The Best Albums of the Decade, Part Two: #75-#51

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019


#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1


#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1

Our Best Albums of the Decade list continues with another 25 entries.


Ashley Monroe

The Blade

Country music has been characterized by baffling choices, but is there any greater miscarriage of justice than Music Row’s refusal to make Ashley Monroe a superstar? The Blade finds Monroe at the peak of her gifts as a songwriter of uncommon depth and genuine wit and as a singer of empathy and range. The Blade should have established her as a star on the same plane with the likes of Eric Church, Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton, or her friend and collaborator, Miranda Lambert as mainstream country acts of substance. – Jonathan Keefe



Billie Joe & Norah


Norah Jones and Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong teamed up for a loving tribute to the tight knit harmonies of the Everly Brothers.  Foreverly is a reverent and satisfying collection, largely because the duo are able to blend their distinctive voices so well.  Oh, for mainstream country artists to have as much respect for the genre’s history as a jazz singer and punk rocker show on this album. – Kevin John Coyne



Elizabeth Cook


While Elizabeth Cook had always been known for her bolder lyrics and upfront personality, she took both her lyrics and musicality to new heights on Welder, which may have felt like a shock to the system at
first. While it was somewhat of a departure from her previous more straight up country image with brash songs like “El Camino”, “Yes to Booty,” and “Snake in the Bed,” Welder still stayed down to earth
with songs paying tribute to her parents and a compassionate and honest look at the complexities of a person with drug addiction with “Heroin Addict Sister.” What’s more, time has been good to Welder and
it not only holds up ten years later, but it still feels like an innovative album. – Leeann Ward



Cody Jinks

I’m Not the Devil

Invoking the spirit of the Outlaw movement without making a big to-do about it, Cody Jinks emerged as one of the finest traditionalist acts of the 2010s. I’m Not the Devil boasts some of his strongest songwriting— someone like Dierks Bentley would be well-served by covering the title track— as Jinks wrestles with the idea of whether his soul is one truly worth saving. – Jonathan Keefe



The Cactus Blossoms

You’re Dreaming

With harmonies and a retro vibe that harkens back to the Everly Bros. or the Louvin Bros., Page Burkum and Jack Torrey do a fine job of carrying on the tradition of the brother duo in country music. Some of the songs on You’re Dreaming sound like they easily could be part of the Everlys catalog. Others, like “Change Your Ways or Die,” spin the vintage sound into something new and exciting. – Sam Gazdziak



Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Old Yellow Moon

Old pals Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell made a pair of albums together in the last decade, which felt like something that was meant to happen sooner or later. Their two unique voices seamlessly melded
together to create sublime music on the first and best of their two album collaborations. As both do so well on their own, they expertly chose songs that showcased their great song sensibilities and even found new ways to interpret old classics that in some cases, such as “Dreamin’ My Dreams” and “Bluebird Wine,” outdid the originals. – Leeann Ward




Kasey Chambers


Kasey Chambers is among the most consistent country artists currently working, delivering a great album every two years or so. Bittersweet is a bit of a lost treasure, overshadowed by the overwhelming critical acclaim that awaited it successor, Dragonfly.   Her songwriting is as powerful as ever here, with the wry humor of tracks like “Stalker” balanced out by deep meditations like “Is God Real?” – Kevin John Coyne



The Mavericks

In Time

The 2010s brought the surprise reformation of The Mavericks after a decade’s absence. Even better, the reconstituted group continues to bang out excellent, genre-challenging albums. Vocalist Raul Malo remains one of the best in the business, and the core Mavericks, as well as a hot horn section, mix classic and contemporary country/pop sounds with Latin-American accents for a thoroughly fun listening experience. – Sam Gazdziak



Courtney Marie Andrews

May Your Kindness Remain

On which an upstart finds her voices as both a singer and a songwriter, May Your Kindness Remain wasn’t Courtney Marie Andrews’ debut album, but it’s the album on which she truly announced herself as a generational talent. Comparisons to Linda Ronstadt don’t come easy, but there’s really no better point-of-reference for Andrews’ extraordinary vocal performances, her SoCal country aesthetic, or her POV informed by empathy and pleas for grace. – Jonathan Keefe



Lindi Ortega


Lindi Ortega spends the exceptional song cycle of Liberty recasting her journey through the music industry as something akin to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Part revenge saga, part spaghetti western, part third-wave-feminist manifesto, this concept album is all about Ortega’s attempts to reclaim her agency. That she chronicles this struggle and eventual triumph with such power and insight makes for a riveting and, yes, cinematic listen. – Jonathan Keefe



Old Crow Medicine Show


While Darius Rucker was having a huge hit with their classic track “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show kept plugging away at new material. Remedy has many tracks worthy of rediscovery by mainstream artists down the road.  “Mean Enough World” grows more relevant every year, and “Dearly Departed Friend” is just as devastating with every listen. – Kevin John Coyne



Chris Stapleton


Stapleton’s soulful vocals fit in so well with the dark, gritty bluegrass made his former band, The Steeldrivers, but Traveler demonstrates that he sounds equally at home in a contemporary country setting. “Tennessee Whiskey” still gets airplay despite being five years old and never officially released as a single, but this is a stocked, 14-song album that has unfortunately been overlooked by his From A Room albums. – Sam Gazdziak



Kathy Mattea

Pretty Bird

The process of finding her voice again led Kathy Mattea to adventurous material, with stunning covers of classics by Bobbie Gentry and Joan Osborne sitting comfortably alongside meditations on mortality (“Chocolate On My Tongue,” “Little Glass of Wine”) and the dark national climate (“Mercy Now.”) –  Kevin John Coyne



Miranda Lambert

Four the Record

If the 2000s established Lambert as a bona fide country star, the 2010s showed she wouldn’t limit herself to that small niche. There are a few radio-friendly tracks that became hits, but Lambert experiments with different sounds, left-of-center songwriters and compelling song topics. Four the Record set the tone for a decade’s worth of artistic achievements for Lambert. – Kevin John Coyne



The SteelDrivers


Before he was that Chris Stapleton, he was the frontman of The SteelDrivers for their first two albums. While the power and range of his ragged vocal performances and incisive songwriting loom large over Reckless, The SteelDrivers’ sophomore album, this was never a one-man show. Reckless improved upon the band’s distinctive debut by pushing harder into the surface-level contradictions of their style, that of a top-notch Bluegrass band who played and performed like a vintage Rhythm and especially Blues band. – Jonathan Keefe



Randy Houser


After trying his darndest at fitting in with the bro-country trend that took over country radio in the last ten years, Randy Houser had grown tired of making music that he didn’t feel connected to by the end of the decade. Magnolia  has an organic and simple sound, which allows his already strong voice to seem even stronger, not to mention that the fun songs seem lighter and the serious songs feel more introspective and authentic. – Leeann Ward



The Trishas

High, Wide & Handsome

The Trishas are four friends who joined together to form a one off band to sing at a tribute to Kevin Welch, but their tight harmonies were so delicious and natural that they couldn’t deny a good thing when it hit them right in the ears. High, Wide & Handsome was their first full length album, and it is full of melodically hooky songs that were crafted by The Trishas as well as some of the best in the business. Their sisterly sounding harmonies and organic production made for a strong debut that would’ve gotten them mainstream attention in a better world.  – Leeann Ward



Chris Stapleton

From a Room, Vol. 1

Any bro in a ballcap can call himself an outlaw, but this is the kind of album that only a true country outlaw can make. Stapleton can belt out a blues rocker or a light-hearted pot ode with “Them Stems” as well as anyone out there. Give him a ballad like the hit “Broken Halos” or a cover of Wille Nelson’s “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” and he shows surprising tenderness and restraint. – Sam Gazdziak



Gretchen Peters


A stark, harrowing meditation on aging and mortality from one of the finest songwriters of her generation, Blackbirds is the densest and most literary album of Gretchen Peters’ career. What’s most striking is Peters’ ability to convey a rich interior life within every character she creates here, whether that’s a soldier suffering from PTSD on “When All You Got is a Hammer” or an elderly man burying his wife with an environmental catastrophe as a backdrop on “Black Ribbons.” Peters’ narrators are all recognizably human and alive, even as their lives are slipping away from them. – Jonathan Keefe



Carlene Carter

Carter Girl

Carlene Carter’s decades long transition from prodigal daughter to keeper of the family legacy is finally complete.  Carter Girl is a collection of songs from multiple generations of the Carter Family, but is more than just a historical document.  Carter’s skill as a singer and interpreter moves the album from simply preserving history to interrogating it, with the haunting “Lonesome Valley 2003” and her melancholy reworking of her masterwork “Me and the Wildwood Rose” being the strongest moments of a uniformly excellent set.  – Kevin John Coyne



Punch Brothers

The Phosphorescent Blues

I once described Punch Brothers as a stringband version of Radiohead, and it’s an assessment that’s only grown more and more true over the course of their career. Phosphorescent Blues is, at times, the band’s most accessible album since their debut and, at others, almost inscrutably dense in its layering. Few bands in any genre are as adept at marrying their classical training and skill at song composition with their ability to write a memorable hook. But with a MacArthur Foundation certified genius like Chris Thile at the helm, that’s precisely what Punch Brothers do: “My Oh My” and “I Blew It Off” could be studied in a music theory class or added seamlessly to a playlist between The SteelDrivers and Taylor Swift. – Jonathan Keefe



Humming House


Humming House tried to capture the essence of their live shows on a studio album and it actually worked, which is not an easy concept to pull off. The vocals, songs, and production are engaging and infectious. While it has an acoustic foundation, the album pulls from many genre influences that work together.  Furthermore, the album is full of fun without feeling at all frivolous and has a jam band feel without being insufferable. – Leeann Ward



Pistol Annies

Hell On Heels

Unfairly dismissed as a side project for “Lonestar Annie” Miranda Lambert, what Pistol Annies have been from the very beginning is the finest vocal group signed to a major label in Nashville this decade. Hell On Heels is an album about the freedom afforded by creating an artistic persona wholesale: Authenticity fetishists can look elsewhere for their fix, but they’ll be missing out on the likes of “Lemon Drop” and “Housewife’s Prayer,” which are some of the most captivating and believable songs of working class disaffect committed to a country album in the 2010s. – Jonathan Keefe



Jerry Lawson

Just a Mortal Man

R&B vet Lawson recorded Just a Mortal Man in failing health, and it turned out to be his final work – the album was released in 2015, and he died in 2019. But what a gorgeous final note. Producer Eric Brace and Lawson chose songs from a who’s who list of writers – Peter Cooper, Paul Simon, Buddy Miller, Robert Hunter. Lawson interprets each song with the deft touch of a master craftsman at work. – Sam Gazdziak



Sara Watkins

Sun Midnight Sun

It can’t be ignored that Sara Watkins was one of three members of the progressive bluegrass trio, Nickel Creek. While her contributions as a Creeker were substantial, it seemed that her band mates got more of
the attention and acclaim, especially the formidable Chris Thile. It was sad when they disbanded to pursue their own careers, but who knew it would be worth it to see how Watkins has come into her own as a
solo artist?

Sun Midnight Sun was her second solo album, and after a country-flavored debut set, it was a surprise left turn. While still having some acoustic elements, the album was more muscular and even raucous at times. Songs like “I Remember You” and  “You’re the One I Love”(with Fiona Apple) elevated Watkins’ vocals and playfulness to new heights while “When It Pleases You” and “Be There” emotionally explored the lows of heartbreak. – Leeann Ward

The Best of the Decade, 2010-2019


#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1


#100-#76 | #75-#51 | #50-#26 | #25-#1


  1. Re Liberty: Yes, it’s a very cinematic album (likely not unintentional on Lindi’s part), but probably even more influenced by Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah than by Quentin Tarantino…and with a smidgen of Linda Ronstadt’s 1987 Mexican album Canciones De Mi Padre thrown in for good measure. Since Lindi, like Linda, is part-Mexican on her father’s side, this isn’t too terribly surprising. All around, these things made Liberty not only one of the great albums of the previous decade, but also, for my money, one of the absolute best albums of its year 2018.

  2. @ Tom,

    I was also surprised that The Blade underperformed when I crunched the numbers; she’s one of a couple of artists whose consistency cut against them, in the sense that the crew here didn’t have a consensus choice among their albums. Each of her solo albums and two of the three Pistol Annies albums received votes; it really was a matter of how the math came together that determined the final rankings.

  3. I have “Like a Rose” and “The Blade”. I’d give the edge to the latter but “Weed Instead of Roses” & “You Ain’t Dolly” are my 2 most frequently played Monroe songs. I have a weakness for funny songs.

    Love “Dearly Departed Friend” except for
    “And man the girls round here, the girls round here
    They’re just as hopeless as they used to be”

    Still a fan of Mattea and the Mavericks. Seen them both within the last year or so.

  4. @Leeann Ward re. Sara Watkins:

    She is also now, as many of us know, one-third of the folk/bluegrass trio I’m With Her, along with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. Arguably, they are as close to being another version of the Dolly/Linda/Emmylou Trio as we’re ever likely to have in our day and age (IMHO).

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