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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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Big Kenny, “Long After I’m Gone”

Big KennyIf you live your life only for yourself, all that you’ve lived for dies with you. If you live your life for others, your life’s work lives on long after you’re gone.

That’s the lesson Big Kenny is imparting on his new single, his first since breaking through to stardom as one half of Big & Rich. He may seem a bit young to be concerning himself with what his legacy will be, but he’s remarkably clear-eyed, reaching the conclusions that many others fail to reach until it’s too late, if they ever reach them at all.

It’s a message that could be preachy if told in the second person, but since it’s presented as self-revelation, the lesson can be learned by example rather than prodding.

All in all, this is an encouraging preview of Big Kenny’s first post-Big & Rich solo project.

Grade: B+

Listen: Long After I’m Gone

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Themed Albums

kathy-mattea-coalKathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums.  There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride.  It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together.  Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.

Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history.  The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”

Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:

  • Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
  • Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
  • If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
  • Dirt (Chris Knight)
  • What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
  • The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
  • If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
  • Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
  • Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
  • It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
  • Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
  • Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
  • Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)

If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?

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Discussion: Country … on Broadway?

I fell in love with Broadway musicals at age 6 when my parents took me to see “Camelot”. It was a truly magical experience, and over the years I’ve often wondered if my early love of musicals contributed to my discovery of country music, as both rely on the emotional connection developed through story songs.

In recent years, a number of mainstream musical artists have ventured onto “The Great White Way.”  Among them former American Idol contestants and pop stars. For the most part country music stars have stayed away, but Reba McEntire stands out as a noteworthy exception. In 2001, she starred in “Annie Get Your Gun” to great acclaim. Even as a mid-run replacement she was given a special Drama Desk award, among others. She also gave a memorable turn as Nellie Forbush in the Carnegie Hall production of “South Pacific” in 2006.

While I do believe the experience may be beneficial for some artists in learning how to interpret lyrics and connect with the audience, most country artists will likely never perform on Broadway. So mostly for fun, and out of appreciation and love for both genres, I cast some of today’s country artists in various Broadway roles:

  • Carrie Underwood as Cosette in “Les Miserables”
  • Kellie Pickler as Ado Annie Carnes in “Oklahoma”
  • Emily West as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret”
  • Julianne Hough as Glinda in “Wicked”
  • Toby Keith as Jud Fry in “Oklahoma”
  • Taylor Swift as Wendla Bergmann in “Spring Awakening”
  • John Rich as Harold Hill in “Music Man”
  • Ashton Shepherd as Jo March in “Little Women”
  • Keith Urban as Roger Davis in “Rent”
  • Brad Paisley as Seymour Krelborn in “Little Shop of Horrors”
  • Charles Kelley as Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard”
  • Martina McBride as Peter in “Peter Pan”
  • Big Kenny as the Engineer in “Miss Saigon”

What do you think? Any additions?

Reba in “Annie Get Your Gun”

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