It’s time to look back at the first half of the year and narrow down our top album picks. Here at The Shotgun Seat, all our writers have their own distinct tastes – so we decided to give you an insight to our favorite albums of the year so far. Check out our thoughts below on the music that’s been dominating our iTunes this year.
Markus’ Pick: Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free
No one does songwriting better than Jason Isbell, and that statement is only further reinforced with his latest album, Something More Than Free. Something More Than Free is a beautifully-written, cohesive package that represents growth in Isbell’s artistry, as well as turning point in his personal life. While his 2013 phenom, Southeastern, succeeded with vivid story-telling, Something More Than Free is a collection of songs about reflection and realization that is both moving and at times, anthemic. Another area in which Isbell and his team succeed in a big way, is on the technical front, where the vocals are wrapped around each track in a believable way, while the production blends the lines between rock and country perfectly. Where much of his discography uses audacity to get the message cross, this album uses interwoven poignancy, and while it may take a few listens through to fully comprehend the album’s overall moral, in the end, Something More Than Free is an undoubtedly rewarding listening experience, and one that is unlikely to be topped by the time 2016 rolls around.
Top Tracks: “Children of Children”, “Something More Than Free”, “The Life You Chose”
Grace’s pick: Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time
My expectations were high when Kelsea Ballerini announced her debut album The First Time. Kelsea was said to be the next Taylor Swift and with her perfect country-pop album, she didn’t disappoint. I’m all about the country girls and in my opinion, Kelsea was just what country radio needed to shake things up. Her #1 single “Love Me Like You Mean It” was the perfect radio release and the album lived up to that, just solidifying how talented she is. It’s cohesive whilst maintaining variety with emotional offerings like “Secondhand Smoke” and “Stilletos” as well as upbeat, nostalgic renderings of teen life with “Underage”. It’s not only my favourite release of 2015 so far, but my favourite country-pop album in a long time. It will be interesting to see how the next single, ‘Dibs’ does.
Top Tracks: “XO,” “Peter Pan” and “Stilettos”
Ellis’s pick: Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds
I will likely be singing praises for Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds for years to come. This is an once-in-a-lifetime country record, capturing millions of emotions in just forty-nine minutes. It’s brooding, dark, and often times frightening. Songs like “The Cure for the Pain” and “When All You Got Is a Hammer” pull you down a deep black hole of sorrow, and opening title track “Blackbirds” reeks of death. Yet, there are shimmering moments of hope in the shadows—the acceptance of mortality, the new beginnings Peters finds in her grief. Blackbirds is a work of art that deserves recognition beyond country music and well beyond the halfway point of 2015.
Top Tracks: “Blackbirds,” “The Cure for the Pain,” “Nashville”
Annie’s pick: Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde
I absolutely understand why this record may not be for everyone. It’s bold, risky, and at times remains ‘country’ by only a thread, if at all. But I find its genre disparity – a big band number, a country radio #1, and a rock radio #1, and an EDM-infused track, for starters – to be a strength and not a weakness. Brown and his crew are class A musicians and songwriters, and the exploration of new sounds and styles feels to me like well-executed growth, not a surrendering to trend pressures.
Top tracks: “Remedy,” “Heavy Is The Head” ft. Chris Cornell, “Dress Blues”
Laura’s Pick: Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller”
With writing credits on songs cut by everyone from Little Big Town to Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert, there was a lot of hype leading up to the release of Chris Stapleton’s debut solo-album, Traveller. Stapleton more than exceeded expectations by delivering a captivatingly raw album that lets his soulful voice carry you through a sweeping emotional journey. His melodies and vocals alone would have made the album a standout release and then he adds his brilliant lyrics into the mix to deliver the ultimate musical package and definitely one of the top releases of the year.
Top tracks: “Parachute,” “Fire Away,” “Traveller”