Folk Alley’s Best of 2015 – Kelly McCartney’s 10 Best Records Made in Music City, U.S.A.

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10 Best Records Made in Music City, U.S.A.
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

Nashville gets banged around a lot over what’s it’s doing wrong when it comes to music. But it’s also doing a whole lot right as this list of albums indicates. It’s a collision of the country, folk, soul, and rock that is being played with passion in Music City — sometimes on one record — and it stands as a testament to a town that is absolutely bursting with talent.

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Alabama Shakes, ‘Sound & Color’ (ATO Records)
The Shakes took a huge sonic leap forward from their debut record on this one and came up with one of the freshest-sounding albums of the year. A few of the cuts on the back half wander pretty far afield, but it’s hard to fault a band for innovating. iTunes * Amazon.com


Anderson East, ‘Delilah’ (New Elektra)
To launch his new label, producer Dave Cobb chose Anderson East’s ‘Delilah’ and rightfully so. The young singer/songwriter brings it hard on this set, belting out both Southern soul and folky ballads with an emotional and technical maturity that belies his age. iTunes * Amazon.com


Andrew Combs, ‘All These Dreams’ (Coin Records)
For fans of early ’70s FM radio, ‘All These Dreams’ is a must-listen. Here, Andrew Combs recalls all the greats of that decades-past era — Mickey Newbury, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Glen Campbell, and more — but he does so through his own contemporary lens. iTunes * Amazon.com


Ashley Monroe, ‘The Blade’ (Warner Music Nashville)
One listen to this record and it’s clear that “real” country music is alive and well… just maybe not on any mainstream radio stations. Ashley Monroe knows how to write and wring her heart out, that’s for damn sure. But, alongside instant-classic heartbreakers like “The Blade” and “Bombshell,” she always throws in a couple winks and nods to let us know it’s all gonna be okay. iTunes * Amazon.com


Caroline Spence, ‘Somehow’ (CD Baby)
Speaking of country heartbreakers… With her folky leanings, Caroline Spence isn’t as stone cold as Ashley Monroe is, but she, too, knows her way around a song. One listen to “Trains Cry” or “Whiskey Watered Down” or “Don’t Call” proves that. Taken as a whole, the understated ‘Somehow’ also proves that sometimes a little less makes for a whole lot more. iTunes * Amazon.com


Chris Stapleton, ‘Traveller’ (Mercury Nashville)
A lot has been made in the past month about Chris Stapleton, but keen observers can claim to have loved him for a lot longer than that. They can also celebrate the break-out success he’s enjoying with ‘Traveller.’ Like ‘The Blade,’ it’s proof positive that Nashville still knows what it’s doing. iTunes * Amazon.com


Gretchen Peters, ‘Blackbirds’ (Scarlet)
Though she cut her songwriting teeth in country, Gretchen Peters has made her artist’s name in Americana and ‘Blackbirds’ has etched it into the hearts and minds of fans around the world this year. For mature audiences only, this album casts a long and lovely shadow as it walks head-on into some tough emotional terrain. iTunes * Amazon.com


Jason Isbell, ‘Something More Than Free’ (Southeastern Records)
Some hardcore fans of 2013’s ‘Southeastern’ have found fault in its follow-up because it wasn’t a sequel. That’s an unfair standard, though, because what Jason Isbell does on ‘Something More Than Free’ is really quite special. He purposely got more tactical with his lyrics and, simultaneously, more adventurous with his music. The result is indeed separate, but surely equal, to ‘Southeastern.’ iTunes * Amazon.com


Ruby Amanfu, ‘Standing Still’ (Rival & Co Records)
Too often, an album of covers feels like a reductive redux of great material. Not so on ‘Standing Still.’ Here, Ruby Amanfu deconstructs songs by Bob Dylan, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the Heartless Bastards, and others only to rebuild them in her own gloriously soulful image. It’s a stunning collection that shows how songwriting and singing are two equally important sides of the same coin. iTunes * Amazon.com


Ryan Culwell, ‘Flatlands’ (Lightning Rod)
In the grand tradition of Texas troubadours inhabited by the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, that’s where Ryan Culwell fits. ‘Flatlands’ digs deep into the stories of lives in his panhandle homeland and comes up with some real doozies. Pairing his deft craftsmanship with fierce performances, Culwell delivers a knock-out punch with this one. iTunes * Amazon.com

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