February 13, 2009
Kathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums. There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride. It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together. Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history. The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”
Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:
- Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
- Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
- If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
- Dirt (Chris Knight)
- What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
- The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
- If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
- Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
- Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
- It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
- Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
- Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
- Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)
If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?
Tags: Big Kenny, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Charlie Robison, Chris Knight, Dave Quanbury, Dixie Chicks, Gary Louris, Jason Isbell, John Rich, Kathy Mattea, Merle Haggard, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson
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