The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion: #10-#1

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion

As we come to the end of our list, the top ten selections are a lot like the ninety before them, with perhaps a bit more of a roots leaning overall.  If you didn’t see your favorite on the list, or just want to discover more great music that you might have missed, be sure to check out the list at The 9513, if you somehow haven’t done so already. Even better, start a blog and write your own list.  It feels like a lot of barriers fell within country music this decade, and I think one of the best walls to come down was the one between music journalism and the listening audience.  I hope in the next decade, a lot more readers become writers, so we can all keep reveling in the music we love and helping others discover it.

Sappy introduction aside, here’s our top ten of the decade:

10 Patty

#10
Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and few albums have inspired more imitation than Patty Loveless’ Mountain Soul. Bluegrass music full of roots influences, Mountain Soul, with its traditional sound, has become a surrogate definition of authenticity for mainstream artists returning to their musical beginnings. Standout songs include “Cheap Whiskey,” a classically dark drinking song; the energetic “The Boys are Back in Town,” with its WWII imagery; and “Soul of Constant Sorrow,” based on the traditional work popularized by the Stanley Brothers. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cheap Whiskey”, “Soul of Constant Sorrow”, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”

9 Vince

#9
Vince Gill, These Days

An inordinate amount of praise has already been heaped upon Vince Gill’s prolific, 2006 landmark 4-disc box set of all original material. Moreover, all of the praise is warranted. Not only is all of the material original rather than culled from previous albums; Gill had a hand in writing each of the 43 tracks. Each disc is divided into its own genre (rock, jazz, bluegrass/acoustic and straight-up country). Furthermore, each disc is masterfully executed. Fortunately, These Days does not prove the old “less is more” adage. Instead, it only leaves us longing for more. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Sweet Thing”, “Faint of Heart (with Diana Krall)”, “Little Brother”, “Some Things Never Change (featuring Emmylou Harris)

8 Loretta

#8
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose

She had already made a fine latter-day album with 2000′s Still Country, but Loretta Lynn’s crowning artistic moment of the last thirty years came when rocker Jack White offered to turn his semi-fetishization of Lynn’s music and persona into a full LP. As you’d expect of a project born of such fanboy fantasy, White was not shy about dressing up Loretta in his favorite things – in this case, snaky electric guitars and loose, often atmospheric arrangements that made the Kentucky gal sound more raw, Gothic and edgy than she ever had in her bouncy classic singles. But White also had the good sense not to let his little indulgences distract from the fantastic artist on his hands, who wrote herself a batch of sharp, soulful songs that capture the essence of what truly makes real country music – and Lynn herself – rock so hard. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Portland, Oregon”, “Trouble On the Line”, “Family Tree”, “Miss Being Mrs.”

7 Cash

#7
Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man

It’s astounding how some artists can convey as much meaning through voice as they can through lyric. Cash performs covers and original material alike so affectingly on this Grammy-award winning album that you feel like you can reach out and touch what you’re hearing. It’s a stunningly haunting, uniquely introspective project, carried by the strength of Cash’s wisdom and transcendent voice. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Before My Time”, “I’m Leaving Now”, “Solitary Man”, “I See a Darkness”

6 OCMS

#6
Old Crow Medicine Show, Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show’s first and best progressive acoustic album is difficult to label as far as genre is concerned. However, what can be defined is that there are elements of bluegrass, country, folk, etc., which all culminate in a mighty fine debut effort from a band that has developed an impressive cult following as a result. With overt drug references, subtler (though still obvious) political undertones, quiet philosophical moments and some simply fun numbers, this album never gets tiresome, which is a testament to its long lasting substance as a whole. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Tell It to Me”, “Big Time in the Jungle”, “Wagon Wheel”

5 Kathy

#5
Kathy Mattea, Coal

Kathy Mattea’s Coal is a near-perfect example of an album acting as a single piece of art. More than a collection of mining songs, Coal, co-produced by Marty Stuart, is a brutal and beautiful look at a way of life that is both challenging and enlightening. Notable tracks include “Dark as a Dungeon,” delivered with meticulous but even intensity; the haunting “Red-Winged Blackbird,” with its blood and coal color imagery; and the a cappella “Black Lung,” an impressive choice in which Mattea successfully pushes the boundaries of her musical abilities. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “Blue Diamond Mines”, “Red-Winged Blackbird”, “Sally in the Garden”, “Dark as a Dungeon”

4 Miranda

#4
Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Call it potential realized: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the album we all knew Lambert could make, and waited on the tips of our toes to hear. Her follow-up to Kerosene is a rich, defiant album that conveys a sharp perspective and a clear musical identity. Amidst a spunky blend of twang and rock, she draws from a more incisive set of songwriting skills and packs a hell of a believable punch, like on her first top ten hit, “Gunpowder & Lead.” And the punch isn’t reserved for the fiery numbers, as the album’s most gripping track comes in the form of pure tenderness. The wistful lament “More Like Her” is one of the best and most heartbreaking songs of this decade. – TS

Recommended Tracks: “Famous in a Small Town”, “More Like Her”, “Dry Town”, “Love Letters”

3 Gary

#3
Gary Allan, Tough All Over

A rough, scattered, imperfect and wholly realistic 12-track grieving process. By the time of the tragic personal events leading to this album, Allan had already proven he could interpret a song better than just about anyone working in the genre; on Tough All Over, he took on the unimaginable task of interpreting his own battered emotional core. The results are striking, as he confronts not just his inevitable loneliness (“Best I Ever Had”, “Ring”, “Puttin’ Memories Away”), but also less tidy trackings of guilt (“I Just Got Back From Hell”), self-loathing (“What Kind of Fool”), spite (the title track), and reluctant hope (“Nickajack Cave [Johnny Cash's Redemption]“, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”). Country music and Allan himself have produced several more beautiful albums this past decade, but none that sounded quite so necessary. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Tough All Over”, “I Just Got Back From Hell”, “Ring”, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”

2 Kasey Shane

#2
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones

The fact that neither Kasey Chambers nor Shane Nicholson make particularly traditional-sounding music on their own makes it all the more incredible that they have joined together to create one of the rootsiest records on this list. Aside from the intriguing, though processed “Jackson Hole”, the songs on Rattlin’ Bones sound more like beloved classics than the original Chambers and Nicholson compositions that they actually are. The naturally compatible husband-wife pairing has created an album full of crisp, majestic harmonies, distinctive melodies and intriguing lyrics, easily making this album one of the most sonically pleasing and substantive albums of the decade. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Rattlin’ Bones”, “Monkey on A Wire”, “One More Year”, “No One Hurts Up Here”

1 Chicks

#1
Dixie Chicks, Home

This was our top selection by such a wide margin that it’s tempting to just say, “Of course it’s the greatest album of the decade. It’s Home.”   But one sentence does not a justification for best album of the decade make, so let me go on to say that Home is conclusive proof that a modern country album can tear down the walls between radio-friendly and artistic, mainstream and Americana, pure country and crossover, revealing that while they looked like stone, they were paper walls all along.

It was a hint of further greatness to come that the Chicks were able to pen some of their own material and have it stand proudly among the very best works of brilliant songwriters, and the album became a classic because the songs really are the best ever written by Darrell Scott (“Long Time Gone”), Stevie Nicks (“Landslide”), Bruce Robison (“Travelin’ Soldier”), Radney Foster, (“Godspeed [Sweet Dreams]), and Patty Griffin (“Truth No. 2 and “Top of the World”). But with the acoustic production and their decision to record three-part harmonies for the first time, the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Despite the formula being so simple – great songs + great vocals + great production = great album – Home is a reminder of just how difficult that formula is to pull off.  Released back in 2002, no country album has come along since to match its quality. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “Long Time Gone”, “Truth No. 2″, “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”, “Top of the World”

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46 Comments

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46 Responses to The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Conclusion: #10-#1

  1. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    Good Set – I actually have all ten of these albums although none of these are in my top ten. I keep flip-flopping on whethere I like Cash’s American Recordings III better or American Recordings IV. For whatever reason I’ve really come to appreciate IV (and V) more in the last year or so

  2. William WardNo Gravatar

    I’m very torn myself between III and IV. I was actually drawn to VI more at first, but have enjoyed III (and V) more as time goes on.

  3. I have had a couple of minor issues with the chart, but as a whole, it’s solid. This top 10, though, is pretty impressive. Even though I’m not a huge Miranda Lambert fan, even I can recognize she’s the real deal. You know a top 10 posted on GAC or some website like that would never list a Dixie Chicks CD as #1, for fear of uprising.

  4. JonNo Gravatar

    I’m very happy right now. My favorite album of all time is number one on this list. My only issue with it is, Mountain Soul deserves to be higher than 10

  5. von beasleyNo Gravatar

    i have read the list with interest but it lost all credibility with me when you put your boot up our asses with your #1 pick. just another finger in the air to any one with ounce of dignity.

  6. TomNo Gravatar

    …funny, i don’t feel anything back there.

  7. MichaelNo Gravatar

    Great list guys. It was a lot of fun seeing it revealed over the last few weeks. Excellent choice for #1. The Lynn, Allan and Loveless sets would have also been in my Top Ten. The only surprise is the Miranda Lambert album. I love it but wouldn’t rank it as high as #4. Looking forward to the singles list!

  8. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    While I am a fairly “large tent” person my objections to this list is the same as to that of the 9513 list. There are albums here that I don’t regard as country music at all, and there are albums by artists that are poor vocalists

    Given that objection, I think the folks at both sites did an outstanding job of compiling their lists

  9. JonNo Gravatar

    Great work guys! I love the list! Happy to see Vince Gill’s These Days there. I thought it would show up on the #20-#11 list, and when it didn’t, I was a bit worried it was gonna be left out at all.

    I think Miranda’s CEG may be a bit high for my taste, but it is definitely a great album although I prefer Revolution. She’s really one of the best young artists to come out of this decade. Glad to see More Like Her getting some praise. It’s one of Miranda’s criminally underrated songs.

  10. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    Perfect ending, write-ups and all. Great capsule of 2000s country music.

  11. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Tom: high-five.

  12. Sam G.No Gravatar

    I had Jamey Johnson as my #1 pick for the best of the decade, but Dixie Chicks were the runners up. Great list and great writing, guys. There’s a few albums here I’m kicking myself for not thinking about, and a few surprises.

  13. ScottNo Gravatar

    good list..I also agree with the #1 overall

  14. Greg MNo Gravatar

    Good list except for one thing. SheDaisy was left off the entire list and I’m not sure why. Surely Fortuneteller’s Melody had to make the list somewhere and it didn’t. What gives. Other than that, it was enjoyable reading and I agree with the number 1 album. It was truly magnificent.

  15. ZackNo Gravatar

    No arguements here.

    Home is definatly the best of the decade.

    The Loveless album is great too.

    I’ve always wanted to check out Gill’s and Mattea’s sets, but I never was motivated enough to… Now I want to check them out. haha.

    Great list guys.

  16. BobNo Gravatar

    This pop or “faux-country” fan only owns 17 of the albums on this list and 12 on the 9513′s. The latter site however had Trisha’s HHPL much higher and included Hal Ketchum’s “Father Time” and Gene Watson’s “A Taste of the Truth”. I would also have included Hal’s”Lucky Man” cd from ’01.

    These are some of the albums I would have included by artists who totally failed to make your cut:

    Lee Roy Parnell – Back to the Well (06)

    Delbert McClinton – “Cost of Living” (05) and “Acquired Taste” (09)

    Lisa Brokop – “Beautiful Tragedy” (08), “Hey Do You Know Me” (05)

    Eagles – “Long Road Out of Eden” (08)

    Suzy Bogguss – “Sweet Danger” (07) and “Swing” (03)

    Jo Dee Messina – “Delicious Surprise” (05)

    Collin Raye – “Tracks” (00)

    Ronnie Milsap – “My Life” (06)

    Terri Clark – “Fearless” (00)

    Trent Summar & the New Row Mob – “Horseshoes & Hand Grenades” (06)

    Travis Tritt – “The Storm” (07)

    Tracy Lawrence – “For the Love” (07)

    Julie Roberts – Julie Roberts (04)

    These are in no particular order. I thought of compiling my own list but after a few futile stabs I gave it up. I can appreciate the difficulty of the task so I again congratulate and thank your staff and the 9513′s even though I didn’t care for most of the music. I would never claim to be an arbiter of taste. My wife and kids would surely confirm this.

  17. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better album than Home for this list. This was a really enjoyable list to read. :D

  18. These are all solid picks. I’m not familiar with the OCMS album, but based on their latest album, I wouldn’t rate them this high, but I can understand why others would. I’d have probably flipped Mountain Soul and Coal but no two people will ever compile the exact same list. Good job, guys. It’s been fun reading these installments and I’m kind of sorry we’re at the end now.

  19. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Razor,
    I don’t think the other OCMS albums are nearly as good as their first.

    I love Coal, but I have it quite a bit below MS on my personal list. I had MS at 4 and Coal at 12.

  20. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    It feels like a lot of barriers fell within country music this decade, and I think one of the best walls to come down was the one between music journalism and the listening audience.

    So true, Kevin. I’m glad you pointed that out. I’m anxious to see how this further evolves over the next ten years.

    This has been a fun and enlightening experience for me. Sincere thanks to all for keeping an open mind with our diverse list.

  21. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I like all of Old Crow’s albums to a certain extent (and had their first at #35), but you gotta go see them live to get the real experience. One of the very best shows I’ve ever been to, and I didn’t even know most of the songs when I went.

  22. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Yes, I heard they put on a great show. I felt that way about the Punch Brothers show. I didn’t really know their music, but came away a huge fan. Theirs and Kathy Mattea have been my favorite shows so far, even better than the Vince Gill show I attended. We almost had a chance to see OCMS (with Gillian Welch), but didn’t feel like paying and driving five hours for very bad seats.

  23. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I should add to Tara’s comment that this was really fun. Thank you to all who’ve read and commented on the last ten installments.

  24. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Bob,

    Did you ever read my review on the Ketchum album?:
    http://www.countryuniverse.net/2008/09/09/album-review-hal-ketchum-father-time/

    I liked the album quite a bit, though it would be on the bottom part of my personal 100 list rather than at the top.

  25. AaronNo Gravatar

    GREAT list you guys! I couldn’t agree more with Home being number 1! Its definitely the best album that’s been released this year! I was a bit surprised that Rattlin’ Bones was so high (even though I love the album) and also that Mountain Soul wasn’t as high as I though it would be. I thought it would’ve been top 5 at least. But still great list and I can’t wait to see the singles list!

  26. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Sorry for so many posts, but I’ve been in a rush, so I keep missing people’s comments.

    To Bob again,
    I love that Trent Summar album. But I love it as something more fun than something that I take especially seriously. So, I couldn’t justify putting on the list of best when there were only so many spots that I was able to fill on my personal voting submission. Rest assured that many of the songs from the album have a lot of play counts in my iTunes though.

  27. I don’t think the other OCMS albums are nearly as good as their first.

    I’ll check it out. When the latest one came out, it was offered at a bargain price, so I bought it but I just haven’t been able to get into it. Perhaps it wasn’t the best one to start with.

  28. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Yeah, Tennessee Pusher has grown on me some over time, but I think it’s their weakest.

    By the way, I failed to add a fourth track to my OCMS recommendations, but I also suggest “We’re All in This Together.”

  29. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Nice job everybody! I’m glad both Mountain Soul and Coal made the top ten, altough I too would have reversed the order.

    Not sure if I would have put MS at # one, but right now I cannot think of any album I would have ranked higher.

    I think that there were a few serious omissions, from the countdown as a whole, Sara’s Restless and Patty’s On Your Way Home both deserved a place…Mountain Soul II as well.

    But overall, a lot of really good picks and choices here, and wonderful write ups. It was obvious a lot of thought went into this, kudos to all involved.

  30. William WardNo Gravatar

    Old Crow Medicine Show, OCMS was a contender for the #1 slot on my personal list but none of their other albums would make my Top 50. I enjoy their other albums, but this one really stands out for me. Mountain Soul was a contender for the top slot with me as well though I have a harder time listening Mountain Soul II straight through.

  31. Pingback: ‘Noble Things’ to DVD; Trace Adkins/Luke McBain Returns; Best of Bluegrass ‘09 | The 9513

  32. Pingback: Albums of the Decade: Running the Numbers | Country California

  33. highwayman3No Gravatar

    Hey, this website works again! interesting list, cant wait to download the ones I’ve missed along the way.

  34. MarcNo Gravatar

    I prefer the post-Bushsucks Chicks album myself, far more meaningful, and very well written

  35. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    I’m not too terribly surprised about HOME being the #1 album of the decade here. It helped to prove that the Chicks were not your standard-issue cute cowgirls from west Texas, but three extremely talented and cagey women who attempted to shatter at least some of the stereotypes people had about country music (most which got reinforced after March 9, 2003, of course). Regardless of what the Nashville “establishment” thought about the album, or the gals that made it, HOME was a very impressive piece.

    In terms of other albums of this kind that I liked that were not on here, I think all three of Tift Merritt’s studio albums (BRAMBLE ROSE; TAMBOURINE; ANOTHER COUNTRY) were very worthy–so much so that, in my opinion, she is the Female Artist of the Decade. And I would also cite the ultra-traditional 2006 Linda Ronstadt/Ann Savoy collaboration ADIEU FALSE HEART, even if it’s a borderline kind of an album (and which, though I hope I’m wrong about it, may be Linda’s swan song as a recording artist).

  36. JasonNo Gravatar

    Here are some that I would have added:

    AKUS – New Favorite

    Kelly Willis – Easy (I actually prefer what I deserve and almost listed it but realized it was released in 1999)

    Kasey Chambers – Barricades and Brickwalls

    Leslie Satcher – Love Letters (her writing IMO is way better then her voice)

    Mindy Smith – One moment more

    I guess I only like female singer/songwriters =)

  37. Kelly Willis – Easy (I actually prefer what I deserve and almost listed it but realized it was released in 1999)

    When I was putting together my choices for our Best of the Decade list, there were quite a few albums that I wanted to use and then realized that they came out in 1999. Albums like Dolly’s The Grass Is Blue , Gary Allan’s Smoke Rings In The Dark , and George Jones’ Cold Hard Truth are a few examples.

  38. Cory DeSteinNo Gravatar

    Completly agree with the #1 album. I would have put Lynn a little higher, and would have placed Lambert in the comft 75-50 category….Im the small percentage that dosent see what on the earth the big deal is with that girl.All in all the best way to describe the list is suprising, and interesting. Not quite my taste at all, but still interesting.

  39. rodneyNo Gravatar

    where the heck is a george strait album he makes the best music period end of story every album he makes lol

  40. CoreyNo Gravatar

    Refreshing list. Thank you. I loved the multiple Dwight Yoakam inclusions and dug seeing artists like Reckless Kelly, Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle and Bruce Robison receive some recognition. However, I was shocked by the notable absence of the King of Country Music, to which I can only assume was due to a personal bias. Any of Troubadour, Honkytonkville, Somewhere Down In Texas or It Just Comes Natural could wipe the floor with at least 70 of the other albums on the list (not saying they weren’t worthy of being on the list, just significantly inferior to these obvious George Strait selections). Moving past that, there were a number of other amazing country albums released this decade that also need some recognition. So here are my favourite 12 country albums (in order no less) released in the last ten years that weren’t on your list and weren’t released by George Strait:
    1. Hank Williams III – Straight To Hell (all of his albums could have made my list)
    2. Junior Brown – Down Home Chrome (easily the most under-rated country artist of all-time)
    3. Supersuckers – Must’ve Been High (a very impressive effort from the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World!)
    4. Lucas Hudgins – The World Left Is Mine (Three Chairs just might be the best country song released in the last ten years)
    5. Railbenders – Segundo (in an alt-universe somewhere, these guys are the biggest band on the planet!)
    6. James Hand – The Truth Will Set You Free (flawless album from an under-appreciated talent)
    7. Shooter Jennings – Put The O Back In Country (Waylon would be proud!)
    8. Dale Watson – The Little Darlin’ Sessions (a Merle Haggard scholar)
    9. Dallas Wayne – Here I Am In Dallas (I’d love to see this guy live in a small honky tonk in Texas!)
    10. Wayne Hancock – Viper Of Melody (Moving On No. 3 was my fave song of 2009)
    11. Marti Brom – Sings Heartache Numbers (her rendition of Apartment No. 9 gives me chills every time I hear it)
    12. Derailers – Here Comes The Derailers (Buck musta loved these guys!)
    Anyway, thanks again for putting together a list that wasn’t dominated by the likes of Taylor Swift or Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney. Real country music still exists…

  41. Bill BNo Gravatar

    Impressive list. Glad to see high praise for Dwight Yoakam’s Blame The Vain. Also, anything Keith Urban. By the way, let’s hope we haven’t heard the last of the Dixie Chicks!!

  42. PatrickNo Gravatar

    Home is the album that got me into country :D Great #1 choice!

  43. PatrickNo Gravatar

    Is there any way to see how the staff members themselves voted?

  44. As lists g0, this was a pretty thoughtful one; every comment made sense for each album’s inclusion. That said, I naturally have a few quibbles.

    Firstly, “American IV: The Man Comes Around” should have placed higher. What that album did for him commercially–to say nothing of its artistic merits–was pretty significant. In fact, one could argue it was that album, led by “Hurt,” that was responsible for most of the world even caring when The Man in Black left us.

    Two ’01 mainstream releases I was surprised to see absent: Brooks & Dunn’s “Steers & Stripes” and Tim McGraw’s “Set This Circus Down.” “Steers” was easily B&D’s strongest outing, in terms of album sales, radio play and earning accolades–USA Today even remarked at the time that Kix Brooks had “learned to sing.”

    McGraw’s “Circus” may not have performed as strongly as some of his earlier albums commercially, but it clearly marked an artistic evolution for him. The jingoistic filler songs that pervade on previous releases are replaced here by thoughtful songs that explore more mature material. (Plus, I’ve always loved the painting used for the album art.)

    Finally, it seems almost impossible to believe a list of 100 albums in this decade could not include a single release by George Strait. It’s easy to take him for granted; it seems every year, he releases another album just like the last, but “It Just Comes Natural” should have made the list if for nothing else than including “Why Can’t I Leave Her Alone” in which he confesses, “I show up at her mama’s, stoned out of my mind.” Other songs show some willingness on Strait’s part to cut songs without any obvious regard to eventual radio play.

    Finally, Dwight Yoakam’s “Dwight Sings Buck” should have found its way onto the list. He took 15 songs of his friend and mentor, and managed to do something very unique with them: he paid tribute while somehow making every cut his own. We should all be so lucky that when we go, someone cares enough to pay this kind of tribute to us.

  45. CountryKnightNo Gravatar

    I can’t believe that Eric Church’s “Sinners Like Me” missed out on making the list.

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