Today, we kick off our Best of 1993 feature with the first part of our album retrospective. Included in this list are the debut albums of two underrated singer-songwriters, confident projects from the genre’s leading ladies, and highlights from legends of both the mainstream and alternative country landscapes.
When our writers wax rhapsodic about the glory days of the nineties, one reason why is that albums as great as this aren’t even among the top ten albums of the year.
Look for the conclusion of the albums list tomorrow and the singles list next weekend!
Lead Me Not
#9 – JK | #19 – KJC
Rather than establishing a clear identity for Lari White as an artist, Lead Me Not made for an eclectic debut, as White and producer Rodney Crowell explored styles ranging from traditional country and jazzy torch ballads to torrid Southern gospel and even Latin-flavored pop-country. What made the album such a compelling listen, then, were White’s wry POV as a songwriter and her powerhouse, note-perfect performances. Though Lead Me Not proved that Lari White would remain a difficult act to pigeonhole, it also established her as an artist of uncommon range and a singer of real depth and power. – Jonathan Keefe
Recommended Tracks: “Lead Me Not,” “What a Woman Wants,” “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” “Good Good Love”
Take Me as I am
#8 – BF | #16 – KJC
Mostly associated with overexposed crossover hits, Hill is rarely given due credit as a selector and interpreter of song material. Her lofty potential is immediately evident on her confident debut, an album ripe with compelling stories of fully fledged female characters falling in love (“Take Me as I am”, “I’ve Got This Friend”), dealing with heartbreak (“Just About Now”, “Just Around the Eyes”), exploring their potential (“Wild One”), and discovering their own self-worth (“Life’s Too Short to Love Like That”, “But I Will”, “I Would be Stronger Than That.”) – Ben Foster
Recommended Tracks: “Take Me as I am,” “But I Will,” “I Would be Stronger Than That”
Wild Kentucky Skies
#6 – JK | #8 – SG
Brown’s second MCA album starts with “It Must Be the Rain,” which is probably the most contemporary that he ever sounded. With a ringing electric guitar and Brown’s twang largely in check, it should have been the hit that he richly deserved but never had.
While there are a few modern touches here and there (such as “I Don’t Want to See You Again”), most of Skies features Brown’s hard-core country sounds. With titles like “I’d Rather Fish Than Fight” and “No Honky Tonkin’ Tonight,” Brown delivers plenty of smiles. When he’s not honky tonkin’, Brown delivers some beautiful sentiments as well. “God Knows” is a touching love song, and on the other end of the spectrum, “She’s Gone” is as mournful as a classic Hank Williams weeper. – Sam Gazdziak
Recommended Tracks: “It Must Be the Rain,” “Honey I Ain’t No Fool,” “God Knows”
Easy Come Easy Go
#10 – KJC | #11 – BF | #17 – LW
Strait’s first studio album with Tony Brown as his co-producer returned to the subtle, traditionalist territory that made Strait a star. By stripping off the gloss and sheen that was necessary for the previous year’s Pure Country soundtrack, the focus returned to Strait’s incomparable vocal styling and song sense.
Featuring some of the best songs he released in the nineties, Easy Come Easy Go laid the groundwork for his peak years at radio, retail, and the award show circuit. – Kevin John Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “The Man in Love With You,” “Easy Come Easy Go,” “Without Me Around”
Robert Earl Keen
A Bigger Piece of Sky
#2 – SG | #7 – JK
A moody album that occasionally goes to some very dark places, A Bigger Piece of Sky probably leads every album on this list in terms of body count. “Whenever Kindness Fails” features a homicidal maniac as the narrator, and “Jesse with the Long Hair…” is an Old West epic that Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash could have done in their primes.
While nobody gets blown away in “Blow You Away” or “Here in Arkansas,” the intent is certainly there. As a contrast, “Corpus Christi Bay” is classic Keen, and his take on Terry Allen’s “Amarillo Highway” adds a welcome dose of Texas braggadocio to the album. The album’s closer, “Paint the Town Beige,” shows the downside of giving up the fast lane and settling down — in its own way, the most depressing song on the album, even if no blood gets spilled. – SG
Recommended Tracks: “Jesse with the Long Hair,” “So I Can Take My Rest,” “Corpus Christi Bay”
The Song Remembers When
#8 – KJC | #10 – JK | #12 – BF
Though her self-titled debut spawned four top-10 singles, it was on her sophomore album, Hearts in Armor, that Trisha Yearwood truly announced herself as an artist. And it’s only in comparison to that album, one of the absolute finest collections of contemporary country music ever committed to record, that The Song Remembers When seems like a bit of a let-down.
What the album lacks in coherent vision, it makes up for in Yearwood’s impressive risk-taking with her song selections. Running the gamut from the extraordinary, pensive title track to the vintage pop of “Here Comes Temptation” and the bluesy kiss-off of “Better Your Heart Than Mine,” the songs here only serve to deepen Yearwood’s status as the finest interpretive singer of her generation. – JK
Recommended Tracks: “The Song Remembers When,” “I Don’t Fall in Love So Easy,” “Lying to the Moon”
The Way That I am
#6 – KJC | #9 – LW | #17 – BF
McBride’s second album proved that she had an ear for great songs and an ability to transform those great songs into incredible songs. The album even contains a single that only reached #12 on the charts, but ended up turning into an iconic hit for McBride and country music in general.
Empowering anthems like “My Baby Loves Me”, “Independence Day” and “Going to Work” deservedly stand out on the album and has become McBride’s signature mode of operation. However, she demonstrates that she is equally adept at interpreting songs with tenderness and even heartbreak, as heard on the more restrained “Where I Used to Have a Heart”, “She Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Ashes.” – Leeann Ward
Recommended Tracks: “My Baby Loves Me,” “Independence Day,” “She Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”
#10 – LW | #14 – BF,KJC | #17 – JK
Alibis was no sophomore slump for Tracy Lawrence. While Sticks and Stones was a successful introduction, it was Alibis that was the runaway hit album for him, as all four singles were chart toppers. Not only did the singles sound different from each other, they covered different topics. Lawrence’s gritty country voice coupled with memorable songs of heartbreak, cheating, drinking, restlessness and various other working class topics was the solid foundation for a sophomore success. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “I Threw the Rest Away,” “Alibis,” “Can’t Break it to My Heart”
Tell Me Why
#5 – KJC | #9 – BF | #18 – JK
Fresh off of the stunning success of her debut solo album the previous year, which sold as many copies as all of the Judds studio albums combined, Wynonna was at peak confidence on her sophomore set, Tell Me Why. Perhaps that’s why she sought out strong female songs from singer-songwriters like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, and even her mother, Naomi Judd, all of whom could pen a great tune but not hold a candle to the power of Wynonna’s vocals. More effectively than on any album before or since, Wy balances her spirit of independence, religious faith, and tender vulnerability, resulting in what is her most consistent and also one of her best albums to date. – KJC
Recommended Tracks: “Is it Over Yet,” “Girls With Guitars,” “That Was Yesterday”
#7 – BF | #9 – KJC | #18 – JK
A stunningly confident and fully realized debut album, Bobbie Cryner should be remembered today as the birth of a Hall of Fame-level singer and songwriter. Fate (and country radio) wrote it off into the dustbins of history instead, and far too few people ever got a chance to hear this album. Cryner’s songwriting on this set is worthy of discussion in the same breath as early Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton, and as for her vocals…let’s just say that she goes toe to toe with Dwight Yoakam at his peak and it’s all he can do to keep up with her on their cover of the Buck Owens classic, “I Don’t Care.” – KJC
Recommended Tracks: “I Think it’s Over Now,” “Leavin’ Houston Blues,” “This Heart Speaks for Itself”