Tag Archives: Kasey Chambers

My Top Ten Albums of 2017 so Far

Editor’s Note: Why didn’t I choose thirteen again? Actually, I was going to, but these ten just stand out above the ones I would pick for eleven, twelve, and thirteen, so they’ll just be in the Honorable Mentions. This has a little, but not much, to do with the original grades given to these albums; it’s more about music that holds up, so some of these might have lower ratings than you’d expect, and there are some that we rated higher that didn’t make this list because I simply don’t go back and listen to them, and for me, that’s what music is all about. It might be a 9 on paper, but if I’m not listening to it months later, that number is arbitrary, so don’t let the numbers factor into it too much at this point. Lastly, just like the songs, these are my picks, not necessarily those of Country exclusive as a whole, and these are, unlike the songs, in order for me.

#10: The Steel Woods–Straw in the Wind

Original Rating: 8/10
This honestly would be higher on the list right now because the first half is excellent, but it does drop off some for me in the back half. Still, it’s a very nice debut from The Steel Woods, tinged with Southern rock, blues, bluegrass, and country; in fact, I’d like to make the point that look how many of these entries are debuts, what a cool year for debut records.
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#9: Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Volume 1

Original Rating: 8/10
Some of you are going to hate me for ranking it this low, and others are going to hate me for saying it’s better than Traveller. But it’s a more consistent effort from Stapleton than his first record, and it’s still holding up nicely.
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#8: Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Original Rating: 9/10
Yeah, okay, this ranks higher as an album than some others that will be higher on this list, and I still stand by that 9 too. It’s definitely the most fun album here. It doesn’t hold up quite as much as some lower-ranked albums coming up because you have to be in a certain mood to play it. But Shinyribs is the type of group you should just let yourself enjoy; they won’t be for everyone, but they should be.
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#7: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Original Rating: 7.5/10
All right, what is it about this one? Well, it just works its way in. It’s unique and cool, and no, the hookers and cocaine all over this record won’t be for everyone, but if you can get past the dark material Robyn writes and sings about, this is a great record. It’s definitely being underappreciated, and I underrated it, not necessarily because I undervalued the songs themselves but because I underestimated its mileage and ability to be replayed which it turns out has been great.
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#6: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Original Rating: 7.5/10
Yeah, I said this rating would be misleading when I reviewed it, and it turns out I was right. It’s hard to grade a seven-song project, and when four songs turn out to be excellent tracks, and the other three are good, it’s hard to question this. It’s short, sure, but there’s no filler like there has been on many albums this year. Jaime Wyatt’s is another debut record, and this is probably the most promising one I’ve heard all year. She’s someone you should definitely keep your eye on, and since February, this has gone from being a strong debut to one of the best albums of 2017.
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#5: Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Original Rating: 8/10
Please, stop caring that this is a double album, and do yourself a favor by listening to it. This has been massively underrated, both because Kasey is Australian and because it’s a double album, but it’s one of the most consistent and diverse releases of the year–there’s something here for everyone, from traditional to blues to folk rock to gospel to country pop. Go check it out.
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#4: Jason Eady (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
This is going to be a dark horse for Album of the Year; Jason Eady is the only person who could make a completely stripped-back, acoustic record that could be played without electricity (except for some steel guitar) and have it compete with the best albums of the year based on his songwriting and melodies alone. This record grows on me every time I listen to it. Another somewhat underappreciated album, and definitely the best album to come out of the Texas/Red dirt scene thus far this year.
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#3: Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Original Rating: 10/10
I know, some of you that know how I felt about this record are falling out of your chairs right now that this is #3. I still love it, and these top three are all excellent. The reason this has slid momentarily to #3 is that I come back to it all the time, but not as much to the entire album as to specific songs. But like I said, these top three are all almost interchangeable, and some of the songwriting here is the best of 2017 so far.
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#2: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
All right, so yeah, this has passed Angaleena. There are still a couple of boring songs, so I wouldn’t give it a 10–although I might change angallena’s to a 9 or 9.5 if I were reviewing her today–but man, what a timeless album. This pretty much blew me away on the first listen–which is the case with all the top three–and just like Jason’s, it’s very minimal, and all you need is Colter’s throwback voice and his stories and melodies. Excellent record. Another debut, by the way.
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#1: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives–Way out West

Original Rating: 10/10
Back in March, nothing had blown me away in 2017. I remember talking about the fact that there had been some good albums, but not great ones. I was a little discouraged–and then this came along and blew everything out of the water, and I’m still waiting for something to top it. It’s been a much better year since, and 2017 will be an entertaining year waiting to see if an album can possibly top the musical genius Marty Stuart put into this album and depiction of the West. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece; in fact, none of its songs made yesterday’s list. But that’s what makes it even more special; Marty went into a genre that is lyrically focused and made a western album based purely off the musical styles and mood. It’s, at least for me, a flawless record.
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Honorable Mentions

  • Sam Outlaw–Tenderheart (would have been #11)
  • Kody West–Green (would have been #12, another debut)
  • Aaron Watson–Vaquero (would have been #13)
  • Nikki Lane–Highway Queen
  • Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway
  • Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
  • The Mavericks–Brand New Day
  • Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway (this will probably make future lists, but I need more listens

Albums on the Radar, With Potential to be Reviewed

Being listed here does not mean Brianna or I will review these, it just means we’re aware, and they may be considered, but have not been reviewed yet.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity
  • Lauren Alaina–Road Less Traveled
  • The Secret Sisters–You Don’t Own Me Anymore
  • Ray Scott–Guitar for Sale
  • Glen Campbell–Adios
  • Shannon McNally–Black Irish
  • Joseph Huber–The Suffering Stage
  • Tony Jackson (self-titled)
  • John Baumann–Proving Grounds
  • Jake Worthington–Hell of a Highway
  • Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

My Top 13 Songs of 2017 So Far

Editor’s Note: I wrote “my” instead of “Country Exclusive’s” for a reason; this does not necessarily reflect the views of our entire site. Also, these are not, and I repeat, not, in any order. Finally, with the exception of one song which I felt it would be idiotic to leave out, these are all from stuff we have covered in some fashion, either by a full-length review or perhaps through a feature in our “Memorable Songs from Overlooked Albums” pieces. Normally, I would restrict this to stuff one of us has actually written about, but that would leave out one song which, like I say, it would be a glaring sin not to bring up here. So take all this into consideration, and feel free to leave your own lists of songs and thoughts about these in the comments below!

Aaron Watson: “Clear Isabel”

From Vaquero
The first song to really blow my mind in 2017, this is a great and timely story about Isabel and her father, Mariano, who flee to America to escape the cartels of Mexico. Isabel ends up married to the narrator of the song, but her father is deported and later gunned down. It’s an honest and heartbreaking look at immigration, not to mention a brilliant song. Even better with the instrumental prelude, “Mariano’s Dream.”

Jaime Wyatt: “Wishing Well”

From Felony Blues
Jaime Wyatt is probably the name I’m most excited about breaking out in 2017. She has a way of singing about hardship that still manages to put a smile on your face, and this is just a stellar song that gets better every time I hear it.

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

This one comes off Puxico, which we didn’t review in full, but it was partly responsible for the “Memorable Songs” features because this track about the lonely, forgotten river town of Cairo, Illinois, is one of the best songs of the year and should by no means be overlooked.

Jason Eady: “Barabbas”

From Jason Eady’s self-titled album
Purely from a songwriting standpoint, this has to be the cleverest thing to come out this year, telling us the story of the man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet never mentioning Jesus or religion, and instead allowing the song to be a timeless track for everyone, although connecting even more deeply with those of faith.

Angaleena Presley: “Dreams Don’t Come True

From Wrangled
This just blew me away on the first listen; who’s going to tell you, especially at the beginning of their record, that look, dreams don’t come true, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise? But it’s Angaleena Presley’s reality, and credit her for confronting it head-on to deliver us something so powerfully painful and honest.

Angaleena Presley: “Wrangled”

Also from Wrangled
Angaleena Presley has the distinction of being the only one on the list with two entries, but this song is equally deserving. From the wonderful melody to the thought-provoking lyrics about being “wrangled” by her life and husband, this song stands out just as much as “Dreams Don’t Come True.”

Brad Paisley: “Gold All Over the Ground”

From Love and War
What, a mainstream name like Brad Paisley? Yes, that’s what I said. This is Paisley’s musical adaptation of a poem composed by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s, and they don’t make love songs like this anymore. Between the poetry of Cash and the arrangement of Paisley, it has definitely earned its place among the best songs so far in 2017.

Colter Wall: “Kate McCannon

From Colter Wall’s self-titled album
There were many outstanding songs on Colter Wall’s debut record, I just picked the one that shined a tiny bit brighter than the rest.

Chris Stapleton: “Either Way”

From From a Room, Volume 1
I didn’t always think Chris Stapleton showed emotion on his new album–sometimes he just belted songs, and they lost a little of the passion. But this is one moment where he absolutely killed it, and this version might be better than the original LeeAnn Womack version.

The Steel Woods: “Straw in the Wind”

From Straw in the Wind
What a dark, ominous tale–this one comes from one of our collaborative reviews, and Brianna and I both agreed that this story of a town where strangers “disappear like straw in the wind” is a standout of the record.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “If we Were Vampires”

Yeah, here’s the one I didn’t review, but this is one of the best songs of Isbell’s career, and when I said they don’t make love songs like that anymore about Paisley’s, I guess Isbell proved me wrong. He mentions all the details he loves about his wife, and more than that, he makes you think of death as a gift because it allows you to be a better lover and make the moments last. What a beautiful and morbid picture of love; I’ve never been sad, happy, and scared while listening to a love song before, but that’s what Jason Isbell does here.

Kasey Chambers: “Jonestown

From Dragonfly
The standout of Chambers’ recent double album, this one deals with hardship and discrimination and tells a great story. Probably the most underrated and least known one on the list.

Trisha Yearwood: “Maggie’s Dream”

This one is from the Gentle Giants album, and like I said before when I mentioned this song, I don’t care that it’s a cover, it’s still one of the best songs of the year. Trisha Yearwood delivered a better rendition of an already great song, and she’s earned her place on this list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Eady: “Black Jesus”
  • John Moreland: “Love is Not an Answer”
  • Lauren Alaina: “Same Day, Different Bottle”
  • Zac Brown Band: “All the Best”
  • Kelleigh Bannen: “Church clothes”
  • Rhiannon Giddens: “Better Get it Right the First Time”
  • Sam Outlaw: “Everyone’s Looking For Home”

Album Review: Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Rating: 8/10

Kasey Chambers is a household name in Australia; she’s released eleven albums, and she’s been winning awards and selling millions of records for years. Still, her name is somewhat obscure in the States, and that’s honestly probably because she wouldn’t have that type of mainstream success here–her music ranges from more traditional, rootsy material to country rock to folk rock to the occasional country pop song to some blues, all of which are represented on this record, but the commonality in all of it is that it’s quite unpolished. Even the more pop-leaning offerings aren’t pop enough for the American mainstream, and so she remains as unknown to some as many of her independent American counterparts despite her success in her home country. It wasn’t until 2015’s excellent Bittersweet that I discovered Chambers and her music, and I’ve since found a lot to enjoy throughout her discography. She’s back now with a double album, which is always a risky undertaking, but for the most part, this is a strong one, and though there’s some filler, it’s minimal.

Disc 1: “The Sing Sing Sessions”

I separate this into two discs because this isn’t just a long album, it’s two albums with completely different producers that make a consistent, cohesive record despite themselves. I almost hesitate to rate this as one project, and the only reason I do is because you must buy them together. This first disc, dubbed “The Sing Sing sessions,” is the stronger of the two and was produced by Paul Kelly, another Australian household name. ON its own, I’d give it an 8.5 at least, maybe a 9.

This disc opens in fine fashion with the banjo that backs many of Kasey’s songs on the catchy, infectious “Pompeii.” I should mention that Kasey Chambers underwent nodule surgery between Bittersweet and the recording of this album, and her voice is definitely stronger. The new depth comes out in full force on the empowering, angry “Ain’t No Little Girl,” easily one of the standouts of this whole thing. If you single out one track of twenty, make it this one, and if you can afford two, “Jonestown” is the other crown jewel. This one tells a great story of a town where people take refuge from hardship and discrimination. It’s an excellent piece of songwriting, and it’s also beautiful melodically. I mentioned the sonic variety of Chambers, and it speaks to her talent that she can deliver equally great performances on a traditional song like this and the rocking, bluesy “Ain’t NO Little Girl.” She explores faith in many of her songs as well, and this album is no different; “Golden Rails” is a fun little gospel-infused tune that may not stand out on the first listen, but you’ll keep coming back to it for its catchy production and lyrics. Kasey also has a knack for story songs, and “Behind the Eyes of Henri Young” captures perfectly the emotion in the chilling tale of a seventeen-year-old boy who went to Alcatraz for petty theft and ended up dying there after being mistreated in prison. There’s also “Romeo & Juliet” featuring Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance, which tells this story in a new, fresh way, although the lyrics can be admittedly hard to understand at first, and I wish Vance had been given more to do than just echoing chambers in the verses. Kasey also tells her own humorous story in “Talkin’ Baby Blues,” complete with running away from home at thirteen and dating a man who was “barely old enough to vote,” all while putting everything she felt down in song. “Summer Pillow” touches the slightly more pop leanings of Chambers, delivering a nice heartbreak song–“isn’t that life, to give me that, for just a minute and then take it back. Isn’t that love, to make me see everything that never will belong to me.” “You Ain’t worth Suffering for” is also basically pop rock, and this is the only moment of filler on this first disc, although it’s grown on me a little. Mainly, it’s the production here that doesn’t do it for me, and overall, this first half–well, eleven of the twenty, so slightly more than half–is quite strong and does a good job showcasing all the different styles explored by Kasey Chambers over the years. but it’s always a risk extending things and going for quantity, so it’s with that in mind that we head into Disc 2.

Disc 2: “The Foggy Mountain Sessions”

Disc 2, produced by Kasey’s brother and longtime producer Nash Chambers, opens just as strongly as the first, if not more so, with the excellent “Shackle and Chain.” With its call-and-response style lyrics and sparse production, it’s more akin to some of the material from Bittersweet,–which production wise was quite different from other Chambers albums–so if that’s the Kasey Chambers you were looking for, you’ll find more to appreciate on this half of the record. There’s the ever-building, almost Gothic “If I Died,” which sees Chambers issuing out some last requests–“If I died on the bayou, and the sun is goin’ down, would you float me like Moses, so they don’t put me in the cold, hard ground?” It’s got some very nice production which really makes the song, and I think Nash Chambers shines brightest on this track. There are also two great collaborations on this half; one is a banjo-driven gospel song called “NO Ordinary Man” featuring great harmonies from Harry Hookey, Vika Bull, and Linda Bull, and the other is a nice duet with Keith Urban called “If we Had a Child.” The latter has the same problem as the Foy Vance collaboration, however–Keith Urban’s contributions consist of nothing more than harmony and echoing Kasey, and I’d have liked to have heard more from him. The album closer is another version of “Ain’t no Little Girl,” this one called the “FM Lounge Version,” and basically, it boils down to being a subdued version of the song. I prefer the angry version, but both are nice, and both stand out and manage to sound unique, and it’s interesting to have two versions of the same song from two different producers which still serve to unite this whole record.

Disc 2, however, does have some filler. I would say that this second disc is a more consistent record production wise, and therefore, when you do hear the more country pop songs, they stick out on this half of the album. The lyrics in the title track and “satellite” are also pretty weak, and so for multiple reasons, these two just seem like filler on a twenty-track project. I love the production of “Annabelle,” but the lyrics here leave me wanting more too. I feel like it’s trying to tell a great story, but I’m just not getting it somehow. If I’m rating disc 2 by itself, it’s still a solid album, and it probably gets a 7.5.

Overall

People say that double albums always have too much filler, and I’d have to say this one does have a little. However, I wouldn’t say that Kasey Chambers made a mistake in releasing two separate discs because each disc represents a distinct style in production. I do think the first is stronger, but if you trim this down to traditional album length, ten to twelve songs, you leave out some good stuff, as well as possibly making the songs not flow as easily into each other being from two different producers. If you trim this down to fifteen songs, you have an excellent album, so maybe it’s a bit long at twenty, but again, it’s not your traditional double album with the different producers and styles, so I’m not sure that would flow as well either. As it is, we have a two-disc, twenty-track offering from Chambers, and for the most part, it’s very strong. It showcases a wide range of sounds, so there’s something here for everyone. The songwriting is solid throughout, and overall, I really enjoyed this record. Definitely recommend this both as a nice place to begin with Kasey Chambers and as a solid addition to her discography.

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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!