Best of ’06 Lists Start Rolling In

Country Universe will begin posting best of 2006 lists over the next two weeks, with a look back at the year’s best singles and reissues. Lists from established publications have already begun rolling in, with country making a respectable showing in some of them.

Rolling Stone includes four country albums in its Top 50 Records of 2006. Here’s their take on the four albums they included:

#14: Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways
The man in black was dying when he made this record, and he did not hide the truth of his condition. It is shocking to hear Cash fight to stay on pitch in “If You Could Read My Mind.” But there is a deep strength and dignity in his performances and in the wisdom of songs such as Hank Williams’ “On the Evening Train.” V also includes the last song Cash ever wrote, “Like the 309,” on which he growls and cracks wise like a guy on his way to a party instead of his last reward.

#19: Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
The Dixie Chicks respond to their rough past few years with brass balls: This disc shows they didn’t regret speaking out against the Iraq War, and Natalie Maines sounds almost punk at times. There is also a whole lot of craft — Long Way is a widescreen pop record with gorgeous country rock, killer power ballads and fierce honky-tonk.

#33: Todd Snider, The Devil You Know
This veteran folkie’s third consecutive great album finds voices for an assortment of Middle Americans who “didn’t want to throw a fishing line in that old main stream.” Although Snider likes the coke-snorting Romeo, the hard-as-a-carapace slut, the dayworker just out of prison, the bank robber he lends his car keys, he doesn’t romanticize them. He just believes that with “a war going on that the poor can’t win,” each of them is enough like him to be worth a song. And generally that song is pretty damn funny.

#46: Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
The outlaw-country king of Texas pays loving tribute to the state’s songwriting queen. Nelson played many of the songs on this album in his youth, on the way to his own songwriting fame, and he revisits them with such affection and Texas-dance-floor authenticity that you can almost smell the sawdust.

Rolling Stone also collected the Top 100 Songs of 2006, with the following two appearances by country tunes:

#20: “The Long Way Around” – Dixie Chicks
A heart-tugging guitar anthem for small-town girls with big dreams — and the best ersatz Springsteen song in a year that was packed with them.

#75: “Before He Cheats” – Carrie Underwood
Country-jukebox fave of the year — the American Idol sweetheart is reborn as a psycho stalker, slashing her man’s tires outside the honky-tonk.

Music industry bible Billboard has published its annual collection of top ten lists from critics and artists, with many country albums being cited. While Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks was the only album to rank among the top ten most-cited albums by all of the critics, other country projects popped up often, with Alan Jackson receiving high praise for both Like Red On A Rose and Precious Memories, and Keith Urban topping one critic’s list for Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing.

Billboard also published top five lists from artists, including Carrie Underwood, who, bless her heart, topped her list with a 2005 album, and Eddie Montgomery from Montgomery Gentry, who ranks the latest Mary J. Blige CD above everything country had to offer this year. Other country artists who submitted lists include Gary Allan, Julie Roberts, Josh Turner and Danielle Peck. Extra points to Turner, who is the only country artist who cites the final Johnny Cash album, which many of the non-country artists included on their lists.


  1. The critics’ lists are quite interesting, since it appears that no one CD showed up on the majority of the critics’ list (I didn’t do an actual tabulation). Wade Jessen, the resident country guru for Billboard always puts together an interesting list and 2006 was no exception

    “1. Dale Ann Bradley, “Catch Tomorrow” (Compass). She is the best-kept secret in country and bluegrass, and the best damn voice in town.
    2. The Primitive Quartet, “Who Rolled The Stone Away” (Mountain Home). A hot bluegrass gospel quartet with six pickers. Need I say more?
    3. Kellie Pickler, “Small Town Girl” (BNA). I just love it when a real country girl gets the last laugh.
    4. Kenny Bishop, “Kenny Bishop” (Daywind). Kenny reminds us that pulpits, steeples and pews have precious little to do with true redemption and mercy.
    5. George Jones & Merle Haggard, “Kickin’ Out the Footlights … Again”
    (Bandit). Pay close attention kids. When these guys are gone, there ain’t gonna be no more — ever.
    6. Alabama, “Songs of Inspiration” (RCA Nashville). Ironically, the group’s first set of religious songs. Ironic because they’ve been inspiring me since 1977.
    7. Alan Jackson, “Like Red on a Rose” (Arista Nashville). Loved it, mean it.
    Now, go find Keith Stegall and give us some righteous, all-up-in-your-face twang.
    8. Josh Turner, “Your Man” (MCA Nashville). Where was this guy when we really needed him 10-12 years ago? Fabulous.
    9. Alan Jackson, “Precious Memories” (ACR/Arista Nashville). Two words — THANK YOU.
    10. The McKameys, “The Old Path” (Horizon). Southern Gospel that speaks to you, not at you — just like always. Profoundly moving and astonishingly genuine.”

    As in some in past years, Jessen has leaned toward Gospel. And he is correct that Dale Ann Bradley is a asuperior vocalist

  2. Jessen is a huge George Jones fan, practically worships him. I love his write-up of the Jones/Haggard collaboration.

    I love the Billboard lists b/c so many people who write for specific genres get to put out a list, then you have the opinions of those who write for non-genre sections of the magazine. It’s always a diverse and interesting collection. The front page does a tally using a points system of all the critic lists. Apparently the most-cited this year is the Bob Dylan album, which also topped the Rolling Stone list.

  3. My Top 10 of ’06

    1. Todd Snider – The Devil You Know. (I did not begin the year a Todd Sndier fan, but this album won me over. Incerdibly smart songwriting.)

    2. Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac. (A moving and significant record by the most consistently excellent artists in country music.)

    3. Johnny Cash – American V/100 Highways. (For a long while, I thought this would be my album of the year. It’s a moving record, but as time went by, I become a little — though just a little — uncomfortable with a few tracks that seem posthumously overproduced.)

    4. Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopler – All the Roadrunning. (Nice to again hear an Emmylou album with a little oomph and a good soundmix.)

    5. Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World

    6. Dixie Chicks – Long Way Around

    7. The Little Willies – The Little Willies

    8. Charlie Burton & the Dorothy Lynch Mob – Salad

    9. Pilgrim – The Songs of Kris Kristofferson

    10. Anne McCue – Koala Hotel

  4. I loved the Little Willies’ album although I’m undecided about how to classify it. I have several of Todd Snider’s earlier albums – I like his songs, don’t much care for his singing.

    I guess one area where I differ from the younger country fans, is that I am less willing to tolerate poor voices. One reason I never really got into rock music was that too many of the leading acts were terrible vocalists. The same problem applies to modern country – too many poor (or bland) male vocalists and too many shrieking divas among the women. Say what you will about vapid was much of the post-WW2 pop music (particularly 1951-1955), all the acts could sing and sing well. The reason a Linda Ronstadt stands out among her contemporaries is because she actually can sing and most of her competitors couldn’t

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.