40 Best Country Albums of 2015

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

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Kacey Musgraves, 'Pageant Material'

14. Kacey Musgraves, 'Pageant Material'

After the release of 2013's Same Trailer Different Park, fans wondered why radio wasn't interested in Kacey Musgraves. Follow-up Pageant Material suggested that it might be Musgraves who isn't interested in radio, the record's weightless arrangements a quiet but defiant rejection of the dense compression engineered into most contemporary hits. "Late to the Party," one of the year's tenderest love songs, put it plainly: This singer is going to arrive when she's ready, and with enough patience, even the wait can be a joy. "Biscuits" may not have cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's airplay chart, but it sounds better on the album anyways. The single's defiant individualism sits opposite the quiet empathy of "Somebody to Love." The conflict is that of country music itself, and Musgraves leaves it poignantly unresolved. N.M.

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