There is an indisputable difference between country music and country radio. You can not mistake the two when you are talking about the rich and vibrant tapestry of today's scene, especially when so many Texas or Canadian artists are staking their claim on the sales and streaming charts. There is an audience out there for the kind of potent storytelling and raw vocal power of the likes of Jason Isbell and Lindi Ortega, who both land on our final Top 20 Country Albums of 2015 scorecard below, but there is also plenty of room for Carrie Underwood, Kip Moore and Cam.
In the past several years, when bro-country has been the dominate force on the airwaves and in popular culture, the needle has been ticking slowly, but surely, back to center. The changing of tides allows for a more diverse and interesting assemblage of artistry. Detail to songwriting and traditional instrumentation is now at the core of many of the year's finest records, while others are quite experimental and encompass bountiful influences from southern rock, soul and pop. With even more avenues by which to discover new music, modern country music is as exciting as ever.
You don't need terrestrial radio to tell you what to listen to. You now have a choice.
Without commentary, The Rowdy offers up the Top 20 best country albums of 2015. Grab your earbuds and dig in:
1. Leigh Nash, The State I’m In
2. Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
3. The Sweeplings, Rise & Fall
4. Will Hoge, Small Town Dreams
5. Maddie & Tae, Start Here
6. Ashley Monroe, The Blade
7. Jamie Lin Wilson, Holidays & Wedding Rings
8. Chris Stapleton, Traveller
9. The Lone Bellow, Then Came the Morning
10. Eric Church, Mr. Misunderstood
11. Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Django & Jimmie
12. William Clark Green, Ringling Road
13. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
14. Lindi Ortega, Faded Gloryville
15. The Battlefield, Tipping Point
16. Carrie Underwood, Storyteller
17. Josh Abbott Band, Front Row Seat
18. Kip Moore, Wild Ones
19. Pat Green, Home
20. Cam, Untamed
Nothing is more satisfying than to see this former Sixpence None the Richer lead vocalist school everybody else in the business of country music. Leigh Nash's The State I'm In is like a shot of whiskey, with an earthy, smooth taste but with enough oomph to awaken the senses. There is no one else quite as haunting, as poetic and moving as Nash is on 12 narratives completely rooted in flyaway storytelling. "Spider and the Moth," "Chicago," "Somebody's Yesterday" and "High is Better" are her finest treasures.