Your Top 50 Albums of 2015

Considering the Finest Roots Music of This Year

My #1 album for 2015 is Nathan Bell's I Don't Do This For Love, I Do This For Love.

Ryan Adams at #47 is a puzzler to me.  Is he that good, is Taylor Swift an underrated songwriter, or is it a matter of syle over substance?

I do need to pick up Peter Case's HWY 62.  #23 with a release date of 10/30/15 is truly impressive!

I always look forward to the No Dep year-end lists because I tend to enjoy the same kinds of music.  Taken as a whole, my lists and ND's are fairly similar, but, oddly, my numbers 1, 2 & 3 this year (Ike Reilly; 6 String Drag; & Brent Best) came in at #225, #149, & #108, respectively.   I can't recall, off the top of my head, anything close to that much of a disparity at the very top of my lists happening in the past.  Ah well, it's the differences that make life interesting!


Who has the time or money to listen to all these albums? I don't know if it's No Depression music, but for my money, Sleater-Kinney made the best album of 2015. How does the decidedly non-country Wilco make the cut when S-K doesn't? I hate polls.

By and large, I think the Top 50 works.  Would like to have seen The Honeycutters make it, along with Ashley Monroe, but all and all, there's not a clunker on the list.

I'm with Hal on Ryan Adams's 1989 making the top 50.  Puzzled.  Hey, maybe it's actually good.  My wife says it is or at least likes what she's heard.  I dismissed it as a stunt.  Even if I'm wrong, I just have no desire to hear a remake of Taylor Swift's pop album.  Life is too short.  My soft boycott of Ryan Adams continues.

I'm surprised that Patty Griffin's Servant of Love is as far down the list as it is (#31).  I thought it was another excellent effort by her and I think past efforts by her have tended to be ranked higher in these polls.   It was a bit different, though.

I was a little surprised to see the Emmylou/Rodney album ranked so high(tied for #6).  I thought the first one was good, but not so good that buying the second would be an automatic purchase.  I've previewed numerous tracks and what I heard didn't grab me enough for me to buy it.   

Anyway, good job, ND.  Also, it looks like roughly 850 people voted.   I'm guessing that's  much, much more that in years past.

Yes, last year we received just under 300 ballots, which was a little more than previous years, I believe.

First, let me just be clear: I am a big Jason Isbell fan.  I latched on to "Southeastern" right away; I learned to play and sing 8 of the 12 tracks on the album.  "Something More Than Free" is a very enjoyable album, but to me is missing whatever magic that made "Southeastern" so special, so I am surprised it is the the number one pick for 2015.

I'd agree Something More Than Free might be a minor step down from Southeastern (the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road curse of releasing a genre/career defining album) but what wouldn't be?

To be honest the Chris Stapleton album  at #2 was my surprise for 2015. It wasn't a bad album it didn't come close to living up to the rave reviews I read and I doubt it would have been ranked that high if Sturgill hadn't paved the way with last year's Metamodern Sounds of Country Music (which in hindsight I overrated last year).

I agree it is possible to be No #1 for 2015 and still not be as good as "Southeastern".  Some years are better than others  I suppose.

I'd say that instead of giving us his Essence (a good album but wouldn't call it anywhere near a classic), Isbell gave us his Darkness on the Edge of TownBorn to Run is still my favorite Bruce album, but I still think Darkness is a classic and my second favorite album of his.  I found Something More than Free a little underwhelming at first, but it just continued to grow on me (I had it at #2 in my list).  A good example would be the song Flagship.  It bored and disappointed me the first time I heard it.  It is just SO understated.  Now I love it.

To be honest, SMTF underwhelmed me for the first few listens, too. But then I realized I was expecting to be wowed right out of the gate, which is not what great songwriting ever does. I've found the album ages beautifully, and if you shut up that little voice in your head and just listen closely -- not just to the lyrics, but to where the breaks in the songs are, where the guitar takes over, what happens with the backing vocals, what the bassline is doing, and on and on -- you're really going to be hard-pressed to find a flaw. And you're likely to wind up speechless in the process. "Hudson Commodore" is so good. "The Life You Chose," "Something More Than Free," "Flagship"... this guy's just on a roll. It's not a desperate album, which is what I think Southeastern was, in a way -- it was the album he needed to write at that time, and it was an extraordinary accomplishment. But this is the album that stands on its shoulders. Great artists grow; lesser artists peak and fade. I personally think Jason Isbell is a great artist. I mean, we may as well argue over which is better: The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night

Kim, I can certainly agree with where you're coming from ("I personally think Jason Isbell is a great artist. I mean, we may as well argue over which is better: The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night.") We both like Jason Isbell's last two albums.  "Southeastern" did grab me right out of the gate, or pretty close to it, and I think it is great songwriting, so I disagree with: "But then I realized I was expecting to be wowed right out of the gate, which is not what great songwriting ever does."  I think logically, that would be the same as saying, if the song grabs you right out of the gate, then by Ruehl's Rule, it cannot be great songwriting.

I'm a little late to the game but here's a baker's dozen in no particular order: Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey;  Dylan: Shadows In The Night;  Richard Thompson: Still;  Graham Parker & The Rumour: Mystery Glue;  Robert Forster: Songs To Play;  Dan Baird & Homemade Sin: Get Loud;  The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club;  James McMurtry: Complicated Game;  Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free;  The Chills: Silver Bullets;  Ryan Bingham: Fear And Saturday Night;  Joe Ely: Panhandle Rambler;  Drive-By Truckers: It's Great To Be Alive


Kim, glad to see you emphasize Rhiannon Giddens in your summary.  She seems very smart, has stunning pipes, and going by Cry No More, she shows great promise in the songwriting dept.. I saw her live last summer and thoroughly enjoyed her show.  I think Taylor Swift does pop pretty well and I don't begrudge her her success, but if singing ability trumped all, she and Rhiannon would reverse places commercially.  Glad to hear the next print magazine should be out during spring. You guys did an A+ job on the first one.

I like to use the year end list to pick up a few of the many things I missed.



No Ashley Monroe? I don't get that at all. Otherwise a good list.


It seems some folks take these lists a bit too seriously. We like what we like. I find them useful in that I may have missed an album put out by someone whose music I like, and also they give me music to pick over in the coming months. I also use the polls to add one or two New Zealand artists to give them a little bit more exposure.


I discovered Nathaniel Rateliff late, after watching the excellent documentary Austin to Boston, so I'm glad to see him at #18. Peter Case is always a good choice, so it was also nice to see him included. Honestly, Claire Holley's album Time in the Middle is a truly wonderful work of art, so, naturally, I was disappointed to see she hadn't made the top 50. Here's to 2016!


Dear ND:

I'd like to suggest that just before the Top 50 listing on this page, or at least right after it, you add a link to the 2015 Readers' Poll Complete Rankings.

Right now this link does appear, twice even, but only embedded in Kim's essay, and only in the form of the words 'here' and 'there'.  Scanning the page I don't catch these links even though I'm specifically looking for them.

Some of the comments on this page seem to indicate that others also didn't realize that the complete rankings are available.

As happy as I am to see Peter Case at Nr 23 from a ballot that offered 876 choices, and Joe Ely and Richard Thompson securely in the Top 50 as well, it's the diversity of the complete list that made this whole enterprise so worthwhile to me.

Also, this was a monumental undertaking for your small, dedicated staff, finding album covers and links for every album on the lengthy ballot.  You should get as much mileage out of that massive effort as you can.

The album photo accompanying each title really is a brilliant innovation.  It makes the complete list so much more appealing to look through.  If you add a prominent link on this page, I think more readers will discover it and appreciate the extraordinary work you all did this year.




At the risk of appearing obsessive (hey, at least my obsession is music), I can't resist asking one more question.  There were 876 choices (including a few duplicates, but I think only a few) on the ballot, and only 620 appear in the final rankings.  What was the basis for eliminating the remaining 256?

A fair point. I changed one of the links, so the phrase you see in red, linking to the full standings, is much more visible to those scanning through. I also added a bolded link at the bottom of the Top 50 list. Hope that helps!

As to the final list showing 600+ whereas you say the original voting list had upwards of 800 options, I don't really know. That's a question for Dave, and I'll pass it on. 

Turns out the remaining 256 received zero votes, which is why they didn't appear in the final rankings. 

As Robert Shaw’s Henry the VIII said in “A Man for All Seasons” – “Your taste in music is excellent…It exactly coincides with my own”.  

Thanks for a compiling a great list.  There are some albums I completely missed so there are lots of suggestions for me to explore.     

Unlike last year, I don’t have a clear cut favorite SONG from 2015 (though I have had “Weight of the Gun” stuck in my head all day).   I would be interested in hearing what song everyone thought was the standout of 2015.       

I thought Kevin Gordon's "Cajun With A K"..."stuck out like a lug nut in the creme brûlée", borrowing the phrase from the excellent sportswriter Bernie Lincicome.  It was the coolest song I heard all year.  Rhiannon Giddens' version of "Don't Let It Touble Your Mind"  was another song I had to listen to over and over.  

Peter Case's "Pelican Bay."  The best protest music of 2015.


Since picking out a favorite song of 2015 is even more difficult than the 10 best albums I'm picking out these favorite songs from my top 4 releases of 2015: The Waterboys--"Still a Freak" and "Nearest Thing toHip"; Boz Scaggs--"Hell to Pay" (the only song he wrote and sung with Bonnie Raitt) and "Last Tango on 16th Street"; Dawes--"I Can't Think About It Now"; Warren Hayes--"Stranded in Self-Pity"

Despite all the gushing reviews and over-the-top praise for Jason Isbell's release I found it good but not something I want to listen to that often whereas the releases by those 4 artists listed above I do. To me that's what makes a great album.

I really am surprised no one else is bothered by Sleater-Kinney's omission from the list.  Seriously, what's up?  

It was on the master list but it just didn't make it into the top 50. It wasn't omitted.

Mystery solved.


I haven't heard the album, and to be honest I'm not a huge fan of the band, but I found Carrie's book to be a very good read.

You know, even in the thickest throes of my Riot Grrl years, I never loved Sleater Kinney. Brownstein's voice grated on me worse than the guy from Rush. But then I saw them at Coney Island for some summer concert festival of some sort, and I was blown away by how amazing they were live. Suddenly it all came together. That would have been 2002. I've read excerpts of this book and am glad to hear it was a good read. The stuff I've heard from the new album is pretty fantastic too. Maybe it just took a while for her to really find her voice? Maybe sometimes bands need to break up and get back together again?