My good friend, Dan McCloskey, has produced a terrific “best of” list of albums for a good number of years now. He does a much better job than I’m about to attempt here, as he offers up his picks a day at a time and gives you a nice overview of why each is a favorite. (Follow Dan at Left Field.)
Me, I’m too lazy for that. In fact, as I tried to make a “best of” list for 2015, I quickly realized how seldom I focus my musical attention on new releases. I tend to either (1) follow the same people for years (thus, if they issued a new record in 2015, it will likely be a favorite of mine), or (2) discover new artists and go back and listen to and/or collect their catalog from whatever years the records came out. Thus, at a loss for making a “best” list, I give to you, instead, a list of records that I purchased this year that were actually released this year. In other words, here are my picks for 2015 music worthy of my hard-earned dollars (in no specific order beyond the list I wrote on a post-it note):
The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, along with a bang-up group of performers, recorded a selection of songs from the songbook of Stephen Foster, one of America’s most cherished songwriters. I’m not sure how I came across it, but am sure glad that I did. Catch a wonderful video of “Camptown Races” here.
My same friend, Dan, introduced me to Kacey Musgraves this year and I became an instant fan. Not only did I grab hold of her 2015 release, Pageant Material, but I also downloaded “Same Trailer, Different Park,” her award-winning release from 2013. Both are just terrific! Enjoy some Biscuits, here.
Don’t know the Milk Carton Kids? Shame on you! Amazing songwriters, guitar pickers, and harmonizers. If you’re a fan of a couple of other guys from a few years back, Simon & Garfunkel, or you enjoy the guitar stylings of Dave Rawlings (see below), you’ll like these guys. Monterey is just the latest in a string of wonderful, wonderful records.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my 2015 was a week in Austin, Texas. I went there for to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association, but stayed several extra days to take in the music. I LOVE Texas swing music and am forever grateful to the band, Asleep at the Wheel, for keeping the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys alive. They have a regular gig at the Austin airport, but alas, they weren’t playing when I was passing through. One day… Catch Katie Shore and the rest of the band give Wills’ “It’s All Your Fault” a go here.
As a bonus, one of my favorite books that I read the past year is Duncan McLean’s, Lone Star Swing. It’s the travel account of a Scot who’s never been outside of his homeland, but loves the music of Bob Wills and when he wins the Somerset Maugham Award for a short story he wrote, he takes his prize money and travels from Orkney, Scotland, to Texas “in search of the extraordinary mix of jazz, blues, country, and mariachi that is Western Swing.” It’s funny and informative at once. I just loved it.
Not only one of my favorite musicians, but one of my favorite women, Alison Brown is both a virtuoso banjo player and record company founder. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting her a few times and she’s an incredibly approachable, genuine person. Her 2015 release, The Song of the Banjo, on her own, Compass Records, highlights the musicality of the banjo as she puts her own spin on a number of popular tunes. I happened to see her perform in Northampton, MA the day before it was officially released, so my copy is/was literally, hot off the presses! Check out her rendition of Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” along with special guest, Jake Shimabukuro, here.
Through Jason Isbell, I discovered his talented wife, Amanda Shires, this year. Her latest recording came out in 2013, though. Isbell’s latest came out this year. Like pretty much everything else he’s given us, Something More than Free is a winner. One of our most talented songwriters of today, Isbell continues to provide lyrics of substance that I listen to over and over, pondering all that they mean. The title track is but one example of the good stuff this record brings.
Perhaps the record I most looked forward to in 2015 was Sirens from The Weepies. It’s not only because I’m a big fan and because it had been 5 years since we’d been given a new release, but because Deb Talen spent 2014 battling cancer. Thankfully, she came through and along with musical partner and husband, Steve Tannen, was able to give their fans Sirens. I have a feeling that the track, No Trouble, is a 3-minute summary of their past couple of years. Here’s to them for a happy and healthy 2016!
If I’m stuck on an island and can only have one person to sing songs to me, Shawn Colvin may well be the one I want. She will forever be a favorite artist of mine. Her 2015 release of covers (like her 1994 offering, Cover Girl) gives listeners the treat of her amazing take on another batch of wonderful songs. Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s, Tougher Than the Rest, is just one she’s picked.
I discovered The Honeycutters at MerleFest a few years back and have been a fan since. I was happy to stumble upon their 2015 release, me oh my, last spring. The Ashville, NC-based group gives listeners great songwriting and a straightforward Americana sound. It’s good music for driving. All You Ever is one good example.
Individually or in their many varied incarnations (Nickel Creek, Crooked Still, Sometimes Why), I just absolutely love Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins, and Sarah Jarosz. Their get-together-tour, “I’m With Her,” in 2015 produced a little gem in this EP, Crossing Muddy Waters. Sadly, I missed seeing them perform live and can only wish and hope that their act won’t be a one-shot deal. I can also tell you that my first entry for my 2016 list is Aoife’s forthcoming, In the Magic Hour. It’s out on January 22nd and my copy was pre-ordered months ago.
It had been a few years since I listened to Dar Williams and her 2015 record, Emerald, only made me wonder why. She never lets me down when it comes to giving music with meaning and heart. She’s been at this singer-songwriter life a good while now, but she’s not missed a beat. I was happy to have her grace my iPod in the past year.
Anyone who knows me knows that I can sing pretty much the entire Gillian Welch catalog. She and Dave Rawlings, when they perform as “Gillian Welch,” are simply right at the top of my record collection. Performing as the Dave Rawlings Machine, they gave us Nashville Obsolete in 2015. I admit that I liked 2009’s, A Friend of A Friend a little better, but when they set the bar as high as they do, “a little less” in comparison is hardly a disappointment. Everything is relative and these two don’t ever miss.
Another who rarely, if ever, misses is Patty Griffin. Servant of Love is a 2015 gift from the gifted songwriter and musician. You’ve gotta love a Mainer and I love Patty. This record is one more addition to her expansive catalog of beautifully-crafted songs. Any year that she releases a record is a year that she’ll appear on my “best of” list.
Another of my favorite Texans (by way of Michigan) is Bob Schneider. The long-time Austin resident, the prolific (as in “write a new song every day”) singer songwriter gave his fans a trilogy this year in the King Kong Suite. Three releases = hours of Schneider greatness. I love this guy. I just love him. There are few true artists like him giving us music today. Seek him out, if he’s unfamiliar to you. A quick YouTube search will leave you with lots to enjoy.
Okay, okay… yes… THE record of the year is on my list, too. I was way late to the Adele party. In fact, when she won a gazillion Grammies for 21, I asked all of my friends on Facebook, “Who is Adele?!” only to be bombarded with questions asking me in any number of ways what rock I’d been hiding under for the past years. Well, I do know now and I did purchase 25 as soon as it was released, and while “Hello” is the first big hit, it’s “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” that plays over and over and over again on my iPod. That song is infectious.
That’s it. That’s my list. If some artists are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a listen. I also hope you’ll share in the comments some of your favorites from 2015. I surely won’t complain about the year’s offerings. There was plenty of enjoyment for me.
Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for following along throughout 2015!