Finding good new country music is not as easy as it once was, and due to a number of other things that were going on in my life, I’m afraid I didn’t put much effort into seeking out new music this year but I was able to find a few gems:
10. Heroes – Willie Nelson
Willie’s return to the major labels was an eclectic collection that found him covering Coldplay and Pearl Jam, but also reunited him with Merle Haggard and Ray Price, as well as sharing the spotlight a bit with his sons Lukas and Micah.
9. Home – Dierks Bentley
2010′s Up On The Ridge was successful critically but not commercially, so it’s not surprising that Dierks chose to follow it up with a much more radio-friendly collection. The strategy worked, as Home produced three # 1 singles.
8. Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down — Marty Stuart
Not quite the masterpiece that 2010′s Ghost Train was, this collection was still one of my favorite listens of the year. I would have rated it higher if it hadn’t contained some recycled material (“Sundown In Nashville”, “Truck Driver’s Blues”).
7. 100 Proof – Kellie Pickler
I never thought that Kellie Picker’s name would ever appear on any of my best of lists, but she really blossomed with this collection of more traditional-sounding tunes. Unfortunately, just as she was finally making music that allowed her to be taken seriously as an artist, she was dropped by her record label. What the future holds for her remains to be seen. There was a time when I would have said that she wouldn’t be missed very much, but now I’m curious to see what direction she goes in next.
6. Calling Me Home — Kathy Mattea
I wasn’t a huge fan of 2008′s Coal, but I like Kathy’s second visit to her Appalachian roots much better. This is a less bleak look at her heritage.
5. Uncaged – Zac Brown Band
Creepy cover art aside, this collection allowed the Zac Brown Band to further expand on their increasing eclectic but always interesting catalog.
4. Thirty Miles West — Alan Jackson
There weren’t any real surprises or stretches in Alan’s EMI Nashville debut; it’s very much in the same vein as most of the other albums he’s released over the past twenty-odd years — which is exactly what country music needs right now.
3. Classic – Terri Clark
Terri Clark and I were born just a few weeks apart, so we grew up listening to much of the same music. This collection, in which she covers tunes by Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire and Tanya Tucker, provided a wonderful trip down memory lane and is the best album of her career.
2. Restless – Sweethearts of the Rodeo
This long overdue new release was well worth the wait. It’s a shame that it won’t be as widely heard as it deserves.
1. Living For A Song – A Tribute to Hank Cochran — Jamey Johnson
By the time I was three tracks into listening to this album for the first time, I knew it was my favorite of the year. It’s a beautifully crafted masterpiece with an impressive guest roster that pays homage to one of the greatest country songwriters of all time. I can’t say enough good things about this album.