100 Greatest Contemporary Country Albums: #50-#41

Seminole Wind
John Anderson


The comeback album to end all comeback albums. Anderson resurfaced with a new label and suddenly hit the top of the charts again, despite all of the competition surrounding him. He possesses one of the most distinctive male voices of his generation, and when matched with the excellent material here, the results are spellbinding.

RIAA: 2x Platinum

Download This: “Straight Tequila Night”, “When it Comes to You”, “Seminole Wind”



Her emancipation proclamation. Wynonna confirms what many had expected all along – singing with her mother was holding her back. Her unrivaled vocal stylings are fully turned loose for the first time, and her smart selection of material that matches her ability immediately established her as a superstar.

RIAA: 5x Platinum

Download This: “She Is His Only Need”, “It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye'”, “My Strongest Weakness”

The Devil You Know
Todd Snider


Snider’s newest album is also his best. He’s got his groove back, with his most aggressive arrangements to date, and his lyrics alternate between philosophical and snarky – sometimes both, as on the opening track, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, where he declares “We’re all good people, we can work in perfect rhythm; if worms had daggers, birds wouldn’t f— with them.”

Download This: “The Devil You Know”, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Happy New Year”

Shooting Straight in the Dark
Mary Chapin Carpenter


Carpenter’s artistic breakthrough, this kicked off her four-year Grammy run and turned her into one of country’s hottest stars. Most of the success was on the strength of “Down at the Twist & Shout”, the only single of four to hit the top ten, but record buyers were treated to an incisively intelligent singer-songwriter when they heard the rest of the album.

RIAA: Platinum

Download This: “You Win Again”, “When She’s Gone”, “The Moon & St. Christopher”

Collin Raye


Raye’s third album moved him away from the insubstantial material that had dominated his previous work; his first two albums had a couple of great singles surrounded by weak filler, but extremes is solid from top to bottom. He’s a gifted vocalist, and he’s yet to peak higher than the strongest work on this album, particularly the deeply moving alcohol recovery ballad, “Little Rock.”

RIAA: Platinum

Download This: “Little Rock”, “A Bible and a Bus Ticket Home”, “If I Were You”

Dwight Yoakam


Mariachi horns. They surface out of nowhere in the middle of the opening track, “Sorry You Asked?”, and you suddenly know that Yoakam has gone off the deep end this time around. The result is a wildly entertaining album, with spurts of humor (“Baby Why Not”), unconventional production and Yoakam’s inimitable singing and songwriting.

RIAA: Gold

Download This: “Nothing”, “Sorry You Asked?”, “Never Hold You”

Merle Haggard


Haggard received no airplay from this album, which wasn’t unusual for a legend in 1994, but was unusual was that he made an album so radio-friendly that one could imagine a younger star like Alan Jackson topping the charts with the very same songs. “In My Next Life” is one of the best things he’s ever recorded.

Download This: “In My Next Life”, “I am an Island”, “Chores”

Real Live Woman
Trisha Yearwood


Yearwood always claimed Linda Ronstadt as her biggest influence, but Real Live Woman is the only time she actually made a Ronstadt album, one that could’ve easily been released between Prisoner in Disguise and Hasten Down the Wind. Yearwood’s best up-tempo song to date remains “Where Are You Now”, a ferocious and flawless opening cut penned by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kim Richey, and she even covers Ronstadt herself, turning in a better cut of “Try Me Again” than Ronstadt did, and she wrote the song.

RIAA: Gold

Download This: “Where Are You Now”, “Some Days”, “Real Live Woman”

Bitter Sweet
Kim Richey


Whenever I’m asked the question, “Who is the best country artist that never broke through?”, I answer immediately: Kim Richey. A gifted songwriter and a haunting vocalist, her sparse catalog is dominated by excellent albums that never found the audience they deserved. This sophomore set has a sixties pop flavor, balancing the melancholy of her vocals with sprightly melodies and hooks. Since its release, both Terri Clark and Kathy Mattea have covered “I’m Alright”, and Brooks & Dunn made the opening track, “Every River”, a top twenty hit.

Download This: “I Know”, “My Whole World”, “I’m Alright”

Faith Hill


Easily Hill’s best album to date, she sounds newly invigorated and committed to making fantastic country music. The double blessing of three cuts each from Lori McKenna and John Rich add depth to a collection that boasts clever humor (“Dearly Beloved”) while also exploring deeper issues like the isolation of suburban life (“Stealing Kisses”), codependency (“If You Ask”), and even war and peace (“We’ve Got Nothing But Love To Prove”). Particularly poignant is “Wish For You”, a later track that is the most beautiful list of hopes for a child that I’ve ever heard.

RIAA: 2x Platinum

Download This: “Stealing Kisses”, “Dearly Beloved”, “Wish For You”


  1. SEMINOLE WIND was a brilliant album. I’m not sure Anderson had been away as he issued some good albums in the years prior but they didn’t receive much airplay.

    1994 wasn’t one of the Hag’s better efforts but a 3rd rate Haggard album is better than most other people’s best efforts. I would have this album higher on my list

  2. “Real Live Woman” lives in my CD player, with tracks like “Try Me Again” and “Love Song Sings the Blues” getting a true work out

  3. I was SO glad to FINALLY pick up Carpenter’s Shooting Straight In The Dark album today after searching used CD store after used CD store.

    I can now leave for college happily fulfilled. :)

    My former favorite of Carpenter’s was Come On, Come On, but I must say that SSITD is probably my favorite Carpenter record now.

    I love that trio (Shooting Straight Into The Dark, Come On Come On, and Stones In The Road), there’s just something about Carpenter.

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