The Best Albums of the Decade, Part One: #100-#76

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019

Albums

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Singles

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Our Best Albums of the Decade list kicks off with its first 25 entries.

#100

Corb Lund

Things That Can’t Be Undone

The combination of producer Dave Cobb and Lund, one of the best singer/songwriters in Canada, worked out about as well as one could have imagined. Lund’s quirky, songwriting is in full force, whether it’s a tribute to a grungy German club “Alt Berliner Blues” or the loss of the family farm (“S Lazy H”). Cobb’s production adds a few nice touches, like turning “Weight of the Gun” into something from the Stax Records vault. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#99

Lori McKenna

The Tree

Among the decade’s most acclaimed songwriters, Lori McKenna has furthered her reputation as a compelling recording artist in her own right with albums like The Tree. McKenna’s most recent album focuses on matters of family and mortality, and it’s a testament to McKenna’s gifts that she keeps this material from skewing either too maudlin or too morose. For as many times as her songs have been covered by other popular artists, “People Get Old” from this album stands as McKenna’s finest moment. – Jonathan Keefe

#98

LeAnn Rimes

Spitfire

Spitfire was released during the new confounding trend of male singers coasting on songs about cruising back roads while drinking with pretty girls. Instead of trying to compete by stooping to that level, Rimes channeled some of her very public personal controversies into making an album of weighty introspection while still managing to sprinkle in some fun to balance the intensity, which made Spitfire the best album of her career. – Leeann Ward

#97

Taylor Swift

RED

The fully formed pop songwriting showcased on Taylor Swift’s landmark pop album 1989 first surfaced on its underrated predecessor, RED.  Her attention to detail was always strong, but she cuts to deep emotional truths with stunning compositions like “All Too Well” and “Begin Again.”  Her full pivot to pop is previewed by “I Knew Your Were Trouble,” but the core structure of the title track still serves as a reminder that she could bring it back to country at any time she chooses. – Kevin John Coyne

#96

The Secret Sisters

Put Your Needle Down

If there was an award for most career growth in a decade, give it to The Secret Sisters. Their harmonies have always been one of the most gorgeous sounds on American roots music, but starting with this album, the duo has become a powerful artistic force as well. Laura and Lydia Rogers wrote some of these songs and relied on ace co-writers like Brandi Carlile and Dan Wilson. Producer T-Bone Burnett gives the Rogers sisters a contemporary setting and then wisely gets out of their way. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#95

Sturgill Simpson

High Top Mountain

Though he’s gone farther afield with each subsequent album, Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain provides the finest showcase for his mastery of a traditional country conventions. The conventional wisdom has been that High Top Mountain sounds like a contemporary update of an old Waylon Jennings record; that’s not wrong, per se, based upon the quality and aesthetic of the songs. But it minimizes Sturgill’s unique, punch-drunk POV and how he was already pushing back hard against genre boundaries. He’d rage harder on subsequent albums, so High Top Mountain stands as Simpson’s best work… for country purists. – Jonathan Keefe

#94

Joy Williams

Front Porch

While Joy Williams’ warm voice lends itself to heights of the theatrical, as we often heard when she sang as half of the disbanded Civil Wars duo, it is even more inviting when she is relaxed and reflective, as on more simple songs like the title track and “Preacher’s Daughter.” Front Porch is what Williams calls a return home after a one album detour of synth pop, and it certainly does feel like a welcome return. – Leeann Ward

#93

Trisha Yearwood

Let’s Be Frank

Trisha Yearwood tackles the Frank Sinatra songbook with such flawless results that two things are firmly established that we always knew anyway:  she’s the finest country singer of her generation, and her only musical limits are the ones she chooses to impose. – Kevin John Coyne

#92

Lee Ann Womack

The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone

Lee Ann Womack has no interest in sticking to a formula, even if it’s a winning one.  So her follow up to the critically acclaimed The Way I’m Livin’ takes a sharp left turn from that stripped down set, incorporating elements of jazz and blue-eyed soul.  “Mama Lost Her Smile” and the title track are two of the finest compositions she’s ever graced with her voice. – Kevin John Coyne

#91

Trisha Yearwood

Every Girl

While it would have been much better not to have waited over a decade, and we hope to never have to wait so long again, Trisha Yearwood’s first proper album in 12 years turned out to be among the best of the decade. Time did not diminish her ear for a great song, nor did it diminish her vocal ability. covers of Ashley McBryde’s “Bible and a .44” and Gretchen Peters’ “Matador” are the album’s highlights, but the quality stays elevated with the swampy “Workin’ on Whiskey” and the willful “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” among others. – Leeann Ward

 

#90

Jamey Johnson

The Guitar Song

n the early 2010s, Jamey Johnson seemed poised to revolutionize mainstream country, injecting a modern Outlaw style and emphasis on hard-living, hard-working narratives onto radio and awards show stages. The Guitar Song earned raves from critics and genre gatekeepers alike, and the album put Johnson on the precipice of a real breakthrough. And that just… didn’t happen. And Johnson hasn’t released an album since. – Jonathan Keefe

#89

Eric Brace & Peter Cooper

C&O Canal

C&O Canal pays tribute to the music scene of Washington DC, centered on the legendary Birchmere club and the artists who called it home. Emmylou Harris gets a nod here with a lovely take on “Boulder to Birmingham,” and a couple of Seldom Scene covers are included as well. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth” is maybe the most overt reference to Washington DC’s other industry, but C&O Canal is a reminder that there are parts of the city that are still pure and uncorrupted. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#88

Kasey Chambers & the Fireside Disciples

Campfire

Kasey Chambers is my favorite (late) discovery of the decade, and these past ten years have witnessed her creative peak.  Campfire lives up to its title, as it is a collection of simply arranged songs that could all be sung around the fire on a chilly night in the Australian outback.  But it’s just the arrangements that are simple, as she sings of mournful and weathered hearts on standout tracks like “Early Grave,” Fox & the Bird,” and “Now That You’ve Gone.” – Kevin John Coyne

#87

Leeroy Stagger

Love Versus

It took a Canadian roots rocker to write the song that perfectly encapsulates the post-Obama American landscape. “I Want It All” seeks out hope in an increasingly hopeless landscape. “It’s a beautiful world that we’re born into, so let’s take it back again,” he sings. Stagger is outspoken about the state of North America, but he tries to accentuate the bright spots amidst the gloom. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#86

Lori McKenna

Massachusetts

The walls are closing in on Massachusetts, as McKenna paints stark portraits of claustrophobia in a small town (“Smaller and Smaller”) and a troubled relationship (“Shake,” “Salt.”) But there are threads of hope woven into the album closer, “Grown Up Now,” which is something of a heartfelt early draft of “Humble & Kind.” – Kevin John Coyne

 

#85

The Whiskey Gentry

Holly Grove

The state of Georgia has launched a thousand country bro careers, but Atlanta’s The Whiskey Gentry was a bizarre punk/bluegrass/country amalgam that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Holly Grove mixed all the band’s influences together so well, whether it was the revved-up “Colly Davis” or “Particles,” a soft, subtle ballad that showcased Lauren Morrow’s beautiful vocals. The title track is one of the biggest gut punches of a song released in the decade. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#84

Rhiannon Giddens

Tomorrow is My Turn

Formerly the front woman for the forward looking string band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens took a detour to make an album of covers with T Bone Burnett. While a covers album has a more difficult chance of finding a spot on a Best of countdown, we should feel honored that Giddens’ powerful and heavenly voice gifted country music with such gorgeous covers of country songs such as Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” and Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind”, along with an infectious rave up cover of “Up Above My Head” among other stand out covers. – Leeann Ward.

#83

Sturgill Simpson

Sound and Fury

Is Simpson’s 2019 release even a country album, with its synths and guitars leading a massive wall of sound? Simpson doesn’t make it easy to categorize either himself or his music, but I think we can claim Sound and Fury as at least a little Americana. There’s a John Prine co-write on it, if nothing else. It’s a weird, dense album that requires multiple listens, but it’s worth it, as Simpson packs some great lyrics underneath it all. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#82

Allison Moorer

Down to Believing

To have a catalogue with three proper concept albums as perfectly executed as The Hardest PartThe Duel, and Down to Believing puts Allison Moorer in a rare stratum of artists. Moorer’s albums are nearly all canon-worthy, but her output during the 2010s has been particularly vital. Down to Believing plays out the entirety of the cycle of grief in all of its messy, non-linear emotion, as Moorer processes the end of a marriage and her son’s presentation of Autism. The journey to being okay has rarely sounded so compelling. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#81

Holly Williams

The Highway

One of the impressive things about Holly Williams is that even though she comes from country music royalty, she has managed to develop her own sound that is much different from her grandfather, father and brother, who all have their own vastly different takes on country music. The Highway may seem more laid back than the music of her family members, but it has a grittiness tinged with softness that makes for a compelling album. The dark lyrics benefit from the gentle production and Williams’ husky voice pulls it all together to give the album a needed gravitas, making it one of the underrated gems of the decade. – Leeann Ward

#80

Tim McGraw

Sundown Heaven Town

For one wonderful late career album, Tim McGraw rediscovered the winning formula that powered him to superstardom.  Sundown Heaven Town is a collection of well written songs delivered with understated confidence, with highlights including the hits “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” and “Shotgun Rider,” and the plaintive “Still On the Line,” which features a career best vocal performance. – Kevin John Coyne

#79

Yola

Walk Through Fire

It’s not often that an Americana debut album gets noticed by the Grammys, but Yola’s Walk Through Fire was just that good. A beautiful dose of country-soul, Yola and producer Dan Auerbach created an album that is heavily influenced by the 1970s country sound without sounding stuck in the past. As a reminder, whenever you limit country music to one gender, one nationality or one ethnicity, you do the genre a grave disservice and miss out on some great tunes. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#78

Todd Snider

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

Country’s resident hipster smartass, Todd Snider is better than perhaps any other contemporary artist at balancing righteous social outrage with deeply cutting self-deprecation. Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is Snider’s most overtly political album, chronicling perceived injustices with a folk singer’s eye for detail and a satirist’s gift for unexpected wordplays and reversals. That it’s also one of Snider’s most tuneful albums makes it an essential listen. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#77

Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis

Come See Me and Come Lonely

Dos Divas sounded like two stars splitting responsibilities for one album, but Come See Me and Come Lonely sounds like a true vocal duo performance from Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis.  If it sounds like they’ve been singing together forever, it’s because they have, touring for years before they put these tracks down.   Yes, it’s a covers album, but there are so many interesting choices that they make in both material and delivery that it’s more than just a collection of previously recorded songs. – Kevin John Coyne

#76

Steve Earle

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Bashing the George W. Bush administration seems almost quaint today, but damn if Earle didn’t write the best kiss-off to W. with “Little Emperor.” This album was released in 2011, when we naively thought that was as bad as it would get. Earle’s insights on God, current events and mankind are sharp, and the songs are eclectic, from back-alley blues to Celtic to New Orleans. – Sam Gazdziak

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019

Albums

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Singles

#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

6 Comments

  1. This is the type of coverage I’m really excited about. I cannot wait to follow along as these posts keep coming in. Some incredible albums on this list and it’s only the beginning.

    While I love Lover, I’m still partial to the formula Taylor struck on RED. I love the juxtaposition of her somewhat lighter pop moments with the substance of the country songs. The songs Kevin singled out are favorites of mine, with “All Too Well” remaining her career best crowing achievement. “Holy Ground” is another I still play quite often.

    “People Get Old” slays me every time. I’m only 32, but I’ve had a few of the people I’m closest to “get old” in their own ways, either from age, cancer, or whatever. It’s been hard and Lori has freed me, given me the words to express exactly how I feel.

    I haven’t seen much discussion surrounding Every Girl, especially with regards to where people feel it ranks within Trisha’s discography. I still haven’t been able to make up my mind for myself, either.

  2. I really like that Every Girl is on the list because, while it may indeed have been an awfully long time for Trisha to go between releasing wholly new material (Heaven, Heartache, And The Power Of Love was twelve years ago), the wait was worth it, particularly with the aforementioned “The Matador” and the 1975 Karla Bonoff-penned “Home”. To top things off, Trisha did herself proud by saluting her spiritual role model Linda Ronstadt at the Kennedy Center honors this past December.

    Well done, Trisha.

  3. I bought the Every Girl album a few weeks ago. (It’s the only album I have in this first group of best albums of the decade.) So far, I’d agree with Erik North that Bonoff’s “Home” and “The Matador” from Gretchen Peters are two of the best tracks. I also like “Can’t Take Back Goodbye” .

    I like the song “People Get Old” – not just because I’m old. Maybe i’ll check out some of her albums now that i’m a resident of Massachusetts.

  4. I was unfamiliar with some of these albums so I’ve been checking them out on Spotify. Really liking “Down to Believing” so thanks for the recommendation.

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