40 Best Country Albums of 2015

From Willie and Merle to Maddie and Tae, the year in travellers and storytellers

Sam Outlaw, 'Angeleno'
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21/40

21. Sam Outlaw, 'Angeleno'

As an ex-marketing executive dwelling in the shadows of the Hollywood Hills, Sam Morgan took on his stage name not to connect with Waylon or Willie, but as a soft tribute to his recently deceased mother: Outlaw, her maiden name, Scottish in ancestry. His debut album, Angeleno, is a soft tribute too, with more complicated roots than meets the eye. It's country, but seen through a gauzy lens of late-afternoon L.A. light, where the mariachi horns of the east side and the desert vibes of the Mojave all sweep together in the same Santa Ana breeze. Produced by Ry Cooder, Angeleno opens with the glossy Tejano shuffle of "Who Do You Think You Are?" – it's a song about a girl that plays double duty, because that's surely a question Outlaw, with his cowboy hat but Cali zip code, has encountered before. And Angeleno, in all its weird, waltzing-western glory, is a perfectly suitable answer. M.M.

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