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30 Great Country Albums of 2015 You Probably Didn't Hear

From the bright country-pop of Kristian Bush's 'Southern Gravity' to the defiant reinvention of Allison Moorer's 'Down to Believing'

The Hillbenders, 'Tommy Bluegrass Opera'
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27. The Hillbenders, 'Tommy Bluegrass Opera'

On paper, it sounds like the Pickin' On… album from hell: the Who's classic 1969 rock opera, but all-acoustic and played on bluegrass instrumentation. And yet this Appalachian take on Tommy — played on banjo, guitar, mandolin, doghouse bass and Dobro with nary a kickdrum or electric guitar in sight — is as awesome as it is audacious, a fully satisfying interpretation that walks a just-right line between homage and reinvention. Keith Moon's thunderous drums were such a key part of the original's percussive atmosphere that you wouldn't think a drum-free version could work, but the seamless arrangements deftly imply all the tempo flourishes you remember. Clipped strums substitute nicely for drumbeats, and Pete Townshend's steady rolling rhythm guitar transposes perfectly to banjo. Best of all, mandolinist/frontman Nolan Lawrence pulls off Roger Daltrey-style bellowing with operatic, lusty aplomb. D.M.

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