A tense uncertainty hung over 2009, as the world waited to see what would become of a new American president, an economy in crisis, and a full deck of divisive social issues.
Popular music tends to respond to such charged societal circumstances in one of two ways: by confronting the issues and their ramifications head-on, or by cranking up the escapism to drown it all out for a bit. 2009 leaned heavily on the latter course, as the thumping sex-pop of Lady GaGa and the fluttery boy-centrism of Taylor Swift dominated the airwaves and the registers, offering listeners a chance to believe, if only for a few passing moments, that the world was as simple as a ride on a “disco stick” or the defeat of an evil cheer captain.
The tensions were certainly felt in country music, whose mainstream attempted to rally its casual fans against all the fallout by drumming up endless brain-optional reassurances of hometown value, God and gender identity, mostly with the volume at an attention-forcing 11 and the lyrical shrewdness averaging about 3. It made for a remarkably accessible year for that mainstream, but one which fewer fans ultimately cared much about, neutered as it was by its attempts to appease – rather than inspire – the mass public.
But let’s be positive: there were exceptions. For all its white lies and willful ignorances, country music in 2009 still told a great deal of truth. For all the loudness and brashness, the actual chart smashes – “Then”, “You Belong with Me”, “Big Green Tractor”, “Need You Now”, “Consider Me Gone” – were mostly non-exclamatory songs, songs that reflect a cherishing of simple, core ideals: Stability. Support. Romance. Appreciation. And of course, the alternative and independent artists hidden under country’s big tree continued to flourish in their own way, protected by the stability of the music’s thick roots and a less-tainted appreciation for its craft. Kinda like in the first two thirds of Avatar.
The countdown beginning below – our final country music retrospective of the past year and decade – contains albums from every spot on that big tree, from superstars squatting on the apples up top to upstart little sprouts on the middle branches to the legends holding down the withered bark at the base. It has been compiled by combination of equally weighed top-ten lists by Kevin, Leeann, William, Tara and myself, and features commentary from all five of us. Part 2 will come tomorrow, along with our individual singles and albums data. As always, we hope you enjoy the countdown and invite you to share your own top albums in the comments, along with any thoughts you may have as we close the book on 2009, if not on all the issues it brought forth.
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Gretchen Peters is best-known as a singer-songwriter, and a successful one at that, having penned the CMA. Song Of The Year “Independence Day” in 1994 and scored a top five hit when Faith Hill recorded her song, “The Secret of Life” in 1999. It is surprising then that, with her seventh album, One to the Heart, One to the Head, she and Tom Russell would release an album consisting almost completely of covers. Reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s penchant for relaxed delivery, One to the Heart, One to the Head flows with subtle emotion and western imagery. – William Ward Continue reading