The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6: #50-#41

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6

    50 Mattea

    Kathy Mattea, Right Out of Nowhere

    Kathy Mattea has rarely sounded more open and warm than on this set of innovative folk-tinged songs. Topics of peace, love, resignation and heartache are sensitively explored in songs both written by Mattea and other well-known names, including captivating interpretations of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Me Shelter” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner.” It’s a rich album with a decisively vibrant feel. – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Gimme Shelter”, “Down on the Corner”, “Give It Away”

    49 Cash

    Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around

    American IV: The Man Comes Around was the last Cash album released in his lifetime; the bulk of its tracks are covers performed by the then ailing singer. Amazingly enough, the album seems almost biographical despite the limited material written by Cash. Still, American IV is not limited to “Hurt” (written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails), as other well-interpreted covers and Cash’s own “The Man Comes Around” help cement the depth of the album. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “The Man Comes Around”, “Hurt”, “Sam Hall”

    48 Johnson

    Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

    The media hype machine had a field day with Johnson’s breakthrough sophomore album, showering it with the kind of superlatives usually reserved for miracle cures and immaculate conceptions (see also: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Most of the attention went to the album’s counterculturism within the increasingly safe and watered-down Music Row, with numerous nods to its Outlaw aesthetic and “cocaine and a whore” business. But That Lonesome Song‘s greatness was always more than contextual, and certainly more than attitudinal; this is an album with a genuine story to tell, filled with a slow-burning sorrow that pervades every track and doesn’t rest until the wife finally walks away and the husband resigns himself to playing seedy bars and trying to convince you he’s worthy of comparison to the greats. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “High Cost Of Living”, “Angel”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”

    *Credit for linked parody cover: Farce the Music.

    47 Hill

    Faith Hill, Fireflies

    For all of the attention given to her power ballads and catchy pop numbers, Faith Hill has always included more offbeat material from lesser known songwriters. This album had some great power ballads and catchy pop numbers, but its heart and soul comes from the trio of Lori McKenna songs that make up its core. “Stealing Kisses” just might be Hill’s finest moment to date, and the other two McKenna songs – “If You Ask” and the title track – are nearly as good.  – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Dearly Beloved”, “Stealing Kisses”, “Wish For You”

    46 Gill

    Vince Gill, Next Big Thing

    Gill dips into a wider range of styles and subjects on his first self-produced album, but it all seems to thoughtfully tie back to his classically sweet sound – a tricky thing to do in country music. Next Big Thing is mature, clever and vocally spot-on, and features some killer guest vocals from Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack and others. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Without You”, “Two Hearts”, “These Broken Hearts”

    45 Underwood

    Carrie Underwood, Play On

    Easily one of the most versatile artists in country music, Underwood is capable of tackling almost any musical style, and she makes a solid case for this on her third album. The kicker, though, is that rather than signaling a lack of identity, each style feels like a natural extension of herself as an artist. She’s mournful on a haunting country standard in one breath, and commanding on a rock-charged up-tempo in the next – all without compromising her authenticity. Most significantly, Underwood finally digs a little deeper on Play On, marrying her extraordinary vocal proficiency with a higher level of tangible, sincere conviction than ever before. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, “Songs Like This”, “What Can I Say”

    44 Crowell

    Rodney Crowell, The Outsider

    Crowell’s take on mid-decade politics avoids heavy-handedness, perhaps because what he’s appealing to is not so much partisanship as patriotism in its purest form: “Democracy won’t work if we’re asleep. That kind of freedom is a vigil you must keep.”  Bonus points for not one, but two guest turns from Emmylou Harris, the highlight being their stunning duet of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.” – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Dancin’ Circles ‘Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”, “Don’t Get Me Started”, “Shelter From the Storm”

    43 Little

    The Little Willies, The Little Willies

    Norah Jones pet country side project with four of her New York City friends, including former boyfriend bassist Lee Alexander, results inn an inextricably fun album named after Willie Nelson who is covered twice on the project (“Gotta Get Drunk” and “Night Life”). The productions, including jaunty piano and prominent bass, along with Jones’ atypically loose vocals, make this disc a thrilling listening experience. While The Little Willie’s self titled album is not tight in technical terms, the album is all the better for it. – LW

    Recommended Tracks: “Roll On”, “Gotta Get Drunk”, “Tennessee Stud”

    42 Yearwood

    Trisha Yearwood, Real Live Woman

    Upon its release, the artist declared that she’d finally made her dream album. It’s easy to understand why, as Real Live Woman is Trisha Yearwood’s most cohesive album to date. It has a warmth and depth that makes it more than just reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt’s classic L.A. country albums from the mid-seventies. It’s actually on par with them. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Where Are You Now”, “Try Me Again”, “When a Love Song Sings the Blues”

    41 Kristofferson

    Kris Kristofferson, Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco

    For each unequivocal success like At Folsom Prison and Nirvana Unplugged, there are a dozen uninspired live albums that simply exist to capitalize on old material. Kris Kristofferson’s Broken Freedom Songs, with his extended introductions and banter, is an unequivocal success. Along with its friendly and almost conversational tone, Broken Freedom Songs focuses on unexpected compositions and makes a nice addition to other historically strong live albums. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “The Circle”, “Here Comes that Rainbow Again”, “Moment of Forever”

    – – –


    1. Faith Hill’s placement look just about right. And the McKenna tunes are really what make that album shine. I do hope Lori McKenna’s albums are on this list somewhere, as well, because they’re fantastic.

    2. Play On ahead of That Lonesome Song? Did I just slip into some sort of crazy alternate universe? Carrie’s album doesn’t even come close to the quality of Jamey’s.

    3. Andrew, It might be because Carrie can do something that Jamey can’t – Sing! TS gets all the criticism but JJ’s vocals are pretty awful as well.

    4. Not a crazy alternate universe. Just Country Universe. I didn’t have Johnson or Underwood’s album on my personal list, but I’d listen to Underwood over Johnson any day.

      That’s not the case with all of our writers, no doubt. One of the reasons for the diversity of this list was that there were only a handful of albums that appeared on at least four of our personal lists. That’s a reflection of the diversity of our tastes. To move Johnson higher would be to placate the inevitable criticisms like this one, and that defeats the purpose of the exercise in the first place.

    5. Good set of albums (I have 9 of the 10 and 35/60). The missing album here for me is that of Kristofferson, who just is too poor a vocalist for me to waste my money on his recordings . I had Jamey Johnson slotted a little higher but not in my top 25.

      The Little Willies project is fun but not quite top tier by my reckoning

    6. Lori McKenna is a true talent, the Boston area girl has more of a folk background, but I’m glad she is making an impact in the Country Music world as well. She’s opened for Tim and Faith and Trisha too. And she’s made an Opry appearance. She also wrote Bible Song, which Sara Evans covered on her Real Fine Place album. We’re really proud of her up here.

      I hope Lori’s “Unglamorous” album is on this list somewhere. :)

    7. I only found 7 common cds on the CU and 9513 best albums lists for albums ranked 100 to 51. The first # is CU’s ranking:

      Dolly’s Halos & Horns – 97 vs 54
      Dwight’s Population Me – 91 vs 95
      Kris K’s This Old Road – 89 vs 52
      Clark’s Work Bench Days – 88 vs 56
      Womack’s Hope You Dance – 86 vs 66
      Stanley II’s This One is Two – 84 vs 81
      B&R’s Horse of a Different Color – 78 vs 91

      I may have missed a few because I’m even older than Paul Dennis.

    8. i LOVE that Faith Hill album, it was her best of all time.

      I would have ranked Carnival Ride instead of Play On, but I’ve started to enjoy PO a bit more, and Underwood has more stronger moments on PO than CR.. So, no complaints. :)

      And that Yearwood album was great, wouldn’t be surprised to see HH+POL somewhere in the Top 20 or Top 10.

    9. Cool idea to compare the two lists, Bob. Once they’re both wrapped up we should go through and list all the common albums between them, which I’m sure will be plentiful once we hit the upper ranks.

    10. Thanks for doing that work for us, bBob. I was wondering about it myself, but hadn’t gotten around to crunching the numbers.’

    11. Enjoying the list so far. By the way, in the vein of what Bob posted, I have a spreadsheet going and am punching in the 9513 and CU numbers as they’re coming in. I’ll get a summary/comparison of sorts up once both countdowns are complete. Should be interesting.

    12. Thanks to the staffs of CU & 9513 for putting together these lists. I’ve really enjoyed them plus there’s a chance I may find a new artist to my liking. I’m looking forward to your singles lists.

    13. Why haven’t I seen any George Strait albums on this list? Are they coming later? And what about Garth’s “Scarecrow” album? Chesney? McGraw? …am I thinking of a different decade here?

    14. No Chesney or McGraw album belongs on this list if you ask me. I’m really enjoying reading these- great writing everyone. I’m very surprised to see “Play On” here; I love her, but I personally don’t think the album belongs on such a list.

      These choices are very different from the 9513; refreshing to see so much diversity.

    15. I’m surprised to see Play On too, considering this is a best of decade list, not just year. I thought if a Carrie Underwood album makes it it would be either Some Hearts or Carnival Ride.

      Keep the list coming. This is a very good read.

    16. I don’t know if REAL LIVE WOMAN is necessarily on par with what Linda did in the 70s, and I think Trisha would agree. However, she succeeds mightily at making an album that comes d**n close at the very least. And it is deserving of a slot here (IMHO).

    17. Real Live Woman is one of five albums I came upon in my personal list-making which I really like, but decided not to include because I personally don’t classify it as country. (The other four were Keith’s Love, Pain and the whole crazy thing, Tift Merritt’s Another Country, Shania’s Up! and Taylor Swift’s Fearless). I was toying with the idea of a decade-end “non-country albums by country artists” list to provide a place to express my affection for them, but enough of them ended up on our list anyway that I decided against it.

      But yeah, that’s a great album. I especially love her version of “Sad Eyes,” which far surpasses any other I’ve heard even though her change to the “blue, blue ribbon” line doesn’t make total sense.

    18. How did I miss that Farce the Music Jamey Johnson cover? Great stuff … thanks for the link, Dan.

      Also, I honestly didn’t realize Fireflies was so revered. I agree it’s a good album, not my favorite from Faith Hill, but a very solid effort. I kinda expected Johnson to get ranked a bit higher as well. Enjoying the reminiscing though.

    19. jamey johnsons “that lonesome song” album ranks way to low. it’s one of those rare examples of coherence that makes it one of those records that you can call “essential listening” when you talk about the country music of this decade. just consider the fact that it took sugarland’s masterpiece “stay” to deny “in colors” a grammy is quite telling. at least in my collection, this album carries the same sticker as randy travis’ “storms of life”, steve earle’s “guitar town”, clint black’s “killing time”, willie nelson’s “redheaded stranger”, dwight yoakam’s “gone” or patty loveless’ “the trouble with the truth” just to name a few.

    20. That Lonesome Song was in my personal top ten. I think it’s been overrated in some ways, but I do think it’s one of the decade’s classic albums.

    21. I consider Real Live Woman the best album of the past decade. I am biased of course, but on my list I had it above all of Yearwood’s albums. 42 is a bit suprising to me because I cant really see any of her albums topping this one from this decade…

    22. Yearwood’s version of “Try Me Again” someway somehow surpasses the original in my opinion. Not sure how she did it, but she did.

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