Lawrence was one of the top hit makers of the nineties, and he achieved that status by releasing ridiculously catchy up-tempo hits coupled with beautiful, waltzing ballads. His second album, Alibis, was his artistic peak. A collection of remarkably clever songs like “It Only Takes One Bar (To Make A Prison)” and “I Threw The Rest Away” complement the four #1 singles that the album spawned. The title track is his best work to date.
RIAA: 2x Platinum
Download This: “Alibis”, “I Threw The Rest Away”, “Can’t Break It To My Heart”
Horse of a Different Color
Big & Rich
The mind-bogglingly creative debut album from one of country’s hottest new acts is a kaleidoscope of sound, melding together aural hallmarks of disparate genres to create a bold new vision of what country music can be. They’re best known for their humor, with songs like “Save A Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Kick My Ass”, but their songwriting is impressively deep. A fresh perspective on spousal abuse (“Holy Water”) and a stunning mediation on mortality (“Live This Life”) show these guys are more than just a novelty act.
RIAA: 2x Platinum
Download This: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”, “Save A Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”
This second-generation country star was at the peak of her popularity after her signature hit “Something In Red”, and the success of that hit encouraged her to be more ambitious with her material for her third album, Watch Me. Here we get a bold pop cover (“It’s A Heartache”), a sweet tale of best friends (“From Our House To Yours”) and a heartbreaking cheating tale worthy of Wynette (“I Guess You Had To Be There.”)
Download This: “I Guess You Had To Be There”, “Behind His Last Goodbye”, “From Our House To Yours”
This Is Me
Travis was practically a relic in 1994, despite having been around for less than a decade, due to the influx of hot new country stars. Rather than rush to keep up, he took his time with This Is Me, and collected his strongest batch of material since Always & Forever seven years earlier.
Download This: “Before You Kill Us All”, “The Box”, “Whisper My Name”
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Bluegrass suddenly became cool when this soundtrack started flying off of store shelves, but it’s most notable for resurrecting classic country material for a new generation in a way not seen since Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Scoring a Grammy for Ralph Stanley and the attention given to Dan Tyminski for “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” alleviating Alison Krauss’ guilt for hogging the spotlight of Union Station were added bonuses.
RIAA: 7x Platinum
Download This: “O Death”, “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby”, “I’ll Fly Away”
Fans wishing for a repeat of Willie Nelson breaking through with a concept album were disappointed when radio and record buyers overlooked Marty Stuart’s fascinating The Pilgrim. It’s best heard as a whole, allowing yourself to be pulled into Stuart’s remarkable character study.
Download This: “The Pilgrim (Act III)”, “Sometimes The Pleasure’s Worth The Pain”, “The Observations of a Crow”
Smoke Rings in the Dark
California country finally got a new star to call its own when Allan broke through artistically and commercially with this atmospheric country-rock collection. He suddenly announces himself as one of the genre’s finest male vocalists, with material to match his abilities. Listen to Madonna’s “Sorry” after Gary’s, and you’ll think that they are the story of the same breakup from two different perspectives.
Download This: “Learning To Live With Me”, “Smoke Rings in the Dark”, “Sorry”
What If It’s You
For the first time in years, she had something to prove. Reba’s collection of pop covers one year earlier, Starting Over, had sold well but created a backlash against her increasingly watered-down musical sound and over-the-top theatrical persona. Like a true pro, she responded by going into the studio and making her best album in years, a mature and adult collection of smartly written songs, heavy on the spunk and light on the instrumentation. The record still sounds fresh today, partly because she brought her road band in to back her up instead of relying on overworked studio musicians. She hasn’t made a great album since, nor one that sold this well, but this one’s a keeper.
RIAA: 2x platinum
Download This: “The Fear of Being Alone”, “Never Had A Reason To”, “It Don’t Matter”
Everything I Love
After their first greatest hits collection, artists often drop into a lower gear. Jackson, as usual, is a glorious exception to the rule. The energy and depth of this, his fifth studio album, is palpable, and he pairs some of his best self-written songs with great outside material. Ten years later, it’s still a wonderful listen.
RIAA: 3x platinum
Download This: “Between the Devil and Me”, “Little Bitty”, “It’s Time You Learned About Goodbye”
Stumble Into Grace
In the third decade of her recording career, Harris suddenly decided to change the rules, and began writing the bulk of her material. Sure, she had written songs once in a while, scattered among her albums, and had penned her 1985 concept album The Ballad of Sally Rose, but with Red Dirt Girl in 2000, she was the primary writer for the first time since. That album was very good, but her pen fully blossomed on its follow-up, Stumble Into Grace. Here, for the first time, her own material is so captivating you forget she’s also the master interpreter of outside material.
Download This: “Lost Unto This World”, “Cup of Kindness”, “Can You Hear Me Now”