Discussion: Twenty Albums That Shaped Your Musical Tastes

Let’s turn an Instagram trend into a blogging trend.

The basic premise is to list 20 albums that have influenced your musical tastes over the years, and for something lighthearted and fun, I’m sharing my list today. Note, however, that these are not critical reviews of the following albums, nor are they my favorite albums, necessarily; some of these aren’t even my favorite albums from the artists in question. I’ve chosen to list these albums in order of when I first heard them, because, as Brandy Clark says, “your life is a record.” If anything, consider this a sequel to my introduction post for Country Universe.

Shania Twain Up!

Shania Twain

Up! (2002)

I wouldn’t quite *love* country music until the next decade, but Shania Twain helped plant the seeds for that love early on for me. Later, I’d connect more with my grandfather’s taste in country music – more on that later – but as a kid, I owe that early connection to my mother, a rock ‘n’ roll fan who converted to country music during the Garth Brooks and Twain ‘90s boom period. I’m not sure how much the actual Up! album plays into my early connection, though – I remember watching Twain music videos with my mother more than I do listening to an actual CD. But it’s the album that features two of her singles that are among the first songs I remember loving as a kid – the title track and “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!.” Even just typing the titles out lodged those hooks and melodies into my brain. Kevin once described Twain’s music as “Twain Cocaine,” and I can’t think of a better description, really.

Tim McGraw Let It Go

Tim McGraw

Let It Go (2007)

Two albums in, I feel like I’m once again cheating with this selection, given how the actual album is only kinda-sorta relevant to the whole point of this discussion. I wouldn’t listen to the actual album until several years later, but as I explained in my introductory post, this album still holds a special meaning to me in other ways. My grandfather and I obsessed over “Last Dollar (Fly Away,” every time it came on the radio, and I’ll never forget the day he picked me up from school and had the CD featuring it in his hand. It is, admittedly, a very stupid song, but as a kid, I had too much with it to care. If anything, Let It Go is probably the first album to show me how music can connect us, cheesy as that sounds.

Jason Aldean Relentless

Jason Aldean

Relentless (2007)

This feels like an odd selection, but one I’d have to place here, if I’m being honest. I don’t know, maybe it was just the middle schooler in me who gravitated toward Aldean’s stoicism and thought it was “cool” at a time when I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Granted, Aldean’s material hasn’t resonated with me in years, but even now, I’d gladly defend his earlier work – “Back In This Cigarette,” “Not Every Man Lives,” “Laughed Until We Cried”,” these were all great cuts. I wish he’d held on to the sound that made him stand out then, rather than give in to utterly stupid trends that made him one of the worst hit-makers of the 2010s.

Dierks Bentley Modern Day Drifter

Dierks Bentley

Modern Day Drifter (2005)

Here’s another story that involves my grandparents, only I’ll admit it’s not quite as heartwarming … if only because I may have stolen this from their CD collection. As a kid with only a passing interest in country music then, I didn’t really care how you defined it. If anything, I didn’t care much for the older artists at this point in my life, and though I’d heard country music was about “real life,” I thought it was just a hokey way for people to try and define a genre too hard to actually categorize with a simple sentence; I just liked the way it sounded.

Dierks Bentley, then, may have been the first performer to show me what people meant when they said that. The album I, uh, “borrowed” was a deluxe edition that came with a DVD, which acted as somewhat of a “behind the scenes” look into the making of Modern Day Drifter. In it, Bentley takes listeners (viewers?) on a trip through Nashville and all the places he started out at, and he comes across as genuinely humble, regular person through it all – and someone appreciative of his place within the genre. And I think that hangdog charisma extends to this album itself, where he’s just a rambler on “Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do” and the title track. Bentley was the first artist I discovered who positioned himself on the same level as his fans, and that, to me, is one way we define a true country artist.

Lee Ann Womack Call Me Crazy

Lee Ann Womack

Call Me Crazy (2008)

I realize most of these discussions have focused more on events other than the actual album in question. Well, here it is – the first album I remembering loving for the music itself. I was a picky kid who used to decide if I liked a song 10 or 20 seconds in, so while my mother bought Call Me Crazy for “Last Call,” I played it every chance I could and was surprised that I liked every song on it. Lee Ann Womack is easily one of my favorite vocalists in country music, and while I didn’t yet quite understand the fallen country legends she sang about in “I Think I Know,” I loved listening to her sing about them anyway. Granted, I can admit it’s not quite her best album, but it is one of her moodiest; and that, even now, is an easy sell for me.

Brad Paisley Play

Brad Paisley

Play (2008)

Hello, my name is Zackary Kephart, and I am one of maybe five or so people who actually likes this album. In all seriousness, this album probably awakened the nerdy, critical side of me more than I likely realized at the time, where my discussions and album reviews would move away from dissecting songs track-by-track and revolve more around a general discussion. After all, what does one say about an album that relies almost solely on its presentation to work? If I’m thinking about why I liked this then, though … heck, “Clusterpluck” and “Cliffs Of Rock City” inspired that “middle schooler waving around an air guitar” phase that we all go through at some point. That wasn’t just me, right?

Miranda Lambert Revolution

Miranda Lambert

Revolution (2009)

I must admit that, with only a few notable exceptions, for the longest time, I – a country music fan – couldn’t have cared less what the artists were actually singing about. “The House That Built Me” is probably one of the first songs I really *listened* to, if only because I was in the process of moving from my childhood home when this was on the airwaves. I hadn’t connected to a song quite like that, well, ever. Like with Dierks Bentley, I was finally understanding what people meant when they said country music was about real life. Granted, the album this song stems from is a bit bloated and messy as a whole, but I didn’t think that at the time. Lambert quickly became one of my early country music favorites just from this album alone.

Jamey Johnson The Guitar Song

Jamey Johnson

That Lonesome Song (2008) /The Guitar Song (2010)

I’m lumping these two together and counting them as one entry because, truthfully, I can’t remember which Jamey Johnson album I listened to first. I do, however, remember “In Color” being one of only a handful of modern country singles my grandfather seemed to like, which, given the “outlaw savior” narrative surrounding Johnson during this time, made too much sense. Granted, I didn’t think much of that debate then; I was a kid who readily admitted to not caring for older country music. Both of these albums changed my perception. They were both certainly different from anything I had ever listened to before – I knew that. But I remember being floored by the title track of That Lonesome Song, which I always loved for the fast-paced tension to its locomotive-esque precision before ending as slow as it began. On the other hand, I’m not even sure how I made myself care about a double album at this point in my life – and for my money, both discs are pretty equally dark and moody, no matter what the packaging says – but I found a weird fascination with “Heartache”; I remember that.

Of course, this is also an album that, because of the press and marketing behind it, made me care about country music more than I ever did before, for better and worse: better, in that, I started to care more about what I was listening to and foster a greater appreciation because of it; worse, in that, I bought into the savior narrative surrounding Johnson and probably became a stingy old man before I even became a teenager. Not that there isn’t merit to that everlasting debate – I just find the truth to be somewhere in the middle.

Alan Jackson Under The Influence

Alan Jackson

Under The Influence (1999)

If you’ve read one of my most recent posts, you won’t be surprised to see me feature Alan Jackson. He was a favorite of mine then, and a favorite now; but not necessarily for a specific album. I believe I first heard this album my freshman year of high school, where even though I didn’t know many of the names associated with this album, I respected Jackson’s choice to salute his musical heroes. Of course, I swore, too, to do my research and listen to artists like Merle Haggard, Charley Pride and Gene Watson, but time slipped away – more on that later.

Gary Allan Smoke Rings In The Dark

Gary Allan

Smoke Rings In The Dark (1999)

If Jason Aldean was the moody country act I gravitated toward in middle school, older (and wiser) me traded him in for Gary Allan in high school. For a while, I counted Allan as my favorite artist – the first I ever obsessed over, where I spent an entire summer collecting his albums and other sorts of memorabilia. And if that sounds weird for what would have been 2012 or so, I’ll admit I’m the weird guy who still enjoys collecting CDs – I’m not alone in that, thankfully. I like Tough All Over just a bit better, but Smoke Rings In The Dark was the first Allan album I listened to and loved. Granted, I can hear the influences pretty well now, but it’s another case where I hadn’t yet heard a country album sound as cool and lush as that album did; and this would have been around 15 years after its initial release. I loved the imagery of the title track; the brutal, aching agony of “Don’t Tell Mama”; and the murky “Lovin’ You Against My Will” that sounds like it’s drowning in its own darkness. Allan’s demons sounded like the real deal, which, not to enter into a debate surrounding authenticity, was important to me.

Zac Brown Band Uncaged

Zac Brown Band

Uncaged (2012)

Growing up, I didn’t understand why my friends teased me for liking country music. I didn’t associate with any of the rural stereotypes surrounding it, but as bro-country entered the fold … well, it felt like I spent more time defending the genre I loved than I did explaining the good I saw (heard?) in it. And it’s tough for certain acts, like, say, the Zac Brown Band; where, upon explaining why I liked them, my arguments turned to rubble when my opponents brought up “Chicken Fried.”

If I may explain why to you fine folks, though, Uncaged is one of those albums that reminds me why I love music to begin with. It’s a bright, colorful listen that fuses so many different genres together and makes it seem effortless, where the country material mostly shines, but doesn’t solely define them. They’d fly off the rails with subsequent albums, but I’ll forever remember being excited when my metal-loving friend told me he loved “Natural Disaster.” Finally, a kindred spirit!

Glen Campbell Greatest Hits

Glen Campbell

Greatest Hits (2009)

My “country music homework” began, in a sense, when I saw Glen Campbell’s Goodbye Tour in 2012 at the University of Buffalo Center for the Arts. I previously stated I had always intended to start digging through those older songs and albums, and as I geared up to see Campbell for my first and final time, I began with a simple greatest hits collection. I instantly fell in love with the warm, inviting melodies and stories of songs like “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.” Campbell became another artist I obsessed over up until – and after – the show, and I can safely say I wouldn’t know or care as much about country music and its history had it not been for both Alan Jackson and Campbell. This got the ball rolling for me in the best way possible.

Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose

Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose (2004)

To piggyback off of my Glen Campbell story, I switched from someone who kept up with current country charts and hits to someone more concerned with finding out where country music had been. I loved listening to country radio as a kid, but the same magic I felt from hearing a song I loved just wasn’t quite the same for me by 2013. I didn’t immediately dislike bro-country or modern country as a whole, mind you – it was targeted to my age demographic, after all – but I became increasingly dissatisfied with it.

Plus, I wasn’t sure how many more chances I’d get to see the country music legends. I was all geared up to see George Jones in June of that year … only he died in April. All of a sudden it hit home for me to take every chance and opportunity I could to see these artists. I saw Loretta Lynn in 2013, and displayed in the merch booth was – as of then – her most “recent” album, Van Lear Rose. I wasn’t aware of the importance and impact that album carried; I just played it and was won over immediately. It was one of the coolest projects I’d ever heard, too; “Portland, Oregon” still has a magic to it that delights me every time I hear it. I still didn’t know an awful lot about the genre I claimed to love then, but I was having fun figuring it out.

Jason Isbell Southeastern

Jason Isbell

Southeastern (2013)

Perhaps the most obvious inclusion, but in December 2013, I stumbled upon former Entertainment Weekly writer Grady Smith’s “Best Country Albums Of 2013” post … in which I recognized only a few names: who was Lindi Ortega? The Lone Bellow? Sturgill Simpson? Jason Isbell? I thought maybe I’d stumbled upon the wrong list.

And then I saw Kacey Musgraves, Gary Allan and Brad Paisley. And then I realized there was an entirely vast world of country (or country-adjacent) music I didn’t know about. In hindsight, Southeastern probably wasn’t the best starting point from that bunch of albums, but it was an emotionally draining listen that felt more rewarding than anything I’d heard on the radio in quite some time. I had already spent the majority of the year digging into older country music, and now it seemed like I had more homework.

Steve Earle I Feel Alright

Steve Earle

I Feel Alright (1996)

Here’s the most unexciting discovery story: I found Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” through a YouTube recommendation, and then I dug into the rest of Earle’s discography. He became my next artistic obsession, as I found his whole, um, “story” interesting.

A fitting one, too, given that I had begun digging into the world of alternative country music around that time. Granted, I Feel Alright is far from my favorite Earle album, but it was one of the first ones of his I’d heard. Little did I understand then what it meant for him – what feeling “alright” really entailed. I now find great joy from hearing him howl the title track’s hook whenever I revisit this album.

Gretchen Peters Blackbirds

Gretchen Peters

Blackbirds (2015)

One of my favorite discoveries in 2015 was Gretchen Peters, though I must admit the first album I ever heard from her will always hold a special meaning for me. Her mantra is “sad songs make me happy,” and Blackbirds is no exception to that rule. It may even be among her darkest works, spanning themes of depression, abuse, PTSD, and, to no one’s surprise, death. It was released in February 2015; I heard it in June, arguably the last time of year anyone would want to listen to something as dark and dreary as this. It was my senior year of high school – I had lost a friend to a car accident, so something like “Everything Falls Away” immediately floored me. This album, too, offered a great counterpoint for when people asked me why I liked to listen to sad songs. Through them, I believe we find relief and joy, thereby offering a greater reward than any happy song ever could.

Lucero Tennessee


Tennessee (2002)

I credit my college Macroeconomics professor for introducing me to two things: Squidbillies and Lucero. He recommended Tennessee as a great starting point, and I couldn’t agree more. I have a weird fascination with the ‘90s/early 2000s alternative country movement, where the blend of country with a punk sensibility just works for me, and this is where that all started. And hey, I’m always up for more sad songs.

Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar

Johnny Cash

With His Hot and Blue Guitar (1957)

I’m not sure how cheesy or cliché this will end up sounding, but I may owe my fascination with writing about music to this album. As I explained in my introductory post, my grandparents largely sparked my initial interest in country music. Sadly, and without going into too much detail, my grandfather suffered a stroke in 2010. He remained essentially bedridden in his house until 2015, and one of my favorite activities to enjoy with him during this time was to listen to old records. There was one particular instance where I visited him with a Johnny Cash box set – his favorites were, after all, Cash, Charley Pride and George Jones. I had planned to visit and play Cash’s debut album for him while I worked around the house, and not even 30 seconds into the first song, “The Rock Island Line,” he asked me to stop and listen with him. My grandmother also eventually stopped what she was doing to listen. Truthfully, it felt weird just sitting there and listening, but it taught me to really appreciate what I’d heard. It’s one thing to enjoy music, but I believe we find ultimate joy from it by loving and appreciating it, and I didn’t know what that meant until that moment.

Eric Church Mr. Misunderstood

Eric Church

Mr. Misunderstood (2015)

I had always liked Eric Church, but it was hard to enjoy his music without being put off by his obnoxious attitude sometimes. When Mr. Misunderstood came out, it was like watching a complete rebirth of an artist – someone who went from thinking he was an outlaw on the edges of Nashville to someone who revealed himself to be a total music nerd that namedropped Ray Wylie Hubbard in a mainstream country single; which, really, is more “outlaw” anyway. By the time this album was released, I had been writing about music for approximately five months, offering rudimentary observations and ranting about Sam Hunt along the way. Good times.

I credit this album for shaping how I frame my writing – to look beyond a simple track-by-track basis when assessing a complete album and look at the bigger picture of what it represents, both for the artist and the genre in question.

Dave Cobb Southern Family

Dave Cobb & Various Artists

Southern Family (2016)

By 2016, the fragmentation I alluded to in my Jason Isbell blurb regarding mainstream country and its independent counterpart was widely noticeable; Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Isbell were more likely to draw attention than your average C-list radio act (a sentiment only amplified today). And it’s weird, as a fan, being caught somewhere in the middle – still caring about what country music represents while knowing you’re more likely to find inspiration elsewhere. Elitist as it sounds, that’s how it was.

But I do think it’s important to care, as we’re not going to make any progress anywhere simply by complaining about things or ignoring them. To me, then, Southern Family was – and still is – an incredibly important project. Here was an album that clearly displayed how to bridge that divide – where independent darlings like Isbell and Holly Williams could join forces with legitimate mainstream stars like Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton while making it sound cohesive and work excellently. It didn’t garner as much attention as I had always hoped it would, but it’s another album that, simply put, inspired me to care.

I should note, too, that while my most recent entry for this list is four years old, I’m constantly inspired all the time by new music that I hear. This was just my roundabout way of asking, “So, how about you?”


  1. This was super insightful, Zack! And I love how this highlights the way that your perspective fits in with the CU team while still having unique tastes that add to the diversity of the crew. Which is just another way of saying how glad I am that you’re here with us!

    • Jonathan,

      You know that means a lot coming from you, so thank you!

      Steve & Jimmy –

      Yeah, albums are, of course, only one part of the whole experience. George Strait, for example, is another artist who shaped my childhood in some way, but is also someone I remember more for some excellent singles over one knockout album. I guess it’d be fun trying this out with songs, though; y’all have got me thinking …

  2. Off the top of my head, I came up with 8. Albums are much harder than singles! I’m sure I trend much older than most regulars. In no particular order:

    Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
    Travis Tritt Country Club
    Randy Travis Always and Forever
    Vince Gill Pocket Full of Gold
    Emmylou Harris Elite Hotel
    Oak Ridge Boys Ya’ll Come Back
    Alan Jackson A Lot About Livin
    Kenny Rogers Kenny

  3. Happiest Girl In The Whole USA – Donna Fargo (1972)
    Top Of The World – Lynn Anderson (73)
    Jolene – Dolly Parton (74)
    If You Love Me Let Me Know – Olivia Newton John (74)
    Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell (75)
    Best of the Statler Brothers (75)
    You’re My Best Friend – Don Williams (75)
    Let’s Keep It That Way – Anne Murray (77)
    When I Dream – Crystal Gayle (78)
    Only One Love In My Life – Ronnie Milsap (78)
    Horizon – Eddie Rabbitt (80)
    Greatest Hits – Kenny Rogers (80)
    Seven Year Ache – Roseanne Cash (81)
    Don’t Make It Easy For Me – Earl Thomas Conley (83)

  4. Randy Travis–Always And Forever (my first)
    Clint Black–Killin’ Time
    Garth Brooks–Garth Brooks
    George Strait–Greatest Hits Vol.1 and Vol.2 (the cement to my country music love)

  5. Kevin knows this, as he excitedly followed along, that I posted ten of the albums that shaped my musical experience on Facebook last month with the required no explanation:

    Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Come On, Come On’
    Faith Hill – ‘It Matters To Me’
    Alan Jackson – ‘The Greatest Hits Collection’ (which I just bought on double vinyl, it’s newly released)
    Shania Twain -‘Come On Over’
    Pam Tillis -‘Sweetheart’s Dance’
    Patty Loveless -‘Mountain Soul’
    Suzy Bogguss -Greatest Hits’
    Wynonna – ‘Wynonna’
    Tim McGraw -‘Everywhere’
    Dixie Chicks -‘Fly’

  6. Here’s my Starter List, and make no mistake, this is a hugely eclectic one:

    2001: A Space Odyssey–soundtrack
    Heart Like A Wheel–Linda Ronstadt
    Hotel California–The Eagles
    Headhunters–Herbie Hancock
    Desperado–The Eagles
    Saturday Night Fever–soundtrack
    Close Encounters Of The Third Kind–soundtrack
    Living In The U.S.A.–Linda Ronstadt
    E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial–soundtrack

    I know that there’s nothing here, unless you count Linda or the Eagles, that is really all that “country”; but like I said, it’s a fairly eclectic bunch (IMHO).

  7. Nice feature. For me this conversation starts and just about ends with George Strait’s Strait Out of the Box set. My parents weren’t particularly into music, and had very different tastes when they did listen. George Strait was common ground for them, and by the time I was 6 or 7 I knew every song on those four discs by heart. To this day I think my subconscious benchmark for good country music is to what degree a song reminds me of 80s and 90s era Strait. To a lesser degree, I’d add Alan Jackson’s Greatest Hits albums (both of them) because they were the first albums I bought with my own money when I was about 10. Probably because they reminded me of Strait.

    A handful of others that helped expand my taste, usually because they introduced me to a new era or style within country music:
    Don Williams “The Definitive Collection”
    Waylon Jennings “The Essential Waylon Jennings”
    Emmy Lou Harris “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town”
    Turnpike Troubadours “Diamonds & Gasoline”
    Tyler Childers “Purgatory”

  8. My list (spoiler, they are all women):

    Shania Twain – Come On Over (1997)
    Faith Hill – Fireflies (2005)
    Sara Evans – Restless (2003)
    Reba McEntire – For My Broken Heart (1991)
    Trisha Yearwood – Hearts In Armor (1992)
    Dixie Chicks – Home (2002)
    Patty Loveless – When Fallen Angels Fly (1994)
    Martina McBride – Wild Angels (1995)
    Wynonna Judd – Wynonna (1992)
    Lee Ann Womack – There’s More Where That Come From (2005)
    LeAnn Rimes – This Woman (2005)
    Terri Clark – Pain To Kill (2003)
    Pam Tillis – Homeward Looking Angel (1992)
    Alison Krauss – Forget About It (1999)
    Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose (2004)
    Dolly Parton – My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973)
    Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
    Carrie Underwood – Blown Away (2012)
    Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park (2013)
    Brandy Clark – 12 Stories (2013)

    • Playboy,

      You bring up an interesting point. I know most (if not all) of the CU crew grew up in the ’90s, when women dominated the country charts. I was born in ’97, and when I was just starting to get into country around 2007 or so, I didn’t know of the controversy surrounding the (then) Dixie Chicks or understand that, really, I wasn’t going to hear many women beyond Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert or Taylor Swift on the radio. Unfortunate, but also a sign of the times, I guess. It’s hard to believe it’s even worse for younger country fans now.

  9. Zack,

    I always connected more towards the women in country music because their perspective in their songwriting and voices. I listened to hip hop, R&B, and rock music for the longest time cause they’re my three favorite genres next to country music. Outside of Reba, Trisha, The Judds, Alison Krauss, Dolly, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill, I didn’t listen to a lot of country music. I said this before, it was Shania Twain’s music that started my journey into becoming a country music fan for good. She got me to listen to almost every women that came out during the 90’s to now. Shania also made me go back and listen to previous eras in country music and love them as well. 90’s country will always be my favorite era of country music because it had the perfect balance of neo-traditional country and pop country. Plus, the women were making the best music during that time. They played a huge part of making country music mainstream and becoming worldwide. It’s sad to see what’s happened country radio. By the way, I like your list. It’s very solid.

  10. My list (spoiler, they are not all country):

    Benny Goodman – Carnegie Hall Concert (released 1950, recorded 1938)
    Duke Ellington at Newport (1956)
    Louis Armstrong – My Musical Autobiography (1956)
    Johnny Cash – Bitter Tears (1964)
    Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)
    Loretta Lynn – You Ain’t Woman Enough (1966)
    Buck Owens – Together Again/ My Heart Skips A Beat (1964)
    Charlie Pride – Country Charley Pride (1966)
    Henson Cargill – Skip A Rope (1968)
    Hank Snow – Souvenirs (1961)
    Webb Pierce – Greatest Hits (1968)
    George Jones – Golden Hits 3 (1969)
    Jimmie Rodgers – My Rough and Rowdy Ways (1960, 1930s recordings)
    Connie Smith – Connie Smith (1966)
    Jean Shepard – Songs of a Love Affair (1956)
    Ernest Tubb – Favorites (1956)
    Merle Haggard – Tribute to the best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (1970)
    Merle Haggard -Sing Me back Home (1968)
    Randy Travis – Storms of Life (1986)
    Tom T Hall – Ballad of Forty Dollars (1969)

    It was tough leaving off Carole King – Tapestry / James Taylor – Sweet Baby James / Steve Earle – Guitar Town and Dave Dudley – Songs of The Working Man, but lists like this can go forever if you let them

  11. Without explanation . . .

    Tammy Wynette – Tammy’s Greatest Hits (1969)
    The Partridge Family – The Partridge Family Album (1970)
    Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (1970)
    Elton John – Goodbye Yellowbrick Road (1973)
    John Denver – John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)
    Olivia Newton-John – If You Love Me Let Me Know (1974)
    Beach Boys – Endless Summer (1974)
    Boston – Boston (1976)
    Clint Black – Killin’ Time (1989)
    Willie Nelson – The Essential Willie Nelson (2003)

  12. In no particular order: A lot of the same artist for me but this influenced me the most.

    1.Dolly – Here You Come Again – My first introduction to country music. More pop but very entertaining with tons of variety
    2.Dolly – My Tennessee Mountain Home – My intro to traditional country and still the most authentic sounding country there is
    3.Dolly – The Grass is Blue – once again Dolly gives me an introduction. I LOVE bluegrass now. How could I have missed it?
    4.Dolly – The Fairest of them All – Don’t let the horrible cover pic fool you. Dolly’s most serious album. You don’t think Dolly is a great songwriter? Listen to this and get back to me.
    5.Loretta Lynn – Greatest Hits vol. 2 – One of my first albums to buy. The ONLY singer to make me proud of my “white trash roots”

    6.Loretta – Wouldn’t it Be Great -Possibly the best example of why we should still give older singers a chance
    7.Conway & Loretta – United Artist – I remember my Dad having this on 8 track. The chemistry is unbelievable.
    8.Tammy Wynette – Higher Ground – may seem like an odd choice with no big hits but somehow I found this and I “got it”. The emotion in that voice
    9.Tammy Wynette – Anniversary, 20 years of hits – After finding Tammy I had to check out the hits. Wow, this should be “mandatory” for anyone wanting to sing country. Does country get any better?
    10.Tom T. Hall- Greatest Hits Vol. 2 – Not as deep as Dolly’s story songs, but he can certainly paint a picture
    11.Bill Anderson – Greatest Hits – Possibly the best country songwriter ever. This is just a snippet but no one has more accurate observations of us humans

    12.Reba McEntire – Whoever’s in New England – It may not stand the test of time, but I fell in love with the voice. It was like a more modern “Tammy Wynette”
    13.Reba McEntire – Reba – This was personal to me at the time. Reba never picked iconic songs, but she packed a ton of emotion
    14.Crystal Gayle – Cage the Songbird – Not a lot to say, this is just Damn Good
    15.K.T. Oslin – 80;s Ladies – I apparently love singers who write their own song. Its a shame we didn’t get more from K.T.
    16.Tanya Tucker – While I’m Living – A more recent one. An amazing album by someone with all natural talent. You can’t LEARN to sing like this
    17.The Judds Rockin’ with the Rhythm – Just a really good album form the act that I personally consider the best of that particular era
    18.Porter Wagoner & Dolly – Greatest Hits – Porter is SO underrated. You need to check out his work with Dolly
    19.Johnny Cash – Hurt – Darkness never sounded so good. I get why the younger generation finds him cool
    20.Barbara Mandrell – Moods – No this is not good art but so entertaining and isn’t that what music is about?
    21.Ronnie Milsap – Greatest Hits – You think you don’t like pop-country? Give this a try

  13. Stone Poneys – Evergreen Vol II 1967 (my intro to Linda Ronstadt)
    James Taylor – Sweet Baby James 1970
    Don McLean – American Pie 1971
    Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around with Jim 1972
    Carole King – Tapestry 1971
    Eagles – Desperado 1973
    Joe South – Greatest Hits 1970
    Chad Mitchell Trio At the Bitter End 1962
    Hal Ketchum – Pass the Point of Rescue 1991
    Suzy Bogguss – Aces 1991
    Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Come On, Come On’ 1992
    Trisha Yearwood – Hearts in Armor 1992
    Garth Brooks – GB 1989
    Delbert McClinton – One of the Fortunate Few 1997
    Chicks – Wide Open Spaces 1998
    Cheryl Wheeler Sylvia Hotel 1999
    Brandy Clark – 12 Stories 2013
    The Western Swing Authority – Now Playing 2015

  14. This is a pretty neat feature! A bit more challenging, though, since I’ve loved country music for as long as I can remember.

    Garth Brooks – Ropin’ The Wind
    George Strait – Chill Of An Early Fall
    Mary Chapin Carpenter – Shooting Straight In The Dark
    Tracy Lawrence – Sticks & Stones
    John Michael Montgomery – Life’s A Dance : These first five albums were some of the earliest ones in my collection. My step dad got them for me when I was little. Still love them today.

    Randy Travis – Always And Forever : Found a cassette copy of this at my dad’s house, and was hooked on it. Still my favorite RT album of all time.

    Alan Jackson – The Greatest Hits Collection
    Brooks & Dunn – The Greatest Hits Collection : Received both of these for Christmas from my dad in 1997.

    Vince Gill – Souvenirs
    Lorrie Morgan – Greatest Hits
    Suzy Bogguss – Greatest Hits : Received these for my 13th birthday.

    Brad Paisley – Who Needs Pictures : Got this one for my 15th birthday because I just loved his first two singles. He also had that familiar neo-traditional sound that I still loved.

    Jerry Kilgore – Love Trip
    Keith Harling – Bring It On
    Ty Herndon – Big Hopes : Yeah, I still mostly gravitated towards male artists in the late 90’s. It wasn’t until a few years later when females became more scarce on the radio (think after the Dixie Chicks incident) that I began to appreciate female artists much more.

    Steve Wariner – Greatest Hits (MCA) : Picked this up when I was becoming more fascinated with 80’s country. Also got me more into Steve Wariner, in general.

    Gary Allan – Smoke Rings In The Dark : The title track made me interested in Gary, and led me to eventually picking this up. I fell in love with his style overall, and I decided I needed to explore the rest of his work.

    Clint Black – Killin’ Time : For some reason, I was becoming more interested in his early music, and asked my dad to get me this for Christmas in 2000.

    Lee Ann Womack – Lee Ann Womack : When I finally decided I needed to add more female artists to my collection. So glad I did!

    Darryl Worley – Hard Rain Don’t Last : I was still loving those neo-traditional male artists. This was a very solid record that I still enjoy today.

    The Mavericks – What A Crying Shame
    Patty Loveless – Trouble With The Truth
    Martina McBride – Wild Angels : Picked these up when I was becoming more nostalgic for some of my favorite mid 90’s country songs. Each made me appreciate and explore the artists even more.

    Alan Jackson – High Mileage : Finally got this when I realized I loved all the singles from it. I was starting to collect all of his albums, as well.

    Trisha Yearwood – Trisha Yearwood : This got me started with my Trisha collection. I was also wanting to revisit some of the songs I remember liking when I was little.

    I know that was more than 20, but it was so hard to narrow it down!

  15. Off the top of my head:

    Garth Brooks – Fresh Horses
    The Beach Boys – Endless Summer
    George Strait – Ten Strait Hits
    Billy Joel – An Innocent Man
    Blackhawk – Greatest Hits
    Chris LeDoux – 20 Greatest Hits
    Eric Heatherly – Swimming in Champagne
    Gary Allan – Tough All Over
    Kenny Chesney – The Road and the Radio
    Reckless Kelly – Bulletproof
    Statler Brothers – The Statler’s Greatest Hits

  16. I’m a bit older and my early days were mostly spent on rock. I wasn’t influenced by 90’s country as many here were. Here are mine that run to the countryish side of things:

    Waylon Jennings – Greatest Hits (the brown “leather” cover): While my parents listened to country, this was the first album that I got on my own and listened to.

    Steve Earle – Train A’ Comin’: My favorite artist of the past 25 years. While I knew of him before, this was the album that really did it for me.

    Lyle Lovett – Pontiac : The first album of his that I heard.

    Emmylou Harris – Blue Kentucky Girl or Roses in the Snow : My first exposure to her.

    Lucinda Williams – Lucinda Williams : My first album of hers that caught my attention.

    Jayhawks – Hollywood Town Hall : Started me into the whole Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Old 97’s stuff.

    Tony Rice – Plays and Sings Bluegrass : While it may not be bluegrass to purists this was the album that may me think I might actually like bluegrass and I did.

  17. Jonathan, I’ve recently been getting into vinyl as well (and also ordered that Jackson hits collection). One album I’d definitely have on a list like this list for me is Reba’s Rumor Has It which was just announced for rerelease on vinyl in September in commemoration of its 30th anniversary in case that interests you too!

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