Category Archives: Decade in Review

Another Decade Where the Men Ruled Country Music

Maybe country radio would’ve played more women this decade if they had sold more records.

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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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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 9: #20-#11

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 9

20 Nickel

#20
Nickel Creek, This Side

With Alison Krauss still in the producer’s chair, This Side begins to drift away from the more pure bluegrass feel of Nickel Creek’s debut album. Containing deliciously funky grooves and even tighter musicianship among the trio, Nickel Creek further proves their inimitable creativity and talent on their sophomore project that ultimately secures their popularity among progressive bluegrass fans and perhaps a few unsuspecting traditionalists along the way as well. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Spit on A Stranger”, “I Should’ve Known Better”, “This Side”, “Sabra Girl”

19 Leeann

#19
Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From

It wasn’t quite the radical return to traditional country music that the album cover and subsequent marketing implied, but There’s More Where That Came From had more going for it than twin fiddles and steel, anyway: the strongest collection of songs that Womack had ever assembled. For those who went beyond the album’s one hit and two subsequent singles, the treasures were bountiful, including a cover of “Just Someone I Used to Know” hidden at the end of the disc. – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “One’s a Couple”, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”, “The Last Time”, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)”

18 Bill

#18
Bill Chambers, Sleeping With the Blues

Kasey Chambers’ father, Bill Chambers, shows that the talented apple doesn’t fall far from the proverbial tree. Chambers’ well worn gravel voice sounds as though he is personally all too familiar with the blues, which appropriately helps in service of the album’s general tone. Sleeping with the Blues is wonderfully produced with pure acoustic country instrumentation, which nicely supports this set of songs that contain straight up country music themes with a sly mix of wit and doom. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “I Drink”, “”Sleeping with the Blues”, “Big A** Garage Sale”, “Hold You in My Heart”

17 Caitlin

#17
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Begonias

George and Tammy, Loretta and Conway, Dolly and Porter, Caitlin and Thad. Heresy? Perhaps. However, when Begonias was released in 2005, duet albums seemed like a thing of the past in country music. Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, once neighbors in North Carolina, succeed in questioning that perception with their harmonies, songwriting, and natural chemistry by producing a timeless folk-country album that reminds us that great duets are not something that only exist as part of country music history. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Something Less than Something More”, “Second Option”, “Conversations About a Friend”, “Waiting on June”

16 AKUS

#16
Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways

But just what are the two ways that lonely runs? Through the leaver (“Goodbye Is All We Have”) and the left (“Wouldn’t Be So Bad”)? Through the lovestruck (“If I Didn’t Know Any Better”) and the loved (“Crazy As Me”)? Or just through haunting traditional bluegrass (everything the fellas sing lead on here) as well as haunting grass-pop (everything with Krauss)? I say all of the above – and if Krauss and company are the ones running lonely around, I’ll follow them whichever way they decide to take it. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Restless”, “Crazy As Me”, “If I Didn’t Know Any Better”, “A Living Prayer”

15 Be Good

#15
The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse

It is true that The Be Good Tanyas are in the periphery of country music’s big tent, but their mellow sound is refreshingly organic. Their unconventional vocal style, delightful harmonies and accessible melodic hooks make this album a joy to hear. Particularly interesting is their meandering interpretation of “Oh Suzanna.” – LW

Recommended Tracks: “The Littlest Birds”, “Dog Song aka. Sleep Dog Lullaby”, “Oh Suzanna”, “Light Enough to Travel”

14 Dwight

#14
Dwight Yoakam, Blame the Vain

Fully self-producing for the first time, Yoakam returned to what he’s always does best: smart, simple heartbreak songs with no-frills production and minimal BS. Except on “She’ll Remember,” where the frills and BS are badly British-accented, bizarrely futuristic and fully awesome. He’s the kind of artist so consistent that it’s easy to take him for granted, but here he tried to one-up himself and damn near succeeded. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Blame The Vain”, “Just Passin’ Time”, “She’ll Remember”, “The Last Heart In Line”

13 Shania

#13
Shania Twain, Up!

As distinctive and boundary-pushing as they were, Shania Twain’s first two mega-albums were a bit restrained, as if there was a “let’s not push this too far” voice in the back of her head. With Up!, she fully lets loose her creativity, spinning the same nineteen tracks in three different styles over three discs, with the American release featuring the country and pop editions. Rather than split the difference to please both audiences, she shamelessly panders to each one instead, stacking on the fiddle and steel more so than she ever did before on one disc, while venturing into pure Europop on the other. The winner in all of this is the listener, particularly the one who has a taste for both banjo and synthesizer, as Twain’s relentless zest for lyrical escapism finally has the music to match her infectious positivity. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “Nah!”, “Ka-Ching!”, “What a Way to Wanna Be!”, “I Ain’t Goin’ Down”

12 Chicks

#12
Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way

Somewhere between the Bush slam heard around the world and the five-Grammy victory seen around the world came this masterful, refreshingly real album, defined only by its own merits. A raw slice of the album deals with the incident that changed the Chicks’ career – and quite possibly the course of mainstream country music – reflecting a tenacity that’s wrapped in still-tender pain. But the same multi-faceted assuredness rings throughout the rest of Taking The Long Way, found in songs that dive deep, lyrically and sonically, into stories of struggle and doubt. With its bone-chilling depictions of life’s realities, the Chicks’ first fully-written album is a piece of art that pays a brilliant, ironic tribute to the heart of country music. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Not Ready to Make Nice”, “Silent House”, “I Hope”, “So Hard”

11 Nickel

#11
Nickel Creek, Why Should the Fire Die?

While they have been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album and won IMBA award for Instrumental Group of the Year, Nickel Creek have always insisted that they are not a bluegrass band. With Why Should the Fire Die?, Nickel Creek makes its strongest argument, taking on new producers, introducing more rock and pop influence, and generally going in their own direction. Still, and perhaps most importantly, they have maintained their ability to avoid all things formulaic while pushing beyond the boundaries of youthful talent. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “When in Rome”, “Can’t Complain”, “Anthony”, “Doubting Thomas”

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8: #30-#21

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8

30 Trisha

#30
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love

The latest album from Trisha Yearwood  was one of her best yet, with a surprisingly loose sound and quite a few more uptempo tracks than is the norm for this queen of the ballads.  The best moments came from the pens of female songwriters, most notably the poignant “Dreaming Fields” penned by Matraca Berg. – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “This Is Me You’re Talking To”, “Dreaming Fields”, “Sing You Back to Me”

29 Pam

#29
Pam Tillis,  Rhinestoned

On Rhinestoned, Pam Tillis demonstrates that she need not limit herself to covering her father’s songs in order to make a stellar traditional leaning album in her own right. The album, co-produced by Tillis, is consistent with accessible melodies, gentle, classic arrangements and impressively nuanced performances. While this is Tillis’ best album of the decade, it’s also possibly the best of her substantive career. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Something Burning Out”, Band in the Window”, “Life Has Sure Changed Us Around” (with John Anderson)

28 Patty

#28
Patty Loveless, Dreamin’ My Dreams

The reigning Miss Country Covers has proven almost ad nauseam that she can re-render a standard with the best of them. But the might of Patty Loveless’ talent emerges more fully in her musically diverse contemporary albums, which allow her powerful voice to flex its complete range of colors and nuances. Those sets also exercise more of her taste, giving opportunity for song selections which, at their sharpest, present an inspiring vision of how country music can evolve without losing its core identity. Dreamin’ My Dreams is an achievement on both fronts, arguably one of the brightest moments in a very distinguished career. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Keep Your Distance”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Nobody Here By That Name”

27 Peter

#27
Peter Cooper, Mission Door

Peter Cooper’s Mission Door is an album built around the most country of instrumentation, centered around Lloyd Green on steel guitar. Full of insightful glimpses of troubled lives, it might be considered a throwback, but on the strength of its writing and sound it never seems to try to exist in the past. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “All the Way to Heaven”, “715 (For Hank Aaron)”, “Sheboygan”

26 Robert Alison

#26
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin’s front man, Robert Plant, are surely an unlikely duo. It turns out, however, that they managed to make one of the most intriguing duets projects of the decade. With vocal styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they find a way to meld together to create an easy harmony that causes the listener to forget their vocal dissimilarities. Moreover, T Bone Burnett’s slow burning productions perfectly compliment this diverse set of songs to make it a legitimately cohesive record. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”, “Please Read the Letter”, “Through the Morning, Through the Night”

25 Todd

#25
Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline

One of music’s most poetic songwriters lays bare his fears, demons and revelations, throwing in the requisite dry wit and some loosey-goosey social commentary for good measure. Snider has rarely sounded countrier, and he’s never sounded better. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Alcohol And Pills”, “The Ballad Of the Kingsmen”, “Sunshine”

24 Randy

#24
Randy Travis, Worship & Faith

Randy Travis has dedicated most of this decade to his spiritual side. Of all of his gospel albums, this collection is the most traditional both in arrangements and content, which covers several beloved hymns, gospel and praise and worship songs. Travis sings these meaningful compositions with a depth of sincerity that truly makes partaking of this rootsy project a spiritual experience. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “He’s My Rock, My Sword, My Shield”, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” (with John Anderson), “Sweet By and By”

23 Sugarland

#23
Sugarland, Love On the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)

More so than any act since the Dixie Chicks, Sugarland can fuse mainstream country with roots instrumentation in such imaginative ways that even pop audiences will lap it up.  This is the best commercial country album from the tail end of the decade, powered by the Nettles/Bush songwriting chops and the awe-inspiring vocals of Miss Nettles. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “We Run”, “Keep You”, “Very Last Country Song”

22 Keith

#22
Keith Urban, Be Here

Urban is an exceptional vocalist, songwriter and guitar player, but what separates him from his contemporaries is the raw, explosive emotion he throws into his performances. Be Here finds him channeling this passion more vigorously than ever and in new, more revealing ways – like the wrenching confession, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” Urban bypasses the role of interpreter on this album and simply inhabits the material; he’s as complex a person to be able to sing realistically, yet poignantly, of both life’s highest mountaintops and deepest valleys. Even further, Be Here is as accessible as it is personal, a quality that is perhaps what has made Urban one of the most accomplished recording artists in mainstream country music. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Days Go By”, “Tonight I Wanna Cry”, “Live To Love Another Day”

21 Neko

#21
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby

Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby is familiar with its use of reverb and Case’s overflowing voice. What may not be familiar for some is how much Case, who has moved more towards alternative influences with recent albums, draws from country influences on her sophomore album. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “Set Out Running”, “Porchlight”, “South Tacoma Way”

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 7: #40-#31

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 7

40 Tim

#40
Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying

The title track looks forward, pondering what to do with the scarcity of time left, but the best of the rest of these tracks look backward, sometimes with sadness (“My Old Friend”), sometimes with humor (“Back When”), and often with both (“Open Season on My Heart”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’.”) – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “My Old Friend”, “Old Town New”, “Open Season On My Heart”

39 Ashley

#39
Ashley Monroe,  Satisfied

At just nineteen years old, Ashley Monroe has made an album with content comparatively mature, both in lyrics and production, to most other albums on this list. With a voice naturally tinged with both twang and sophistication, Monroe sings of loss, relational strife and even regret and sorrow with acute adeptness. While many of the compositions are sonically and topically subdued, she is not incapable of letting loose on certain numbers such as Kasey Chambers’ “Pony”, which includes a mean yodel, and a delightful duet with Dwight Yoakam, “That’s Why We Call Each Other Baby.” – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Pony”, “Satisfied”, “Hank’s Cadillac”

38 Dolly

#38
Dolly Parton, Little Sparrow

She got her groove back with The Grass Is Blue, but Parton’s career revival truly peaked when she revisited her mountain roots on this classic album. She won a Grammy for her treatment of the Collective Soul hit “Shine”, and she wrote new songs like the title track, which ranks among her best work. She even revisited her finest pre-“Coat of Many Colors” composition, “Down From Dover”, restoring the verse that Porter Wagoner had forced her to edit out for the sake of brevity. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “Little Sparrow”, “Shine”, “Down From Dover”

37 Carrie

#37
Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts

Six months after taking the American Idol crown, Underwood unapologetically introduced herself as a polished country-pop artist via Some Hearts. With explosive hits like “Before He Cheats” at the helm, the album became the best-selling debut by a solo female country artist, making it easy to overlook that it is as genuine as it is commercially viable. It’s an album that fits Underwood like a glove, bottling a unique combination of naivety and perceptiveness, sass and charm, bombast and reservation – the kinds of paradoxes that have come to define her as an artist and as a person. And while the material is standard country-pop, to be sure, we’re reminded by Underwood’s compelling, crystalline performances that standard material can be made to be just as memorable as anything else. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Wasted”, “Jesus, Take The Wheel”, “The Night Before (Life Goes On)”

36 Tim Darrell

#36
Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, Real Time

In which two modern virtuosos sit in a living room and pluck out an acoustic album to match any before or since. The playing is exemplary, the songwriting deeply inspired, and the country-folk-bluegrass sound ageless. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Walk Beside Me”, “There Ain’t No Easy Way”, “Long Time Gone”

35 O Brother

#35
Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Sometimes an album’s perceived quality becomes inextricable from its legend. Such is the case with the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ modern-day Odyssey, one of the bestselling country sets of the decade and a landmark in the genre’s history for its regeneration of mainstream interest in roots music. In essence, it’s really just a bunch of old-time covers done in exceptionally convincing old-time form. Whether that’s enough to put it among the decade’s finest country albums is up for debate – but there’s no denying it’s among the most essential. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby”, “O Death”

34 Buddy Julie

#34
Buddy and Julie Miller, Written in Chalk

Americana’s favorite couple outdo themselves on one of this year’s most revelatory albums, a tour de force of down-home soul and raw depth. The Millers excel at finding just the right sound to express the sentiments of their material, scoring randy lovemakin’ (“Gasoline And Matches”) and quiet grief (“Don’t Say Goodbye”) with equal aplomb. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “One Part, Two Part”, “Chalk”, “Everytime We Say Goodbye”

sleepless nights

#33
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights

The last decade has seen numerous well executed traditional covers albums, but none of higher quality than Patty Loveless’ tribute to tradition, Sleepless Nights. Loveless culls songs from various places, including compositions mostly previously attributed to male singers, to create an album that solidly stands as a cohesive unit. Due to Loveless’ naturally distinctive twang and her producer husband’s (Emory Gordy, Jr.) tasteful arrangements (prominent bass, light percussion and steel guitar), Sleepless Nights does well at staying authentic while still sounding progressive enough to warrant yet another covers project. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Pain of Loving You”, “Sleepless Nights”, “Cold Cold Heart”

32 Justin

#32
Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies

While The Good Life gained considerably more attention among traditional country audiences than Midnight at the Movies, with Justin Townes Earle’s follow-up, we are presented with his first fully mature album. Nominated for an Americana Music Award for Album of the Year, Midnight at the Movies delivers a voice fallen far from the rough gravel of Earle’s father, Steve Earle, but with gleaming jewels of writing equal to some of his father’s best work. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “They Killed John Henry”, “Mama’s Eyes”, “Black Eyed Suzy”

31 Keith

#31
Keith Urban, Golden Road

Urban’s second solo album is an exuberant, original piece of work that solidified his place as one of the genre’s most gifted and charismatic male artists. The album showcases both his fine musicianship and intuitive sense of balance, as the material embraces exhilaration without feeling frivolous, and sentimentality without feeling melodramatic. Much like his other albums, it’s hard to classify Urban’s style on Golden Road, with its intermixed elements of rock, pop and traditional country – but who the heck cares when it’s this good? – TS

Recommended Tracks: “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me”, “You’ll Think Of Me”, “Raining On Sunday”

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6: #50-#41

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6

    50 Mattea

    #50
    Kathy Mattea, Right Out of Nowhere

    Kathy Mattea has rarely sounded more open and warm than on this set of innovative folk-tinged songs. Topics of peace, love, resignation and heartache are sensitively explored in songs both written by Mattea and other well-known names, including captivating interpretations of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Me Shelter” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner.” It’s a rich album with a decisively vibrant feel. – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Gimme Shelter”, “Down on the Corner”, “Give It Away”

    49 Cash

    #49
    Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around

    American IV: The Man Comes Around was the last Cash album released in his lifetime; the bulk of its tracks are covers performed by the then ailing singer. Amazingly enough, the album seems almost biographical despite the limited material written by Cash. Still, American IV is not limited to “Hurt” (written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails), as other well-interpreted covers and Cash’s own “The Man Comes Around” help cement the depth of the album. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “The Man Comes Around”, “Hurt”, “Sam Hall”

    48 Johnson

    #48
    Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

    The media hype machine had a field day with Johnson’s breakthrough sophomore album, showering it with the kind of superlatives usually reserved for miracle cures and immaculate conceptions (see also: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Most of the attention went to the album’s counterculturism within the increasingly safe and watered-down Music Row, with numerous nods to its Outlaw aesthetic and “cocaine and a whore” business. But That Lonesome Song‘s greatness was always more than contextual, and certainly more than attitudinal; this is an album with a genuine story to tell, filled with a slow-burning sorrow that pervades every track and doesn’t rest until the wife finally walks away and the husband resigns himself to playing seedy bars and trying to convince you he’s worthy of comparison to the greats. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “High Cost Of Living”, “Angel”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”

    *Credit for linked parody cover: Farce the Music.

    47 Hill

    #47
    Faith Hill, Fireflies

    For all of the attention given to her power ballads and catchy pop numbers, Faith Hill has always included more offbeat material from lesser known songwriters. This album had some great power ballads and catchy pop numbers, but its heart and soul comes from the trio of Lori McKenna songs that make up its core. “Stealing Kisses” just might be Hill’s finest moment to date, and the other two McKenna songs – “If You Ask” and the title track – are nearly as good.  – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Dearly Beloved”, “Stealing Kisses”, “Wish For You”

    46 Gill

    #46
    Vince Gill, Next Big Thing

    Gill dips into a wider range of styles and subjects on his first self-produced album, but it all seems to thoughtfully tie back to his classically sweet sound – a tricky thing to do in country music. Next Big Thing is mature, clever and vocally spot-on, and features some killer guest vocals from Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack and others. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Without You”, “Two Hearts”, “These Broken Hearts”

    45 Underwood

    #45
    Carrie Underwood, Play On

    Easily one of the most versatile artists in country music, Underwood is capable of tackling almost any musical style, and she makes a solid case for this on her third album. The kicker, though, is that rather than signaling a lack of identity, each style feels like a natural extension of herself as an artist. She’s mournful on a haunting country standard in one breath, and commanding on a rock-charged up-tempo in the next – all without compromising her authenticity. Most significantly, Underwood finally digs a little deeper on Play On, marrying her extraordinary vocal proficiency with a higher level of tangible, sincere conviction than ever before. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, “Songs Like This”, “What Can I Say”

    44 Crowell

    #44
    Rodney Crowell, The Outsider

    Crowell’s take on mid-decade politics avoids heavy-handedness, perhaps because what he’s appealing to is not so much partisanship as patriotism in its purest form: “Democracy won’t work if we’re asleep. That kind of freedom is a vigil you must keep.”  Bonus points for not one, but two guest turns from Emmylou Harris, the highlight being their stunning duet of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.” – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Dancin’ Circles ‘Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”, “Don’t Get Me Started”, “Shelter From the Storm”

    43 Little

    #43
    The Little Willies, The Little Willies

    Norah Jones pet country side project with four of her New York City friends, including former boyfriend bassist Lee Alexander, results inn an inextricably fun album named after Willie Nelson who is covered twice on the project (“Gotta Get Drunk” and “Night Life”). The productions, including jaunty piano and prominent bass, along with Jones’ atypically loose vocals, make this disc a thrilling listening experience. While The Little Willie’s self titled album is not tight in technical terms, the album is all the better for it. – LW

    Recommended Tracks: “Roll On”, “Gotta Get Drunk”, “Tennessee Stud”

    42 Yearwood

    #42
    Trisha Yearwood, Real Live Woman

    Upon its release, the artist declared that she’d finally made her dream album. It’s easy to understand why, as Real Live Woman is Trisha Yearwood’s most cohesive album to date. It has a warmth and depth that makes it more than just reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt’s classic L.A. country albums from the mid-seventies. It’s actually on par with them. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Where Are You Now”, “Try Me Again”, “When a Love Song Sings the Blues”

    41 Kristofferson

    #41
    Kris Kristofferson, Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco

    For each unequivocal success like At Folsom Prison and Nirvana Unplugged, there are a dozen uninspired live albums that simply exist to capitalize on old material. Kris Kristofferson’s Broken Freedom Songs, with his extended introductions and banter, is an unequivocal success. Along with its friendly and almost conversational tone, Broken Freedom Songs focuses on unexpected compositions and makes a nice addition to other historically strong live albums. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “The Circle”, “Here Comes that Rainbow Again”, “Moment of Forever”

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    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 5: #60-#51

      The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 5

      bruce robison country sunshine

      #60
      Bruce Robison, Country Sunshine

      One of modern country’s little-known heroes, Robison has built a career on simple songs of unusually strong focus, voice and insight. His strongest collection from this decade mainly explores love at its point of disenchantment, with characters sitting at various fallouts pondering who’s to blame, who used who, or why the feelings aren’t requited. Not so much Sunshine, then, but quite a bit of Country. – Dan Milliken

      Recommended Tracks: “Friendless Marriage”, “What Would Willie Do”, “Tonight”

      59 Rascal

      #59
      Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today

      The group has yet to hit the nail on the “Rascal Flatts” head again like they did with this country-pop album – a collection of powerful, melody-driven songs on which Gary LeVox manages to tastefully reign in his tenor. When paired with the right material –particularly deep-rooted love songs like “Bless The Broken Road” –, the Flatts boys can emote like it’s nobody’s business, resulting in soaring, passionate performances. – Tara Seetharam

      Recommended Tracks: “Where You Are”, “Bless The Broken Road”, “Oklahoma-Texas Line”

      58 Keith

      #58
      Keith Urban, Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing

      Urban’s creativity peaked with this ambitious set, with arrangements as revelatory as his lyrics. As an album, it’s a cohesive work of art, yet it still managed to produce his strongest collection of singles that work just as well outside of their home. – Kevin Coyne

      Recommended Tracks: “I Told You So”, “Stupid Boy”, “Got it Right This Time”

      57 Willie

      #57
      Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, Willie and The Wheel

      Willie Nelson teamed up with Western swing giants Asleep at the Wheal to create a project filled with warm treatments of Western swing standards. While Nelson sounds very much alive on this album, his trademark phrasing perfectly captures a relaxed, yet proficient, vibe. In order to be as prolific as Nelson tends to be, it’s common for him to minimally prepare for his recordings. It’s been reported that this was not the case for this album, however. Instead, he studied and practiced these songs until he felt comfortable enough to really do them justice. His extra effort is clearly evident as a result. – Leeann Ward

      Recommended Tracks: “Hesitation Blues”, “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None…”, “Right or Wrong”

      56 Brad

      #56
      Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

      I’m drawn to albums that can flawlessly blend contemporary and traditional country music, and Paisley’s eighth album is a remarkable example in all senses. It’s a surprisingly revealing, carefully-written album that’s engaging yet lighthearted, and it embraces social consciousness as effectively as it does Paisley-seasoned humor. He’s not the first to do so, but Paisley certainly furthers the case that you can successfully look both forwards and backwards on the same album. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “Welcome To The Future”, “Everybody’s Here”, “You Do The Math”

      ryan heartbreaker

      #55
      Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker

      Adams had already released some exemplary work with Whiskeytown by the time the Aughts rolled around, but it was his classic solo debut that cemented him as alt-country’s “It” Boy. With the aural looseness of folk and the shrewd scrutiny of classic country, Heartbreaker plays like the very encapsulation of despair, each track exposing a cathartic new layer of its creator’s weary, self-mocking psyche. It would all be insufferably bleak if it didn’t sound so strangely healing. – DM

      Recommended Tracks: “AMY”, “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, “Come Pick Me Up”

      54 Bruce

      #54
      Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

      Recorded in Springsteen’s living room, The Seeger Sessions is a project that celebrates the songs of activist and folk singer, Pete Seeger. For this unique recording, Springsteen temporarily breaks away from his rock E Street Band and forms the more organic, big band style Sessions Band, which includes horns, banjo, guitar, percussion, piano, B3 organ, Harmonica, violin and upright bass. The result is a delightful album that sounds like a well executed jam session rather than a stuffy studio affair. – LW

      Recommended Tracks: “Old Dan Tucker”, “O Mary Don’t You Weep for Me”, “Pay Me My Money Down”

      53 Lady

      #53
      Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum

      There isn’t anyone in country music quite like this vibrant trio, whose debut is a heartfelt, organic mainstream country album with undertones of 70’s-esque R&B. There’s a beautiful imperfection to the pairing of Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott’s equally soulful voices, and they’ve got a particular knack for writing melodies that are as interesting as they are expressive. Lady Antebellum is both a skillful showcase of these strengths and an exciting glimpse at the group’s potential in country music. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “All We’d Ever Need”, “Love’s Lookin’ Good On You”, “I Run To You”

      52 Alan

      #52
      Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose

      Who would think that the combination of bluegrass legend Alison Krauss and traditional country legend Alan Jackson would result in an album like this? With Krauss as producer, Jackson became the consummate crooner, singing with such depth and nuance that it was like hearing a completely different singer. – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “Like Red On a Rose”, “Nobody Said That it Would Be Easy”, “The Firefly’s Song”

      51 Brad

      #51
      Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted

      Brad Paisley’s fourth album continues the more aggressively muscular sound that its predecessor, Mud on the Tires had already wisely adopted. As is typical for a Paisley album his sharp wit shows up throughout the disc in the form of sly observations to which people can easily relate. However, he strays from the humor at times in order to deliver some of the most beloved songs of his career, including “Waitin’ on A Woman” and “When I Get Where I’m Going.” – LW

      Recommended Tracks: “Rainin’ You”, “Easy Money”, “Time Well Wasted”

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      The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4: #70-#61

        The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4

        70 Tillis

        #70
        Pam Tillis, It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

        By the time she released a tribute to her father Mel, she’d become something of a legend in her own right. So it’s no surprise that she approached Mel’s stellar songwriting catalog as if she was recording any other studio album, taking the best of the bunch and making them her own. Bonus points for preserving the original fiddle breakdown from “Heart Over Mind” while making that classic shuffle a forlorn ballad, and a few more for hitting the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame until she found a forgotten gem that should’ve been a hit back in the day (“Not Like it Was With You.”) – Kevin Coyne

        Recommended Tracks: “Mental Revenge”, “Detroit City”

        69 Dwight

        #69
        Dwight Yoakam, dwightyoakamacoustic.net

        Yoakam takes a new, inspired spin on the greatest hits album concept, presenting us with a hearty sampling (over 20 songs) of his catalog served acoustic style. It simply works for the country legend. He introduces some delightful new twists and turns to his old classics, and as it should go with acoustic music, the album is driven by unadulterated, raw vocals, coupled with honest storytelling – the purest form of country music. – Tara Seetharam

        Recommended Tracks: “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”, “Things Change”

        68 Gillian

        #68
        Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)

        Time (The Revelator) is Gillian Welch and David Rawlings with much of their typical production stripped away. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and banjo, Gillian sings with emotions as much as she sings notes that create a surprisingly full sound. – William Ward

        Recommended Tracks: “I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll”, “Red Clay Halo”

        67 Reba

        #67
        Reba McEntire, Reba Duets

        That McEntire is able to smoothly and effortlessly wrap her voice around eleven other distinctive voices is a tribute to her sheer talent as an artist. With duet partners stretching from Justin Timberlake to Ronnie Dunn, McEntire presents a stunning, layered mix of sounds and styles, demonstrating that when gifted artists come together, no perceived boundaries can stop them from making good music. – TS

        Recommended Tracks: “The Only Promise That Remains”, “When You Love Someone Like That”

        law call me

        #66
        Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy

        Very few country artists can express pain more poignantly than Womack, who taps into a place of tender desperation with her highly-acclaimed 2008 album. The stories are deep and reflective, the sorrow palpable, and the production adeptly sparse – a potent combination. – TS

        Recommended Tracks: “Solitary Thinkin'”, “Either Way”

        65 Nickel

        #65
        Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek

        Nickel Creek has been nominated for Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammys and won Best Contemporary Folk Album, yet the group does not easily fit into any of those categories. Produced by Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek’s self-titled album is their most bluegrass-influenced album. – WW

        Recommended Tracks: “The Fox”, “The Hand Song”

        64 Watkins

        #64
        Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins

        Sara Watkins’ self-titled debut holds more than a few surprises, including more country influence than you will hear from any of her former Nickel Creek bandmates’ solo work. Produced by John Paul Jones, pedal steel is prominent on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time,” performed as western swing, “All this Time,” and Tom Waits’ “Pony.” – WW

        Recommended Tracks: “All This Time”, “Give Me Jesus”

        63 Dierks

        #63
        Dierks Bentley, Modern Day Drifter

        Rife with accessible melodies, solid lyrics and a penchant for traditional sounds, Dierks Bentley’s sophomore project, Modern Day Drifter, confirmed the promise that was only hinted at on his first album. The title of the album rightly suggests that Bentley will explore the components of breaking the chains of domesticity, which include the freedom (“Lotta Leavin’ Left to Do”, “Modern Day Drifter”, “Domestic Light and Cold”, “the Cab of My Truck”) and the ultimate consequences (“Settle for a Slowdown”, “Down on Easy Street”). Nevertheless, Bentley does not stop with those themes. He also finds room for common themes as love and loss, as demonstrated in the pretty “Good Things Happen”, the smoldering “Come A Little Closer” and heartbreaking “Gonna Get There Someday.” – Leeann Ward

        Recommended Tracks:

        62 Todd

        #62
        Todd Snider, The Devil You Know

        An explosion of righteous anger over poverty with an undercurrent of joyous celebration of America’s underclass. You can never tell for sure if he sees himself as their advocate or their peer, but the songs are so powerful, it doesn’t really matter. – KC

        Recommended Tracks: “Just Like Old Times”, “The Devil You Know”

        61 Rodney

        #61
        Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid

        After a string of somewhat underwhelming major-label releases in the 90’s, Rodney Crowell rebounded in a big way with this remarkably deep set on celebrated indie label Sugar Hill. Childhood joys and adult insights stand side-by-side in The Houston Kid, producing an emotionally rich and complicated survey of the album’s world. Such is the detail and soul of Crowell’s writing that every second comes across as autobiographical, even the ones that probably aren’t. – Dan Milliken

        Recommended Tracks: “The Rock Of My Soul”, “I Walk The Line (Revisited)”

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        100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3: #80-#71

        The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3

        80 Martina

        #80
        Martina McBride, Timeless

        McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam

        Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”

        79 Felice

        #79
        Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock

        The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward

        Recommended Tracks: “Run, Chicken, Run”, “The Big Surprise”

        78 Big

        #78
        Big & Rich, Horse of a Different Color

        Big Kenny’s and John Rich’s voices and creativity blend to form a richly textured harmony that is only fully realized when they work together, as is most evident on their debut album that took country music by storm in a huge way. While their subsequent projects haven’t even come close to matching the potential of their first, Horse of A Different Coloris an album of refreshing risks and creativity that has been both embraced and criticized as a result of unique production and odd lyrical twists. Songs ranging from ridiculous to philosophical and all points inbetween make this album one of the most memorable, if not controversial, mainstream albums of the decade. – Leeann Ward

        Recommended Tracks: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”

        77 Dierks

        #77
        Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone

        Bentley takes his road theme all the way, crafting a concept album that both celebrates the loneliness of the road and mourns the resting places left behind by those who choose to stay on it. – Kevin Coyne

        Recommended Tracks: “Long Trip Alone”, “The Heaven I’m Headed To”

        76 Josh

        #76
        Josh Turner, Everything is Fine

        Turner’s third album is an outstanding example of a style that is deeply traditional yet still current, assured yet still vulnerable. His distinctive voice is paired with a well-crafted and charming set of songs on this album, which further solidified him as one of the genre’s leading traditionalists. – TS

        Recommended Tracks: “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”

        75 Reckless

        #75
        Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof

        Country and power-pop collide in one of Texas’ most memorable albums in years. If Bulletproof has a weakness, it’s that its love songs and road anthems are all so damn hooky that the deeper material has to fight to steal your attention away. – Dan Milliken

        Recommended Tracks: “American Blood”, “Mirage”

        74 Chick

        #74
        Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, The Enchantment

        The Enchantment is a collaboration between jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Full of soaring energy and technical prowess, The Enchantment blends the influences of both Corea and Fleck resulting in jazz compositions infused with bluegrass overtones.- WW

        Recommended Tracks: “Mountain”, “Sunset Road”

        73 Otto

        #73
        James Otto, Sunset Man

        On his breakthrough sophomore album, Otto’s voice is commanding and rich with soul, proving he has one of the most interesting male voices to come out of country music in the past few years. Sunset Man is a solid contemporary country album that has his voice melting just as effectively with bluesy, mid-tempo numbers as it does with muscular power ballads. – TS

        Recommended Tracks: “For You”, “These Are The Good Ole Days”

        72 Jon

        #72
        Jon Randall, Walking Among the Living

        Thanks to his very lucrative songwriting collaboration with Bill Anderson that resulted in a smash hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss with “Whiskey Lullaby”, Jon Randall received a major label deal with Sony. Unfortunately, Randall’s only album with them was not even a blip on most people’s radars, though not due to lack of quality. Randall’s gorgeous tenor, most closely comparable to Vince Gill’s,tastefully blends with rootsy instrumentation and solid compositions to create a humble work of art. – LW

        Recommended Tracks: “I Shouldn’t Do This”, “Lonely for Awhile”

        71 Crooked

        #71
        Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound

        Crooked Still is an alternate bluegrass group led by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. With haunting vocals and technical prowess Crooked Still pushes acoustic music in a manner similar to Nickel Creek but with a slightly more recognizable traditional bend. – WW

        Recommended Tracks: “Wind and Rain”, “Little Sadie”

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        100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2: #90-#81

          The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2

          90 Miranda

          #90
          Miranda Lambert, Kerosene

          On her first major-label album, Lambert reveals herself as a fiery, spirited artist with a lot to say, and a clever voice with which to speak. Her sharp songwriting skills, though a work in progress as we’d later learn, take her naturally from aggression to desolation and back again. But most notably, through Kerosene, Lambert got the traditionalists to pay a little more attention to mainstream country music and its more promising artists. – Tara Seetharam

          Recommended Tracks: “Kerosene”, “I Can’t Be Bothered”

          89 Kris

          #89
          Kris Kristofferson, This Old Road
          This Old Road has not have received as much mainstream attention as Kristofferson’s recent appearance in Ethan Hawke’s Rolling Stone article; an unfortunate fact, given it was the legendary writer’s first album of new material in 11 years. With This Old Road, Kristofferson shines a spotlight on the world much in the same his earlier writing shined a spotlight on himself. The result is an overtly political album with more depth than most modern attempts have been able to produce. – William Ward

          Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing to Go”, “Pilgrim’s Progress”

          88 Guy

          #88
          Guy Clark, Workbench Songs

          The recordings  of the songs that Guy Clark, one of country music’s most respected modern songwriters, has written for the most popular artists in country music are typically polished by the best Nashville musicians and slick producers. But Clark’s own albums tend to be more organic, with spare instrumentation that somehow manages to avoid sounding anemic as a result. His well worn voice sings these eleven melodically and lyrically strong songs with warmth and the kind of emotion that easily captures the listener. It’s one of the best albums of his deep catalog that spans over thirty years. – Leeann Ward

          Recommended Tracks: “Walkin’ Man”, “Expose”

          87 Wynonna

          #87
          Wynonna, What the World Needs Now is Love

          It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since Wynonna’s last proper studio album. This collection is easily one of her best, with effective covers like “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Flies On the Butter”, along with socially conscious material that provokes thought instead of pandering to already held beliefs (“It All Comes Down to Love”). – Kevin Coyne

          Recommended Tracks: “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis”, “Rescue Me”

          86 Lee Ann

          #86
          Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

          The massively successful title track powered this album to triple platinum, but it also overshadowed the excellent songs surrounding it. For those who explored the album beyond track two, there were some of Womack’s finest moments on record, as she had the good taste to plunder the catalogs of Bruce Robison (“Lonely Too”), Bobbie Cryner (“Stronger Than I Am”), Julie Miller (“I Know Why the River Runs”), and Rodney Crowell (“Ashes By Now”). – KC

          Recommended Tracks: “Lonely Too”, “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”

          85 Chris

          #85
          Chris Thile, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground

          This is the first album from the band that would eventually become Punch Brothers. Garnering a Grammy Award Nomination in 2006, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is a solid bluegrass album with classical sensibilities and extraordinary instrumentation. – WW

          Recommended Tracks: “Wayside (Back in Time)”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

          84 Ralph

          #84
          Ralph Stanley II, This One Is Two

          Hyperbole alert, but it’s hard to think of a more beautiful-sounding traditional country album from this decade, or one which more comfortably merges old school aesthetics with modern production polish. Stanley corralled a number of meaty story songs here, but it’s the combination of his warm baritone and the lush instrumentation that gives this gem its quiet strength. – Dan Milliken

          Recommended Tracks: “Cold Shoulder”, “They Say I’ll Never Go Home”

          83 Louvin

          #83
          Various Artists, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

          Tribute albums too often feel redundant, as well-meaning artists deliver nice but forgettable imitations of classic records. Not so with the Louvins’, which sticks veteran and current artists alike on the Bros’ close harmonies and sees each intriguing combination (Pam Tillis and Johnny Cash? Why not!) triumph. I daresay it’s as good an introduction to the duo’s work as any compilation of their own recordings. – DM

          Recommended Tracks: “How’s the World Treating You?”, “Are You Teasing Me”

          82 Todd

          #82
          Todd Snider, The Excitement Plan

          Snider mostly avoids both political themes and complex arrangements on his latest record, emphasizing his greatest strength as a writer instead: his uncanny ability to make the most specifically personal have universal resonance. Listen out for a wonderful cameo from Loretta Lynn on “Don’t Tempt Me.” – KC

          Recommended Tracks: “Barefoot Champagne”, “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number 10)”

          81 O'Connor

          #81
          Mark O’Connor, Thirty-Year Retrospective (Live)

          Mark O’Connor’s Thirty Year Retrospective is a double instrumental album of his live performance with Chris Thile, Bryan Sutton and Byron House.  The album covers a wide range of Mark O’Connor’s career, presenting a range of instrumental country, bluegrass, new grass and jazz with the detail and care often only applied to classical music. – WW

          Recommended Tracks: “Caprice No. 4 in D Major”, “Macedonia”

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