Discussion: Five-Star Albums

Let’s face it, 2008 has not been a particularly strong year for country music albums. Sales are down both due to the struggling economy and as a result of big name artists not exactly releasing their most quality work. These factors, of course, are only part of what’s to blame for the decline, but is all that needs to be covered for the purpose of this discussion.

While in all reality there have been a number of very good albums in the past year, I am pained to realize that I have only been able to give one album the coveted five-star rating treatment. It’s true that I have not listened to every album that has been released in 2008, but I’ve certainly listened to enough albums that I think I should have been able to come up with at least one more album worthy of five stars this year.

What are your five star albums? In particular, what albums released in 2008 would you give five stars to? Hopefully, you’ll do better than I’ve been able to do.


  1. I’m sure when I finally get Rattlin’ Bones, I’ll agree with you Leeann. I’m loving the free tracks form the 9513.

    I’m easily impressed by albums; it doesn’t take a ton for me to like one. But 5 stars, that’s harder for me to love an album like that. Let’s see for this year (Do you want all 5 star albums or just 2008?)…

    Love On The Inside -Sugarland
    I know many people don’t like this album, but this album just connected with me, and it sounds unique compared to most modern country. Also “Very Last Country Song” really is that great.

    Call Me Crazy -Lee Ann Womack
    This album strikes an amazing balance between traditional and contemporary, and Lee Ann sings well too. Songs like “Either Way” and “Last Call” truly make this album.

    Coal -Kathy Mattea
    Wow. I bought this album on a whim without even hearing of Kathy before, and it was the 2nd best whim I’ve ever had (The best being buying Heaven, Heartache, And The Power Of Love last year). Get it, it’s worth it, just be warned, there aren’t any really happy songs, just amazing songs. xD

    I’m sure Sleepless Nights would make this list too, but I don’t have it yet… But these are all the country ones for this year for me. There were other good ones, but not worth 5 stars.

    I’ll mention a few non-country artists that had stellar albums this year (album titles in parenthesis), namely Adele (19), Duffy (Rockferry), and Jazmine Sullivan (Fearless).

  2. There are a few for me in the 4 to 4 and a half range, but the two that I would give five stars are Patty Loveless and Jamey Johnson.
    Patty Loveless picked great songs and her voice really made them shine. Jamey Johnson’s is my favorite cd to come out in the last couple years (maybe since There’s More where That Came From and Life Ain’t Always Beautiful). You just really feel as if you get to know him and every song is sincere and a great contrast to country radio. It gets better every time I listen to it.

  3. I wouldn’t give five stars to any studio album this year.

    Actually, the only albums this decade that I’ve given five stars to on this site, one of which was retroactively, are Dixie Chicks’ “Home” and Pam Tillis’ “Rhinestoned.” In my mind, a five-star album represents the very best of the artist and the genre, so it’s a tough standard.

    Like Bobby said, a few albums in the 4 to 4 1/2 range for me in 2008, but even then, a little less than normal.

    For whatever reason, the odd years have been better of late. The only years this decade that produced a lot of albums I liked were 2002, 2005 and 2007. Nothing like the embarrassment of riches from 1991-1997.

  4. Julianne Hough, Jessica Simpson, …oh wait…did you say “5 star”? Well then, Jamey Johnson definitly rates up there with the best of ’08 – I wanted to like Lee Ann Womack’s CD better that I did, but its still a great piece of work…someone said hal Ketchum’s new one is good…might have to chack it out…

  5. Ditto the 4 – 4.5 stars theory.
    But the top o’ the heap for me this year has been Sugarland and Patty Loveless.

    Personally, there is so much more behind performances such as these than “rattlin’ off a few tunes to meet the contractual album quota”.
    These artists record what they truly believe in and not just what TPTB direct. When I hear their performances, I know and can feel that “something” behind it and in it.

  6. Leeann, I’m not sure which country universe you’re living in, but I thought that 2008 was an excellent year for album releases.

    The two legitimate five-star albums were Coal and That Lonesome Song. Beyond those two, there were many prominent 4-4.5 star albums (perhaps as many as ten).

  7. My four favorites this year, all by women, and all from the alt-country/Americana sector:

    Another Country–Tift Merritt
    Mockingbird–Allison Moorer
    Little Honey–Lucinda Williams
    Asking For Flowers–Kathleen Edwards

    I just think the womenfolk are more diverse and more risk-taking, particularly in the alt-country arena. But if I were to narrow it down to just one of the above-mentioned albums as my favorite for the year, period, I would go with Another Country, because Tift has shown herself to be a tremendous artist and a true risk-taker in the tradition of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris (IMHO).

  8. The two best albums of the year (or at least of the ones I have listened to) are defintely Sugarland’s “Love on the Inside” and Patty Loveless’ “Sleepless Nights.” They are the cream of the crop when it comes to albums released this year.

    I also love Lee Ann’s “Call Me Crazy” but I wouldn’t consider it a 5-star album, more like 4 1/2.

  9. Kathy Mattea, Del McCoury and Jamey Johnson all produced 5 star albums

    Of course, on the reissue front there are several worthy items. Really though, five stars seems inadequate for the two CD/1 DVD Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison set

  10. Sleepless Nights. Rings a bell. (ponders)

    In my, and this is very important, my estimation, I heard no five-star releases this year, but a number of albums in the 4.5 category. Sleepless Nights, of course, being one of them.

  11. Yep, Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Nights ***** five stars, no doubt, hands down. She has earned them. Patty has a tendency to get even better with each album, and Sleepless Nights is no exception. This album is another one of her career masterpieces. Another labor-of-love masterpiece from Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr.

    Patty’s expressive vocals seem to get even more rich and resonant with the years, and her interpretive skills are second to none. And her choice of material for the Sleepless Nights album is inspired, first-rate.

    I know I go on and on about Patty, singing her praises and all…but it is a scandal that this wonderful album Sleepless Nights has to struggle for airtime on “country” radio and TV… This fact is incriminating testimony to the sad state of affairs of the genre and what passes for “country” music today. So I’d just like to add my voice to the legions of critics who love this album, and to those of Patty’s peers and her loyal fans in praising the artist and her latest masterpiece.

  12. Of the albums I’ve listened to from start to finish this year, my 5-star ratings go to Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song and the Zac Brown Band’s The Foundation. Yep, I said it. Damn right I like my chicken fried.

  13. I’m in the business, so I have to listen to a lot of crap. The album I’m choosing for the best country album of the year is “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love” by Trisha Yearwood. I’m a longtime fan of Trisha’s, not so much with many of her songs.
    But this album doesn’t have a bad cut on it and it covers a lot of territory. For me, it was one of those oh-so-rare times when I put a cd in the player and a few seconds later I’m saying, “Damn!”
    I’ve listened to it more than all her other albums put together. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

  14. So far, I think I’d identify CDs by Mudcrutch (Tom Petty’s Burrito-esque country-rock band), the Old Crow Medicine SHow and Justin Townes Earle as being the best country-ish CDs of the year

  15. There are plenty of albums that I would give 4.5 stars, including the Loveless, Mattea and Johnson albums. It’s just the five stars that I haven’t been able to apply more than once.

    PS. I love the Yearwood album too, but I believe it is technically a 2007 album.

  16. The only ones I’d give five stars to at the moment (bearing in mind there are a few I’m hoping to get for Christmas) are Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights, and Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song.

  17. Getting back to my comments about Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Nights, I’d like to be a little more specific as to why I think she deserves five stars here.

    In Sleepless Nights, we have one of Country’s greatest vocalists, singing some of Country music’s greatest classics. But doing so in a manner where she goes beyond merely re-doing, or even just reinterpreting them. To my hearing, Patty easliy matches the quality of the originals, and in some cases, surpasses them. Patty herself is far too modest to admit this, but here are some examples…Ray Price’s orignal version of Crazy Arms is charming…but Patty’s version is downright enchanting. And Patty brings more passion, energy and dare I say, even more soul to Why Baby Why, surpassing even her hero George Jones. And I think Patty matches Hank Williams with her feminine version Cold Cold Heart.

    Also, Patty takes creative risks for this album, singing songs that were made famous by male vocalists, and also selecting some that were off the beaten track, such as the title cut, which I believe was never even released as a single.

    No album is perfect, not even Sleepless Nights. But the way I see it, the five star rating should apply to albums that are instant classics, or artistic masterpieces. Patty Loveless goes beyond re-interpretation with Sleepless Nights, she re-invigorates and resurrects these classics into something even more timeless and transcendent than the originals. And in my book, that qualifies for a five star rating, and a title of “masterpiece” *****

  18. Based on these comments by my fellow posters, I’ll have to give Kathy Mattea’s COAL, and Jamey Johnson’s album a listen!

    Also, Patrick, I love HH&TPOL…Trisha is amazing, and I picked up a signed copy at one of her concerts!

  19. @Steve:

    Love the Loveless enthusiasm, of course. Although I wouldn’t quite put it in on a par with Mountain Soul, which treads similar ground, I highly recommend Mattea’s COAL. Kevin wrote a great review about the album this spring, so I encourage you to check it out. The Johnson album is a must-own as well. Those three albums will feature high on my year-end list.

    The Yearwood album was released in November 2007, but I would say it’s one of my 2-3 top choices from last year.

  20. Even though 2008 has been a great music year for me, I can’t say any release has been worthy of 5 stars. I’d give Jamey Johnson and the Kasey/Shane records 4 stars each. 5, to me, is a classic… a desert island disc. There have been a ton of 3+ and 4+ releases this year, so I consider it a winning year for my ears, no classics though. (but I have yet to hear Chinese Democracy ;))

  21. Blake, I agree, I love Mountain Soul a little more than Sleepless Nights as well, and would also give that my ***** masterpiece rating! I see the two albums as two sides of the same classic coin.

    I’ll check out Kevin’s review of Coal, I hear that Patty contributes some harmony vocals to that album as well.

    And do I understand correctly that Jamey Johnson’s music has a Traditional flavor?

    Thanks to all for the great leads!


  22. Patty can be heard on Coal’s “Blue Diamond Mines.”

    Jamey Johnson recalls the traditional country sound of the ’70s while also utilizing the clarity that modern studio technology allows. Plenty of humor and heartache, drinking and depression, and ultimately perseverance.

  23. Is that Patty on there? No wonder that track sounds amazing! That’s like when I found out that Brad Paisley was playing the guitar on Sugarland’s “Mean Girls”.

  24. I think albums that I LOVE every song on, therefore think are good albums are:

    Sugarland- Love on the Inside
    Lady Antebellum – Lady Antebellum

    However being a HUGE HUGE HUGE Swiftler fan, my faves are “Fearless” and “Kellie Pickler”, but I’m of course biased.

  25. I’ve heard exactly 70 full albums that fall somewhere under a big tent view of “country” this year, and another 30 – 40 partial albums. That’s certainly a good long ways off from having heard everything that I should’ve heard or wanted to hear, but it makes for a pretty respectable sample of what’s been going on in and around the genre this year.

    But I haven’t given a 5-star rating to any of those 70-plus country albums this year. Loveless’ Sleepless Nights and Mattea’s Coal are at the top of the heap with 4.5 stars, followed by a whole slew of 4-star efforts (including that terrific Chambers & Nicholson record) that promise to make it difficult to compile a final Top 10 list for the year. If there hasn’t been a ton of truly great or timeless country music this year, I’d still say that there’s been no shortage of very good music that’s worth seeking out and that really enriches the genre. Put another way: If there hasn’t been a country record that just made my jaw drop and that truly redefined the way I viewed a particular artist or challenged my perceptions of what artists can do within the country genre, there have probably been more country albums this year that I simply like a whole lot than in the past couple of years.

    All that said: I hate star ratings and would love to do away with them altogether, but my editor disagrees.

  26. Blake,

    My cousin asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told her “Coal”…I couldn’t resist, lol…but I didn’t wait for her to take the bait..(and she didn’t ask me if I had been bad..) I was merciful and explained fairly quickly that “Coal” was a great album by Kathy Mattea.

    Now, I’m not sure I can wait till Christmas to hear it, lol.

    And you’re right about Kevin’s review..it was excellent!

  27. Like many others, definitely Sleepless Nights. Well, maybe that one is 4.5 for me lol. Womack’s Call Me Crazy is 4.75 for me. Ashton Shepherd’s album was about a 4.25 for me.

    So, no real 5.0s. I’m picky!

  28. Jamey Johnsons “That Lonesome Song”, Darius Ruckers is good: 4.50. I like John Michael Montgomery’s too 4.5. Ok..and I loved Carrie Underwoods..but more like a 4.75

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