Country Universe will begin posting best of 2006 lists over the next two weeks, with a look back at the year’s best singles and reissues. Lists from established publications have already begun rolling in, with country making a respectable showing in some of them.
Rolling Stone includes four country albums in its Top 50 Records of 2006. Here’s their take on the four albums they included:
#14: Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways
The man in black was dying when he made this record, and he did not hide the truth of his condition. It is shocking to hear Cash fight to stay on pitch in “If You Could Read My Mind.” But there is a deep strength and dignity in his performances and in the wisdom of songs such as Hank Williams’ “On the Evening Train.” V also includes the last song Cash ever wrote, “Like the 309,” on which he growls and cracks wise like a guy on his way to a party instead of his last reward.
#19: Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
The Dixie Chicks respond to their rough past few years with brass balls: This disc shows they didn’t regret speaking out against the Iraq War, and Natalie Maines sounds almost punk at times. There is also a whole lot of craft — Long Way is a widescreen pop record with gorgeous country rock, killer power ballads and fierce honky-tonk.
#33: Todd Snider, The Devil You Know
This veteran folkie’s third consecutive great album finds voices for an assortment of Middle Americans who “didn’t want to throw a fishing line in that old main stream.” Although Snider likes the coke-snorting Romeo, the hard-as-a-carapace slut, the dayworker just out of prison, the bank robber he lends his car keys, he doesn’t romanticize them. He just believes that with “a war going on that the poor can’t win,” each of them is enough like him to be worth a song. And generally that song is pretty damn funny.
#46: Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
The outlaw-country king of Texas pays loving tribute to the state’s songwriting queen. Nelson played many of the songs on this album in his youth, on the way to his own songwriting fame, and he revisits them with such affection and Texas-dance-floor authenticity that you can almost smell the sawdust.
Rolling Stone also collected the Top 100 Songs of 2006, with the following two appearances by country tunes:
#20: “The Long Way Around” – Dixie Chicks
A heart-tugging guitar anthem for small-town girls with big dreams — and the best ersatz Springsteen song in a year that was packed with them.
#75: “Before He Cheats” – Carrie Underwood
Country-jukebox fave of the year — the American Idol sweetheart is reborn as a psycho stalker, slashing her man’s tires outside the honky-tonk.
Music industry bible Billboard has published its annual collection of top ten lists from critics and artists, with many country albums being cited. While Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks was the only album to rank among the top ten most-cited albums by all of the critics, other country projects popped up often, with Alan Jackson receiving high praise for both Like Red On A Rose and Precious Memories, and Keith Urban topping one critic’s list for Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing.
Billboard also published top five lists from artists, including Carrie Underwood, who, bless her heart, topped her list with a 2005 album, and Eddie Montgomery from Montgomery Gentry, who ranks the latest Mary J. Blige CD above everything country had to offer this year. Other country artists who submitted lists include Gary Allan, Julie Roberts, Josh Turner and Danielle Peck. Extra points to Turner, who is the only country artist who cites the final Johnny Cash album, which many of the non-country artists included on their lists.