Tough All Over
An explosion of anger, regret and grief, Allan made the strongest album of his career in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. “Best I Ever Had” may have started out as a mopey rock song, but Allan’s cover turned it into a mournful masterpiece. His self-written material, particularly “I Just Got Back From Hell” and “Puttin’ My Misery On Display”, finds him punishing himself for not paying enough attention to the warning signs, but also beginning to forgive himself and make his peace with God over the tragedy. An intense and powerful record that shouldn’t be missed.
Download This: “Best I Ever Had”, “I Just Came Back From Hell”, “Ring”
Taking The Long Way
The Chicks return with their first studio album in four years, and it’s a tour de force. Featuring fourteen tracks written by the Chicks themselves, with various co-writers, they turn in their most ambitious and deeply personal record, with sonic arrangements that are as textured and deep as the material they surround. Reflective, resilient and beautifully confident, this isn’t so much a comeback record as a firm reminder that they’re the most talented country band of their generation.
RIAA: 2x Platinum
Download This: “Voice Inside My Head”, “Silent House”, “Not Ready To Make Nice”
Far and away, the strongest debut album in this era of country music, and stands among Storms of Life and Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. as one of country’s greatest debuts of all-time. You could forgive the hype that had Black being mentioned in the same breath as Haggard after a batch of ten songs. He never got this good again, but right out of the gate, he strung together one hard-core country classic after another, from the title cut and “A Better Man” to “Nobody’s Home” and “Live and Learn.”
RIAA: 3x Platinum
Download This: “Killin’ Time”, “Nobody’s Home”, “I’ll Be Gone”
The earthy hippie who, early in her career, lovingly covered The Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard, takes a startling left turn in what seemed like the twilight of her career. Partnering with rock producer Daniel Lanois, Harris reinvented the formula that had worked so well early in her career – covering classics and material by little-known singer-songwriters – and turned it on its head by fearlessly surrounding them in unconventional rock arrangements. Songs by Julie Miller (“All My Tears”) and Gillian Welch (“Orphan Girl”) stand tall among and fit perfectly with classics written by Bob Dylan (“Every Grain of Sand”) and Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love.”) There’s a simmering intensity to these tracks that makes even the secular material here sound spiritual, but on the songs that do cry out to God, the tension, desperation and still-fervent faith are overwhelming.
Download This: “Every Grain of Sand”, “Sweet Old World”, “Where Will I Be”
Pam Tillis’ biggest and best album is proof that you don’t have to be sad and serious to make an album of substance. This is an infectious, joyous record, with Tillis’ charm shining through on all ten tracks, only three of which are ballads and not one which looks at life as a glass as anything but full. She also expands the conversation of the normal country record, which is usually just a collection of love gone right and wrong, with tender songs about friendship (“Spilled Perfume”) and family (“Til All The Lonely’s Gone”, “Calico Plains”). Throw in a crackling cover of a sixties classic (“When You Walk In The Room”), a Tex-Mex rocker with a Bo Diddley beat (“Mi Vida Loca”) and a gorgeous waltz about downtime between relationships (“In Between Dances”), and you have one of the most uplifting and entertaining records in country music history.
Download This: “When You Walk In The Room”, “Calico Plains”, “Better Off Blue”