The Best of 2015
Albums – Part One: #20-#11 | Part Two #10-#1
Singles – Part One: #40-#21 | Part Two: #20-#1
The Master List | Individual Rankings
Our first Best of 2015 list kicks off today with the lower half of our top forty singles of 2015. Check back for part two tomorrow!
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
Written by Brady Black, Brian Keane, and Randy Rogers
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are two country music forces who have managed to gain a loyal following without the help of mainstream radio success, despite almost being able to taste it by being associated with commercial record labels. So, they know of what they speak when they wryly sing, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” – Leeann Ward
Written by Andrew Combs and Ian Fitchuk
The folky, country-rock melodies are so blissful it’s easy to forget that this is a sad song about a damaged man. “Oh I’ve lost my mind…Down the road of no direction,” Combs sings, shortly before he and a cadre of harmony singers launch into a chorus that asks, “Who do I think I’m foolin’?” They sound like the The Byrds around the Mr. Tambourine Man era. There isn’t a moment on “Foolin'” that doesn’t dazzle the ears – which could make it the most beautifully vexing song of the year. – Larry Rogowin
Written by Cam and Tyler Johnson
“My Mistake” finds Cam shrugging off the consequences of messy romantic decisions for a night of exhilaration. Best yet is the clean pop-country production that puts the newcomer’s jaunty vocals front and center. – Tara Seetharam
“Black is the Color”
Giddens turns a generations-spanning traditional folk ballad into a euphoric dance driven by hip-hop beats. The Carolina Chocolate Drops frontwoman has confessed that she didn’t completely understand the lyrics. So she rewrote almost all of it as a tribute to her ginger-haired husband. “Black” showcases Giddens’ soaring, sexy, adventurous vocals. But it’s impossible to imagine the song without its addictive bass groove and Jon Baptiste’s fluttering melodica. – Larry Rogowin
“While I Was Away”
Written by Zane Williams
Pat Green returns to his warm, easy style with his 2015 album, Home. Not only does “While I Was Away” wonderfully showcase his old familiar sound that got lost with much of his commercial success, it is a sweet,heartbreaking song. – Leeann Ward
“I Blew it Off”
Written by Punch Brothers
A meditation on digital-age isolation, “I Blew it Off” thrives on unsettling shifts in tone. The song is warm, almost dreamy in its verses and hard-driving in its chorus. The lyrics and frontman Chris Thile’s vocals suggest a narrator content and playful in his chosen isolation before anger and despair threaten to overtake him. The band’s harmonies evoke an eerier version of the Beach Boys’ good vibrations. – Larry Rogowin
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Written by Nathaniel Rateliff
A friend recently described Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats as a “real-life Soggy Bottom Boys,” and I don’t think I could improve upon that comparison, which perfectly captures the band’s rambunctious energy and dedicated throw-back style. On “S.O.B.,” Rateliff sets out to destroy both his liver and his vocal cords, singing and shouting and testifying himself into a ragged stupor as he detoxes from the vices of booze and bad relationships. He just wants “one more night of escaping [himself],” and “S.O.B.” is the sound of a night to remember that he almost certainly won’t. – Jonathan Keefe
Written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Jennifer Nettles
A direct reaction to country radio’s tepid response to the singles from her solo debut, “Sugar” finds Jennifer Nettles returning to the hook-driven pop-country that made Sugarland a fixture at the top of the charts. Over one of the year’s standout melodies, Nettles takes aim at the interchangeable acts dominating radio with bitter-tasting, mass-produced candy and reminds the boys– and, by and large, they’re boys and not men– that she’s not so one-dimensional. It sounds carbo-loaded, but “Sugar” is deceptively meaty. – Jonathan Keefe
“When All You Got is a Hammer”
Written by Gretchen Peters
Gretchen Peters once again masterfully digs deep into the emotions and struggles of the down trodden. “Hammer” is a riveting account of a veteran who suffers from PTSD who is not given the tools to cope with the emotional aftermath of war, which is the case for so many returned vets. “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” says it all. – Leeann Ward
Written by Miranda Lambert
Lambert tells a complicated tale of modern womanhood through the simple components of a mirror, some makeup, and the sink that goes with them. It’s smart and it’s moving. Perhaps even more so now, as it reminds us of the humanity of a woman so much of the media seems determined to exploit and dehumanize. – Kevin John Coyne
“Second Hand Heart”
Written by Dwight Yoakam
The title track to Yoakam’s 19th studio album feels like something the legendary troubadour can do in his sleep. Few can mix twang, vintage pop and hard-driving classic rock with such exuberance and grace. And of course, nobody can match that glorious, soulful voice – arguably the most distinctive voice in all of country music for three decades. But “Second Hand Heart” is not rehash. Yoakam has written a sharp, resonant song, filled with wise observations specific to these two damaged souls flirting with a courtship. “Second Hand Heart” never loses sight of this delicate, heartfelt little story even as the song dazzles with energy and danceable hooks. – Larry Rogowin
“Let it Go”
Written by Keith Gattis, Bubba Strait, and George Strait
George Strait’s breezy “Let It Go” acknowledges life’s struggles, but admonishes us to just let it go and enjoy what we can while we’re still here. Strait’s positivity is a bright spot in a year of turmoil and so is the sweet steel guitar breakdown and infectious clap line toward the end of this song. – Leeann Ward
“I Cheated on You”
Written by Brent Anderson, Brandy Clark, and Forest Whitehead
“I Cheated on You” perfectly encapsulates the grit, humor, and sharp-edged vulnerability of Terri Clark’s best work. It’s a timely reminder of what country radio lost when it walked away from the ladies that dominated the genre at the turn of the century. – Kevin John Coyne
“35 MPH Town”
Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson
Keith’s compelling reflection on the breakdown of small town life reads like the flip side of “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days).” Here the elder, in this case the narrator’s mother, does most of the talking, mainly blaming the problems of today on a lack of Christian values, but the narrator and listener are left to form their own conclusions. – Ben Foster
Written by Brandon Bush, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens
While “The less I have to worry about, the more time I have for smilin'” is simply delightful, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch” may be one of the funniest lines in a country song in 2015! If not the funniest line, it’s certainly a clever way to add to the old adage of “You can’t take it with you when you go.” What’s more, “Trailer Hitch” finds a fun way to promote giving over having. – Leeann Ward
Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson
A lush ballad of rediscovery between a long-distant couple, demonstrating that, for all his macho bravado, Keith still does pure vulnerability better than just about any other male artist today. Not only one of Keith’s most romantic singles, but one enhanced by a depth of maturity that only an artist of Keith’s generation could authoritatively convey. – Ben Foster
“I’m to Blame”
Written by Westin Davis, Kip Moore, and Justin Weaver
Moore’s brand of machismo has too often veered into caricature— the sleeveless shirts, the trucker hat, the exaggerated rasp in his voice all seemed like someone playing dress-up as a would-be shitkicker rather than an actual, flesh-and-blood person. With “I’m To Blame,” Moore shows a refreshing and heretofore unseen self-awareness. Strutting over a nifty little banjo riff and muffled trap drum, he acknowledges the more cartoonish aspects of his persona with real wit and verve. When he drawls one of the year’s best lines—“Where there’s a ‘Do Not Touch’, my fingerprint’s done stained it”— he practically makes a wink audible. – Jonathan Keefe
“Hot Corn, Cold Corn”
Robert Earl Keen
Written by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
Robert Earl Keen proves that he’s not only a skilled songwriter, but also an innovative song interpreter. He takes an oft heard bluegrass classic and joyously turns it into his own sprawling, rollicking jam session. – Leeann Ward
Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
The songwriting trio responsible for “Follow Your Arrow” teams up again. This time, their message is less about loving yourself and more about love your neighbor, primarily by minding your own business. “Mind your own biscuits,” Musgraves wryly notes, “and life will be gravy.” – Kevin John Coyne
Lee Ann Womack
Written by Hayes Carll
Another great single from Womack’s 2014 album The Way I’m Livin’, perhaps the defining collection of her prolific career. Originally sung by Carll on his fine 2011 album KMAG YOYO (& American Stories), “Chances Are” is a beautiful barroom ballad – the kind of quiet, lyrical masterpiece that could’ve become one of George Jones’ iconic songs. Womack makes it an instant classic of her own: Her transcendent soprano infuses the tale with moments of rhapsody without sacrificing any of its intimacy. Womack may sing like an angel but she also channels the desperation eating at Carll’s narrator. Just like the Carll version, the arrangement around Womack is pure honky tonk – deeply melodic but minimalist. It keeps the focus on the words, the singer and the emotions she conjures. – Larry Rogowin
Excited to read your year end lists!
The sentiment in the Bush song has always reminded me of the lyrics in George Strait’s 2005 single “You’ll Be There”:
You don’t bring nothin’ with you here
And you can’t take nothin’ back
I ain’t never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.
Interesting first half. Favorites for me are Gretchen Peter’s Hammer song, Foolin’ from Andrew Combs (never heard of him before but he may be worth checking out further), Cam’s My Mistake, and Trailer Hitch. Besides the hearse line, I like the second verse as a baseball fan. He started the day by giving away all of his baseball cards. My baseball cards – from the 1950’s – are long gone.
Although I’m a fan of Terri Clark and Jennifer Nettles, their entries here are disappointing.
I’m a pretty big supporter of Musgraves but thought biscuits was pretty bad, especially as a lead single. It’s an okay album track but I would still but it toward the very bottom of the album. Follow Your Arrow had already accomplished what Biscuits was aiming to and just made it seem like her sophomore album was going to be a retread of the first. They should have lead with Dime store Cowgirl.
On this list I like Blew It Off, and My Mistakes. Didn’t realize bathroom sink got a single release but that is good too.
Favorite choices on the list are “Chances Are”, both Toby Keith songs, “Second Hand Heart”, “Bathroom Sink”,and “My Mistake” (hopefully this gets a re-release after the success of “Burning House”).
Like bob, I find “Sugar” to be annoying to listen to. But, I do grasp why it’s on the list. There’s definitely a subversive edge to the song in the wake of the tomato-gate fiasco earlier in the year, and I can respect that…even if I can’t stand listening to it…lol.