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Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11

December 29, 2011 Kevin John Coyne 7

The country music umbrella stretched wider than ever this year, regardless of the fact that radio playlists seem shorter than ever.

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
Noam Pikelny

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

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Album Review: Connie Smith, Long Line of Heartaches

August 24, 2011 Ben Foster 4


Connie Smith

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.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 14

May 22, 2011 Tara Seetharam 30

Today’s category is…

The First Song You Remember Liking.

Here are the staff picks:

Tara Seetharam: “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore” – Billy Ray Cyrus

Cyrus released “Achy Breaky Heart” when I was seven years old, and I fell for it. The upside? My mom bought me his Some Gave All cassette tape, and I fell in love with “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore.” It was the first song in my life to grip me with emotion, which would later come to define my bond with music.

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2011 Grammy Pre-Telecast Winners

February 13, 2011 Kevin John Coyne 28

Refresh for updates. Major categories will be announced above the fold:

Male Country Vocal Performance: Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”

Country Duo/Group Vocal Performance: Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”

Country Song: Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott, “Need You Now”

Country Collaboration with Vocals: Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away”

Country Instrumental Performance: Marty Stuart, “Hummingbyrd”

Bluegrass Album: Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II

Americana Album: Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

Traditional Folk Album: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig

Contemporary Folk Album: Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

Southern/Country/Gospel Bluegrass Album: Diamond Rio, The Reason

Traditional Gospel Album: Patty Griffin, Downtown Church

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Grammy Awards 2011: Staff Picks & Predictions

February 12, 2011 Tara Seetharam 9

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again: the 2011 Grammy Awards air this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern. Country music has its hand in the Grammy pot via major nominations for Lady Antebellum, performances by Miranda Lambert, Lady A and Martina McBride, and appearances by Keith Urban, Zac Brown, Blake Shelton and Kris Kristofferson. We’ve picked and predicted the awards below – chime in with your own thoughts, and stop by on Sunday night for our live blog!

Album of the Year

Should Win

  • Arcade Fire, The Suburbs – Dan
  • Eminem, Recovery – Kevin, Tara
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
  • Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

Will Win

  • Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  • Eminem, Recovery – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
  • Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

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Say What? Classic – Marty Stuart

January 25, 2011 Kevin John Coyne 7

Marty Stuart, April 1994:

At the end of the day, when nobody’s looking and I’m just alone, my favorite thing to do is get my mandolin or acoustic guitar and sit in the corner with one light bulb hanging down in the dark and sing about sick people or dead people.

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The Best Country Albums of 2010, Part 2: #10-#1

January 7, 2011 Kevin John Coyne 8

There was a lot of good music out there in 2010, provided you knew where to look. Sometimes, you could even find it on the radio. Here are the top ten albums of 2010, according to our staff:

Easton Corbin
Easton Corbin

With the charisma of Clay Walker and the chops of George Strait, Easton Corbin sauntered onto the mainstream country music scene with a hit song that –refreshingly– name-checked “country” in all the right ways. He needs no such affirmation, though, as his debut album is a collection of effortlessly neo-traditionalist songs, ripe with sincerity. It’s fair to compare Corbin to his obvious influences, but there’s something about the natural, youthful effervescence he brings to his music that makes it sparkle all on its own. – Tara Seetharam

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Premium Label

September 12, 2010 Leeann Ward 20

September has a lot of album releases that I’m really enjoying or looking forward to. In fact, it’s the most lucrative month for music for my taste in quite some time.

Last Tuesday (September 7), Rounder Records released The SteelDrivers’ second album, Reckless (which is pretty spectacular, by the way) and this week, they will be releasing Robert Plant’s follow up to his 2007 collaborative album with Alison Krauss, which was also released on Rounder. From the streaming preview that can be heard on NPR’s website until release day, the album is a wonderfully rootsy project helmed by Plant and Buddy Miller and includes guitar work from Darrell Scott. October will finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album, which is also to be released on the label.

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Win Marty Stuart’s Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

August 18, 2010 Leeann Ward 46

Post updated with winners.

As a virtuosic instrumentalist in both mandolin and guitar, Marty Stuart was one of the very talented artists whose peak occurred in the early nineties. While his chart success wasn’t as numerically present as many of his counterparts, his reverence for country music and its history has turned him into one of the most respected nineties country artists today.

Stuart has explored several facets of country music over the years, including rockabilly, traditional, and honky tonk. Now, he is paying his respects to traditional country music with his latest release called Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions”, which will be released on August 24th. Along with 12 other quality tracks, the album includes a haunting song that Stuart wrote with Johnny Cash just four days before Cash’s death. From the perspective of a man who hanged people for a living, the song is called “Hangmen.” The other stand out song is called “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.”

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