Saving Country Music’s 2015 Album of the Year
Too often in music we tend to focus on the here and now, the young and the new. Who are the hot names that are rising up in the ranks? Who’s going to make a big splash in music in the coming months and years? Who has a chance to shove the garbage on the radio aside and finally put some substance on the airwaves? All this talk is understandable. It’s fun. It’s like betting on horses. Meanwhile, we take a similar stance to the legends of music, who at some point in their careers enjoyed overwhelming success. Their legacies loom large in popular culture, and so we elevate their stature for the rest of time whether their more immediate output is worthy or not. No matter how much their passion or talent might fade, we continue to hold it in high regard. But this is not always the best exercise for fleshing out who actually has the music most worthy of being recognized.
Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, these are the big, sexy, fast-rising names everybody likes to flaunt as their favorites these days. Whitey Morgan and the Turnpike Troubadours are names you’re likely to see moving up the ladder from continued momentum in the coming years. And they all are responsible for valiant musical efforts in 2015 that deserve to be distinguished from the crowd, as do Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers for their surprising effort Hold My Beer Vol. 1, or the British-based sisters of Ward Thomas who astounded with their debut, From Where We Stand.
Who would have though that Don Henley of all people would release one of the best country efforts in 2015, but that’s exactly what he did with Cass County. And an Alabama-based rapper named Yelawolf upstaged all of the ridiculous cultural appropriation eating away at the integrity of mainstream country more than the words of a legion of angry bloggers and critics ever could with Love Story, even if closed-minded country Bible thumpers can’t warm to the idea.
But did James McMurtry really put out the greatest country music record in 2015? James McMurtry? No offense, he’s a great songwriter and all, but he’s such a known quantity, right? He’s 53-years-old for crying out loud, with grey streaks in his hair and goatee. He was part of the previous generation of insurgent country artists—that whole, “alt-country” thing, whatever that was. And really, is he “country” at all? Wouldn’t he be categorized better as folk? Can you really compare his efforts to Chris Stapleton, who turned the entire country music world upside down in 2015?
READ: 2015 Nominees for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year
You most certainly can. And despite the comparatively humble nature of his career, James McMurtry, and James McMurtry only, met the benchmark of releasing an unquestionable career best effort, which also comes close to, if not achieving, that level of quality that can be considered a “masterpiece.” It may be a songwriting-based effort, and it may be fey to some. But for withstanding the test of time, McMurtry’s Complicated Game is the project best apportioned to weather the onslaught the best.
As Saving Country Music said in the review of Complicated Game, “Six long years it took, and it may be six more before a fresh new batch arrives. But James McMurtry delivers on the promise of being one of our generation’s preeminent songwriters who can say the things that twist the rest of our tongues, create characters we never knew but feel hauntingly familiar, and fill us with an appreciation of life, both the good and the bad, and understand it is all part of the brilliant tapestry we’re all embedded in and unrolling before us.”
The alacrity with which McMurtry can make poetic genius out of the most mundane moments and people not only speaks to his singular talents as a wordsmith, but elevates these moments and people, and everyone else along with it, and reminds us that all lives matter and hold a beauty about them even through the most trying times and most terrible of conditions. It’s not just the superstars and fast risers of life who deserve to be canonized.
And something else astounding about Complicated Game is how out of nowhere, it rose up to become a 2015 contender. So even though it may seem like a dark horse pick to some, there has been a slowly emerging consensus behind this record. Every year the Saving Country Music nominees for Album of the Year are offered up with the idea that reader’s opinions will count for something in the final decision, and lo and behold, McMurtry received a plurality of positive feedback. He also came in at #3 on the reader-voted No Depression poll behind Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, and placed near the top of other end-of-year lists outside the echo chamber of mainstream music media.
James McMurtry is not going to be a player in the nominees for next year’s CMA Awards. We’re not going to be tracking his latest single to see what traction it gets on mainstream radio. And thank the Good Lord for that. But when it comes to songwriting, McMurtry is the one who set the bar high, and who will task all the others, including some of those CMA winners and #1 album recipients, to see if they can best it. But in 2015, none of them could.
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Purchase James McMurtry’s Complicated Game
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Saving Country Music’s 2015 Song(s) of the Year
Saving Country Music’s 2015 Artist of the Year
January 1, 2016 @ 11:01 am
Didn’t see that coming at all. Will definitely be taking a closer look at this guy.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:03 am
Unexpected choice, Trig, but one I agree with.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:05 am
Ok, interesting choice. Didn’t have that in my top 10! Will check it again.
At least it isn’t that rap shit!
January 1, 2016 @ 11:07 am
Have to say I really like the choice! You bring up an interesting point when you say that Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell are artists that people love to flaunt as their favorites. As much as I did love both of their respective albums, a lot of my favorite albums came from artists that didn’t really get a lot of fanfare or hype. I enjoyed Gretchen Peters, Michael Monroe Goodman, James McMurtry, and William Clark Green more than the popular picks. Not to say that the popular artists DIDN’T make good albums. They all made excellent albums that are definitely worthy of any year end praise, they just didn’t register with me as much as others. That’s why I really applaud the darkhorse pick of “Complicated Game”. For me, it’s a masterpiece and the only thing holding it back is the somewhat monotone production on a few songs, but this is a very minor gripe. Lyrically, this was definitely an underrated album.
For the hell of it here’s my top 10:
1. Gretchen Peters- “Blackbirds”
2. Michael Monroe Goodman- “The Flag, The Bible, and Bill Monroe”
3. William Clark Green- “Ringling Road”
4. Don Henley- “Cass County”
5. James McMurtry- “Complicated Game”
6. Whitey Morgan- “Sonic Ranch”
7. Chris Stapleton- “Traveller”
8. Jason Isbell- “Something More Than Free”
9. Courtney Patton- “So This Is Life”
10. Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen- “Hold My Beer Vol. 1” (Yes, I’ve come around on this)
Also Trigger, I’ve recently been looking back at old SCM articles and have seen a lot of praise for the Legendary Shack Shakers over the years. I was just curious if you heard their latest album, “The Southern Surreal”? I haven’t seen a mention of it so I was just curious.
January 4, 2016 @ 7:19 pm
I’m not sure how I overlooked the Gretchen Peters album but thanks for the recommendation.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:07 am
role. damm. tide.
January 1, 2016 @ 7:42 pm
Or let’s ROLL Damn Tide, lol
January 1, 2016 @ 11:20 am
Thank you, thank you, thank you for not picking Yelawolf!!
January 1, 2016 @ 11:24 am
Amen to that!
January 1, 2016 @ 5:08 pm
That was a great album, albeit not country. That said, it’s still more country than country radio..
January 1, 2016 @ 11:22 am
Agree completely. Complicated Games definitely gets my vote, it is an amazing album, top to bottom. When I first heard it, I said that any album that has a song that can make me laugh and cry within a 5 minute stretch is a winner! There may be albums I like better, but imho, there was no better album this year. McMurtry is a master and Isbell and Stapleton can still learn from him. I was lucky enough to see James live this year and it was one of the best shows ever. So much heart from such a quiet guy.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:26 am
I can’t disagree with McMurtry getting album of the year. It’s not my favourite album of the year… that’d be Turnpike Troubadours. It didn’t make the most noise in the mainstream press like either Chris Stapleton or Jason Isbell. Complicated Game is a great album though. I like it more each time I listen, and I think it’s appropriate to call it a masterpiece.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:55 am
I’m a big McMurtry fan but was quickly bored by this record. Too many similar sounding songs and I don’t know or give a fuck what a “ducky” motor sounds like. I much prefer his sound with more of a rock setting.
I’ll take Hold My Beer for favorite country record.
January 1, 2016 @ 12:14 pm
I’m familiar with McMurtry but not this particular album,I’ll have to give it a listen.I also liked how Trigger called bible thumpers closed minded then thanked the Good Lord before the end of the article made me LOL!
January 1, 2016 @ 12:41 pm
I didn’t call Bible thumpers closed-minded. I said that country music Bible thumpers (meaning hardline fans) were unfortunately missing the genius of Yelawolf’s album from the blind hatred of hip-hop.
January 1, 2016 @ 12:46 pm
Sorry for the confusion I wasn’t trying to be a dick about it just tickled my funny bone.Reading comprehension can be tough sometimes.But I’m looking forward to exploring this album in any case.Thanks for the site Trigger.
January 1, 2016 @ 1:32 pm
Genius of yeawolf haha! It’s a joke mate, got nothing to do with country! U go ahead and enjoy it, no problem with that, i just totally disagree with you thats got nothing to do with being closed minded, its an opinion!, it just really sucks bro!
January 4, 2016 @ 7:51 am
I wouldn’t call it blind hatred, just well deserved dislike It’s like disco was. While there was some good disco, the ratio of good to bad was about 1 to 100. I think today’s hip hop is the same way.
Maybe country radio is a better example. You could listen all morning and hear 2 or 3 songs that were worth listening too. And then be angry the rest of the day for all the crap you had to suffer through to get those 2 or 3 songs.
Happy New Year to All, especially those who make good music!
January 4, 2016 @ 10:15 am
Let me put it like this: If you hate hip-hop, and especially hip-hop in country music, then you should be cheering for Yelawolf’s “Love Story.” It doesn’t mean you have to like it or listen to it, it’s about the impact an artistic expression can have. As strange as it may sound, a hip-hop record can help advance the cause of saving country music.
But the reason “Love Story” was nominated and didn’t win is in the end, the impact of the album appears to have been minimal. There just weren’t enough people paying attention, which in my opinion was a shame.
January 4, 2016 @ 10:46 am
You mean there weren’t enough people who thought it was any good…just you really!
It aint country, never was, never will be!
It’s called rap! People on rap blogs can talk about it, does not belong on this site
January 4, 2016 @ 2:33 pm
“It aint country, never was, never will be! It”™s called rap!”
Let me try this a different way: Show me where I ever called Yelawolf or “Love Story” country, and I’ll eat my hat.
Actually, quite a few people though it was good, including many readers of this site. I’ll be the judge of what belongs on this site. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the curiosity of why I would be talking about a hip-hop album on Saving Country Music. But continuously saying it’s “not country” when nobody is calling it such shows that some folks are completely missing the point. You can completely disagree with my stance that “Love Story” was important to country music in 2015. But continuously arguing that is not country proves why you will never get the underlying point of why I was talking about it.
“…the little bits of meshing up country music with hip-hop has now made its way up to mainstream country. Country music artists talking about, ”˜I”™m in VIP. Shake it for me.”™ Shit like that. It”™s bad man.” — Yelawolf
January 4, 2016 @ 2:17 pm
If you believe that today’s hip-hop is comparable to disco on the talent-poignant-intelligent-creative scale, then you don’t listen to any hip-hop. That is parallel to calling country music comparable to disco. Do not speak on things that you don’t know enough about to speak on.
January 4, 2016 @ 2:36 pm
I wouldn’t even compare disco to much of today’s country. Give me the Bee Gees over Sam Hunt any day.
January 4, 2016 @ 3:28 pm
I tend to agree. For one thing, Hip hop is still around and shows no sign of going away after about 40 years. Disco flamed out as a mainstream music genre after several years. My favorite quote about disco came from George Clinton when he described the steady “boom, boom, boom” beat prevalent in disco songs. He said it was “like making love with the same stroke” and that you might as well fax that in. If anything, I would compare disco to the worst of ’80s pop/hair metal and today’s bro-country/metro-bro. Frivolous.
I don’t follow hip hop much at all. I did dabble in some hip hop and neo-soul in the late ’90s and early aughts and thought such albums as OutKast’s Stankonia, The Fugee’s The Score and Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival were very good albums and strong artistic statements. I think about those albums when I read some of the militant anti-rap comments that pop up on this site from time to time. I figure there’s got to be some good stuff being made in the hip hop genre today, but I’m just not feeling that adventurous. I hear some love from people I respect about Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. I won’t be checking it out, though.
January 5, 2016 @ 9:47 am
@Trigger Oh, without a doubt.
@Jack Williams Concur on all your points in that first paragraph. And, in the second, those are all three stupendous pieces of hip-hop. I consider myself to be a fighter for the true nature of both hip-hop and country, which seems contradictory. However, I have deep respect and love for both genres. They speak to the same type of people and many of the same struggles are evident in both. Just a matter of where your culture took the blues after they found it. Kendrick’s album is absolutely spectacular, I would encourage you to give it a listen, front-to-back, if you get a chance. The dude is an absolute wordsmith, as well as being a revivalist of some sorts in the musical sense (TPAB has massive jazz influence).
Also, I do grow tired of the anti-genre comments. Criticize bad music all that you please, but don’t hate it just because it’s not your cup of tea. I think the mainstream bastardization that takes place within country is just as prevalent in hip-hop. The mono-genre is our real enemy.
January 5, 2016 @ 10:01 am
I’ve always said, someone could start a site called “Saving rap Music” and I’d be 100% behind it. I’m not a rap or a hip-hop fan at all, but that doesn’t make it inherently wrong at all. Though I may not know who they are, I have no doubt there’s folks out there making incredibly creative statements in that genre, while the crap is what gets represented in the mainstream. Think if you judged country solely by what they play on the radio?
January 1, 2016 @ 12:50 pm
Great choice. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the full album yet, but what I’ve heard is great. My top album would be Geronimo by Shane Smith and the Saints. The rest of my top 10 would be: Traveller by Chris Stapleton, Hard To Please by The Black Lillies, Holidays and Wedding Rings by Jamie Lin Wilson, The Turnpike Troubadours, Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell, The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers, Faded Gloryville by Lindi Ortega, Angeleno by Sam Outlaw, and Small Town Dreams by Will Hoge. Other honorable mentions in the Country/Americana/Bluegrass categories are albums from John Moreland, Ashley Monroe, Mike and the Moonpies, Watkins Family Hour, Maddie & Tae, Cody Jinks, The Mavericks, Eric Church, Volume Five, Randy & Wade, Della Mae, Rhainnon Giddens, Emmylou & Rodney, Alison Moorer, Whitney Rose, Tony Furtado, Whitey Morgan, William Clark Green, Lucero, Tim O’Brien, and many others. Some non-country albums I like were from The Arcs, Of Monsters and Men, The Decemberists, Andrew Peterson, Pearl Django, Mark Knopfler, Halie Loren, Muse, Dustin Kensrue, Lord Huron, and Adele. 2015 was a great year for music!
January 1, 2016 @ 2:03 pm
Well, this is a happy surprise. I thought it might be Traveler, given that it is a very good country/roots album by independent music standards and it was such a breakthrough commercial success. But it’s not the masterpiece that Complicated Game is. My favorite album of the year by a good distance.
January 1, 2016 @ 2:57 pm
Anyone just now finding McMurtry needs to check out Just Us Kids….I have all his stuff and Just Us Kids is the best by a long shot! In my opinion……..
January 7, 2016 @ 10:03 pm
I really, really like Live in Aught-3, and it is a good introduction to his work. Beyond that — pretty much any album of his is awesome and you really, really need to see him live. He’s one of the best live acts around.
January 1, 2016 @ 5:03 pm
Complicated Game was unequivocally my album of the year. McMurtry paints pictures with words. He evokes sympathy and nostalgia, all for conjured characters you’ve never known. It takes a special type of songwriter to do that.
January 1, 2016 @ 5:10 pm
Eh. This music didn’t do much for me.
Not that it matters, but Whitey Morgan’s “Sonic Ranch” would have been my choice
Robert E Williams
January 1, 2016 @ 6:38 pm
If anything this might be folk music’s album of the year, far from country music.
January 1, 2016 @ 6:53 pm
Great pick, love the Stapleton record but this is the better and more important choice. Gotta be honest, though, this was a weak year for country music.
January 1, 2016 @ 8:32 pm
January 2, 2016 @ 7:37 am
I’ve seen you say this multiple times so I’m curious, did “Complicated Game” win because of actually being a masterpiece, or was the rest of the competition just that weak for you? In another sense, would “Complicated Game” have won any other year? Just curious is all.
January 2, 2016 @ 10:33 am
I’m not sure if I want to answer that question because it may come across as downgrading McMurtry’s effort when that’s not what is intended. I do think it was a down year for country, but I also think McMurtry put out a masterpiece. Perhaps in other years he’d be bested by a more country, and a more sexy release like “Metamodern” from last year or something, but Sturgill didn’t release that album this year. I think McMurtry won the field, and he should be commended for it.
January 2, 2016 @ 10:46 am
Understandable, I shouldn’t have made it about McMurtry.
January 2, 2016 @ 10:54 am
I think it’s a fair question Zack. I’m just not sure of how to answer it without feeling like I’m diminishing McMurtry, which wouldn’t be the intention.
January 2, 2016 @ 11:12 am
Definitely. I see where you’re coming from here. The question just stemmed from my curiosity as a music fan. 2015 was really the first year where I really dug into the non-mainstream world right from the start, therefore my listening experience this year was obviously elevated from years past of merely comparing mainstream albums (although I had heard Metamodern, Out Among The Stars, The Way I’m Livin’ last year among others, I just hadn’t kept up with EVERYTHING last year. Therefore I can’t give a fair judgment as to what I truly thought was the best even though I’m sure Metamodern would have still taken the crown). So overall I thought it was it ironic how the first year I truly get into non – mainstream/Americana is the year that everyone deems as “weak”. Not disagreeing at all given that I really can’t, I just found it sort of humorous. I was hoping either James or Don would get this award and I’m glad one of them did. 🙂
January 1, 2016 @ 6:56 pm
I have to disagree. Usually you are right on, but you are way way off on this one. Personally, I think McMurty’s album is WAY overrated. I’ve listened to the entire album and nothing really grabbed me. Album of the year goes to Chris Stapleton, no doubt. Traveler is a fantastic album and deserves all the praise it gets
January 1, 2016 @ 9:00 pm
Well, this definitely took me by surprise.
I have no prior familiarity with this guy, other than reading his name in various comments and posts over the course of this year. And now, from seeing his name on various year-end polls and lists. But this accolade is the one thing that will push me over the edge and force me to actually check out this album.
By the way, the comment in the review about the “alt-country generation” reminded me of an album from the last couple years I thought about recently that has kinda gotten lost in the shuffle. Gone Away Backward by Robbie Fulks. You know, some of the songs from that record still pop into my mind on a fairly regular basis. Well-crafted songwriting has a tendency to hold up over time. Anyway, just a thought.
January 1, 2016 @ 9:01 pm
I’ll say great choice as well. It is definitely the best written album of the year. I don’t think we could have really argued about most of the nominees this year. It’s been a pretty solid year with no true dominant leader of the pack. I love McMurtry’s imagery on this album. You get right into the stories that are being told.
January 1, 2016 @ 11:19 pm
Been listening to James for 15 years. He has a lot to say and for those new on board, do take the time to seek out some of his earlier stuff. He’s a real treasure and deserves your attention.
January 2, 2016 @ 11:20 am
I’m with you on this all the way. CG IS a masterpiece. We don’t get very many of those. After 1 listen, I said it was the best album I’ve heard since Southeastern. It still is. Great choice!
January 2, 2016 @ 2:38 pm
I’ve been a fan of McMurtry’s since I first heard him in 1992 in that one-off “roots supergroup” with Johns Mellencamp and Prine, Dwight Yoakam, and Joe Ely on the Falling From Grace soundtrack. From there I picked up everything he released from It Had To Happen forward. No, Complicated Game isn’t James rocking out with that awesome crunching Tele I love from him, but I do admit it’s his best writing yet. Which is saying a LOT.
Excellent choice and I fully agree.
January 2, 2016 @ 2:47 pm
Happy New Year, Trig!
Well, Complicated Game is a surprise! I’ll have to give it another shot, but to date the album just hasn’t resonated with me.
Thank you for all your hard work this past year. As you can see, SCM has heavily influenced the music I’ve listened to in 2015.
1. Turnpike Troubadours ”“ Turnpike Troubadours
2. 180 Proof ”“ Grandpa”™s Cough Medicine
3. Something More than Free ”“ Jason Isbell
4. Wolves ”“ American Aquarium
5. The Blade ”“ Ashley Monroe
6. Terraplane ”“ Steve Earle
7. Revelate ”“ Eric Strickland
8. Fear and Saturday Night ”“ Ryan Bingham
9. Little Neon Limelight ”“ Houndmouth
10. Sonic Ranch ”“ Whitey Morgan and the 78”™s
11. Under the Salvage Sky ”“ Barrence Whitfield & the Savages
12. Radium Death ”“ William Elliot Whitmore
13. Traveller ”“ Chris Stapleton
14. If I”™ve One Time Askin”™ ”“ Daniel Romano
15. Nashville Obsolete ”“ Dave Rawlings Machine
16. Dirty Spliff Blues ”“ Left Lane Cruiser
17. Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys ”“ Asleep at the Wheel
18. The Deslondes ”“ The Deslondes
19. Delilah ”“ Anderson East
20. High on Tulsa Heat ”“ John Moreland
January 2, 2016 @ 10:05 pm
Cool to see this selection!
January 3, 2016 @ 6:23 am
Unfortunately this album just didn’t do anything for me and seemed pretty far from country music, folk album of the year I’d say. And I’m not sure I agree with the closed minded comment because I am open to a lot of music but considering Yelawolf as anything close to country rooted is beyond me.
These two even being considered for a site called “Saving Country Music” makes no sense to me, “Saving Good Music” would make sense. But I think the choice should have been an album that actually advances the integrity of country music. This seems like a choice out of left field when there are obviously better albums actually saving country music, even if they are more clichÃ©d choices embraced by the mainstream.
Hell, I know a lot of people who never enjoyed country music until Something More Than Free, Traveler, Metamodern Sound In Country Music and Sonic Ranch were released and it showed them the depth of country music. This album would NEVER have that deep effect in a large scale.
January 3, 2016 @ 6:31 am
I agree, makes no sense to me, especially this odd fascination with Yelawolf. A dozen other choices would have made more sense. Not many would listen to this album and say “yeah, let’s shift the entire genre of country music to that!”
January 3, 2016 @ 7:07 am
Excellent choice, Trig. McMurtry is the greatest songwriter of this generation, perhaps any generation. Complicated Game is a masterpiece. Every McMurtry album is a masterpiece. He doesn’t turn out a lot of material; He just turns out excellent material. Any year that a McMurtry album is released, it is the album of the year.
January 3, 2016 @ 7:08 am
Whoops, I don’t know how that ended up as a reply to Dobbs. It was meant as a new comment….
January 3, 2016 @ 7:50 am
No problem, I’ll agree, excellent songwriter!
January 3, 2016 @ 7:23 am
I would argue that Joseph Huber is this generation’s best songwriter.
January 3, 2016 @ 9:39 am
Yes, you would and often do. 😉
SCM turned me on to The .357 String Band when I first started visiting this site, but I hadn’t gotten any of Joseph Huber’s solo work until I bought The Hanging Road a few months ago. I thoroughly enjoy it. Apparently, not only is he a great singer/songwriter but also quite the multi-instrumentalist.
January 3, 2016 @ 10:54 am
Trigger wrote a great review of “Bury Me Where I Fall” the year it was released and I didn’t even bother to listen to the samples til months later. That album still, to me stands as his greatest work. I just want him to have enough success that he might tour near my hometown one day. Also, as you mention him being a multi-instrumentalist, he also has some cool wood working on his web site. That impresses me too, being a carpenter myself. Very talented individual.
January 3, 2016 @ 9:47 am
I respectfully disagree that this is an “out there” choice for SCM Album of the Year. I think McMurtry falls under the music umbrella described in the SCM Mission Statement (Yelawolf, not so much). Maybe not dead center. I think McMurtry occupies pretty much the same musical space as Isbell and that would be Roots/Americana singer/songwriter. Also, I don’t know that Isbell’s SMTF is that much more country than Complicated Game. Songs like Deaver’s Crossing and Forgotten Coast sound country or at least country influenced to me.
January 3, 2016 @ 10:47 am
I absolutely agree, excellent songwriting and country influenced, just not exactly what I’d consider country album of the year. But you are with SMTF, argument could be made its no more country. I just think Isbell, Stapleton, and Simpson give a much more rounded and less static sounding record. Just my opinion of course!
January 3, 2016 @ 11:41 am
Hey, what fun would it be if we all agreed all of the time? 🙂 That’s why I try to encourage folks to leave their own opinions, and their own picks here. Someone might read them, and discover something new.
And I would even go on to say I might have named Simpson’s “Metamodern” the winner again if I could. But it’s not 2014 any more. Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson will have a great chance of having a Saving Country Music Album of the Year many times in the future. McMurtry may not release another album for another six years. Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson will get a along just fine even if I never give them an ounce of pub again. All of the end-of-year attention to “Complicated Game” may have doubled McMurtry’s sales and name recognition.
January 3, 2016 @ 2:01 pm
Very true to all, love the discussions on here and thanks for the responses. Honestly, country is the hardest term to nail down anyways, what with honky tonk, western swing, Americana, pop, outlaw, alt., rock, even folk all flying that banner sometimes, and everyone being so passionate about their corner.
I think the recognition some not so large names are getting is great. This site turned me on to Willy Tea, Hellbound Glory, and too many others to count, keep it coming!
January 4, 2016 @ 7:22 am
I would say that it isn’t necessarily the “country” album of the year, but the SCM album of the year and some years the winning album isn’t a straight country one. I personally don’t get very caught up in the actual name of this site (e.g., how can a site called “Saving Country Music” …), but that’s only because of the type of music fan I am. I’m more of a natural roots rock fan with a stronger than the “average Americana fan” penchant for hard country, blues and bluegrass. I think of the SCM community as a pretty big tent, with respect to the types of country music fans that come here on a regular basis.
January 3, 2016 @ 9:57 am
I never called Yelawolf country. I called “Love Story” an important album to country music, which it was. Ultimately, it wasn’t important enough, or it would have been named Album of the Year as opposed to McMurtry’s. I would also argue that “Complicated Game” is definitely more country than “Something More Than Free,” and might even be more country than “Traveller,” though it’s a close call. Is it a hard country album? Of course not. But neither were many of the candidates this year.
“This seems like a choice out of left field…”
Last year when I picked “Metamodern” (which you referenced), I got hounded for being too obvious and predictable.
“This album would NEVER have that deep effect in a large scale.”
I agree, and that’s unfortunate. A lot of great albums go overlooked. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less great. And like I said in the article, there’s a lot more positive sentiment bubbling up for this album, more than people think. Sometimes it takes years for the true genius and impact of an album to be measured.
I agree it’s a dark horse pick. You’re not going to be able to please everybody all the time. But it’s my honest pick for the best of the year.
January 3, 2016 @ 10:43 am
I agree and it’s your site and no one will ever please anyone.
Great work overall and I didn’t mean you exactly when referring to Yelawolf as country, my fault on lack of clarification. My fear is by him referencing rural aspects it will be construed as “country” just like the Lacs are, but that’s an endless debate.
Wonderful songwriting on this album, just see it more as a homage to folk than country album.
Cool Lester Smooth
January 4, 2016 @ 12:12 am
Yeah, my biggest problem with Something More Than Free was how very not-country it was.
With the exception of Palmetto Rose and 24 Frames, which were Southern and 90s rock respectively, the cold production made it sound like it lacked an identity, to my ears. Like his earlier studio albums did.
There’s a reason I listen to the Live From Alabama versions of Tour of Duty, Dress Blues, Alabama Pines, and Razor Town.
Southeastern captured the electricity of LFA, and combined it with, for my money, his best collection of songs to date. I just hope we get a live album of LFA’s quality featuring the songs from SMTF.
January 3, 2016 @ 10:16 am
Great pick, Trigger. This was my album of the year as well. Completely blew me away.
January 3, 2016 @ 10:36 am
Surprising choice, not my first, but I can respect it! I would have a hard time pinning down any particular album but I would say my top two favorites are: Cody Jinks Adobe Sessions, an Jamie Lynn Wison Holiday’s and Wedding Rings.
Frank the Tank
January 3, 2016 @ 4:57 pm
Holidays and Wedding Rings is also my favourite album of the year. It’s excellent from start to finish.
January 4, 2016 @ 7:43 am
It is a great album. I was lucky enough to see her open for Scott Miller in July and picked it up . Just Some Things was one of my favorite songs this year.
January 4, 2016 @ 7:48 am
It’s a great record. He can tell a story, and he’s in touch with the human condition. But the general lack of optimism in most any McMurtry tune just brings me too far down to listen too often. And I get it, most of his characters don’t have much going on in that department. But he makes Fred Eaglesmith seem like an optimist. I don’t mind the cold hard truth, but in my experience, the cold hard truth is almost always accompanied by an upside, even if it’s self-created out of the simple desire to escape the situation, and it seems to me that the lack of that very real human propensitiy for absurd hope in the face of disaster knocks his songwriting down a notch. I’m glad you reached a bit for the pick, though. Never hurts to shine a light on a talented guy who doesn’t get much attention.
January 4, 2016 @ 8:34 am
I hear you, but I think that sentiment applies less to Complicated Game than say, Just Us Kids. A couple of examples:
In Copper Canteen, the couple is still together and surviving. They don’t seem unhappily married (he does call her “honey”, after all. 😉 ). They grew up “hard”, unlike their kids. So it seems that they provided a pretty good life for those kids. They have their differences (e.g., Church), but they seem to accept them.
In Long Island Sound, the Dad has made some compromises for the sake of his family. He’s got a good job and his kids seem happy. He thinks back towards some love from long ago, but he doesn’t seem despondent. Long may we thrive on the Long Island Sound.
January 4, 2016 @ 8:52 am
At the end of the rope, there’s a little more rope, most times…
January 4, 2016 @ 8:32 am
I swear, I wouldn’t have listened to half the music I’ve listened to this year if not for this site. Just listened to the McMurtry album yesterday and really, really like it. Thanks for everything you do. For someone not as plugged in to the music scene as I’d like to be, it’s nice to have a site where I can get exposure to new and awesome music! Thanks!
January 4, 2016 @ 10:54 am
Can’t argue with this. Probably not my choice but can’t argue with it.
Bigfoot is Real (AKA Progressive Fascist Rat)
January 4, 2016 @ 11:29 am
Wow! Great pick. I have to say I am shocked but in a good way. McMurtry writes only great songs time after time after time. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who is on his level in terms of lyrics and the stories he tells. Wow! Still amazed. Thanks.
January 4, 2016 @ 12:06 pm
Wasn’t too familiar with this artist . Terrific lyric writer with fresh and substance-driven material , for the most-part . I wanted to like the music more but it was distractingly sloppy and mostly lifeless to my ear . No excuse for that , in my opinion, with so many AMAZING players and technical tools available . Unless of course JM fancied this a demo , of sorts , as a way to pitch his tunes , and wanted to expedite the recording process for that reason. There are just too many polished demos being presented …even polished G/V’s to NOT put a little more care into production of quality songs . Then again , I could fault Sturgill , Isbell and others for the same transgression realizing full well that this is , of course , only my personal take on their output .It seems that a lotta folks are chasing T-Bone Burnett’s production template in the past decade ( Dave Cobb ) and I feel that in some respects they do themselves an injustice . Again …only my opinion .Regardless, I think McMurtry is a writer’s writer a la Dean Dillon .
January 4, 2016 @ 2:37 pm
Completely disagree and I suppose it is down to personal taste. I like “life” and human imperfections in my music which is why I listen to roots music and not always Yes or Rush or auto tuned pop country for that matter. McMurtry’s latest is a departure for him in that it’s mostly acoustic. His usual fare is Stonsey-Keith Richards electric guitar crunch that is really pleasing to these ears.
January 4, 2016 @ 5:37 pm
I hear ya Mule . There’s a point where stuff is ” too perfect” . I think a good middle ground would be what Emmy Lou and Rodney released last year but . It has a life and a ragged edge but pretty flawless playing and production . As you say , there’s a subjectivity involved . think JM is as good as it gets as a writer in these times .