How good was 2005 for country albums? Well, any one of the top ten albums this year could’ve been #1 in another year. Provided are some tracks for you to sample if you’re thinking you want to add these to your collection. Even with 25 slots on this list, only one new artist made the cut. The veterans and established artists came back with their very best, and there was no room at the table for the young’uns.
Best Country Albums of 2005
Jo Dee Messina
One of many female country artists to return this year after an extended absence, Messina picks up right where she left off with her trademark combination of kiss-off numbers and motivational anthems. I’ve been waiting in vain for a country act to cover the Grass Roots classic “Where Were You When I Needed You”, but Messina will tide me over with “Where Were You”, a worthy variation on the same potent theme.
Download This: “Where Were You”, “Love Is Not Enough”, “My Give A Damn’s Busted”
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell
A duet album in the tradition of Porter & Dolly, these two run the gamut of every conceivable type of country duet. They’re loving, they’re leaving, they’re fighting, and in the album’s best track, they’re having a conversation about a mutual friend who has fallen for a girl he can’t have.
Download This: “Conversations About A Friend (Who’s In Love With Katie)”, “Two Different Things”, “Waiting on June”
Just In Time For Christmas
The peerless Tillis wraps her voice around some of the best Christmas standards, incorporating some of her jazz-tinged roots along the way. But the biggest highlight isn’t a Christmas song at all, despite a reference to winter – “Seasons” is a declaration of unconditional love that is achingly beautiful. The album is currently available at her website, with wider distribution expected next year.
Best Tracks: “Seasons”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “Light of the World”
Real Fine Place
While all aspirations of serious artistry on her part seem to have been left behing a long time ago, Evans has established herself as a first-rate bubblegum country act. This is a great collection of songs tailor-made for radio.
Download This: “A Real Fine Place To Start”, “Coalmine”, “Cheatin'”
Underwood had a short window to throw this album together, but in that time, she compiled the best country debut CD of the year, carried to that title on the strength of her unbelievable vocal talent. There’s a few too many inspirational-type songs, but when she cuts into a vicious song like “Before He Cheats” (“Right now he’s buying her some fruity little drink cause she can’t shoot whiskey), she knocks it out of the ballpark.
Download This: “Before He Cheats”, “Jesus, Take The Wheel”, “I Ain’t In Checotah Anymore”
The Road and The Radio
Chesney reaches new levels of artistic merit with this calm and reflective new album, which suggests he’s mellowing with age. Some of his best material to date resides on this record, particularly the introspective and insightful title track.
Download This: “Who You’d Be Today”, “The Road and The Radio”, “In A Small Town”
Joy Lynn White
One More Time
White’s first widely released album in nearly a decade finds her as comfortable as ever singing honky-tonk and alt-country material. She remains a brilliant talent just waiting for that big breakthrough.
Download This: “Certain Boy”, “Just Some Girl”, “Girls With Apartments In Nashville”
Big & Rich
Comin’ To Your City
Country music’s circus mascots continue to blend outrageous hooks and hip-hop lingo with solid country lyrics and themes. They are developing into a significant act that may have enormous influence on the direction of the genre; thankfully, they don’t take that role too seriously.
Download This: “I Pray For You”, “Filthy Rich”, “Caught Up In The Moment”
O’Neal barely bothers with love on her comeback album, singing about everything from girlfriends (they kick ass), the perfect man (harder to find than Atlantis) and a stripper (who brings both her customers and the neighborhood priest to their knees.) She’s a vibrant talent who has sorely missed.
Download This: “Somebody’s Hero”, “Devil on the Left”, “Naive”
The political messages of a few tracks have gotten the most media attention, but Haggard’s stunning return to form shines brightest when he’s singing about love and loss.
Download This: “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”, “What I’ve Been Meaning To Say”, “White Man Singin’ The Blues”
Stuart revives the noble country music tradition of giving voice to the plight of Native Americans, managing to engage both historical and contemporary issues that have hit the community.
Download This: “Broken Promise Land”, “So You Want To Be An Indian”, “Listen to the Children”
Life Goes On
Clark finds a happy place between the introspection of Fearless and the hard country rock of Pain To Kill with this traditional set that showcases her powerful vocals wrapped around hard-core honky-tonk.
Download This: “Life Goes On”, “Not Enough Tequila”, “Damn Right”
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Stuart’s second stellar album of 2005 finds him putting his stamp on Southern gospel classics, creating an album that plays best for those Saturday night Christians who sleep through Sunday services because they’re still nursing a hangover.
Download This: “Lord, Give Me Just A Little More Time”, “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)”, “There’s A Rainbow (At The End of Every Storm)”
Willie finally released this long-gestating reggae album, and it’s a surprisingly entertaining collection. His compositions, many of which have been recorded before in more conventional country arrangements, sound even better here; the Jamaican rhythms complement his unique vocal phrasing far better than the Nashville sound usually does.
Download This: “The Harder They Come”, “One In A Row”, “You Left Me A Long, Long Time Ago”
Why Should The Fire Die?
The ambitious trio recorded this long-awaited third album on analog in California. There is a warmth and artistic freedom that resonates throughout this project, which as a whole is the strongest album they’ve recorded.
Download This: “Somebody More Like You”, “Helena”, “Anthony”
Yearwood’s first album in four years is a welcome return home for the genre’s finest vocal talent. Working with long-time producer Garth Fundis, the high points of this album rank with the best recordings of her career, which is no small feat. The sparse, rootsy production allows her vocals to shine.
Download This: “Try Me”, “Standing Out In A Crowd”, “Who Invented The Wheel”, “River of You”
Those Were The Days
The concept sounds disastrous – Parton covering protest songs and warmed-over AM folk hits – and probably would’ve been if she was still in her Vegas phase. But the warm Appalachian treatments given to these classics breathe new life into them, and the best work here resonates as strongly as the originals.
Download This: “Those Were The Days”, “Where Do The Children Play”, “Blowing In The Wind”, “Both Sides Now”
Blame The Vain
Yoakam’s first set without Pete Anderson at the helm burns with the fire of a veteran who suddenly has something to prove. He sounds absolutely rejuvenated, and allows his snarky sense of humor to sneak through on many of the tracks.
Download This: “When I First Came Here”, “She’ll Remember”, “The Last Heart In Line”, “Blame The Vain”
Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime
Country music’s very own Liza Manelli comes out of nowhere with what is possibly the greatest live country album of her generation. Structured as an autobiographical tour through her life, Wynonna reveals herself to be a master storyteller, adding new depth and meaning to the songs she performs. She is so genuinely sincere that you can grant her some grace for being over-the-top at times.
Download This: “Peace In This House”, “That Was Yesterday”, “I Want To Know What Love Is”, “I Can Only Imagine”
There was a beautiful period in country music about ten years ago, where female artists were exposing their listeners to lesser-known songwriters by covering their material. Much like Pam, Patty & Trisha brought fans to the work of Kim Richey, Matraca Berg and Bobbie Cryner, Hill makes the work of singer-songwriter Lori McKenna the grounding force of her phenomenal sixth album, easily the best of her career. Songs like “Stealing Kisses” and “If You Ask”, both McKenna originals, are the closest we’ll ever get to 21st Century Tammy Wynette, and we’re all better off for Hill singing them to us.
Download This: “Stealing Kisses”, “Wish For You”, “Dearly Beloved”, “Fireflies”
Dreamin’ My Dreams
As a fan who was disappointed by her previous album On Your Way Home, I am grateful to say that Loveless’ newest CD is among the best of her career. She’s always been best at the ballads, and she records some great ones here, but her rough and raw performance of rocker “Keep Your Distance” is clear evidence of her versatility as a vocalist.
Download This: “Nobody Here By That Name”, “Keep Your Distance”, “Everything But The Words”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”
Lee Ann Womack
There’s More Where That Came From
The very deserved winner of CMA’s Album of the Year award, Womack brings all the lying, cheating and hurting back to a genre that was getting way too antiseptic. By any standard, this is a modern country masterpiece and a crowning career achievement.
Download This: “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, “The Last Time”, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)”, “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”, “There’s More Where That Came From”
A brilliant political and social statement that finds Crowell’s writing at its most incisive and furious. Crowell is the voice for the blistering, righteous anger that is simmering in the hearts and souls of progressives today, and thankfully, he is able to connect that frustration to the religious convictions that underly it. Oh, and the songs are also catchy as hell and sound great blasting from the car stereo
Download This: “The Obscenity Prayer”, “Dancin’ Circles ‘Round The Sun”, “Don’t Get Me Started”, “Ignorance Is The Enemy”, “Beautiful Despair”, “Shelter From The Storm”
Right Out Of Nowhere
There hasn’t been a country album with more intelligence, wisdom and hopeful optimism that the human spirit will triumph since Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Stones In The Road eleven years ago. Mattea has the moral authority to cover “Gimme Shelter” and “Down On The Corner” – she’s been a walking illustration of the virtues of peacemaking and creating art for pure joy that those songs respectively celebrate. The life lessons embedded in the new material on the album are countless, but perhaps the most noble comes toward the end of the album in “Give It Away”, which she co-wrote: “I’ve been given a gift and what I know today, is the only way to keep it is to give it away.” It’s a gentle reminder to all of us that the gifts we have been given by God were meant to be shared with and used in the service of others.
Download This: “Give It Away”, “Loving You, Letting You Go”, “I Hope You’re Happy Now”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Right Outta Nowhere”, “Live It”
Tough All Over
Allan tackles the suicide of his wife head-on with this stunning album, and he runs the gamut of emotions from anger, guilt, sorrow and slight shades of hope. He’s always been one of the genre’s best vocalists, but he’s never used his talents to sing such dark and often disturbing material. He pulls no punches in the lyrics – a sample: “I’ve been mad at everyone, including God and you”, from the gut-wrenching “I Just Got Back From Hell.” There are no happy endings on this record – the final track laments that he’s getting through by “Putting His Misery on Display” for audiences every night – and one suspects that he’s still spending more time in the dark places the tragedy has created in his life than he is looking for the light. It’s a powerful and moving record that ranks with the best country albums ever made.
Download This: “I Just Got Back From Hell”, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”, “Best I Ever Had”, “Putting Memories Away”, “Putting My Misery On Display”, “Ring”