In the past, I've often taken time at the end of the year to run down what I considered to be the best music of the year. In a former life (college, really) I was a music reviewer. While I won't be crafting the sort of thing a music journalist would in this space, I will review what I considered to be the best music of 2015. There is one caveat, however. I don't have the resources or time to keep up with everything. So, this post is me telling you what is the best among the music I picked up in 2015. These selections were all released this year (with the exception of an honorable mention that was released in summer 2014 but I only discovered in mid-2015). So, away we go ...
As I mentioned above, this one was actually released in 2014 (otherwise, it would easily make my top five list). The Cold Stares are semi-local as they are based in Evansville, Ind., but heavily gig around Nashville. The band is only a duo (drummer and guitarist) but are the sound of Black Sabbath backing up Muddy Waters. I dig their sound immensely and can't recommend them enough. Great riffs, great singing. Blues with a touch of spirituality mixed in. Pick it up, folks. The band also released two EPs in 2015 that are stellar and fairly varied.
Lately, there have been several artists appear who seem to be throwbacks (Adele comes to mind) to when singers had soul and sang quote-unquote "real" music. Time will tell whether they are one trick ponies or not. However, Leon Bridges, with the release Coming Home, has delivered something seemingly authentic and, well, just real. Featuring narrative-style storytelling on several songs, the laid-back groove will put you in a different era. Everything about this is a throwback to the days of Otis Redding and what may seem like a simpler era. We know, of course, that is not necessarily true, but the main thing I take away from this album is being transported and that's one thing good music does. Be sure to pay attention to the Scripture woven throughout. This is the way to do it, folks.
This duo was relatively unknown to me before a guy named Jeff (at our church) pointed them out to me. Lots of people point out lots of music to me so I didn't give it much thought (I had a song of theirs from the Divided and United: Songs Of The Civil War album I loved from several years back). However, when I saw they were giving away this album on NoiseTrade, I immediately gave it a download. What it turned to be was one of my favorites of the year. Neo-folk can be great or awful. I put this in the former category. Full of stomping rave-ups, Swimmin' Time makes me laugh, think, and just generally feel good about life. It's repeat listening.
One of the former Mars Hill Church bands, Ghost Ship was never my favorite of those bands (Citizens, Red Letter, King's Kaleidoscope, etc.). It's not that I disliked them, they were always just OK in my book. However, their sophomore release, Costly, written in the wake of Mars Hill's dissolution, is next-level material. Cam Huxford's songwriting is stellar (we sing their song "One God" at our church) and, refreshingly, honest and raw on this album. Songs like "Provide" are blunt and necessary for the church. songs like "Adoption" give new perspectives to Jesus' sacrifice and love for us. I often dislike modern worship music because it's, well, bland and derivative far too often. this is the opposite and something I hope more churches search for in their worship music catalogs.
Mark Tremonti is one of the hardest working guys in hard rock music. Formerly of Creed (while I wish no ill will toward Creed, their music or fans, I hope the band is done) and currently a driving force in the awesome band Alter Bridge, Tremonti, takes a thrash-ier turn with the second release from his side project called, strangely enough, Tremonti. The band's first album, All I Was, was consistent and heavy with good melodies. This album ups the ante a bit in every way. The melodies are stronger (by the way, I love heavy music, but melody is 100% essential), the riffs are heavier, Wolfgang Van Halen's bass more groove-inflected and Garret Whitlock's drums more brutal (in a great way). If you like heavy music, this needs to be in your catalog. Just listen to "Another Heart," "Sympathy," or "Tie The Noose" if you doubt me.
NEEDTOBREATHE: RIVERS EP (plus LIVE FROM THE WOODS)
The exciting thing for me as a music fan when following a band is seeing a clear progression in quality and songwriting from a band. Needtobreathe is perhaps the best example. I've followed them for a few years now (since The Outsiders). I saw them live on The Reckoning tour and was impressed. However 2015's two releases from the band are proof the band is only getting better. The live release, Live From The Woods, captures and frenetic energy of their vastly-improved live show (catch them sometime, it's an experience). However, the Rivers EP is a collection of different mixes of songs from their Rivers In the Wasteland album. I'm sure this was meant as a little bonus release for fans. However, it's one of the best releases of the year. The songs are even better than the original versions, in my opinion and capture the band at its best. I'm very excited about the next release.
My co-worker at the church, Drew, came in to my office one day in early May and told me about this guy Chris Stapleton who had just released his debut album a few days earlier. Stapleton had, apparently, been building quite a buzz around Nashville as a songwriter and, with the release of his debut Traveller, was gaining ground as an artist in his own right. I gave it a cursory listen on Spotify and was blown away. I went to my local Walmart establishment (the only place to buy physical music in our town these days besides the quasi-scary Kmart) and picked up a CD copy. If it was possible to wear out a CD, I would've word this one out. Of course, by now, many know him because of his breakout performance with Justin Timberlake on a recent awards show. I hesitate to use the term "real country" because that's kind of played out (he's not the latest "real country" savior following Jamey Johnson and Sturgill Simpson ... though I love those guys and that sound as well). He's just a country singer that owes as much to the blues as George Jones. Check out "Fire Away," "Tennessee Whiskey," and "When The Stars Come Out." This is seriously good, even with all the hype. I'm grateful for the tip from Drew for this one.