By Alan Sculley
There were plenty of good albums in 2015, just not many that went to the next level, making this a bit of a down year for music. These albums, though, stood out for me.
1. 25 (XL), Adele This follow-up may not quite equal Adele’s 2011 blockbuster, 21, but it comes very close. Especially impressive are several songs (“All I Ask,” “Million Years Ago” and “Love in the Dark”) that feature little more than Adele’s vocal and either piano or guitar, an arrangement that only works with songs as strong as these.
2. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music), Courtney Barnett Barnett’s smart and funny lyrics highlight this full-length debut, but the music is just as good, whether it’s spiky and catchy or gentle with a little edge.
3. Black Messiah (RCA), D’Angelo and the Vanguard Black Messiah may draw from familiar roots, such as ’60s and ’70s soul and funk, but D’Angelo’s sound is his own, with swirling, gauzy textures that draw the listener in and leave an intoxicating effect.
4. Beauty Behind the Madness (XO/Republic), The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness has much more to offer than its great single, “Can’t Feel My Face.” There are 13 more sharply crafted songs on this album that should make the Weeknd R&B’s next major star.
5. Something More Than Free (Southeastern), Jason Isbell With Something More Than Free, Isbell delivers another largely acoustic, lyrically incisive gem of an album.
6. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Island), Florence + the Machine Florence Welch and company rock a bit more and sound a bit less opulent on their fine third album.
7. California Nights (Harvest), Best Coast The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno get a bit edgier without losing the classic pop melodicism of their first two albums.
8. Traveller (Mercury Nashville), Chris Stapleton Stapleton wowed viewers in November when he paired with Justin Timberlake on the CMA Awards. Fans will find Stapleton’s rootsy debut album, Traveller, just as impressive.
9. Yours, Dreamily (Nonesuch), The Arcs Fronted by Dan Auerbach, The Arcs have similarities to his main band, the Black Keys. But nearly every song on Yours, Dreamily has a musical twist that makes the Arcs sound plenty original.
10. The Blade (Warner Bros. Nashville), Ashley Monroe Monroe continues to make her mark with this lyrically smart, hooky and musically diverse third album.