Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling a list of our favorite albums of the past decade. We each prepared a list of our 10 favorites, and then we attempted to trim the combined list down to 25 and rank them. There was surprisingly little overlap, and I think it’s safe to say that the final list is quite different from what any of us would have come up with individually. So, without further ado, here are the 25 best albums of the decade, as we see it:
25. Elizabeth Cook — Hey Y’all (Warner Bros, 2002)
Elizabeth Cook was too country for country even in 2002 with her engaging major-label debut. My favourite track is ‘You Move Too Fast’, followed by the charming ‘Everyday Sunshine’, the comparison of her career to that of ‘Dolly’, the sweet ‘Mama, You Wanted To Be A Singer Too’, the singalong about the ‘Stupid Things’ love will make you do, and the irrepressibly optimistic ‘God’s Got A Plan’. — Occasional Hope
24. Wynonna — Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime (Mercury/Curb, 2005)
Wynonna took an autobiographical approach to her 2005 tour, and the show was filmed and recorded for a live DVD/CD combo set. Beginning with her musical journey as one half of The Judds, Wynonna affectionately recalls her days on the road with her Mom, before moving on to the solo side of her music career, revisiting classic Judds hits like ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’. The banter in between the songs is reason enough to own the set, but Wynonna’s live take on her own songs like ‘That Was Yesterday’, ‘I Want To Know What love Is’, and ‘Is It Over Yet’ are flawless. — J.R.
23. Bobby Pinson — Man Like Me (RCA, 2005)
This was the richest debut album of the decade, although few record buyers agreed, and singer-songwriter Bobby soon lost his deal with RCA. His gravelly voice had genuine character and emotional depth; perhaps it was too much of an acquired taste for radio beyond one minor hit single. Great overlooked tracks include the reflective title track, showing how hard experiences made the man, the testimony of a sinner saved by a woman’s love in ‘One More Believer’, ‘Ford Fairlane’, perhaps my favorite song of all time about a car, and the wry ‘Started A Band’ about struggling to make it as a musician. — Occasional Hope
22. Brad Paisley — Time Well Wasted (Arista, 2005)
After three promising but somewhat uneven albums, things finally came together with Paisley’s fourth release. This was the first album he released that I felt compelled to buy. It opens with the obligatory novelty tune (“Alcohol”) but it also contains one of the strongest entries in his catalog to date, “When I Get Where I’m Going” which features beautiful harmony vocals by Dolly Parton. — Razor X
21. Sugarland — Love On The Inside (Mercury, 2007)
Masterpiece. That’s the best word I can find to decribe this album. But mere words cannot begin to explain how much I love this album, or how many times I’ve played it in the past 18 months. Jennifer Nettles said it was a set of songs that would play well from ‘Saturday night to Sunday morning’, but I have to disagree. I can’t think of any day of the week, or any time of day this near-perfect set doesn’t play well. With sharp songwriting set among a myriad of subjects, while Nettles wraps her distinctive pipes around the always-catchy lyrics, Love On The Inside is still the best studio album I’ve heard in my years listening to country music, with songs like ‘Genevieve’, ‘Very Last Country Song’, and ‘Fall Into Me’ all getting hundreds of spins in my library. I’ve liked all the singles sent to radio too. — J.R.
20. Sunny Sweeney — Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame (Big Machine, 2007)
Sunny Sweeney’s hardcore Texas twang was like a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by 80s-style pop/rock. Not surprisingly, it garnered little attention from country radio, but it is well worth seeking out nonetheless. The highlights are “The Next Big Nothin'” and her cover of Lacy J. Dalton’s 1983 hit “16th Avenue. — Razor X
19. Dailey & Vincent — Dailey & Vincent (Rounder, 2008)
This is a stellar debut effort from a duo that has taken the bluegrass world by storm. Fantastic harmonies combined with first-rate musicianship and excellent material make for an album that manages to sound modern without diluting the duo’s bluegrass roots. My favorite track on the album is their cover of The Statler Brothers’ 1989 hit “More Than A Name On A Wall”, which is guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house. Give this one a try, even if you’re not normally a bluegrass fan. You’ll thank me. The album comes with a bonus track if purchased through iTunes. — Razor X
18. Julie Roberts — Julie Roberts (Mercury, 2004)
Her debut album didn’t make Julie Roberts a star, but it certainly got her name and music out there to the public, many of who are still following the singer regularly, awaiting a new release. Only one of the albums’s many great songs got any love from country radio: the clever ‘Break Down Here’ was a top 20 hit, a spot Roberts has yet to revisit with subsequent releases. Beautiful, down-home, and obviously with a great ear for quality material, I never understood why Roberts didn’t break through, but we still have excellent songs like ‘Wake Up Older’, ‘If You Had Called Yesterday’, and ‘The Chance’ to remember her brush with her stardom. And she could still surprise us with a major hit in the new decade. — J.R.
17. Miranda Lambert — Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Columbia, 2007)
Straight-forward country music albums are few and far between these days, especially among the females in today’s industry. So when Miranda Lambert hit the scene with her modern-day honky tonk angel sound, she definitely stood out from the pack. Her first release was a bit all over the place, but it still showed the potential of the young lady. With this album, the second release of her career, her potential had began to come to fruition, and we were blessed with a stellar collection of themes of cheating, love-lost, anger, and violence – and that was just the lead single. Digging deeper into the album, we find all the different sides of the singer: the introspective ‘More Like Her’, the thinking-girl on ‘Desperation’, and of course the party girl, ‘Dry Town’, ‘Guilty In Here’. The best part is that she does all this ably, and the album has a definite ‘this is who I am’ quality to it. I really like being able to learn about my favorite artists from their music, without having to read some publicist-written biography. — J.R.
16. Catherine Britt — Too Far Gone (ABC, 2006)
This was one of my most anticipated albums of the decade, after Catherine whetted my appetite with her exceptional ‘The Upside Of Being Down’. Radio’s lack of interest meant that this album (produced by Keith Stegall with Kasey Chambers’ father Bill) never got a US release. Luckily, Catherine returned to her native Australia, and this eventually emerged on the Australian label ABC. It’s an excellent set of songs, of which my favourites are the title track, which Catherine wrote with Paul Overstreet, Dean Dillon and Jim McBride, her own ‘A New Pair Of Shoes’and ‘I’m Nobody’s Fool’. — Occasional Hope
15. George Strait — Somewhere Down In Texas (MCA, 2005)
After 2003’s excellent Honkytonkville, Strait returned in 2005 with an even stronger set of songs, which include the Merle Haggard-penned “Seashores of Old Mexico” and a beautiful duet with Lee Ann Womack, “Good News, Bad News.” It’s difficult not to like a George Strait album, but I tend to play this one more than any other he released during this decade. — Razor X
14. Tim McGraw — Set This Circus Down (Curb, 2001)
I remember I bought this CD because I really loved the song ‘Angry All The Time’, a Bruce Robison tune. (Robison’s own version with Kelly Willis is also sublime.) This was the first Tim McGraw album I ever owned – I’ve since added a few more to my collection. It didn’t take long, however, for me to warm to nearly every other track on this start-to-finish collection of pop-country nuggets, which charted no less than four #1 hits. Personal favorites after years of listening include ‘Forget About Us’, ‘You Get Used To Somebody’, and ‘Things Change’. — J.R.
13. Dwight Yoakam — Tomorrow’s Sounds Today (Reprise, 2000)
Dwight’s last major label album (excluding 2001’s South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack) didn’t yield any major radio hits, but it holds its own against his 80s and 90s work and is another strong entry in his rich and consistent catalog. The two duets with Buck Owens — “All Right, I’m Wrong” and “I Was There” — alone make this album worth buying. — Razor X
12. Randy Travis — Around The Bend (Warner Bros., 2008)
Following the commercial failure of 1999’s A Man Ain’t Made Of Stone, and the subsequent loss of his record deal with DreamWorks Nashville, Randy spent most of this decade making gospel and inspirational music before returning to the secular fold and his old label Warner Bros. in 2008. This was easily my most eagerly anticipated album of the decade and it did not disappoint. Though his voice shows signs of some premature wear-and-tear, Randy proved that he can still pick first-rate material and deliver the goods. It didn’t sell nearly as well as his multiplatinum albums from the 80s, but it’s an album that I just can’t stop playing. — Razor X
11. Gene Watson — From The Heart (Row Music Group, 2001)
Gene Watson may be a veteran who spent the decade recording on a series of independent labels with little mainstream exposure, but his beautiful voice (even now still at its best) and unparallelled song selection meant that it was hard to pick just one of his albums for this list. This was produced by Gene with Ray Pennington in 2001, and features excellent versions of the classic ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and the lesser known Boudleaux Bryant song ‘Take Me As I Am Or Let Me Go’, and great lesser known material including Leslie Satcher and Max T Barnes’ ‘When You’re Not Looking Back’ and Skip Ewing and Bill Anderson’s ‘The Truth Is I Lied’. But you really can’t go wrong with Gene. — Occasional Hope
10. Daryle Singletary — That’s Why I Sing This Way (Audium, 2002)
Daryle Singletary had one of the best voices of all the 90s neotraditional acts, a deep, burnished baritone, but his chart hits were mostly not quite worthy of his great talent. Having moved to the indie world, he released this lovely set in 2002. It consists mostly of well-chosen covers, which really gave him something to get his teeth into, with one new song, the title track’s defiant declaration that he can’t sing anything but traditional country. Highlights are Daryle’s versions of ‘Kay’, ‘Long Black Veil’, a duet with Rhonda Vincent on ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, and a duet with Johnny Paycheck on the latter’s ‘Old Violin’. — Occasional Hope
9. Dolly Parton — Little Sparrow (Sugar Hill, 2001)
This collection is a little less bluegrass-oriented and focuses a bit more on mountain folk than its 1999 predecessor The Grass Is Blue. Even without the retooled versions of “My Blue Tears” and “Down From Dover”, this set shows a side of Dolly that we hadn’t seen since her late 60s/early 70s work for RCA. It is usually regarded as the second set of her acoustic trilogy for Sugar Hill, but it could also serve as a companion piece to 1973’s My Tennessee Mountain Home. Though not as autobiographical as that classic album, there are a lot of similarities from a stylistic standpoint. Little Sparrow also proved that there is life in country music after the mainstream; the album reached #12 on the Billboard albums chart, Parton’s best showing in over a decade, and “Shine” earned a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. — Razor X
8. Ralph Stanley & Friends —Clinch Mountain Sweethearts (Rebel, 2001)
This 2001 sequel to 1998’s Clinch Mountain Country had the bluegrass master singing duets with a selection of female country, folk and bluegrass singers. The duet partners included Sara Evans, Dolly Parton, Pam Tillis, Gillian Welch, Chely Wright, Melba Montgomery, Jeannie Seely, Iris Dement, and Lucinda Williams. Highlights are Hank Williams’ ‘You Win Again’ with Melba, ‘Trust Each Other; with Iris, and ‘I’ll Never Grow Tired of You’ with Kristi Stanley, but the whole thing is a delight. — Occasional Hope
7. George Jones — Hits I Missed And One I Didn’t (Bandit, 2005)
In 2005 the greatest country singer of all time teamed up with one of the best producers in Nashville (Keith Stegall) to record an album of great covers. The conceit behind the selection was that these were either songs which had been offered to George over his career, but which he had passed on – and later regretted when they soared to the top of the charts for rivals – or which he simply wished he had recorded. His voice was not quite what it was even a few years earlier, which is the sole reason this is not at the very top of my personal list. It’s hard to pick favorites on this set, where (as with Sleepless Nights), every song is genuinely great, but particular joys are Mark Chesnutt’s breakthrough hit ‘Too Cold At Home’, which George originally turned down because he didn’t think his fans would identify with the line about golf, Randy Travis’s 1st #1, ‘On The Other Hand’, and Vern Gosdin’s ‘If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong’. Oh, and the hit he didn’t miss is a re-recording of ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, often cited as the greatest country song of all time. — Occasional Hope
6. Trisha Yearwood — Inside Out (MCA, 2001)
This was the first Trisha Yearwood album I ever bought. It also features my favorite version of my favorite song ever: Trisha’s take on Rosanne Cash’s classic “Seven Year Ache.” Likewise, Trisha breathes new life into Rebecca Lynn Howard’s “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners.” Other highlights from this 5 star album include “Harmless Heart,” “Melancholy Blue,” and “Second Chance.” This album has a tinge of sadness running through every track, which is perhaps why it’s my favorite. — J.R.
5. Kathy Mattea — Coal (Captain Potato, 2008)
This themed album deals with the economic and physical pitfalls of working in coal mines. Not many can make “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” sound as awesome as Patty Loveless does, but Kathy Mattea sure comes close. Definitely check out “Coming of the Roads”, a quiet song dealing with the advancing of civilization into the wilderness. The stunning a capella closer, “Black Lung,” is another highlight on this heartbreaking set. — Chris
4. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson — Rattlin’ Bones (Sugar Hill, 2008)
A wonderfully rootsy album that features amazing harmonies by this husband and wife duo. The title track has a great rhythym to it while “The House That Never Was” is decididly cute. The introspective “Wildflower” is a wonderful performance by Kasey while “Monkey On A Wire” features some spectacular writing. The best part? The duo co-wrote all the songs and they sound like classics. — Chris
3. Lee Ann Womack — There’s More Where That Came From(MCA, 2005)
A return to form from one of the genre’s finest traditional singers, this album would reignite Womack’s fledgling career with a vengeance. Boasting unanimous critical acclaim along with respectable commercial success, Womack solidified her place as country music’s reigning queen of traditionalism. The hit ‘I May Hate Myself In The Morning’, as well as winning the CMA’s Album of the Year award in 2005 helped propel the disc to gold status, while tracks like ‘Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago’, ‘Happiness’, and ‘Psalm 151 (Stubborn)’ are among the best tracks of the past ten years. — J.R.
2. Jamey Johnson — That Lonesome Song (Mercury, 2008)
A dark masterpiece which was a bright spot in the increasingly depressing world of mainstream country this decade. Inspired by Jamey’s divorce and the loss of his previous record deal, the album was initially a digital-only self-release, but won Jamey a second shot at a major label when Mercury picked it, and him, up. A new legend was born. There was one hit single in the form of current CMA Song of the Year ‘In Color’, and the title track, which was a little too stark for radio, but it is filled with great tracks, almost all written by Jamey. Highlights including ‘Angel’, ‘Mary Go Round’, and ‘Stars In Alabama’. — Occasional Hope
1. Patty Loveless — Sleepless Nights (Saguaro Road, 2008)
This superb collection of covers of classic country songs by one of the finest country singers of her generation, released in October 2008, is as close to perfect a country album as I can imagine. I reviewed it as part of our Patty Loveless coverage back in October, and I said that this is what country music is. — Occasional Hope