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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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iPod Check: Recommend Ten Tracks

ipodWhile I know it goes against the proper album listening experience, my favorite way to listen to my iPod is to put it on shuffle and see what pops up. It’s like my own personal radio station without the commercials, talking and music that I dislike. So, today I’m going to put my iPod on shuffle and list ten country songs that I would comfortably recommend to you. In the comments, you can do the same for us.

#1 Steve Earle, “City of Immigrants”

Here is Steve’s tribute to New York City, a city of immigrants. I’m a sucker for this song that celebrates such diversity. The lending of acoustic and world sounds that are employed here is sonically pleasing as well.

#2 The Be Good Tanyas, “The Coo Coo Bird”

This is a haunting sounding song thanks to funky fiddle riffs, intriguing baseline and soft percussive support.

#3 Patty Loveless, “Don’t Toss Us Away”

This is one of my favorite Loveless songs from her early years. It’s a plea not to throw away a relationship despite the hardships. Of course, with Patty, it’s going to maintain a nice progressive traditional sound.

#4 Trent Summar & the New Row Mob, “Louisville Nashville Line”

Nice! I was hoping something from this group would pop up. Thanks to Country California’s recommendation, they’re one of my favorite discoveries of 2009 so far. This country rocker chugs along at an addictive pace, as is the case with many of the songs on the album. I love it.

#5 Trisha Yearwood, “Cowboys Are My Weakness”

Most of you already know this song, but it came up on the shuffle and I still recommend it. Yearwood slides in this song that would be perfect for Suzy Bogguss with such joyous ease that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the infatuation right along with her.

#6 Sweethearts of the Rodeo, “Beautiful Lies”

Their two Sugar Hill albums are excellent. This sister duo harmonize like only family members can do on this song about a woman who buys into her lover’s constant lies, since they were easier to hear than the truth in his eyes.

#7 Vince Gill, “Old Time Fiddle”

Considering the amount of Vince Gill songs I have on my iPod compared to any other artist, there’s simply no probable way that an iPod shuffle session could pass without a Vince song showing up. I love this raucous Cajun flavored fiddle laden song.

#8 Todd Snider, “Easy”

Imagine a nice love song from Todd Snider. Well, this is it, Folks. They do exist.

#9 The Notorious Cherry Bombs, “Making Memories of Us”

Keith Urban made this song famous, but Rodney Crowell wrote and sings the superior version, in my bold opinion. As apart of a pet project with Vince Gill, Rodney takes the lead with Vince providing gorgeous harmony support. Along with Crowell’s emotive rendering, this version has a nice, easy tasteful production.

#10 The Little Willies, “Tennessee Stud”

I can’t get enough of this song or this group. I’m glad it naturally came up on the shuffle, because I might have otherwise been tempted to rig it so it would anyway. The Little Willies are a group made up of people from New York City who have their own music careers separate from this group, but decided to come together to form this side band named after Willie Nelson. One of the members is well known, as she is Norah Jones. The entire project is unshakably fun with this song being my favorite. I typically don’t even like “Tennessee Stud”, but their arrangement and performance is ridiculously addictive, especially the guitar riff and Jones’ jaunty piano throughout the song.

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Musical Progression

guns-n-rosesAs I stand in for Leeann on her birthday

, I’ve been thinking about how much musical tastes change over time. Musically, it is fair to say that we started pretty far apart, but over five years our musical preferences have both moved and expanded significantly.

Tracing the progression of my musical inclinations even farther, it seems that the expansion of my tastes was much different than others in my family. For instance, my grandparents listened to country music. When my father was born the Grand Ole Opry was a staple in his home and he listened to country music all of his life. As a result, I was exposed to country music by my father, but quickly declared my independence when I purchase the first album my parents considered noise.

The first albums I ever purchased, a little over a week past my thirteenth birthday, were Use Your Illusion I and II. From there the map of my musical “phases” was pretty easy to follow when you look at a chronological list of my favorite albums:

Guns and Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Dr. Dre, The Chronic
Nirvana, Nevermind
Pearl Jam, Ten
Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
Nickel Creek, This Side
Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
Metallica, S&M
Alice in Chains, Unplugged
Nickel Creek, Why Should the Fire Die

Currently the amount of music I listen to has made it more difficult to pick only a few favorite albums. Even the above list, in reality, started to overlap by the time I was listening to Nickel Creek. In fact, everything listed above (with the exception of Dr. Dre, though he still holds certain nostalgia) is currently on my Ipod, and I would be hard pressed to make a comprehensive list of favorite albums that didn’t include half those albums.

Today I might add to the list (though tomorrow the list might change):

Bjork, Debut
Crooked Still, Shaken by a Low Sound
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse
Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger
Neil Young, Greatest Hits
Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul
Gillian Welch, Hell Among the Yearlings
White Stripes, Elephant

My father would be happy to see that I’ve come around to country music.

What does your musical progression look like?

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