14 Things We’re Thankful for in 2015
Like every American, we're thankful for good health, good food and good red wine this Thanksgiving, but the Taste of Country Thanksgiving prayer also includes a few country artists, a ton of great country music and one funky beard. It's a bountiful cornucopia of gratitude served hot for your holiday meal.
Superstars didn't rule in 2015 — in fact, one could argue newcomers like Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini were more important than vets like Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney. All three make our Most Thankful list in one way or another. So do more established acts like Little Big Town and Eric Church. Chief shocked the industry in November and came away from the CMAs as the second most talked-about performer.
Scroll through our list of things we're thankful for, then share your blessings in the comments section below. There's no need to hide it if you're grateful Jake Owen's eyes or Carrie Underwood's legs. You'll find no judging at the Taste of Country Thanksgiving dinner table.
Eric Church’s surprise album includes what will ultimately become his second most popular song. The title track is as immediately effective as “Springsteen” was in 2012 and just as relatable. Outside of this special track one finds a mix of blues, soul and coffee shop honesty on Mr. Misunderstood. It’s a personal album that Church dropped without announcement.
It was a tough summer for love. Miranda and Blake, Reba and Narvel and Jake and Lacey all called it quits in the span of a few weeks. Yet McGraw and his wife of 19 years couldn’t seem more in love. It’s becoming more clear that the “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” singer’s commitment to his physical self is in response to a call for greater commitment to his marriage, and that’s all kinds of sexy.
Listen to songs like “South Side” (co-written by Chris Stapleton) and “Vacation” and try not to smile. Thomas Rhett's sophomore album also includes depth in future hits like “Playing With Fire” (featuring Jordin Sparks) and “Die a Happy Man,” but it’s the dance-friendly, funk-country tracks that mark the project. It’s a special album that Rhett himself would say isn’t for everyone. But it’s really for some people.
Social media allows for a behind-the-scenes look into this lifelong friendship between Reba McEntire and Ronnie Dunn. From their time in Las Vegas to their trip to Italy, to the speckled pics in between, one sees previously unseen sides to both of their personalities. They’re kind of silly! Suddenly these two superstars seem much more approachable.
She’s gone, but not forgotten, and she hasn't forgotten us. Sam Hunt, Keith Urban and Kelsea Ballerini are three artists Swift brought on stage during her 1989 World Tour. She was particularly effusive about her love of newcomers Hunt and Ballerini, no doubt because she sees a little of herself in them. Both fight haters, and both stay true to a sound that’s honest and sincere even if it’s not as country as Jones and Haggard. Swift may have gone pop, but her occasional embrace leaves the door cracked for a return.
For a few short days in July, Blake Shelton kept quiet on Twitter. Then, rumors of his relationship with Gwen Stefani began to cover tabloids, and then more respectable media outlets ... and the King of Tweets is back! In recent weeks Shelton has taken aim at media, fans who’ve said he’s 'gone Hollywood' and anyone else who inspires him. There’s a story almost weekly from something this singer says. Few artists give more honest Twitter-views than interviews, but Shelton is most comfortable with his phone in hand.
It wasn’t what consultant Keith Hill said about women in country music, it was how he said it and the lengths he went to in defending it. “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Hill said earlier this year.
It’s pretty difficult to earn the scorn of one-half of a population, but Hill’s comments did it. We’re grateful for what he said, however, as he brought needed attention to a simmering topic. It remains to be seen if true change is on the horizon, but there are many promising female artists on the rise in Cam, Maren Morris and Maddie & Tae.
Country music’s first solo female artist to notch a No. 1 hit since 2012 did it because she released an irresistible smash hit to radio, and because everyone kind of loves her. There’s something very relatable about the Tennessee native. She recalls a young Taylor Swift, so it wasn’t surprising that the two became fast friends earlier this year.
Early controversy brought needed attention to the year’s best song. The soft ballad from the group’s Pain Killer album tells a lost-love story in an entirely new way, but it’s lead singer Karen Fairchild’s stark storytelling that drives this Jay Joyce production. One hears her hurting with every single word. It’s pain you crave.
In country music, it’s never all about the music. We love the people we love because we relate, and as of Feb. 27, 2015 millions of country fans find common ground with Carrie Underwood. Her stories, photos and struggles are our stories and struggles. Musically, edgy songs from her Storyteller album are made more interesting knowing she’s the same woman who thinks it’s cute when her son drools on her. She and husband Mike Fisher have shared just enough with fans — it’s a thin line to balance upon, but she’s done it with tremendous grace.
Maybe that’s all a bunch of malarky, however. The real reason we love this 9-month-old may be because he’s just so stinking cute. But we couldn’t just write “Awwwww!” could we?
It was a splendid beard. For a few short months, the “Break Up in a Small Town” singer sported facial hair that left the Brawny Man jealous. Hunt shaved it just before the 2015 CMA Awards, saying it was time for him to start a new chapter in his life. We thought there was another reason — maybe there was even a woman involved? Sure enough, Hunt says Grandma didn’t like the beard, so he sheared it like a sheep.
It’s not unusual for a country singer to play a USO Tour or a show for the troops. Brantley Gilbert’s commitment reaches deeper. His meetings with veterans turn into lasting friendships, and often the singer is the one fielding late-night phone calls from grown men looking for help and support. His relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project led to an emotional moment with Justin Patterson (as seen in the video). There have been many more meetings not caught on camera, and Gilbert keeps tabs on all of his new friends.
Chris Stapleton wouldn’t have won Male Vocalist, Album and New Artist of the Year at the 2015 CMA Awards if he didn’t have a great album. The timing also makes his accession special. There’s growing — if not overflowing — disgust with “bro-country” and songs that taste like boiled chicken. Stapleton’s songs are a mixer everyone can embrace.
We wouldn’t be talking about him, however, if everyone in Nashville wasn’t talking about him months and years before his big night in Nashville. At the ACM Awards in Dallas, and informal Taste of Country survey of artists found he was the best vocalist in Nashville. Important singers, songwriters and executives in Music City love this guy and were rooting for him to have his day in the spotlight. All of this came together on Nov. 4.
Rory Feek’s honest telling of wife Joey’s journey before, during and after cancer is must-read material. The singer holds little back at his This Life I Live blog, yet each word is delivered with love and kindness. It’s a verbal documentary told in real-time, one that forces every reader to evaluate close relationships.