Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band photographed in 2014.

Andy Sapp

Sales of country recordings kept contracting during second-quarter 2015, though three acts who have created music that paints outside the lines -- Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town and Sam Hunt -- finished one-two among the top-selling albums and tracks for the quarter.

With consumers continuing to move toward streaming, a shift that has tamped down sales, the drop in purchases was less painful this year than it was during second-quarter 2014. Some 7.2 million country albums were bought between March 30 and June 28, according to Nielsen Music. That represents a slide of 9 percent from the same period a year ago. Country track downloads totalled 37.5 million, a decline of nearly 15 percent.

While those numbers are steep, they’re less jarring than what the country business experienced in 2014, when both Q2 country album and track sales nosedived 24 percent.

Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde, which combines its country core with out-of-genre influences -- including collaborations with rocker Chris Cornell and pop singer Sara Bareilles, plus a Pink Floyd sample -- topped the albums list after moving 415,000 copies during the three-month window, more than double the No. 2 title, Hunt’s Montevallo. Similarly, Little Big Town’s "Girl Crush," which tested some conservative listeners with lyrics that were misinterpreted as referring to lesbianism, edged past the million mark to lead the 10 best-selling country songs during the quarter. Hunt’s "Take Your Time," which liberally employs pop and R&B influences, was the only other track to best the 500,000 mark, racking up 651,000 Q2 downloads.

Other acts that have pushed sonic boundaries also fared well. Florida Georgia Line and Eric Church finished the quarter in the top 10 in both album and track sales, while Brantley Gilbert’s hard-rocking Just As I Am landed at No. 8 among country albums and A Thousand Horses’ Southern-rockin’ "Smoke" and Thomas Rhett’s Motown-flecked "Crash and Burn" were both counted among the top 10 songs.

The industry overall was down 6 percent from last year in both album and track sales. Total album sales amounted to 55.5 million, a drop of 3.7 million from 2014. Track downloads totalled 253.7 million, a slip of 17.9 million purchases.

Top-Selling Country Albums, Second-Quarter 2015
   1)    Zac Brown Band, Jekyll + Hyde       415,000
   2)    Sam Hunt, Montevallo       199,000
   3)    Reba McEntire, Love Somebody       150,000
   4)    Darius Rucker, Southern Style        134,000
   5)    Little Big Town, Pain Killer       112,000
   6)    Eric Church, The Outsiders       104,000
   7)    Luke Bryan, Crash My Party        100,000
   8)    Brantley Gilbert, Just As I Am       100,000
   9)    Florida Georgia Line, Anything Goes          96,000
  10)    Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt         94,000

Top-Selling Country Albums, Second-Quarter 2014
   1)    Brantley Gilbert, Just As I Am       411,000
   2)    Miranda Lambert, Platinum       305,000
   3)    Luke Bryan, Crash My Party        238,000
   4)    Florida Georgia Line, Here’s to the Good Times        194,000
   5)    Eric Church, The Outsiders       150,000
   6)    Rascal Flatts, Rewind     136,000
   7)    Hunter Hayes, Storyline       121,000
   8)    Blake Shelton, Based On a True Story …    98,000
   9)    Johnny Cash, Out Among the Stars           95,000
  10)    Various artists, Now That’s What I Call Country: Volume 7    74,000

Top-Selling Country Digital Songs, Second-Quarter 2015
   1)    Little Big Town, "Girl Crush"    1,002,000
   2)    Sam Hunt, "Take Your Time"           651,000
   3)    Blake Shelton, "Sangria"             496,000
   4)    Luke Bryan, "Kick the Dust Up"                           448,000
   5)    Eric Church, "Like a Wrecking Ball"     403,000
   6)    Florida Georgia Line, "Sippin’ On Fire"                 343,000
   7)    Zac Brown Band, "Homegrown"             322,000
   8)    A Thousand Horses, "Smoke"       300,000
   9)    Thomas Rhett, "Crash and Burn"       298,000
  10)    Canaan Smith, "Love You Like That"     293,000

Top-Selling Country Digital Songs, Second-Quarter 2014
   1)    Luke Bryan, "Play It Again"     1,050,000
   2)    Florida Georgia Line feat. Luke Bryan, "This Is How We Roll"    974,000
   3)    Jake Owen, "Beachin’"       647,000
   4)    Brantley Gilbert, "Bottoms Up"              539,000
   5)    Lee Brice, "I Don’t Dance"                       481,000
   6)    Dierks Bentley, "Drunk on a Plane"    405,000
   7)    Blake Shelton feat. Gwen Sebastian, "My Eyes"             378,000
   8)    Keith Urban, "Cop Car"    373,000
   9)    Jerrod Niemann, "Drink to That All Night"    347,000
10)    Eric Church, "Give Me Back My Hometown"    347,000

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.