The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8: #30-#21

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8

30 Trisha

Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love

The latest album from Trisha Yearwood  was one of her best yet, with a surprisingly loose sound and quite a few more uptempo tracks than is the norm for this queen of the ballads.  The best moments came from the pens of female songwriters, most notably the poignant “Dreaming Fields” penned by Matraca Berg. – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “This Is Me You’re Talking To”, “Dreaming Fields”, “Sing You Back to Me”

29 Pam

Pam Tillis,  Rhinestoned

On Rhinestoned, Pam Tillis demonstrates that she need not limit herself to covering her father’s songs in order to make a stellar traditional leaning album in her own right. The album, co-produced by Tillis, is consistent with accessible melodies, gentle, classic arrangements and impressively nuanced performances. While this is Tillis’ best album of the decade, it’s also possibly the best of her substantive career. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Something Burning Out”, Band in the Window”, “Life Has Sure Changed Us Around” (with John Anderson)

28 Patty

Patty Loveless, Dreamin’ My Dreams

The reigning Miss Country Covers has proven almost ad nauseam that she can re-render a standard with the best of them. But the might of Patty Loveless’ talent emerges more fully in her musically diverse contemporary albums, which allow her powerful voice to flex its complete range of colors and nuances. Those sets also exercise more of her taste, giving opportunity for song selections which, at their sharpest, present an inspiring vision of how country music can evolve without losing its core identity. Dreamin’ My Dreams is an achievement on both fronts, arguably one of the brightest moments in a very distinguished career. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Keep Your Distance”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Nobody Here By That Name”

27 Peter

Peter Cooper, Mission Door

Peter Cooper’s Mission Door is an album built around the most country of instrumentation, centered around Lloyd Green on steel guitar. Full of insightful glimpses of troubled lives, it might be considered a throwback, but on the strength of its writing and sound it never seems to try to exist in the past. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “All the Way to Heaven”, “715 (For Hank Aaron)”, “Sheboygan”

26 Robert Alison

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin’s front man, Robert Plant, are surely an unlikely duo. It turns out, however, that they managed to make one of the most intriguing duets projects of the decade. With vocal styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they find a way to meld together to create an easy harmony that causes the listener to forget their vocal dissimilarities. Moreover, T Bone Burnett’s slow burning productions perfectly compliment this diverse set of songs to make it a legitimately cohesive record. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”, “Please Read the Letter”, “Through the Morning, Through the Night”

25 Todd

Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline

One of music’s most poetic songwriters lays bare his fears, demons and revelations, throwing in the requisite dry wit and some loosey-goosey social commentary for good measure. Snider has rarely sounded countrier, and he’s never sounded better. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Alcohol And Pills”, “The Ballad Of the Kingsmen”, “Sunshine”

24 Randy

Randy Travis, Worship & Faith

Randy Travis has dedicated most of this decade to his spiritual side. Of all of his gospel albums, this collection is the most traditional both in arrangements and content, which covers several beloved hymns, gospel and praise and worship songs. Travis sings these meaningful compositions with a depth of sincerity that truly makes partaking of this rootsy project a spiritual experience. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “He’s My Rock, My Sword, My Shield”, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” (with John Anderson), “Sweet By and By”

23 Sugarland

Sugarland, Love On the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)

More so than any act since the Dixie Chicks, Sugarland can fuse mainstream country with roots instrumentation in such imaginative ways that even pop audiences will lap it up.  This is the best commercial country album from the tail end of the decade, powered by the Nettles/Bush songwriting chops and the awe-inspiring vocals of Miss Nettles. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “We Run”, “Keep You”, “Very Last Country Song”

22 Keith

Keith Urban, Be Here

Urban is an exceptional vocalist, songwriter and guitar player, but what separates him from his contemporaries is the raw, explosive emotion he throws into his performances. Be Here finds him channeling this passion more vigorously than ever and in new, more revealing ways – like the wrenching confession, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” Urban bypasses the role of interpreter on this album and simply inhabits the material; he’s as complex a person to be able to sing realistically, yet poignantly, of both life’s highest mountaintops and deepest valleys. Even further, Be Here is as accessible as it is personal, a quality that is perhaps what has made Urban one of the most accomplished recording artists in mainstream country music. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Days Go By”, “Tonight I Wanna Cry”, “Live To Love Another Day”

21 Neko

Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby

Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby is familiar with its use of reverb and Case’s overflowing voice. What may not be familiar for some is how much Case, who has moved more towards alternative influences with recent albums, draws from country influences on her sophomore album. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “Set Out Running”, “Porchlight”, “South Tacoma Way”

– – –


  1. Wholeheartedly (sp?) agree with this list. Strongest agreement from me thus far. No surprise to see any of these albums in the top 30, well maybe the Sugarland one (I love that album!!).

  2. I have 7 out of this batch (48/80). The Neko Case album is too high on this list. Shortly after this album I lost interest in her

    I’m surprised that the Loveless, Tillis and Yearwood albums aren’t a bit higher given the panel voting on this list – all three are really good albums

  3. I am also surprised at the rankings. It seems to me that as a whole, the CU writers value lyrics over vocals to a very large extent. Peter Cooper and Todd Snider rated higher than Trisha Yearwood. Really? To me HHPL is one of the best cds of Trisha’s career considering the material she chose. I realize she’s not a songwriter. While the writings of Peter Cooper and Todd Snider may be very witty, innovative, intellectual, etc., once you’ve heard the songs a few times and the novelty wears off, you’re left with their mediocre vocals (They don’t even sound very good on their MySpace). I wish them luck and maybe your high ranking will help them sell a few more cds. But I’m greedy. I want the lyrics and the vocals.

  4. I would have liked to have seen the Loveless and Yearwood albums a little higher too, but I’m glad they are both in the top 30 anyway. I haven’t heard the Tillis album yet.

    Great encapsulation of DMD Dan, I think you nailed it. Ha, but the “ad nauseum” part? No offense, but I like the way Kevin put it better in one of his posted comments expressing his wish that Patty record another studio album vs another covers album. Something to the effect of: “covering this real traditonal stuff is too easy for Patty, it’ like shooting fish in a barrel for her”. ;)

    I’d love to see Patty continue that sound she explored on her On Your Way Home and Dreamin’ My Dreams records. Mostly new material with echoes of the Traditional, and produced with a mountain sounding mix of electric and acoustic intrumentation. Only I wouldn’t mind if she lost the drums again, like she did with MS II. ;)

    Having said that, I am greedy and hope for a MS III, and am still hoping she and Emory record some of those numerous “left overs” they had from Sleepless Nights. And I sure hope the Williams’ song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is among them! That one was MADE to be “re-rendered” by Loveless!

    Great, well written mini-reviews everyone, thoroughly enjoying this countdown!

  5. Considering Vince Gill is my favorite artist, I put great value on voice, but I don’t think being a pitch perfect singer is all that makes a voice good either.

  6. I agree with Leeann on this one; character, expressiveness and authenticity are (or should be) valued vocal commodities.

    I think Kris Kristofferson is a great example, he gets blasted sometimes for not being able to sing very well, but he has a very distinctive and expressive voice. Jamey Johnson too.

  7. I always found Trisha Yearwood as one of the genre’s best album artist and I am really suprised to see all her albums ranked so low….seeing HHPOL at 30 I am almost positive Inside Out and Jasper County didnt rank higher. So its safe to assume she is done?

  8. Interesting list so far. I’m surprised to already be seeing Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love. I’m happy to be seeing Sugarland’s “Love on the Inside”, but I’m guessing that means no more Sugarland for the rest of the countdown. I would have liked it if their first two albums on the list or at least their debut. I’m hoping to see Miranda’s “Crazy-Ex Girlfriend” and “Revolution” coming up but it seems unlikely that both will be placed so high. I’m going to officially predict that “Home” by the Dixie Chicks will be number one.

  9. I’m surprised that the Loveless, Tillis and Yearwood albums aren’t a bit higher given the panel voting on this list – all three are really good albums

    I’ll second that. How did the Sugarland album rank higher than these?

  10. I agree Leeann but usually when you use terms like “distinctive” and “expressive” it’s in lieu of the terms like “good” or “excellent” and usually used to describe a mediocre singer such as Todd Snider and Kris K. Compared to either of them , Ernest Tubb was Pavrotti or Caruso

  11. It gives me hope not seeing Vince Gill’s These Days yet. That was an awesome album, and I’m hopeful it placed really high (I’m just assuming since I haven’t seen it yet…)

  12. For the record, Paul’s comment is in response to a comment that I accidentally deleted when I went in to edit it. I just remember that I said that one example of terrible does not thoroughly prove the point.

  13. @ razor x

    …well, if you want to capture what country music was like in this particular decade, the sugarland album is exemplary. it takes you in all sorts of directions but they make sure you always know that you’re in country. jennifer nettles’ vocals are the best in the business right now, when it comes to express the whole range of emotions – especially the positive ones.

  14. @ Bob

    It seems to me that as a whole, the CU writers value lyrics over vocals to a very large extent. Peter Cooper and Todd Snider rated higher than Trisha Yearwood. Really? To me HHPL is one of the best cds of Trisha’s career considering the material she chose. I realize she’s not a songwriter.

    This is probably at least partially true of me. My focus is usually songwriting-first, and it’s easier for me to like a great song with a mediocre vocal than the reverse. I wouldn’t withhold a high spot to anyone on the list simply because they’re not themselves a songwriter, though. The Yearwood, Loveless and Tillis albums ranked below the Snider album for me personally simply because I didn’t think their material was as consistently memorable as his.

    That said, a spot in the top 30 of a decade’s worth of material is still really, really good. I wouldn’t worry too much about a difference of a few spots, especially given that the list came from such a diverse pool of tastes with very few common albums between them.

  15. The fact that Trisha is thought of so highly by the good folks here at Country Universe says a lot about her, more than just her being the singer of “She’s In Love With The Boy” or being Garth Brooks’ significant other. But it also says a lot about the way country radio has treated her the last ten years–which is to say…well, rather shabbily, in my opinion.

    I don’t think Trisha’s albums are being docked any rankings here simply because she is an interpreter as opposed to being a songwriter (a trait she shares, incidentally, with both Patsy Cline and, especially, Linda Ronstadt). However, I do believe that song interpreters like Trisha should be at least given some credit for not only putting their own stamp on songs while maintaining the spirit of the songwriter’s ideas, but also exposing listeners to those very tunesmiths.

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