The Best Albums of the Decade, Part Three: #50-#26

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 continues with #50-#26.

#50

Reba McEntire

Love Somebody

Reba McEntire has made music with one eye on the radio for her entire career, but the sense that she was getting ready to leave mainstream accommodation behind surfaced with Love Somebody, the most underrated of her studio albums this decade.  To be fair, the best tracks on Love Somebody would’ve been quite radio friendly two decades earlier.  Still, it’s a thrill to have McEntire return to a sound that recalled her best nineties work.  “Just Like Them Horses” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” and “More Than Just Her Last Name” and “She Got Drunk Last Night” are a reminder of what McEntire does best: making overlooked and underappreciated women feel seen by singing their stories.  – Kevin John Coyne

 

#49

Hank Williams III

Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town

He started the decade by building on his legacy in country music with equal parts ferocious creativity and contempt for a Music Row system that had wronged him, and he ended the decade as something of a recluse, emerging sporadically on social media to spout paranoid conspiracy-theorist horseshit. Ghost to a Ghost / Gutter Town was about Hank Williams III’s wrestling with his complicated and troubled public persona in ways that suggested he was fully in control of what he was doing. That he clearly lost that control at some point in the years since is nothing short of tragic. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#48

Nickel Creek

A Dotted Line

After a 7 year break from being Nickel Creek, Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile reunited for a new album and toured to support it. A Dotted Line was a heck of a way to come back and their first single and opening song, “Destination,”, was a breath of fresh air to come back with! A Dotted Line has all of the beloved elements of Nickel Creek, including their excellent musicianship and harmonies, but it also displays a maturity that allowed them to sound innovative and fresh. Additionally, it showed the growth of the trio as individuals who spent years finding themselves, allowing them to work happily again in an uninhibited way. “Hayloft”, anybody? – Leeann Ward

#47

The Whiskey Gentry

Dead Ringer

This Georgia band’s swan song plays like a working band’s autobiography. The glamour is gone, the band got too drunk in Paris to play, and the lead singer is constantly compared to more famous singers – but it beats working for a living. The things that made the band a treasure are in full force: a sense of humor, hard rock and bluegrass sounds blending together seamlessly, and the gorgeous vocals of Lauren Morrow. The rowdy drinking songs and the road songs are tremendously fun, but Morrow’s vocals truly shine on the sparse, gorgeous “If You Were an Astronaut.” – Sam Gazdziak

#46

Turnpike Troubadours

A Long Way From Your Heart

A generation ago, Turnpike Troubadours would have been the biggest band in country music. The songs on A Long Way From Your Heart are, to a one, marvels of construction, balancing impossibly clever wordplays with hardscrabble narratives that are fully believable. The band brings just enough road dust to their recordings to seem edgy, but their mastery of genre conventions also appeals to purists. They’ve never released a bad record, but A Long Way From Your Heart is the band at its most polished and sure-footed. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#45

Brandi Carlile

Bear Creek

Bear Creek was Brandi Carlile’s fourth studio album, proving that she was not going to rest on her laurels after her first three critically acclaimed albums. Bear Creek is an album that is bolstered by Brandi Carlile’s powerhouse voice and songs  that feel meaningful even when they’re presented with accessible and fun melodies. Songs like “Hard Way Home,” “Keep Your Heart Young,” and “Heart’s Content” are singable earworms, but they’re far from being frivolous throwaways. The same  can be said of all of the songs on Bear Creek, as there is not a clunker among them. – Leeann Ward

 

#44

Brandy Clark

Big Day in a Small Town

The sophomore set usually doesn’t get as much love as the debut album, as a new artist tries to replicate what worked best on their first collection while also attempting to forge new ground.  Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town is an album with a loose concept tying the songs together, and she captures small town life quite well with her tales of the rebellious (“Girl Next Door”), the heartbroken (“Love Can Go to Hell”),  the overlooked (“Three Kids No Husband”), and the grief-stricken (“Since You’ve Gone to Heaven.”)  – Kevin John Coyne

#43

Kacey Musgraves

Pageant Material

Musgraves shelved most of her sarcasm and sass for sincerity in 2018’s Golden Hour, and it worked out great, musically and commercially. A talented songwriter like her shouldn’t have to be tied to a certain style of song. Pageant Material is just as strong an album, though, with Musgraves at her sassiest while tweaking the establishment with the title track or “Good Ol’ Boys Club.” Her Southern-fried life advice in “Biscuits” is good for a smile, but there’s a lot of truth underneath the snark. And if it’s sincerity you want, check out the lovely, waltzing “Fine.” Musgraves’ evolving artistry is exciting, but you could be forgiven for wishing that she return to the banjo and steel guitar now and again. – Sam Gazdziak

#42

Ray Wylie Hubbard

The Grifter’s Hymnal

A trip through Hubbard’s 2012 album includes a stop in hell where crooked record executives and Fox News personalities co-mingle. There’s the autobiographical tale of a stripper girlfriend and a Les Paul guitar. There’s the familiar tale of the Lazarus story, only it’s been turned inside out into something sinister. There’s a possibly unhealthy obsession with musical instruments and audio gear. Inexplicably, there’s a duet with Ringo Starr. It’s gritty and twisted and dark blues-rock, enough to make you worry for Hubbard’s health and/or sanity. But he’s doing just fine, as he notes on “Mother Blues”: “The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” – Sam Gazdziak

#41

Loretta Lynn

Wouldn’t it Be Great

Not enough can be said for how wonderfully Loretta Lynn’s voice has held up at age 85, which is the age that she was when this album was recorded! In fact, six of the songs on Wouldn’t It Be Great are covers
of songs that she had recorded before when she was much younger. These covers, especially the title song, are even stronger this time around, with even more depth than the originals. Furthermore, the new songs, mostly co-written by Lynn and Shawn Camp, are excellent additions to her songwriting legacy. In particular, “Ruby’s Stool” is as sassy and endearing as Lynn has ever been. – Leeann Ward

#40

Alan Jackson

Angels and Alcohol

Not enough people are talking about how it’s been almost five years since Alan Jackson has released a studio album. Without an announcement of a new release on the horizon, it’s a good thing that we
have 2015’s Angels and Alcohol. It’s among his best albums, and listening to it feels like coming home.  Although he’s taken some genre detours throughout his career, Jackson’s music is known for being reliably country, which says a lot considering he has taken some genre detours in his career. Angels and Alcohol is one of those reliably country albums, and it’s also reliably fun, observational, and moving. – Leeann Ward

#39

Carrie Underwood

Blown Away

Carrie Underwood’s strongest album to date was built around its powerful title track, which challenged Underwood to both write and seek out strong material that could measure up to it.  Standouts like the hit singles “Good Girl” and “See You Again” were bombastic in all the best ways, but many of the album’s other high points found Underwood wistful and reflective on nostalgic numbers like “Do You Think About Me” and “Good in Goodbye.” – Kevin John Coyne

#38

Lee Ann Womack

The Way I’m Livin’

After almost 7 years between albums, Lee Ann Womack came back with a welcome new energy with The Way I’m Livin’. With more of an Americana sound than her typical previous pop country leaning, the
album was a refreshing change for her. Her voice sounds more energized than ever,  she put together a collection of songs by first- rate songwriters that are introspective and cathartic, and the production
is uncluttered and engaging. – Leeann Ward

#37

Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters

An album that feels important without also feeling the least bit pretentious, Songs of Our Native Daughters is about the power derived from proclaiming one’s identity. Drawing equally from country, blues, and traditional folk, Our Native Daughters insist upon the importance of African-American voices in each of those genres. Songs like “Black Myself” and the inspiring “Polly Ann’s Hammer” command entry into spaces that gatekeepers still try to cordon off from anyone who doesn’t fit an exceedingly narrow description. – Jonathan Keefe

 

#36

Ashley McBryde

Girl Going Nowhere

It’s about time that the women who grew listening to the nineties ladies of country started making their own records.  Ashley McBryde is a little bit of Pam Tillis mixed in with a little more of Terri Clark, and you can draw a direct line from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “This Shirt” to McBryde’s own “The Jacket.”  The title track is already an underground classic, and her wry wit adds a rueful layer to heartbreak numbers like “Tired of Being Happy.”  If Country Universe is still around ten years from now, it won’t be surprising to see McBryde all over our next Best of the Decade list. – Kevin John Coyne

 

#35

John Prine

The Tree of Forgiveness

Prine’s been doing this singer/songwriter thing for about 50 years. While his voice is a little worse for wear (a bout or two of throat cancer will do that), his songs are as quick-witted, as sweet and occasionally as goofy as they’ve ever been. “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door” and “Lonesome Friends of Science” are just a couple of the songs that stand up well against the best tracks of the Prine song catalog. Then there’s the closer, “When I Get to Heaven.” How many septuagenarians can sing about their demise and do it in such a cheerful way – with kazoos, no less? Probably just the inimitable John Prine. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#34

Wynonna & the Big Noise

Wynonna & the Big Noise

Wynonna is one of the all-time great singers, able to be soulful and unrestrained without ever hitting a bum note.  Her collaboration with the Big Noise knows that her voice is the lead instrument and everyone and everything else is there to support her without getting in the way.  “Things That I Lean On” and “Jesus and a Jukebox” are among the finest things she’s ever recorded.  If you loved the Judds but found Wynonna’s solo work far more compelling, this will quickly become your favorite album from a career that spans four decades. – Kevin John Coyne

 

#33

The Avett Brothers

Closer Than Together

The Avetts have never really strayed into current events or politics in their songs before this 2019 release. While they may have annoyed the “stick to music” crowd, the fact is their earnestness and conversational songwriting approach translate very well into topical songs. “We Americans” is an honest look at what it is to be American in the 21st Century – wanting to look forward but aware of the atrocities that have been committed on our soil in the past. “New Woman’s World” cedes the world over to womankind, since mankind screwed it up. It’s not a heavy album, as evidenced by the lighter “High Steppin’” and folksy wisdom of “Tell the Truth.” But wokeness suits the Avetts very well. – Sam Gazdziak

#32

Eric Church

Mr. Misunderstood

Eric Church has a tendency to overplay his “outlaw” hand: He’s been far too successful across every meaningful metric—radio success, industry awards, critical acclaim, and massive fan support— to play the underdog to the extent that he does. But the sheer quality of Church’s output makes it fairly easy to forgive the strident posturing. Songs as unconventional as “Chattanooga Lucy” and “Knives of New Orleans” require knowledge of the conventions you’re defying, and it takes real skill not to lose control of a concept-driven song like “Kill a Word” or “Record Year.” – Jonathan Keefe

 

#31

Laura Bell Bundy

Achin’ and Shakin’

A Broadway star making a concept country album that is one part Achin’, one part Shakin’ sounds like a disaster on paper.  Instead, it was the most interesting and casually fearless project that any major label took a chance on this decade.  Listening to it ten years later, I’m stunned by just how country it is.  For all the chances it takes thematically and sonically, Achin’ and Shakin’ takes country with it as it explores uncharted territory.  The relentlessly funny “Giddy On Up” is as effective as the torch ballad “Drop On By,” demonstrating the breadth of Bundy’s talent.  A lot of women released albums that took influence from Shania Twain’s landmark The Woman in Me and Come On Over albums, but Bundy is one of the few who learned all of the right lessons. – Kevin John Coyne

#30

Hayes Carll

KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) 

Like fellow troubadour Todd Snider (who shows up on “Bottle in My Hand” with Corb Lund), Carll’s character studies focus more on the burnouts and misfits, where truly interesting stories lie. The surreal journey of the soldier in the title track (which stands for “Kiss My Ass Guys You’re on Your Own”) or the weird George & Kellyanne Conway-esque hookup in “Another Like You” are larger than life. Carll also finds the beauty of simple, everyday sentiments in “Grateful for Christmas” and “Grand Parade.” – Sam Gazdziak

#29

Sara Watkins

Young in All the Wrong Ways

Sun Midnight Sun announced a shift in Sara Watkins’ musical direction, which gave us an opportunity to delight in and take notice of her newfound creativity and strength as an artist. Young in All the Wrong Ways solidified Watkins’ gravitas and signified that she is a fully realized artist with things to say and emotions to lay bare. For the first time, she wrote or co-wrote the entire album, which gives it an impressive emotional and artistic heft. As heard in the outstanding  and no-holes-barred “Move Me,” and frankly all of the other songs on the album, Watkins makes it absolutely clear that she is no longer willing to be complacent in her own life and artistry. – Leeann Ward

#28

Lori McKenna

Lorraine

Lori McKenna is among this century’s songwriting greats, and Lorraine is the finest showcase of her talent to date.   Not since Madonna has a singer-songwriter so deftly woven the premature death of her mother into her work, with the title track celebrating her mother’s brief life and the heart-wrenching “Still Down Here” expressing lasting grief in the way that only someone who had lost someone too important when they were way too young can do.  The dark contours of a long marriage are challenged (“The Luxury of Knowing,” “If He Tried”) and celebrated (“You Get a Love Song,” “All I Ever Do.”)  Her keen eye for detail is showcased on “The Most,” where she notes that “my life is pieces of paper that I’ll get back to later.  I’ll write you a story of how I ended up here.”  What a compelling story it is, from a master storyteller.  – Kevin John Coyne

#27

Aubrie Sellers

New City Blues

Sellers has defined her sound as “garage country,” and it fits. Loud, distorted guitars and powerful drums are the background for the country-pure vocals of Sellers, who sounds a bit like her mother, Lee Ann Womack. Sellers, while not a powerhouse vocalist, nevertheless rises to the top of the cacophony, making New City Blues one of the most intriguing country/Americana debuts of the last decade. “Light of Day” and “Liar Liar” are excellent, radio-friendly country songs, but the raucous arrangements puts Sellers more into the sonic territory of Lucinda Williams at her rawest. It’s a thrilling combination. – Sam Gazdziak

 

#26

Alison Krauss

Windy City

It takes a lot to get me on board for a covers album.  It’s got to have a concept that gives it purpose, putting familiar songs in a new context, and the singer delivering them has to be good enough to tackle established material in the first place.  Windy City is a blueprint on how to do it.  Alison Krauss is a brilliant interpretive singer, and the aching melancholy that she brings to standards like “I’m Losing You” and “You Don’t Know Me” bring layers of sadness to the surface, giving familiar songs a powerful new potency.  Her take on “River in the Rain” is enough to make you envy the feeling of watching your worldly possessions be carried away in a flood, just for a fleeting moment. – Kevin John Coyne

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

4 Comments

  1. I would have Wynonna & the Big Noise in my top ten for the decade – it is solid throughout.

    While I like Windy City, it is a bit annoying that it came out in several bonus versions. There was a Deluxe Edition that included four live tracks of songs on the album, Target’s edition which included two songs not found elsewhere in “Til I Gain Control Again” and “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” and A Cracker Barrel version that included her duet with Jamey Johnson on “Make The World Go Away”

  2. On the whole I enjoyed the #75-#51 group more than this group. The Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, Kacey Musgraves albums for example were ok but ranked too high in my opinion. Aubrie Sellers didn’t do much for me either especially as #27. I’ll also take Lambert over Underwood in that battle. Loved the ranking though of Our Native Daughters. I suspect Rhiannon Giddens will appear again.

  3. I didn’t know about the bonus tracks – the practice is annoying i agree. Love the original Windy City album. Sometimes i like to play versions of the same song back to back. I play AK’s Losing You followed by Paul Carrack’s and Brenda Lee’s take on the song. AK’s the best but the others are very good too. When I see a comment from Eric North I think of the Patsy & Linda takes on Crazy.
    Besides Windy City, I have the albums by Brandy Clark, Eric Church & Ashley McBryde. After seeing the comments here, I’ll have to check out the Wynonna album.

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