Daily Top Five: Most Essential Albums

Reba McEntire For My Broken HeartSuggested by longtime reader and commenter  Jonathan Pappalardo:

What are the five most essential albums in your collection?

I love this question!
Here’s my list:

  1. Dixie Chicks, Home
  2. Reba McEntire, For My Broken Heart
  3. Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
  4. Trisha Yearwood, Hearts in Armor
  5. Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel

Was going to try to do some equal opportunity attempt and squeeze in an album by a male act.  But even without repeating artists, the next seven or eight would still be female artists.

So here are my five most essential albums by male artists, for the record

  1. Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
  2. Dwight Yoakam, Gone
  3. Todd Snider, The Devil You Know
  4. Willie Nelson, Phases and Stages
  5. Alan Jackson, Like Red on a Rose


  1. As always, Kevin, I am impressed by your knowledge of the true gems of country history. But, I am not sure why you seem to limit yourself to the 80’s and thereafter. How can you do an “essential albums” list and not include one of Merle Haggard’s late 60’s albums, like Mama Tried or Sing Me Back Home? Or how about Dolly Parton’s My Tennessee Mountain Home or Coat of Many Colors or Jolene, three masterful albums from the 70’s?

  2. This is hard for me because, sadly, my knowledge of country music from before the last 5 to 10 years is mostly limited to singles. But here’s my best shot at the most essential albums of my own personal county music collection (with no repeating artists, or else it would all be George Strait).

    1. It Just Comes Natural – George Strait
    2. Drive – Alan Jackson
    3. Everywhere – Tim McGraw
    4. Part 2 – Brad Paisley
    5. You Get What You Give – Zac Brown Band

    Can you guys recommend some great albums from the 90s or early 00s for me to listen to?

  3. 1. Clint Black – D’Lectrified
    2. Chris LeDoux – One Road Man
    3. Ryan Bingham – Mescalito
    4. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
    5. Rose’s Pawn Shop – Dancing On The Gallows

  4. Little Big Town-The Road To Here
    Dixie Chick’s-Home
    Alabama-Mountain Music
    Lee Ann Womack-There’s more Where That Came From
    Gary Allan-Smoke Rings inthe Dark

  5. My five:

    1. HEART LIKE A WHEEL–Linda Ronstadt
    2. PIECES OF THE SKY–Emmylou Harris
    3. AT SAN QUENTIN–Johnny Cash
    4. THE GILDED PALACE OF SIN–The Flying Burrito Brothers

  6. Kevin,

    Thank you for picking one of my suggestions. This is hard seeing as you mentioned many that I would’ve chosen. I’ve been adding a lot of music to my collection in recent years based solely on this premise.

    Female Artists:
    1. Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
    2. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
    3. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones In The Road
    4. Pam Tillis, Rhinestoned
    5. Shania Twain, The Woman In Me
    BONUS: Kathy Mattea, Calling Me Home

    Male Artists:
    1. Keith Whitley, Don’t Close Your Eyes
    2. Clint Black, Killin’ Time
    3. Willie Nelson, Stardust
    4. Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
    5. Steve Earle, Guitar Town

    Groups, Duos, and Collaborations:
    1. Trio, Trio
    2. The Mavericks, What A Crying Shame
    3. Dixie Chicks, Fly
    4. Various Artists, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers
    5. Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek

  7. Kuzco,

    I would start with Kevin’s list above, if you haven’t listened to those albums already. I can vouch for the first four on his list of females, they’re all fantastic examples of each artist at their strongest artistically. I would’ve listed them myself, but he beat me to it. Check out Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On as well. You cannot go wrong with any of the songs on there. Alan Jackson’s The Greatest Hits Collection is the perfect starting point for getting yourself familiar with his hit singles from the early years of his career.

    Your list has five great albums, by the way. Part II is my favorite from Paisley while Everywhere is one of my favorite records McGraw has ever released.

    I hope this helps get you started!

  8. I think a list such as this should be albums originally conceived as albums/ Otherwise this would be a list of “Best 0f” and “Greatest Hit” compilations. Obviously, there isn’t an album on the list that would stand up to HANK WILLIAMS – 25 GREATEST HITS or THE BEST OF BUCK OWENS V1 & V2

    For albums originally conceived of and released as albums , these would be my essentials

    STORMS OF LIFE – Randy Travis
    MAMA TRIED – Merle Haggard
    GUITAR TOWN – Steve Earle
    COAL – Kathy Mattea
    RED HEADED STRANGER – Willie Nelson
    LIVE – Waylon Jennings

  9. 1. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
    2. Suzy Bogguss w Chet Atkins – Simpatico
    3. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Come On Come On
    4. Sugarland – Love On the Inside
    5. Hal Ketchum – Past the Point of Rescue

  10. 1. “Come On Come On”: Mary Chapin Carpenter (Glad to see this one getting some love)
    2. “Masterpiece Theatre”: Marianas Trench
    3. “Love, Pain and the whole crazy thing”: Keith Urban
    4. “Southeastern”: Jason Isbell
    5. “Chief”: Eric Church
    (tie). “Speak Now”: Taylor Swift

  11. I see this as essential list because if I had someone who wanted to hear country music…these are the CDs is want them to listen to. It’s diverse, shows emotions, and has excellent song writing.

    Dixie Chicks, Home
    George Strait, Ocean Front Property
    Reba McEntire, For My Broken Heart
    Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
    Shania Twain, The Woman In Me

  12. Hard to narrow down but here goes:
    1. Reba-For My Broken Heart
    2 Patty Loveless-The Trouble With The Truth
    3. Pam Tillis- Rhinestoned
    4. Emmylou Harris- Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
    5. Rosanne Cash: Kings Record Shop

  13. Male Singers:
    1. Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
    2. Tim McGraw – Everywhere
    3. Ronnie Milsap – Only One Love In My Life
    4. Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy
    5. Keith Urban – Golden Road

    1. Here You Come Again – Dolly Parton
    2. Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter
    3. When I Dream – Crystal Gayle
    4. King’s Record Shop – Rosanne Cash
    5. Let’s Keep It That Way – Anne Murray

  14. 1. Eric Church- Sinners Like Me
    2. Josh Turner-Punching Bag
    3. George Strait-Icon Hits
    4. Josh Turner-Icon Hits
    5. Eric Church-Chief

  15. I like many of the albums suggested, so I’ll just add a few not mentioned above:

    Earl Thomas Conley – Don’t Make It Easy For Me
    Willie, Waylon, Jesse and Tompall – WANTED: The Outlaws
    Urban Cowboy Soundtrack
    Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
    Ricky Skaggs – Highways and Heartaches

  16. I’m with Paul, Greatest Hits collections are too easy for this exercise. With that said, this is a tough task.:

    1. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
    2. Vince Gill, These Days
    3. Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
    4. Dixie Chicks, Home
    5. Brandy Clark, Twelve Stories

  17. 1. Alison Krauss – Now that I found you a collection
    2. Zac Brown Band – The Foundation
    3. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the Circle be Unbroken Vol 2
    4. Miranda Lambert – Revolution
    5. Eric Church – Chief

  18. 1. Jolene – Dolly Parton
    2. You Ain’t Woman enough – Loretta
    3. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
    4. At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash
    5. Storms of Life – Randy Travis

  19. Oh, I do have to make a comment. First of all, I love this site and think you all do a GREAT job. That being said, it does seem that most all of your favorites lists start with the late 80’s and after. Would be nice if we explored more of the real breakthrough artist that REALLY changed country prior to the 80’s

  20. I think the focus on the ’80s and ’90s is just a product of when people were born. I love and appreciate a lot of the things that came out before I was born, but the music I grew up with will always be my favorite. I think that’s true of most people.

  21. 1. Dark & Dirty Mile -Jason Boland & the Stragglers
    2. If We Ever Make It Home -Wade Bowen
    3. I’m About to Come Alive -David Nail
    4. Broken In -Trent Willmon
    5. Carolina -Eric Church

  22. Andrew,
    I do agree. However I was born in the mid to late 70’s so my introduction to country was in the 80’s. However, If you look at individual songs, you just don’t get much better than the late 60’s, early 70’s for that kind of quality. Of course this is just my opinion. Take a look at most best of lists from most critics and its amazing to see the quality from that time period.

  23. Bobby Bare Sings Lullabies, Legends and Lies – Bobby Bare
    Hank Williams Jr and Friends – Hank Williams Jr
    Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs – Marty Robbins
    Plain Brown Wrapper – Gary Morris
    Misbehavin’ – Joanna Dean

  24. Sticking with Paul’s rule that anthology albums are too much of a cheat and picking only what I’d put at the very top of my Most Essential list…

    1. Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul
    2. Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music
    3. Willie Nelson, Stardust
    4. Buck Owens, Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard. A two-for-one deal with this one!
    5. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose

  25. Patty Loveless – Mountain Soul
    Radiohead – Ok Computer
    Mariah Carey – Daydream
    Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
    Dixie Chicks – Home

  26. 1. Cimmaron: EmmyLou Harris
    2. Southeastern: Jason Isbell
    3. Roses in the Snow: EmmyLou Harris
    4. Pancho & Lefty: Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
    5. Daylight and the Dark: Jason Eady

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