By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
Hundreds of albums have been dropped during the first half of 2015!
But, only 16 gems stood out from the crowd! In order to qualify for this list, the artists must have at least SIX quality tracks that were worthy of being downloadable.
So without further ado, let the countdown begin!
16. Jekyll & Hyde by Zac Brown Band
The Zac Brown Band kicks off our countdown with their latest album: Jekyll & Hyde!
For their fourth major-label studio album, the Atlanta-based band branched out into different musical territory that included jazz, pop and rock-based tracks. In addition, they also received A-list support from a diverse group of producers, songwriters and singers such as Sara Bareilles, Chris Connell, CeeLo Green, Keb’Mo’ and Jewel. By showcasing their versatility as musicians, Jekyll + Hyde will go down as one of Zac Brown Band’s best albums.
Tracks to Download: “Homegrown,” “Mango Tree,” “Heavy is the Head,” “Junkyard,” “Wildfire” & “Young & Wild”
15. Never Been Better by Olly Murs
Future X Factor UK co-host Olly Murs lands at the number 15 spot in our countdown! For Olly’s sophomore American album, the “Dance With Me Tonight” singer put smiles on his fan’s faces with catchy tunes such as “Did You Miss Me” and his respective collaborations with Travie McCoy (“Wrapped Up”) and Demi Lovato (“Up”). In addition, Mr. Murs’ songwriting skills continued to impress listeners as his co-written tunes with McCoy, Ryan Tedder, Claude Kelly, Mike Posner and John Newman were blasted multiple times on Top 40 radio stations. Hopefully, Mr. Murs can continue on his hot streak, so that he can deliver quality material for his third American album!
Tracks to Download: “Did You Miss Me?” “Wrapped Up,” “Beautiful to Me,” “Up,” “Seasons” & “Never Been Better”
14. Grand Romantic by Nate Ruess
It is always risky when a frontman of a well-known band charts off on a solo career. They could go in the direction of Ricky Martin and Justin Timberlake or down the path of Bobby Brown and Zayn Malik. Fortunately for former Fun lead singer and one-time Voice adviser Nate Ruess, it was the former. Grand Romantic brilliantly captured the emotional spectrum such as happiness (“AhHa”) and depression (“Moment”) and would appease the listener’s ears as well. I am looking forward to hearing what Nate Ruess does next in his career.
Tracks to Download: “Nothing Without Love,” “AhHa,” “What This World Is Coming To,” “Great Big Storm,” “Moment” & “Harsh Light”
13. True Colors by Zedd
Just in case pop culture lovers were confused: No! The infamous Power Rangers villain, Lord Zedd, did not cover Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors. This original album was the brainchild of Anton “Zedd” Zaslavski! The Russian-German musician teamed up with pop princess Selena Gomez & rising artists such as Jon Bellion, Logic, X Ambassadors and Echosmith in spectacular tracks that are sprinkled throughout the album. Zedd also had the superb support of fellow co-writers and producers such as Ryan Tedder, David Jost, Matthew Koma and Antonia Armato and Tim James of Rock Mafia…which helped make True Colors one of the year’s best albums (so far).
Tracks to Download: “Addicted to a Memory,” “I Want You to Know,” “Beautiful Now,” “Transmission,” “True Colors” & “Illusion”
12. Rebel Heart by Madonna
All hail the Queen of Pop! Madonna dropped her 13th studio album and it is one of her strongest albums yet! With the help of hitmakers Alicia Keys, Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Savan Kotecha, Madonna unleashed 19 catchy tracks that will get everyone on the dance floor. While “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Looking For Love” might be on multiple club playlists; “Ghosttown” and “Hold Tight” are perfect up-lifting songs that might have put a smile on Howard Stern’s face.
Tracks to Download: “Living for Love,” “Ghosttown,” “Illuminati,” “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” “Joan of Arc” & “Veni Vidi Vici”
11. Sons of Serendip by Sons of Serendip
The Sons of Serendip is one of my favorite bands that ever appeared on America’s Got Talent. When I talked to the group earlier this year, they were ecstatic to release their debut album. Their self-titled album features tracks that the group performed on the Radio City Music Hall stage and their takes on their iconic classics such as “Hallelujah,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me” & “How Will I Know.” The group successfully transformed each song and made it into their own!
Tracks to Download: “Wicked Game,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Bring Me to Life,” “Don’t You Worry Child,” “Hallelujah” & “Ordinary World”
10. The Original High by Adam Lambert
Adam Lambert kicks off our Top 10 with his third studio album: The Original High! This album contained a lot of firsts! The Original High was Adam’s first album with his new label: Warner Bros. Records. It was also the first time that super producers Max Martin (BSB, Britney, Celine, Pink & Taylor Swift) and Shellback (Cher Lloyd & Maroon 5) produced a bulk of the album. Adam proved his case on why he is one of the most mesmerizing pop stars on the planet, as he delivered vocal touchdown after vocal touchdown. In addition, we also got to see Lambert grow as a co-writer as he assisted Martin, Shellback and a slew of other producers and co-writers such as Sterling Fox, Savan Kotecha, Lukas Loules and Ilya on creating the jaw dropping tracks that were sprinkled onto the album. In addition, keep an ear out for rising vocal starlet Tove Lo and Queen guitarist Brian May, who provide Adam with assistance on respective songs: “Rumors” & “Lucy” respectively. Overall, The Original High is a worthy successor to For Your Entertainment as his best album.
Tracks to Download: “Ghost Town,” “The Original High,” “Underground,” “Evil in the Night,” “Rumors” & “Lucy”
9. Before This World by James Taylor
Good things come to those who wait…especially if you are a James Taylor fan! Before This World marked Mr. Taylor’s first album of original material in 13 years. He also proved that he still has his magic to capture the listener’s imagination. Mr. Taylor’s musicianship shines brighter than any of today’s Top 40 artists and proves that no matter how old you are, you still can produce quality music without technological advancements.
Tracks to Download: “Today Today Today,” “Angels Of Fenway,” “Stretch of The Highway,” “Montana,” “Far Afghanistan” & “SnowTime”
8. Kids in Love by the Mowgli’s
The Mowgli’s (Colin, Katie, Matthew, Josh, Dave, Spencer and Andy) continued to blossom as a group with their sophomore release for Island Records: Kids in Love. Kids in Love showcased the band’s upbeat and irresistible arrangements at their finest. From the first track, the band transported their listeners to their home base of Southern California as they opened up on some of the best parts of living life and how fans could conquer their obstacles through friends and a positive mindset.
Tracks to Download: “You’re Not Alone,” “I’m Good,” “Through the Dark,” “Make It Right” & “Whatever Forever”
7. No Pier Pressure by Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson is one of the most remarkable singer-songwriters of all-time! When I interviewed one of his fellow collaborators on this album, Peter Hollens, earlier this year; he told me that Wilson “remains the God of Harmony.” All throughout this album, the legendary Beach Boy showcased this claim as he beautifully delivered impeccable collaborations with young guns like Hollens, She & Him, Kacey Musgraves and Nate Ruess to his longtime partners-in-crime: Al Jardine and David Marks. His arranging style is in a class by itself and it is an honor to have the music legend a part of this countdown.
Tracks to Download: “Runaway Dancer,” “Our Special Love,” “Sail Away,” “Don’t Worry,” “Saturday Night” & “The Right Time”
6. Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue by Van Morrison & Various Artists
One of rock’s eternal voices returned with a new studio album of duets. Blue-eyed soul man Van Morrison recruited a diverse group of music veterans (Natalie Cole, Mavis Staples, Steve Winwood and Bobby Womack) and Top 40 stars (Michael Buble, Gregory Porter and Joss Stone) to revive several classics from his multi-decade songbook. A majority of the duets showcase solid vocals, haunting melodies and lovely arrangements that would make modern music producers jealous. This album captures the essence of Van Morrison’s world and reaches out to a brand new generation of music lovers and aficionados.
Tracks to Download: “Some Piece of Mind,” “Wild Honey,” “If I Ever Needed Someone,” “Carrying a Torch,” “Real Real Gone” & “These Are The Days”
5. Celloverse by 2CELLOS
Earlier this year, I began to look over iTunes for artists to discover. When I first clicked on 2CELLOS’ cover of “Smooth Criminal,” I was instantly hooked to their music. This week, the duo released their third studio album: Celloverse. They took their listeners all across the musical genre universe with their outstanding covers of rock anthems (“Thunderstruck”), alternative folk (“I Will Wait”) and chart toppers (“Wake Me Up”). Also, keep an ear out for celebrated pianist Lang Lang…who provided the piano backing for a Wings classic.
Tracks to Download: “I Will Wait,” “Thunderstruck,” “Mombasa,” “Wake Me Up,” “They Don’t Care About Us” & “Live & Let Die”
4. Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson
It is hard to believe that the original American Idol’s trailblazing Breakaway was released 10 years ago! Today, Kelly Clarkson released a superb follow-up with her seventh studio album: Piece by Piece. This album showcases Ms. Clarkson’s mastery of several musical genres including pop, R&B/Soul and rock. While Ms. Clarkson soared as a vocalist, she left a fantastic group of collaborators such as Kara DioGuardi, Sia, Greg Kurstin, John Legend, Jesse Shatkin and Justin Tranter to craft superb, quality tracks.
Tracks to Download: “Heartbeat Song,” “Invincible,” “Let Your Tears Fall,” “Run Run Run,” “Take You High” & “Dance with Me”
3. Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes
Three years ago, Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg, Steve Johnson and Brittany Howard came swinging into the music industry with their highly acclaimed debut album: Boys & Girls. Back in April, the three-time Grammy-nominated rock group unleashed their latest studio album: Sound & Color. Their sound would perfectly transport listeners to the classic era of R&B and funk, while adding a rock sound that shook up the music world. Ms. Howard continued to prove why she remains one of her generation’s greatest rockers and the instrumental ensemble soared with their superb arrangements. I expect big things to come for the Athens, Alabama-based band and 2015 might be the year of Alabama Shakes!
Tracks to Download: “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Gimme All Your Love,” “Over My Head,” “This Feeling, “Future People” & “Guess Who”
2. Déjà vu by Giorgio Moroder
Disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder celebrated his 75th birthday this year! To mark this milestone, he released his first studio album in 30 years! In order to pull this album off, he recruited some of the hottest names in dance music: Sia, Foxes, Charli XCX, Kelis and two Queens of Pop: Britney Spears & Kylie Minogue. This album pays homage to the decades of music that Mr. Moroder produced and influenced. He is truly a master producer and arranger and I hope that it does not take another 30 years to release a follow-up.
Tracks to Download: “Déjà vu,” “Right Here, Right Now,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Diamonds,” “Back and Forth” & “Tom’s Diner”
1. Finding Neverland: The Album by Various Artists
16-years-ago, Sir Elton John and Tim Rice released a concept album for their musical: Aida. Several musical superstars such as Sting, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, James Taylor and LeAnn Rimes lent their voices to The Lion King team’s tunes. Years later, former X Factor UK judge Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy collaborated to create music for fan-favorite Broadway musical Finding Neverland. Just like John and Rice, the duo recruited a diverse group of artists to record several of the musical numbers. I can guarantee that listeners would get chills listening to either John Legend’s “My Imagination” or Christina Aguilera’s “Anywhere but Here” or feel hope as they listen to Kiesza’s “Stronger,” Bon Jovi’s “Beautiful Day” and Pentatonix’s “Stars.” This album’s impeccable music will raise your spirits and one of the best Broadway soundtracks I have ever heard. Congrats, Mr. Barlow and Mr. Kennedy, the Finding Neverland: the Musical soundtrack is Jake’s Take’s Best Album of 2015 (So Far).
Tracks to Download: “Anywhere But Here,” “Beautiful Day,” “Stars,” “My Imagination,” “Stronger” & “What You Mean to Me”
I do not own the clips that are sprinkled throughout this article. They belong to the artists and their record labels.