Of course, it’s not just the Americana acts that can’t get radio play these days. Even top-selling albums by Scotty McCreery and Alison Krauss & Union Station weren’t embraced.
Country Universe editors and contributors each submitted a list of their ten favorite albums of 2011. 31 different albums were included on our lists, and over the next two days, we’ll share with you our collective top twenty.
Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11
Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail
His tenure with the Punch Brothers and his winning of the first annual “Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass” in 2010 both earned Noam Pikelny the clout to release Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail, his second solo album and first since 2004. Joined by an all-star roster of fellow pickers, Pikelny’s mostly instrumental set is a showcase both for its lead artist’s extraordinary technical skills and for the banjo’s wide-ranging potential. – Jonathan Keefe
Long Line of Heartaches
Connie Smith is hailed by many as the best vocalist in country music history, and that distinction is clearly warranted. When it comes to tone, phrasing, and vocal power, the woman has no equal. In listening to Long Line of Heartaches, her first album of new material since 1998, it would be a great understatement to say that she is still in fine voice. Her voice may have picked up a few rough edges over the years, but she still posses more than enough vocal chops to blow today’s hitmakers out of the water.
I was in my early teens when I first discovered Sara Evans… and I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The rich throaty texture of her distinct voice reeled me in quickly, and her entertaining mixture of traditional and contemporary influences had me thoroughly hooked.
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81
Alison Krauss & Union Station
A shimmering moment of infatuation. Krauss is entangled in thoughts of her beloved, torn between the exhilaration of liking someone so intensely and the ache of not actually having the person. – Dan Milliken
I’m Holdin’ On to Love (To Save My Life)
A terribly catchy slice of country-pop that, true to Twain, doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for appeal – Twain simply embodies the snappy energy that pulses through the song. – Tara Seetharam
Reba McEntire already has 56 top ten hits to her credit, and her new single, “Strange”, just entered the chart at #39, a career-high entry for the legendary singer. She’s been a presence on the country charts for 23 years, has more gold and platinum albums than any female country artist, and she’s a multimedia star, finding great success on Broadway and in television and film.
But for those who know her best as a sitcom star or Kelly Clarkson’s and Kenny Chesney’s duet partner, trying to tackle her catalog is a daunting task. This Starter Kit will get you going, as it includes ten of her most essential tracks. Those of you looking to learn more about McEntire are highly recommended to check out the excellent My Kind of Country blog, which gives frequent and always high-quality coverage of McEntire’s music, past and present.
“Somebody Should Leave” from the 1984 album My Kind of Country
Even though she was won her first CMA award for Female Vocalist before this album was released, My Kind of Country is widely credited as being the first truly great Reba McEntire album. She exerted creative control for the first time, and instantly became one of the genre’s most significant new traditionalists.
This Harlan Howard classic is achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful, a description that fits most of McEntire’s best work. Here, a couple is aware that it’s time to part ways, but aren’t sure how to go about it, so worried are they for their children: “If it was only you and me, goodbye might come more easily. But what about those babies down the hall?”