The comeback album to end all comeback albums. Anderson resurfaced with a new label and suddenly hit the top of the charts again, despite all of the competition surrounding him. He possesses one of the most distinctive male voices of his generation, and when matched with the excellent material here, the results are spellbinding.
RIAA: 2x Platinum
Download This: “Straight Tequila Night”, “When it Comes to You”, “Seminole Wind”
Her emancipation proclamation. Wynonna confirms what many had expected all along – singing with her mother was holding her back. Her unrivaled vocal stylings are fully turned loose for the first time, and her smart selection of material that matches her ability immediately established her as a superstar.
RIAA: 5x Platinum
Download This: “She Is His Only Need”, “It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye'”, “My Strongest Weakness”
The Devil You Know
Snider’s newest album is also his best. He’s got his groove back, with his most aggressive arrangements to date, and his lyrics alternate between philosophical and snarky – sometimes both, as on the opening track, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, where he declares “We’re all good people, we can work in perfect rhythm; if worms had daggers, birds wouldn’t f— with them.”
Download This: “The Devil You Know”, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Happy New Year”
Shooting Straight in the Dark
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Carpenter’s artistic breakthrough, this kicked off her four-year Grammy run and turned her into one of country’s hottest stars. Most of the success was on the strength of “Down at the Twist & Shout”, the only single of four to hit the top ten, but record buyers were treated to an incisively intelligent singer-songwriter when they heard the rest of the album.
Download This: “You Win Again”, “When She’s Gone”, “The Moon & St. Christopher”
Raye’s third album moved him away from the insubstantial material that had dominated his previous work; his first two albums had a couple of great singles surrounded by weak filler, but extremes is solid from top to bottom. He’s a gifted vocalist, and he’s yet to peak higher than the strongest work on this album, particularly the deeply moving alcohol recovery ballad, “Little Rock.”
Download This: “Little Rock”, “A Bible and a Bus Ticket Home”, “If I Were You”
Mariachi horns. They surface out of nowhere in the middle of the opening track, “Sorry You Asked?”, and you suddenly know that Yoakam has gone off the deep end this time around. The result is a wildly entertaining album, with spurts of humor (“Baby Why Not”), unconventional production and Yoakam’s inimitable singing and songwriting.
Download This: “Nothing”, “Sorry You Asked?”, “Never Hold You”
Haggard received no airplay from this album, which wasn’t unusual for a legend in 1994, but was unusual was that he made an album so radio-friendly that one could imagine a younger star like Alan Jackson topping the charts with the very same songs. “In My Next Life” is one of the best things he’s ever recorded.
Download This: “In My Next Life”, “I am an Island”, “Chores”
Real Live Woman
Yearwood always claimed Linda Ronstadt as her biggest influence, but Real Live Woman is the only time she actually made a Ronstadt album, one that could’ve easily been released between Prisoner in Disguise and Hasten Down the Wind. Yearwood’s best up-tempo song to date remains “Where Are You Now”, a ferocious and flawless opening cut penned by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kim Richey, and she even covers Ronstadt herself, turning in a better cut of “Try Me Again” than Ronstadt did, and she wrote the song.
Download This: “Where Are You Now”, “Some Days”, “Real Live Woman”
Whenever I’m asked the question, “Who is the best country artist that never broke through?”, I answer immediately: Kim Richey. A gifted songwriter and a haunting vocalist, her sparse catalog is dominated by excellent albums that never found the audience they deserved. This sophomore set has a sixties pop flavor, balancing the melancholy of her vocals with sprightly melodies and hooks. Since its release, both Terri Clark and Kathy Mattea have covered “I’m Alright”, and Brooks & Dunn made the opening track, “Every River”, a top twenty hit.
Download This: “I Know”, “My Whole World”, “I’m Alright”
Easily Hill’s best album to date, she sounds newly invigorated and committed to making fantastic country music. The double blessing of three cuts each from Lori McKenna and John Rich add depth to a collection that boasts clever humor (“Dearly Beloved”) while also exploring deeper issues like the isolation of suburban life (“Stealing Kisses”), codependency (“If You Ask”), and even war and peace (“We’ve Got Nothing But Love To Prove”). Particularly poignant is “Wish For You”, a later track that is the most beautiful list of hopes for a child that I’ve ever heard.
RIAA: 2x Platinum
Download This: “Stealing Kisses”, “Dearly Beloved”, “Wish For You”