Archive for the ‘Best of 2005’ Category

Best Country Albums of 2005

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

How good was 2005 for country albums? Well, any one of the top ten albums this year could’ve been #1 in another year. Provided are some tracks for you to sample if you’re thinking you want to add these to your collection. Even with 25 slots on this list, only one new artist made the cut. The veterans and established artists came back with their very best, and there was no room at the table for the young’uns.

Best Country Albums of 2005

#25
Jo Dee Messina
Delicious Surprise

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One of many female country artists to return this year after an extended absence, Messina picks up right where she left off with her trademark combination of kiss-off numbers and motivational anthems. I’ve been waiting in vain for a country act to cover the Grass Roots classic “Where Were You When I Needed You”, but Messina will tide me over with “Where Were You”, a worthy variation on the same potent theme.

Download This: “Where Were You”, “Love Is Not Enough”, “My Give A Damn’s Busted”

#24
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell
Begonias

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A duet album in the tradition of Porter & Dolly, these two run the gamut of every conceivable type of country duet. They’re loving, they’re leaving, they’re fighting, and in the album’s best track, they’re having a conversation about a mutual friend who has fallen for a girl he can’t have.

Download This: “Conversations About A Friend (Who’s In Love With Katie)”, “Two Different Things”, “Waiting on June”

#23
Pam Tillis
Just In Time For Christmas

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The peerless Tillis wraps her voice around some of the best Christmas standards, incorporating some of her jazz-tinged roots along the way. But the biggest highlight isn’t a Christmas song at all, despite a reference to winter – “Seasons” is a declaration of unconditional love that is achingly beautiful. The album is currently available at her website, with wider distribution expected next year.

Best Tracks: “Seasons”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “Light of the World”

#22
Sara Evans
Real Fine Place

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While all aspirations of serious artistry on her part seem to have been left behing a long time ago, Evans has established herself as a first-rate bubblegum country act. This is a great collection of songs tailor-made for radio.

Download This: “A Real Fine Place To Start”, “Coalmine”, “Cheatin’”

#21
Carrie Underwood
Some Hearts

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Underwood had a short window to throw this album together, but in that time, she compiled the best country debut CD of the year, carried to that title on the strength of her unbelievable vocal talent. There’s a few too many inspirational-type songs, but when she cuts into a vicious song like “Before He Cheats” (“Right now he’s buying her some fruity little drink cause she can’t shoot whiskey), she knocks it out of the ballpark.

Download This: “Before He Cheats”, “Jesus, Take The Wheel”, “I Ain’t In Checotah Anymore”

#20
Kenny Chesney
The Road and The Radio

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Chesney reaches new levels of artistic merit with this calm and reflective new album, which suggests he’s mellowing with age. Some of his best material to date resides on this record, particularly the introspective and insightful title track.

Download This: “Who You’d Be Today”, “The Road and The Radio”, “In A Small Town”

#19
Joy Lynn White
One More Time

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White’s first widely released album in nearly a decade finds her as comfortable as ever singing honky-tonk and alt-country material. She remains a brilliant talent just waiting for that big breakthrough.

Download This: “Certain Boy”, “Just Some Girl”, “Girls With Apartments In Nashville”

#18
Big & Rich
Comin’ To Your City

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Country music’s circus mascots continue to blend outrageous hooks and hip-hop lingo with solid country lyrics and themes. They are developing into a significant act that may have enormous influence on the direction of the genre; thankfully, they don’t take that role too seriously.

Download This: “I Pray For You”, “Filthy Rich”, “Caught Up In The Moment”

#17
Jamie O’Neal
Brave

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O’Neal barely bothers with love on her comeback album, singing about everything from girlfriends (they kick ass), the perfect man (harder to find than Atlantis) and a stripper (who brings both her customers and the neighborhood priest to their knees.) She’s a vibrant talent who has sorely missed.

Download This: “Somebody’s Hero”, “Devil on the Left”, “Naive”

#16
Merle Haggard
Chicago Wind

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The political messages of a few tracks have gotten the most media attention, but Haggard’s stunning return to form shines brightest when he’s singing about love and loss.

Download This: “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”, “What I’ve Been Meaning To Say”, “White Man Singin’ The Blues”

#15
Marty Stuart
Badlands

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Stuart revives the noble country music tradition of giving voice to the plight of Native Americans, managing to engage both historical and contemporary issues that have hit the community.

Download This: “Broken Promise Land”, “So You Want To Be An Indian”, “Listen to the Children”

#14
Terri Clark
Life Goes On

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Clark finds a happy place between the introspection of Fearless and the hard country rock of Pain To Kill with this traditional set that showcases her powerful vocals wrapped around hard-core honky-tonk.

Download This: “Life Goes On”, “Not Enough Tequila”, “Damn Right”

#13
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Souls’ Chapel

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Stuart’s second stellar album of 2005 finds him putting his stamp on Southern gospel classics, creating an album that plays best for those Saturday night Christians who sleep through Sunday services because they’re still nursing a hangover.

Download This: “Lord, Give Me Just A Little More Time”, “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)”, “There’s A Rainbow (At The End of Every Storm)”

#12
Willie Nelson
Countryman

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Willie finally released this long-gestating reggae album, and it’s a surprisingly entertaining collection. His compositions, many of which have been recorded before in more conventional country arrangements, sound even better here; the Jamaican rhythms complement his unique vocal phrasing far better than the Nashville sound usually does.

Download This: “The Harder They Come”, “One In A Row”, “You Left Me A Long, Long Time Ago”

#11
Nickel Creek
Why Should The Fire Die?

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The ambitious trio recorded this long-awaited third album on analog in California. There is a warmth and artistic freedom that resonates throughout this project, which as a whole is the strongest album they’ve recorded.

Download This: “Somebody More Like You”, “Helena”, “Anthony”

#10
Trisha Yearwood
Jasper County

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Yearwood’s first album in four years is a welcome return home for the genre’s finest vocal talent. Working with long-time producer Garth Fundis, the high points of this album rank with the best recordings of her career, which is no small feat. The sparse, rootsy production allows her vocals to shine.

Download This: “Try Me”, “Standing Out In A Crowd”, “Who Invented The Wheel”, “River of You”

#9
Dolly Parton
Those Were The Days

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The concept sounds disastrous – Parton covering protest songs and warmed-over AM folk hits – and probably would’ve been if she was still in her Vegas phase. But the warm Appalachian treatments given to these classics breathe new life into them, and the best work here resonates as strongly as the originals.

Download This: “Those Were The Days”, “Where Do The Children Play”, “Blowing In The Wind”, “Both Sides Now”

#8
Dwight Yoakam
Blame The Vain

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Yoakam’s first set without Pete Anderson at the helm burns with the fire of a veteran who suddenly has something to prove. He sounds absolutely rejuvenated, and allows his snarky sense of humor to sneak through on many of the tracks.

Download This: “When I First Came Here”, “She’ll Remember”, “The Last Heart In Line”, “Blame The Vain”



#7
Wynonna
Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime

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Country music’s very own Liza Manelli comes out of nowhere with what is possibly the greatest live country album of her generation. Structured as an autobiographical tour through her life, Wynonna reveals herself to be a master storyteller, adding new depth and meaning to the songs she performs. She is so genuinely sincere that you can grant her some grace for being over-the-top at times.

Download This: “Peace In This House”, “That Was Yesterday”, “I Want To Know What Love Is”, “I Can Only Imagine”


#6
Faith Hill
Fireflies

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There was a beautiful period in country music about ten years ago, where female artists were exposing their listeners to lesser-known songwriters by covering their material. Much like Pam, Patty & Trisha brought fans to the work of Kim Richey, Matraca Berg and Bobbie Cryner, Hill makes the work of singer-songwriter Lori McKenna the grounding force of her phenomenal sixth album, easily the best of her career. Songs like “Stealing Kisses” and “If You Ask”, both McKenna originals, are the closest we’ll ever get to 21st Century Tammy Wynette, and we’re all better off for Hill singing them to us.

Download This: “Stealing Kisses”, “Wish For You”, “Dearly Beloved”, “Fireflies”


#5
Patty Loveless
Dreamin’ My Dreams

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As a fan who was disappointed by her previous album On Your Way Home, I am grateful to say that Loveless’ newest CD is among the best of her career. She’s always been best at the ballads, and she records some great ones here, but her rough and raw performance of rocker “Keep Your Distance” is clear evidence of her versatility as a vocalist.

Download This: “Nobody Here By That Name”, “Keep Your Distance”, “Everything But The Words”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”


#4
Lee Ann Womack
There’s More Where That Came From

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The very deserved winner of CMA’s Album of the Year award, Womack brings all the lying, cheating and hurting back to a genre that was getting way too antiseptic. By any standard, this is a modern country masterpiece and a crowning career achievement.

Download This: “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, “The Last Time”, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)”, “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”, “There’s More Where That Came From”



#3
Rodney Crowell
The Outsider

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A brilliant political and social statement that finds Crowell’s writing at its most incisive and furious. Crowell is the voice for the blistering, righteous anger that is simmering in the hearts and souls of progressives today, and thankfully, he is able to connect that frustration to the religious convictions that underly it. Oh, and the songs are also catchy as hell and sound great blasting from the car stereo

Download This: “The Obscenity Prayer”, “Dancin’ Circles ‘Round The Sun”, “Don’t Get Me Started”, “Ignorance Is The Enemy”, “Beautiful Despair”, “Shelter From The Storm”


#2
Kathy Mattea
Right Out Of Nowhere

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There hasn’t been a country album with more intelligence, wisdom and hopeful optimism that the human spirit will triumph since Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Stones In The Road eleven years ago. Mattea has the moral authority to cover “Gimme Shelter” and “Down On The Corner” – she’s been a walking illustration of the virtues of peacemaking and creating art for pure joy that those songs respectively celebrate. The life lessons embedded in the new material on the album are countless, but perhaps the most noble comes toward the end of the album in “Give It Away”, which she co-wrote: “I’ve been given a gift and what I know today, is the only way to keep it is to give it away.” It’s a gentle reminder to all of us that the gifts we have been given by God were meant to be shared with and used in the service of others.
Download This: “Give It Away”, “Loving You, Letting You Go”, “I Hope You’re Happy Now”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Right Outta Nowhere”, “Live It”




#1
Gary Allan
Tough All Over

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Allan tackles the suicide of his wife head-on with this stunning album, and he runs the gamut of emotions from anger, guilt, sorrow and slight shades of hope. He’s always been one of the genre’s best vocalists, but he’s never used his talents to sing such dark and often disturbing material. He pulls no punches in the lyrics – a sample: “I’ve been mad at everyone, including God and you”, from the gut-wrenching “I Just Got Back From Hell.” There are no happy endings on this record – the final track laments that he’s getting through by “Putting His Misery on Display” for audiences every night – and one suspects that he’s still spending more time in the dark places the tragedy has created in his life than he is looking for the light. It’s a powerful and moving record that ranks with the best country albums ever made.

Download This: “I Just Got Back From Hell”, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”, “Best I Ever Had”, “Putting Memories Away”, “Putting My Misery On Display”, “Ring”


Best Country Singles of 2005

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Three days later than intended, thanks to a Blogspot glitch, here’s the first of a few year-in-review entries. Given the incessant single listing on this page lately, it seems only right to kcik things off with my favorite fifty singles of the past year. Observant readers will note that rankings have changed a bit since the 400 Greatest List; what can I say, it’s been three months and tastes change.

Fifty Best Country Singles
of 2005

#50
“XXL”
Keith Anderson

Newcomer Anderson’s celebration of the big-and-tall clientele was one of the funniest records to hit country radio this year.

#49
“Tonight”
Sara Evans

Overshadowed by the admittedly superior “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, Evans’ ode to the one night stand has its own understated charm.

#48
“Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing”
SHeDaisy

The Osborn sisters get out all of their anger about being used and abused by the Nashville system, and ironically enough, it returns them to the top ten for the first time in years.

#47
“Don’t”
Shania Twain

A tender ballad that was nearly lost in the early months of the year, it helped her Greatest Hits solidify its place as the top-selling country album of 2005.

#46
“A Hard Secret To Keep”
Mark Chesnutt

A wonderful cheater’s lament that is laced with paranoia. Chesnutt’s never sounded better.

#45
“I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today”
Gretchen Wilson

While one would hope that co-writer Matraca Berg looked up Tillis, Loveless and Yearwood in her Rolodex before giving this song to Wilson, the newcomer does a decent job staying out of the way of an excellent song.

#44
“Big Time”
Big & Rich

A glorious celebration of what success truly means. Toby Keith should embrace the message.

#43
“Good Hearted Man”
Tift Merritt

Sultry and blues-tinged, this is country of the Bobbie Gentry variety, that Mississippi mud sound that is too often overlooked these days.

#42
“I Play Chicken With The Train”
Cowboy Troy with Big & Rich

This may end up more interesting in the long run to sociologists rather than musicologists, but the collision of musical genres here is wildly entertaining.

#41
“Race You To The Bottom”
Billy Dean

There seems to be a growing sector of the artistic community that are raising a voice against incessant commercialism; Dean is sadistic in adopting the voice of greed and envy. Who knew he had it in him?

#40
“She Didn’t Have Time”
Terri Clark

The saga of a single mom is lovingly retold by Clark in one of her most sensitive performances to date.

#39
“Boondocks”
Little Big Town

They’re more Fleetwood Mac than Dixie Chicks, but the harmonies of this trio sell this tale of growing up in the backwoods.

#38
“Comin’ To Your City”
Big & Rich

The Big & Rich boys seem to have a keener understanding of why their debut CD sold so well than their buddy Gretchen Wilson. This anthem is one of the main reasons they are exceeding the sophomore expectations that Wilson is falling short of, at least as measured by SoundScan.

#37
“If You Don’t Wanna Love Me”
Cowboy Troy with Sarah Buxton

It’s a bit campy, but Buxton’s haunting vocal keep this collaboration above water.

#36
“Goodbye Time”
Blake Shelton

Shelton covers one of Conway Twitty’s last hits and pulls it off with dignity. It’s Shelton’s first vocal performance that doesn’t feel strained.

#35
“Arlington”
Trace Adkins

There just aren’t enough songs sung from the grave in country music these days. The fallen soldier that Adkins gives voice to reminds about the cost of war in a way that is simply chilling.

#34
“Cheatin’”
Sara Evans

As I’ve said before, if Reba’s not going to make Reba records anymore, somebody has to. Evans absolutely nails this snarky song that revels in a man’s post-cheating decline.

#33
“He Oughta Know That By Now”
Lee Ann Womack

A fully believable every-woman tale about feeling neglected by a man who chooses work over his woman. If “I May Hate Myself In The Morning” was this generation’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, Womack has given us our own “Satin Sheets” with this hit.

#32
“Trying To Find Atlantis”
Jamie O’Neal

It’s wonderful to hear an artist that has been written off return with confidence and some great material. This search for the perfect man is clever and entertaining.

#31
“Blame The Vain”
Dwight Yoakam

Yoakam is always getting his heart broken on record, but he makes each heartache feel fresh. He sounds revitalized here, on the song that kicks off the fantastic album of the same name.

#30
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland

Nettles goes toe-to-toe with legend Jon Bon Jovi and more than holds her own. Her extra dose of grit takes this song to a higher level.

#29
“‘Shoes”
Shania Twain

Twain returns to her traditional roots with her most fiddle-laden single since she broke through with “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” ten years ago. She sounds relaxed and comfortable on this stopgap single.

#28
“Alcohol”
Brad Paisley

Paisley is often guilty of thinking he’s more clever than he is (ahem, “I’m Gonna Miss Her”), but he pulls off a great feat here by singing about alcohol in the first-person. He doesn’t have the honky-tonk grit to make this soar like a John Anderson would’ve done, but his understated vocal has its own charm.

#27
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”
Trace Adkins

Country music finally gets its own “Baby Got Back.” There wasn’t a funnier line this year than “We hate to see her go but love to watch her leave.”

#26
“As Good As I Once Was”
Toby Keith

I said, Daaaave…

#25
“If Something Should Happen”
Darryl Worley

Worley ditches the fake bravado of his nauseating “Have You Forgotten” and returns to what he does best. He walks the tight rope between bravery and fear as he asks his friend to look after his family if he doesn’t survive surgery.

#24
“Fightin’ For”
Cross Canadian Ragweed

Raw and angry, this is a fed-up challenge to people who don’t even know what they’re fightin’ for. Interpret as you will.


#23
“It’s Getting Better All The Time”
Brooks & Dunn

Every once in a while, Ronnie Dunn reminds us that he’s one of country’s best vocalists by ripping into a painful ballad. Shades of mid-60′s Beatles color this hit.

#22
“Georgia Rain”
Trisha Yearwood

Try denying this voice when matched with a flawless story song. You feel like you’re actually in the truck with her.

#21
“My Give A Damn’s Busted”
Jo Dee Messina

What a relief to hear a kiss-off anthem that doesn’t mince words. Messina’s comeback hit is among her best to date.

#20
“Mississippi Girl”
Faith Hill

Hill acquits herself admirably in this pointed response to critics who feel she’s become above her raising. It helps that she has a killer hook assisting her defense.

#19
“Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”
Lee Ann Womack

What a shame that Womack chose to film a video for this song that is a vain period piece when she could’ve fully visualised the middle-class, middle-aged woman that she wrote about in this song. Close your eyes and listen, and you hear the voice of every woman who drives her kids to school every morning and quietly accepts those lines on her face as the marks of a road well-traveled.

#18
“Wake Up Older”
Julie Roberts

The only song worth your time on Roberts’ debut CD, she takes a man home to help her forget the true love she sings to, but she confesses “I thought about you the whole time we were getting it on.”

#17
“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Keith Urban

A gorgeous showcase of his talents and clear evidence that those big CMA awards were deserved.

#16
“Jesus, Take The Wheel”
Carrie Underwood

She’s selling records at a clip that women (and men) in country music rarely ever experience. It’s more than that American Idol victory fueling it. She has the best voice to hit country music since Trisha Yearwood, and this first hit and its mass appeal indicates that she may be the most significant ambassador for the format to surface since the Chicks seven years ago.

#15
“I Would Cry”
Amy Dalley

Dalley’s matter-of-fact dismissal of a cheating lover is surprisingly and effectively rational; no desperate emotions here. “You made a choice and now there’s no way to ever make it right; if my tears had any power, I would cry.” Put out the damn album already, Curb.

#14
“They Don’t Understand”
Sawyer Brown

A three-act morality play that reminds us to check in with our neighbors before assigning them blame.

#13
“Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”
LeAnn Rimes

Rimes finally sounds like the heir of Tanya Tucker with this Southern Gothic meditation on early death and the borderline insanity it can cause. Listen closely and you can hear the ghost of Delta Dawn.

#12
“Like We Never Loved At All”
Faith Hill with Tim McGraw

A classic power ballad that sounds better with each listen.

#11
“Drugs or Jesus”
Tim McGraw

It’s amazing that a contemporary mainstream country star was able to have a hit with a song that suggests that drugs and religion fill the same need. He still has the best ear for material in Nashville.

#10
“Who You’d Be Today”
Kenny Chesney

I still can’t watch the video. I leave the room when it comes on. This heartbreaking hit is Chesney’s finest moment on record.

#9
“Something More”
Sugarland

It takes a great country record to make you want to quit your job for the three minutes it’s on. The answer to anybody inquiring why this band has exploded can be granted by listening to their biggest single so far.

#8
“Keep Your Distance”
Patty Loveless

Sometimes it’s all-or-nothing. I’m fascinated by the character in this song who apparently went against her better instincts by falling for this guy, but has now gotten enough of a grip on reality to know to cut him off and begin undoing the damage: “I played and I got stung, now I’m biting back my tongue, and sweeping out the footprints where I strayed.”

#7
“A Real Fine Place To Start”
Sara Evans

An explosion of just-fell-in-love energy.

#6
“Best I Ever Had”
Gary Allan

Allan takes this song and makes it his own, twanging it up and adding a darker tinge to lines like “Was it what you wanted? Could it be I’m haunted?” that give unspoken weight to his wife’s suicide last year.

#5
“I Hope”
Dixie Chicks

“Our children are watching us, they put they’re trust in us, they’re gonna be like us.” Remember that, the Chicks warn. We’re role models whether we want to be or not. What an important and perfectly constructed message.

#4
“My Old Friend”
Tim McGraw

There aren’t that many great songs about friendships; lovers get most of the attention. McGraw’s lament for a friend who has passed on is poignant and a firm reminder to keep in touch with the people who matter to you.

#3
“You’ll Be There”
George Strait

A surprisingly spiritual Strait confesses that he’s only walking the line in the hopes that he’ll see his loved one in heaven when he dies: “I know that I want to go where the streets are gold cause you’ll be there.”

#2
“Dancin’ Circles ‘Round The Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”
Rodney Crowell

Vibrant and forceful country-rock philosophy, with one life lesson after another until an entire path for the good life has been constructed.


#1
“Somebody’s Hero”
Jamie O’Neal

Quite possibly the best record about mother and child in country music history. It still gives me goosebumps with each listen.

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