100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play.  With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade.  Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally.  We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

    Abigail 100

    Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

    Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences.  Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

    Kim Richey 99

    Kim Richey, Rise

    Her ambitious swan song for Mercury Records was perhaps her least accessible record, with an emphasis on eclectic arrangements instead of hook-laden melodies. It’s also her most deeply rewarding record, one that is remarkably introspective and fully delves into themes of faith and mortality that her earlier work had only hinted at before. – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “A Place Called Home”, “No Judges”

    Little Big Town 98

    Little Big Town, The Road to Here

    The quartet’s second album catapulted them to the forefront thanks to the swampy anthem, “Boondocks,” and was a breath of fresh, earthy air to mainstream country music. Packed with tight harmonies and songs ranging in style from bluegrass-leaning to Fleetwood Mac-inspired, the album served as a window into the raw talent and potential of one of the best groups to hit country music in quite some time. – Tara Seetharam

    Recommended Tracks: “Boondocks”, “Live With Lonesome”

    Dolly 97

    Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns

    A gorgeous, gospel-heavy album, with tasteful bluegrass elements. Parton is effervescent as usual, and rid of any self-consciousness, which makes “Hello God” overwhelmingly stirring. A response to the September 11 tragedies, the song has Parton pleading and philosophically wrestling with God, in the sincerest of ways. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Hello God”, “John Daniel”

    Brad 96

    Brad Paisley, Part II

    Sometime back before the Future, before the smirking social commentary and the endless odes to his wife, Brad Paisley was just a silly little neotraditionalist writing silly little neotraditional songs about the twists of everyday life and love. Part II captures him at his most unassuming and tuneful, waxing breezily about courtships and feeling out his new place as a neotrad spokesperson with a few classic roots songs, plus a cute Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon co-write (“Too Country”). – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped Around”, “Come On Over Tonight”

    Patty 95

    Patty Loveless, Strong Heart

    More so than any Loveless album since leaving MCA, Strong Heart draws on her pop and rock influences, with a healthy dose of Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. The contrast between her hillbilly wail and the pop-leaning arrangements of several songs manages to make her sound even more rural than she normally does. Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing On My Mind”, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”

    Sara 94

    Sara Evans, Real Fine Place

    One of the finer female vocalists in the genre, Evans is a fantastic interpreter on her fifth album, carefully treading both traditional and pop country waters. The warmth and purity to her tone is prominent on this album, and this is particularly true of the songs with more traditional arrangements, on which she shines the brightest. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Cheatin'”, “These Four Walls”

    Sara J 93

    Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head

    Sarah Jarosz’ much hyped debut with Sugar Hill Records features Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn.  Notable tracks include “Shankill Butchers,” a Decemberists cover that outperforms the original; the progressive acoustic “Song up in Her Head,” reminiscent of Nickel Creek; and “Come on Up to the House,” an impressive Tom Waits cover. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Shankill Butchers”, “Come On Up to the House”

    Terri 92

    Terri Clark, Pain to Kill

    This album made Clark a serious contender for Female Vocalist, the only time in her career that she reached that level of success. It’s as radio-friendly as her first two albums, but the material is substantive. This is the best collection of songs that she ever assembled, and by a healthy margin. When Trisha Yearwood finds something to cover from a record, you’ve done a great job picking songs. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “I Just Called to Say Goodbye”, “Not a Bad Thing”

    Dwight 91

    Dwight Yoakam, Population: Me

    Genre superhero Yoakam stretched his habit of excellence into a third decade, beginning with the quirky South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack and continuing with this solid set. The album is notable for distilling a wide assortment of Yoakam’s mastered sounds into about half an hour, from the Eaglesy (“The Late Great Golden State”) to the Owensy (“No Such Thing”) to the Elvisy (“I’d Avoid Me Too”), all united by the singer’s uniquely buoyant brand of fatalism. – DM

    Recommended Tracks: “I’d Avoid Me Too”, “The Back Of Your Hand”

    – – –


    1. Good call on the often overlooked Patty Loveless set. It may not be her personal best, but it definitely belong’s in a list of the genre’s Top 100 of the last decade. Looking forward to the unveiling of the rest of this list over the next few days and then on to the singles!

    2. This is going to be great! I like Strong Heart although it is not my favorite PL album, it is all too often overlooked and underrated.

      And this:

      “Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it.- KC”

      Good line, Kevin.

      And Trisha Yearwood sounds great with Patty on “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again” and “Water” is just breathtaking.

      And Tara, nice little write up on one of my other favorites, Sara Evans’ Real Fine Place. As one of Sara’s best efforts, I would have liked to have seen it higher on the list, however, but the voters have spoken. I’d also recommend “Coalmine” and the neglected gem “Tell Me”. from this real fine album.

    3. It’s one of my biggest disappointments with the CMA Awards that Terri Clark never managed to take home a Female Vocalist trophy, or any CMA prize for that matter. Her contemporaries, JoDee Messina and Sara Evans, can at least claim to have one trophy. Like Kevin said, Pain to Kill was a really good, radio-friendly album during a time when the women struggled on the chart.

    4. This countdown is going to be great!

      I want to see Dixie Chicks’ Home on the top spot. In my humble opinion this album is the masterpiece of the decade.

      Other albums I expect/want them to be in top ten:

      Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
      Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
      Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson – Rattlin’ Bones
      Buddy & Julie Miller – Written In Chalk
      Dixie Chicks – Taking The Long Way
      Alison Krauss & Union Station – Lonely Runs Both Ways
      Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
      Patty Loveless – Mountain Soul

    5. I am very glad to see Dwight Yoakam’s “Population Me” is on the list (#91)!! He is so under-rated but his work is among the finest ever. PM is no exception. Love the bluegrass inspired tracks and duet with Willie Nelson!

      Did Dwight’s stellar “Tomorrows Sounds Today,” released in 2000, and “Blame the Vain” (2005) make the list? These albums are also first-rate!! BTW I like your description of Dwight’s music as “buoyant fatalism,” ha, ha! Yes, it’s funny how his lyrics can be so cleverly dismal, e.g. about lost love, but his music is totally uplifting and refreshing!! How does he do that??

    6. I forgot to mention another album I consider is top ten material, the soundtrack from Brockeback Mountain.

      This is one of the most underrated country albums of the decade maybe because of the movie theme, it’s sad that nobody talked/talks about it.

      Argentinian producer/songwriter/musician Gustavo Santaolalla made a true country album, that combines simplicity with strength in a beautiful way.

      Please listen Emmylou Harris’ “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” or Mary McBride’s “No One’s Gonna Love You Like Me”. The Willie Nelson rendition of “He Was A Friend Of Mine” it’s outstanding too and the score composed by Santaolalla it’s pure country, it won him his first academy award.

      I hope you consider it, even if the list is already done.

    7. I too am pumped for this list. :)

      I would have also placed Evans’ Real Fine Place album higher (it’s one of my favorites of all time), but of course, I don’t have as much widespread country music knowledge as these guys. :)

      I recently re-listened to Dolly’s Halos & Horns and fell in love with it, it’s AMAZING.

      I have the Loveless album on my iTunes, but have yet to listen to it.

      I also rented the Clark CD from my library.. waiting on it now. :)

    8. CAN’T get enough Dwight, have all his stuff (cd’s,dvd’s,cassettes,LP’s,etc.) Love Patty Loveless !!! …and totally agree with MilkingBull, the Dixie Chicks (a.k.a. DCX) should be high on the list also. Keep doing it guys and we’ll keep listening..thx…your loyal fans = )

    9. I too am a Dwight Yoakam fan since the 80’s. Have albums, cds, and a lot of articles on his career. I’m glad to see that he is still getting awards. He deserves them.

    10. I have been a DY fan from day one and PM was one his finest works. The overblown drama draws me in over and over. I often wonder if he’s laughing to himself as he creates pieces that seem to almost poke fun at his genre. No matter, he is always top of my list. The title track is genius. I was happy to see Darius Rucker’s liner notes give him a shout-out. Underplayed on radio, but well-loved by his die-hard fans.

    2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

    1. In Second Week, Tim McGraw’s The Blind Side Keeps Pace With Twighlight: New Moon | The 9513
    2. Your Take: Sum It Up | The 9513

    Leave a Reply

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