jason Isbell is fourth, let me say that any of the top seven of these could have easily claimed the top spot. Jason Isbell gave us an album full of his always excellent storytelling. This album, in my opinion, was miles better than Southeastern, as it is much more relatable. However, there are times when the beauty of the songwriting sacrifices relatability or the melody, and that is why I have ranked this album fourth. However, Something More Than Free, is, in some respects, the best album of the year, celebrating life and love in a raw, honest way. It went #1 on the rock, country, and folk charts, proving that Jason Isbell transcends genre. This is the album that made me, and will make many, a believer in Jason Isbell.

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#3: Kasey Chambers–Bittersweet

Perhaps the most underrated, but one of the most relatable and sustainable, albums on this list. Kasey Chambers is Australia’s hidden gem. She’s been selling platinum records and winning awards there for over a decade. It’s time we appreciated her music worldwide. Kasey went into Bittersweet wanting to make an album with a live feel. She wanted the album to be “real” and “raw”–and that is what she delivers. It’s a simple album, with a banjo backing many of the tracks, and Kasey’s voice shines through beautifully. Her lyrics are some of the most honest I’ve seen; many of the tracks focus on what seem to be personal reflections on and struggles with God. “Real” is the best word to describe this record–we hear about love, heaven and hell, prostitution, etc. Kasey’s not afraid to say “whore, “bitch,” and “fuck” on this album either, and there’s something to embrace about the honesty of that. The best music makes you feel and relate, and that is simply what happens when you hear this album.

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#2: Maddie & Tae–Start Here

Now, the same people that freaked out for Jason Isbell being fourth are going crazy that Maddie & Tae are higher. Well, I have spent many words on Maddie & Tae, and I’ll keep doing so. Maddie & Tae may have a slight pop influence, but that is simply it: it’s slight. When I listen to Start Here, I notice this: here is a debut album, by a young female duo, with mandolins, fiddles, steel, and banjos. Maddie & Tae are actually making it on the radio. They are the ones who can turn the tide of mainstream country back. In a world where the established acts like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton can’t speak for themselves and sell out to trends, Maddie & Tae are carrying a torch for traditional country the size of Texas. They are doing it in a genius fashion; without a slight pop influence, their music wouldn’t have a prayer on country radio. Yet here they are, two new artists, females even, calling out the sexist lyrics of the bros and the use of drum machines. And Start Here proves it’s not just talk. With harmonies akin to the Dixie Chicks and relatable lyrics for today’s youth, Maddie & Tae are a force to be reckoned with.

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#1: Turnpike Troubadours–The Turnpike Troubadours

This album is simply the best of 2015. There is quite simply nothing to complain about. The instrumentation is excellent, and I’ve never heard so much fiddle on any other album. The lyrics are incredible as well, from the five-minute opener, “The Bird Hunters” to the heart-wrenching “Fall out of Love.” “you bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades”–what a line! I would be hard-pressed to pick the best song on this album, and it has only gotten better with time. I don’t know what else to say, it’s just an excellent album from start to finish.

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Country Exclusive’s Essential Songs of 2015

I thought long and hard about this, and since Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through the year, and therefore did not do as many reviews as other sites, I am not going to name a 2015 Song of the Year. There are surely songs that I did not review which would make this list if I had reviewed them; in fact, a few on this list were not covered here. As for the album list, I will have nominees and an Album of the Year, as I did cover most of the essential albums of 2015. But here is a list of songs from 2015 that I feel everyone should definitely check out! If you have overlooked any of them, please correct this now. They are listed alphabetically, and not by any sort of rank.

Essential Songs of 2015

1. “After the Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae
2. “Ashes” by Lindi Ortega
3. “Be my Baby” by Whitney Rose and Raul Malo
4. “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours
5. “Bienville” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
6. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe
7. “Bound to Roam” by The Black Lillies
8. “Bramble Rose” by Don Henley, featuring Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert
9. “Burning House” by Cam
10. “Cost of Living” by Don Henley, featuring Merle Haggard
11. “David” by Cody Jinks
12. “Dixie” by Ashley Monroe
13. “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
14. “Fall out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
15. “Ghost Town” by Sam Outlaw
16. “Good ‘ol Boys’ Club” by Kacey Musgraves
17. “Half Moon” by Lindi Ortega
18. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe
19. “Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
20. “House on a Hill” by Kasey Chambers
21. “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” by Ashley Monroe
22. “Just Some Things” by Jamie Lin Wilson, featuring Wade Bowen
23. “Knives of New Orleans” by Eric Church
24. “Long Drive Home” by Turnpike Troubadours
25. “Need for Wanting” by Courtney Patton
26. “Oh Grace” by Kasey Chambers
27. “Pageant Material” by Kacey Musgraves
28. “Record Year” by Eric Church
29. “Roots and Wings” by Miranda Lambert
30. “Shut up and Fish” by Maddie & Tae
31. “So This is Life” by Courtney Patton
32. “Somebody to Love” by Kacey Musgraves
33. “Something More than Free” by Jason Isbell
34. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell
35. “Standards” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
36. “Suffer in Peace” by Tyler Farr
37. “Traveller” by Chris Stapleton
38. “Too Late to Save Me” by Kasey Chambers
39. “War of Art” by Courtney Patton
40. “When I stop Dreaming” by Don Henley, featuring Dolly Parton

There are many more, but I had to stop the list at some point!

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 28th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 2)
2. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl”
3. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 1)
4. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 1)
5. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 1)
6. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (down 5)
7. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 1)
8. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
9. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
10. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
11. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 1)
12. LoCash–“I Love this Life” (up 2)
13. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
14. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy” (up 1)
15. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (up 2)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Sam Hunt–“Break Up in a Small Town” (up 2)
18. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 2)
19. Randy Houser–“We Went” (down 1)
20. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation” (up 1)
21. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 1)
22. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (up 1)
23. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
24. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (down 1)
25. Keith Urban–“Break On Me” (up 4)
26. Rascal Flatts–“I Like the Sound of That” (up 2)
27. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (down 1)
28. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (down 1)
29. Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild–“Home Alone Tonight” (entering top 30)
30. Eric Church–“Mr. Misunderstood” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “I’m Comin’ Over” [an actual good song]
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Smoke Break
  • the atrocity that is “Home Alone Tonight” enters the top 30 this week, along with a good song, Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood”
  • Florida Georgia Line’s “Anything Goes” finally fell from #7 to out of the top 30

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Chris Stapleton–Traveller
2. Eric Church–Mr. Misunderstood
3. Tim McGraw–Damn Country Music [debut]
4. Carrie Underwood–Storyteller
5. Old Dominion–Meat and Candy [debut]
6. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
7. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
8. Blake Shelton–Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits
9. Josh Abbott Band–Front Row Seat
10. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
11. Cole Swindell–Down Home Sessions II (EP) [debut]
12. Little Big Town–Painkiller
13. Chris Janson–Buy me a Boat
14. Don Henley–Cass County
15. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
16. Hunter Hayes–21 Project
17. Eric Church–The Outsiders
18. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
19. Alan Jackson–Genuine: the Alan Jackson Story
20. Sam Hunt–Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (EP)
21. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
22. Alabama–Southern Drawl
23. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
24. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
25. Brett Eldredge–Illinois

  • Chris Stapleton enjoys a 2nd week at #1 with Traveller
  • Tim McGraw’s mostly good Damn Country Music debuts at #3
  • Josh Abbott Band’s concept album, Front Row Seat, debuts at #9

Source: Billboard

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 14th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Old Dominion–“Break up With Him” (up 1)
2. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 2)
3. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes”
4. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 1)
5. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 2)
6. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You”
7. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 1)
8. Luke Bryan–“Strip it Down” (down 7)
9. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 2)
10. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (down 1)
11. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
12. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
13. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
14. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (up 1)
15. LoCash–“I Love This Life” (up 4)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy”
18. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 2)
19. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (down 1)
20. Randy Houser–“We Went” (up 2)
21. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation”
22. Sam Hunt–“Break Up In a Small Town” (up 1)
23. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 1)
24. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 1)
25. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (up 1)
26. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
27. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (up 1)
28. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (up 1)
29. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (up 1)
30. Rascal Flatts–“I Like the Sound of That” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Break Up With Him,” aka the douchebag anthem
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Let Me See Ya Girl”
  • Chase Rice’s “Gonna Wanna Tonight” finally, mercifully fell out of this chart after a year

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Carrie Underwood–Storyteller [debut]
2. Blake Shelton–Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits [debut]
3. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
4. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
5. Don Henley–Cass County
6. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
7. Sam Hunt–Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape [debut]
8. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
9. Eric Church–The Outsiders
10. Jimmy Fortune–Hits & Hymns [debut]
11. Toby Keith–35 Mph Town
12. Jana Kramer–Thirty One
13. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
14. Colt Ford–Answer to No One: The Colt Ford Classics [debut]
15. Kelsea Ballerini–The First Time
16. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
17. Little Big Town–Painkiller
18. Brett Eldredge–Illinois
19. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
20. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
21. Alabama–Southern Drawl
22. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
23. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
24. Kane Brown–Closer (EP)
25. Chris Stapleton–Traveller

  • Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller debuts at #1
  • Sam Hunt’s “acoustic mixtape” Between the Pines debuts at #7
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time moved up to #15 this week from #28

Source: Billboard

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 7th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Luke Bryan–“Strip it Down” (2nd week at #1)
2. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (up 2)
3. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes”
4. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 1)
5. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 3)
6. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 3)
7. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 3)
8. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 3)
9. Kenny Chesney–“Save It For a Rainy Day” (down 2)
10. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (down 8)
11. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 1)
12. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
13. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
14. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
15. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (up 2)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy” (up 1)
18. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (up 1)
19. LoCash–“I Love This Life” (up 1)
20. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 1)
21. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation” (up 2)
22. Randy Houser–“We Went” (up 2)
23. Sam Hunt–“Break Up in a Small Town” (down 1)
24. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 2)
25. Hunter Hayes–“21”
26. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (up 1)
27. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
28. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (entering top 30)
29. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (up 1)
30. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Strip it Down”
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Break up With Him”
  • Brett Eldredge’s “Lose My Mind” went recurrent and fell from #6 to out of the top 30
  • The Band Perry’s “Live Forever” fell from #29 to #32
  • Dierks Bentley’s excellent “Riser” and Zac Brown Band’s EDM “Beautiful Drug” enter the top 30 this week

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
2. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
3. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
4. Don Henley–Cass County
5. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
6. Toby Keith–35 Mph Town
7. Kane Brown–Closer (EP)
8. Jana Kramer–Thirty One
9. Eric Church–The Outsiders
10. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
11. Brett Eldredge–Illinois
12. Alabama–Southern Drawl
13. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
14. Maddie & Tae–Start Here
15. Little Big Town–Painkiller
16. Jason Boland & The Stragglers–Squelch
17. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
18. LeAnn Rimes–Today is Christmas [debut]
19. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
20. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol
21. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
22. Stoney LaRue–Us Time [debut]
23. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
24. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
25. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…

  • Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights remains at the top
  • George Strait and Don Henley show no signs of slowing down, at #3 and #4
  • Stoney LaRue’s fan tribute album Us Time debuts at #22

Source: Billboard