It certainly wasn’t intentional, but my top ten albums of 2009 happen to come mostly from the great women recording country music these days. I think I’m drawn to them because there’s a depth to their stories and lyrics, their vocals and arrangements. It seems they’re taking more non-commercial risks than their male counterparts, and are less formula-driven. They’re more interesting and hold my attention for the long haul. These are the albums I’ve been playing over and over this year:
10. #1s…and Then Some – Brooks & Dunn (Sept.) What a ride! This two-disc set is a great romp through the hits of an amazing duo, and ‘Honky Tonk Stomp’ isn’t a bad way to go out.
9. Twang – George Strait (Aug.) Consistently good but stretching himself a bit at the same time (‘El Rey’ for example), George just keeps hitting home runs. ‘Living For the Night,’ ‘Where Have I Been All My Life’ and ‘Beautiful Day For Goodbye’ are highlights for me.
8. Gold and Green – Sugarland (Oct.) Christmas albums can be just another collection of the same old songs overdone again. Leave it to Sugarland to come out with one that’s anything but typical – maybe that’s why the title isn’t the usual Red and Green. I’m still putting this one on my list even though it was released later in the year, if only for ‘Nuttin’ For Christmas’ with its great dobro, vocals and humor, and their fresh take on ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ accompanied by simple banjo.
7. Live on the Inside — Sugarland (Aug.) Jennifer and Kristian are some of those incredible artists that are even better live! I love their “countrified” instrumentation on the covers! Who would have thought ‘Better Man’ by Pearl Jam would sound great with accordion!
6. The List – Rosanne Cash (Oct.) Not only is this a great covers album, but the story behind it is wonderful, too. Her father, Johnny Cash, gave her his list of the “100 essential country songs” when she was 18 in order to give her a good country music education. Thankfully, she says, she had the good sense to keep the list. Rosanne has one of those great, unpolished folk country voices – not unlike her dad. Love the more acoustic tracks on this one.
5. Dolly – Dolly Parton (Oct.) Perhaps this 4-disc set doesn’t count as a new release, but Dolly is…well…Dolly. Following her career over the years in this time-lapse kind of format is amazing, especially for those of us who weren’t following her as it happened. If you need a new release, though, then sub in her Dolly Live From London that just came out in November. Over 60 and still kickin’, and charmin’ and capturing life in her stories.
4. Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sept.) I’m not sure that Revolution quite lives up to its name, but it’s still a great album with Miranda’s barbwire and roses lyrics, edgy arrangements of guitars and plenty of steel, like ‘White Liar’, mixed with some beautiful and thoughtful numbers like ‘The House That Built Me’ and ‘Virginia Bluebell.’ She’s got such a unique sound and her lyrics stand out and grab you – sometimes by the throat, but almost always by the heart.
3. Keep On Loving You – Reba McEntire (Aug.) As much as I love Mountain Soul II for the consistency of its acoustic mountain style, I love Reba’s album for its variety. It’s got classic gritty country story drama in ‘Maggie Creek Road’, as well as contemporary fun in ‘Pink Guitar’, ‘I Want a Cowboy’ and ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’, some solid country fare like ‘Nothing To Lose’ and ‘Consider Me Gone’, and songs that catch your heart in ‘Eight Crazy Hours’ and ‘She’s Turning 50 Today’.
2. Mountain Soul II – Patty Loveless (Sept.) Wow. From Patty’s clear yet soulful vocals to the simple acoustic production and classic instrumentation to the gems of the songs themselves, this album is a delight from start to finish! Just go get it!
1. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Sept.) See J.R. Journey’s spot-on review of this one. The word that sums up Terri’s offering for me is “real”. There isn’t a song on the album that doesn’t embody that word. The lyrics and Terri’s interpretation are the highlights. Thankfully, the production and arrangements really allow them to shine. I can tell The Long Way Home will be a long-time fave in my library.