Since making her debut with 1997’s Alabama Song, Allison Moorer has been one of country music’s most consistent albums artists. The singer-songwriter has three unqualified masterpieces to her credit— the flawless stone-country heartbreak cycle of The Hardest Part, the politically charged The Duel, and the somber, heady Southern Gothic of Crows. Despite having those triumphs— and other excellent albums like Alabama Song and Good Fortune— to her credit, Moorer’s latest effort, Down to Believing, is perhaps the finest album of her career because it finds Moorer challenging both her singing and her songwriting voices to plumb truly difficult emotional depths.
It isn’t easy to follow up a universally praised debut album, especially when you don’t have the novelty of the new in your corner. Sometimes what sounds so fresh is just by the virtue of being the first time your voice has been heard. The second time around, you can only rely on the strength of your material. Being different is no longer enough.
In an ideal world, Jason Isbell would somehow be able to switch the titles of his two most recent albums. While his previous effort, Southeastern, chronicled his struggle toward sobriety and found liberation in the powers of redemption and self-worth, Isbell’s latest, Something More Than Free digs deep into the foundations of the contemporary South. In terms of tone and theme for each of these exceptional records, the titles would be more fitting were they swapped, and it’s simply remarkable that slight misnomers are as close as Isbell comes on either album to striking a false note.
Alan Jackson Angels and Alcohol Alan Jackson is known as reliably country and not one to chase trends, but rather, somebody who holds steady as a standard-bearer for modern traditional country music. Even so, in an effort not to become stagnant, he has kept us intrigued by also taking some detours into other genres along the way, which have included adult contemporary, bluegrass, orchestral Christmas and two gospel albums. With these career detours notwithstanding, we still reflexively know that when he announces that he’s releasing a country album, it’s guaranteed to be exactly that, which is what we get with Angels and Alcohol.
Kristian Bush Southern Gravity Although there is already a long list of great albums that have been released this year, Southern Gravity, Kristian Bush’s first solo album apart from Sugarland, just may end up being the most pleasant surprise of 2015. First of all, lets address some of the elephants in the room. Frankly, the biggest surprise of the album is the discovery that Kristian Bush can actually sing. Without the long shadow of the Powerhouse Jennifer Nettles, Bush has a chance to find his literal and figurative voice and it’s a good one. Additionally, whether it was deserved or not, Bush had developed the reputation of being the intense, mysterious half of Sugarland. So, another surprise is that the album is relaxed and accessible and avoids drowning in over thinking or overproduction. With that said, the final surprise is that the album is more country than we had heard Read More
Reba McEntire Love Somebody This is the strongest album Reba McEntire has released in more than twenty years. Listening to Love Somebody is hearing a legend of the genre rediscover her own voice. She’s always been an excellent singer, but after making her name as both a heartbreak queen and the common folk’s Everywoman, she had tremendous difficulty navigating the post-Shania Twain landscape of female empowerment anthems.