December 15, 2015 by Jay Minkin
When taking considerations for the best album releases of 2015, this year it came down to vinyl. From Pledge, Kickstarter, local record shops, Nashville road trips, or by mail as far away as Europe and Australia new releases on a vinyl record were added to the library. Needless to say, my collection grew by leaps and bounds with selections beyond the list of nominees. There were more than a baker’s dozen of favorites and this writer couldn’t be happier with the bountiful year in music for 2015.
The ladies offered up some nice selections from the heartbreak of Bittersweet by Kasey Chambers, the highly anticipated debut releases from Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is My Turn and Ashley Monroe The Blade, along with the timeless Pageant Material from Kacey Musgraves. Buying the old fashion way directly from the artist landed me a blue vinyl edition of Blue Gold by Marchelle Bradanini aka Pony Boy that expands my vintage ADS stereo speaker’s sound. But the one that touched my heart the most belonged to Amy Speace and the beautiful That Kind of Girl. Produced by Neilson Hubbard, the twelve tracks offer a view into the many steps of recovery from a broken hearted relationship. The Nashville singer/songwriter, who gathered a wealth of talent to play on this album, has her lyrics dripping with emotion. Favorites tracks include “That Kind of Girl” whose chorus bleeds I let you get to me / It felt the end of the world/ I let you level me/ I didn’t know I was that kind of girl and the crushed relationship of “Raincoat” will want you giving this songwriter a hug. The next time someone tells you they don’t make good music anymore, tell them they must not have heard of Amy Speace.
For duo or group honors, I loved the J.J. Grey & Mofro release Ol’ Glory, a new self-titled record by Banditos, and the lively recording Hands Together by Spirit Family Reunion. Local representation on this year’s list went to Patience Worth from troubadour Brent Kirby and His Luck. His patience and support from friends was the strength to persevere though a rough patch of life are what makes a liberating experience. My favorite this year came from Doug Graham and Alyssa Graham known as The Grahams called Glory Bound. Childhood sweethearts originally hailing from Manhattan, the Nashville based couple rode the train rails toward Oklahoma and producer Wes Sharon. Writing stories and turning them into songs is the fabric which The Grahams develop their material. The twelve tracks highlight the petite Alyssa’s lead vocals along with Doug’s lead guitar and dobro prowess spinning tales with a mix of rock, blues, and country.
The boys dominated the overall list and provided the hardest competition for this year’s ultimate crown. With two time champion Jason Isbell in the mix with Something More Than Free, the bar was set higher than any previous year. Rising stars like Andrew Combs All These Dreams, Ryan Culwell Flatlands, Aaron Lee Tasjan In The Blazes, and Butch Walker Afraid Of Ghosts made an impact not only with their recordings but also their live stage performances. I needed to leave a seat at the bar for Sam Outlaw whose classic country Lp Angeleno continues to grab my attention. It was a real treat to hear gorgeous vinyl records by Ryan Bingham Fear And Saturday Night and Warren Haynes Ashes & Dust along with Shane Nicholson Hell Breaks Loose that made nice editions to their already stellar catalog. Fans of the band Glossary will be jumping for joy after hearing the recently released album from Joey Kneiser titled The Wildness featuring backing vocals from former partner Kelly Smith. All of these gentlemen could not overtake Chris Stapleton who fans long awaited his debut solo release Traveller since his departure from Steeldrivers five years ago. And boy, did he deliver with a beautiful double LP that shook up the country music establishment. Killing it at the CMA Awards garnering Best New Artist, Male Vocalist, and Album of the Year awards was the biggest thing to happen for Americana music since the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Recorded at historic RCA Studio A by Dave Cobb, the title track was inspired by a road trip he and his wife Morgan took after his Father died. The couple sifted through 15years of songs to record for this amazing record that crosses over into country, southern fried rock, and singer/songwriter channels making Stapleton most deserving to receive my vote for 2015 Album of The Year.
Album of The Year Awards:
2014: Jamestown Revival – Utah
2013: Jason Isbell – Southeastern
2012: Amy Cook – Summer Skin
2011: Kasey Chambers – Little Bird
2010: Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs
2009: Jason Isbell – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
2008: Griffin House – Flying Upside Down
2007: Bruce Springsteen – Magic
2006: Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac