At the end of last year, I shared a list of my favorite 50 singles of the decade. Some of them were big hits, others more obscure, but at least in theory they got some attention at the time. Now that the decade is well and truly over, I thought I would mention some hidden treasures – album tracks that you probably only heard if you’re a fan of the artist, and purchased the full album. Some of them are from albums and artists that were more successful than others. I’ve omitted anything that made it to radio (even if it wasn’t a hit) as I considered those for my last list, and I have also left out anything from an album which made our collective Albums of The Decade list, although I have included tracks from other albums by artists who appeared on both of those lists. I have restricted my list to one track per artist named.
40. ‘Cold All The Time’ – Irene Kelley (from Thunderbird, 2004)
Songwriter Irene Kelley has released a couple of very good independent albums, showcasing her own very beautiful voice as well as her songs. This is a gently resolute song about a woman stuck in a bad relationship, summoning up the courage to make a move.
39. ‘All I Want’ – Darius Rucker (from Learn To Live, 2008)
There is still a chance that this might make it to the airwaves, as Darius’s platinum country debut is his current release. As a whole, the material was a little disappointing, but this great song is definitely worth hearing, and not only because it’s the mos country song on the album. It’s a jaundiced kiss-off to an ex, offering her everything as “all I want you to leave me is alone”.
38. ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’ – Jim Lauderdale (from Country Super Hits Volume 1, 2006)
Songwriter Jim Lauderdale has released a number of albums of his own, in more than one country sub-genre, and in 2006 he issued two CDs on one day: one country, the other bluegrass. This great co-write with Leslie Satcher, a melancholy-tinged song about God and booze, also recorded by Aaron Watson, comes from the country one.
37. ‘A Train Not Running’ – Chris Knight (from The Jealous Kind, 2003)
Singer-songwriter Chris Knight co-wrote this downbeat first-person tale of love and a mining town’s economic failure with Stacy Dean Campbell, who also recorded a version of the song.
36. ‘Same Old Song’ – Blake Shelton (from Blake Shelton, 2001)
These days, Blake seems to attract more attention for his girlfriend Miranda Lambert and his Tweeting than for his own music. This song, written by Blake’s producer Bobby Braddock back in 1989, is an appeal for country songs to cover new ground and real stories.
35. ‘If I Hadn’t Reached For The Stars’ – Bradley Walker (from Highway Of Dreams, 2006)
It’s probably a sign of the times that Bradley Walker, who I would classify as a classic traditional country singer in the Haggard/Travis style, had to release his excellent debut album on a bluegrass label. This love song (written by Carl Jackson and previously recorded by Jon Randall) is all about finding happiness through not achieving stardom.
34. ‘Between The River And Me’ – Tim McGraw (from Let It Go, 2007)
Tim McGraw is not one of my favorite singers, but he does often have a knack for picking interesting material. It was a travesty that the best track on his 2007 album was never released as a single, especially when far less deserving material took its place. It’s a brooding story song narrated by the teenage son of a woman whose knack seems to be picking the wrong kind of man, in this case one who beats her. The son turns to murder, down by the river.
33. ‘Three Sheets In The Wind’ – Randy Archer (from Shots In The Dark, 2005)
In the early 9s, Randy Archer was one half of the duo Archer Park,who tried and failed to challenge Brooks & Dunn. His partner in that enterprise is now part of The Parks. Meanwhile, Randy released a very good independent album which has been overlooked. My favorite track is this sad tale of a wife tearing up a husband’s penitent note of apology and leaving regardless.
32. ‘It Looked Good On Paper’ – Randy Kohrs featuring Dolly Paton (from I’m Torn, 2007)
A forlorn lost-love ballad from dobro player Kohrs featuring exquisite high harmonies from Dolly. the ret o the record is very good, too – and you can listen to it all on last.fm.
31. ‘Mental Revenge’ – Pam Tillis (from It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis, 2002)
After her mainstream stardom wound down, 90s star Pam Tillis took the opportunity to record a real labor of love: a tribute album to her father Mel. This bitter diatribe to an ex is my favorite track.
30. ‘You Don’t Love God If You Don’t Love Your Neighbour’ – Rhonda Vincent (from The Storm Still Rages, 2001)
A traditional country-bluegrass-gospel quartet take on a classic rebuke to religious hypocrites, written by Carl Story. The track isn’t the best showcase of Rhonda’s lovely voice, but it’s a great recording of a fine song with a pointed message.
29. ‘It Can’t Be Good To Hurt That Bad’ – Leslie Satcher (from Love Letters, 2001)
Leslie Satcher makes a number of appearances on this list as a writer. It should be obvious that I think she’s one of the best songwriters currently working in Nashville. She is also an accomplished singer with a sultry voice, and at the beginning of the last decade she was briefly signed as an artist to Warner Brothers. For some reason, her excellent album didn’t sell, and I can’t find a link to my selected track, but you can hear short clips from the album here.
28. ‘Promises’ – Daryle Singletary (from Straight From The Heart, 2007)
I’m a big fan of Randy Travis, but his original 1988 recording of this song (one of is own compositions) was jus a little too dirge-like for me. It took this beautifully interpreted cover for me to re-assess the song ad realize how good it really was.
27. ‘She Took The Wind From His Sails’ – George Strait (from George Strait, 2000)
George is so consistent, it’s sometimes easy to overlook individual tracks. But this delicate story song with a sad ending written by Dean Dillon and Donny Kees is one that has really stuck with me, although it took some time for me to love it.
26. ‘One Night’ – Eric Heatherly (from Swimming In Champagne, 2000)
His one-and-only hit came with the Statler Brothers’ cover, ‘Flowers On The Wall’. Rather different is this earnest ballad, an appeal to God to turn back time so he can avoid the fatal mistake which led to his woman leaving him.
25. ‘I’m Your Biggest Fan’ – Dallas Wayne (from I’m Your Biggest Fan, 2005)
A menacing, largely spoken first-person picture of an obsessed fan whose unrequited love eventually turns to something more sinister.
24. ‘Wichita’ – John Corbett (from John Corbett, 2006)
When someone who has achieved some degree of fame in another field suddenly decides to record an album, the response is often one of cynicism. But I rather enjoyed actor John Corbett’s country record; he has an enjoyably smoky voice, and picked some good songs, particularly this one, a half-regretful look at a path in life not taken and a woman in his past.
23. ‘Bottle By My Bed’ – Jason Boland & The Stragglers (from Comal County Blue, 2008)
A reflective look back at the time when the protagonist’s “life was as empty as the bottle by my bed”, before being saved.
22. ‘Revelation’ – Joe Nichols (from Revelation, 2004)
An apocalypic imagined vision of Judgment Day catching people unawares, this 1970s cover (written by Bobby Braddock and originally recorded by Waylon Jennings) was the most remarkable moment on Joe’s third album.
21. ‘Good Things Happen’– Deryl Dodd (from Pearl Snaps, 2002)
A beautiful, relaxed love song written by Jamie Hartford. Dierks Bentley also recorded it on his Modern Day Drifter album in 2005, and I was torn between which of the two to list here, but Deryl’s version just edged it.
20. ‘Southbound Train’ – Travis Tritt (from Down The Road I Go, 2000)
An exciting uptempo country rocker co-written with Charlie Daniels about a Maine girl leaving home with a one-way ticket south.
19. ‘Tears Too Deep To Cry’ – Jamie Richards (from No Regrets, 2001)
Independent Texas country artist Jamie Richards released this fine album at the start of the decade. This moving tribute to a father unable to show his emotions was co-written with Walt Wilkins.
18. ‘Promises In Pieces’ – Jason Eady (from When The Money’s All Gone, 2009)
The album made my top ten for the year, and this s the best song on it – an enthralling if downbeat story song about a bank robber who ends up getting his only friend executed in his place.
17. ‘Freewheeler’ – David Ball (from Freewheeler, 2004)
This Jesse Winchester song is a relaxed sounding song with a pretty tune but a lyrical sting, as the protagonist talks about being the kind of man who just can’t settle down and commit to a relationship.
16. ‘Unburn All Our Bridges’ – Josh Turner (from Long Black Train, 2003)
Josh’s deep booming voice made him one of the bright spots on mainstream radio this decade, although I haven’t always felt he was recording material truly worthy of his talent. This is my favorite album track from him, a beautifully melodic appeal to a woman to rekindle a troubled relationship, because “love is much stronger than anger or pride”. It was written by Jamie O’Hara.
15. ‘Ain’t It Strange How Things Turn Around’ – Perfect Stranger (from The Hits, 2001)
To many people, Perfect Stranger will be familiar as a one-hit wonder from the 90s. However, their misleadingly titled second album (it was all new material) included this great Leslie Satcher/Clay Blaker song about an ex showing up after the protagonist has unexpectedly found true love elsewhere.
14. ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me’ – Gene Watson (from In A Perfect World, 2007)
If you’re a regular reader, you may have gathered that I’m a fan of the great Gene Watson. His 2007 album In A Perfect World was a collection of classic covers, and the combination of one of the genre’s finest voices, and some excellent songs, could only be great. For some reason this particular track is the only one you can’t listen to on last.fm.
13. ‘Sorrowful Angels’ – Patty Loveless (from Mountain Soul, 2001)
Patty’s first venture into bluegrass missed out on a place in our top albums of the decade thanks to her sublime Sleepless Nights. But this delicate, sad tale of a woman betrayed and destroyed by unrequited love, written by Leslie Satcher and Tommy Conners, deserves hearing.
12. ‘Five Generations Of Rock County Wilsons’ – John Anderson (from Nobody’s Got It All, 2001)
This great John Scott Sherrill song about a childhood home destroyed by development was originally recorded in the 80s by Dan Seals, but John Anderson is one of those singers who can make almost any song sound as though his is the definitive one.
11. ‘Barbed Wire Halo’ – Aaron Watson (from Barbed Wire Halo, 2006, and Angels And Outlaws, 2008)
Aaron Wason is an excellent Texas-based artist who makes the kind of real country music which really should be mainstream. He also seems to be improving all the time. This particular song (written by Aaron with Neal Lowry) made its first appearance on a religious album, but also closed out his most recent studio album. It’s a moving story song about an outwardly tough elderly former Marine who has seen personal tragedy (the death in childbirth of his wife while he was serving overseas) but eventually regained his faith.
10. ‘All I Want Is You’ – Julie Roberts (from Men And Mascara, 2006)
We included Julie’s debut album in our list of the best albums of the decade, but her follow-up also had some great tracks. My personal favorite was this downbeat comparison of what the protagonist needs (to move on) and what she wants. The longing here is desperate:
“What I need is bread and water,
And a father for our daughter,
What I need is someone new
What I want is you
Everyone says move on, that is what you would want
Good advice, they are right
That’s what I need to do
What I want, all I want, is you”
9. ‘Doctor Jesus’ – Randy Travis (from Inspirational Journey, 2000)
Randy Travis spent most of the decade recording religious music. ‘Three Wooden Crosses’ was a #1 hit and on my singles of the decade list; a less well-known track was this lovely Tony Stampley/Justin Boden song, which is Christian country music at its best, a humble appeal to “the best healer around”.
8. ‘Cold Cold Ground’ – Allison Moorer (from The Hardest Part, 2000)
This stark recounting of the killing of Allison’s mother by her father was the most intensely personal song on her second album – so personal, in fact, that it was a hidden track.
7. ‘The Devil And Me’ – Trick Pony (from On A Mission, 2002)
Despite all appearance to the contrary, Trick Pony was more than just a vehicle for Heidi Newfield. This little-known track featured Ira Dean on lead vocals, and was written by Dean with Karen Staley. It is a genuinely moving song about the burden of secret alcoholism, where the protagonist is “too tired to fight it, and too ashamed to pray”, as he sneaks the empty bottles out at night hoping his kids don’t see.
6. ‘The Part I Don’t Understand’ – Jill King (from Jillbilly, 2003)
One of the most obscure selections on my list, I’m afraid I can’t find a link to it. This independent artist with a rich, full-bodied voice released a fine album in 2003, and this was my favorite track, written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. It’s a sad admission of defeat, as the protagonist can’t help being there whenever her loved one needs her, even though he is clearly using her as a fallback option; the only thing she can’t understand is why she still loves him when he treats her so badly.
5. ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’ – Trace Adkins (from X, 2008)
Trace’s last album featured two truly great, classic-worthy tracks: this and the moving tribute to fallen soldiers, ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’. That did at least get some exposure thanks to Trace’s performance of the song on the ACM awards show, even if it wasn’t a single. But this delicate dissection of an alcoholic’s self delusion and the bitter truth that “sometimes the drink takes the man” is superb, and will only have been heard by those who listened to the whole album. If you’ve been put off Trace by songs like the dreadful ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’, try this and regain your faith.
4. ‘A Showman’s Life’ – Gary Allan featuring Willie Nelson (from See If I Care, 2003)
This depressing reflection on the personal price of leading a traveling musician’s life, written by Jesse Winchester, gained an added poignancy after the suicide of Gary’s wife, but Gary’s cracked vocals lent it a weary authenticity even before real life emulated it. Willie Nelson is the perfect person to contribute a duet vocal.
3. ‘The Healing Kind’ – Lee Ann Womack (from I Hope You Dance, 2000)
This album was a top seller, but the subtle intensity of its deeply sad opening track (penned by bluegrass artist Ronnie Bowman and Greg Luck) may have been missed.
2. ‘Was It As Hard To Be Together’ – Rebecca Lynn Howard (from Rebecca Lynn Howard, 2000)
Rebecca Lynn Howard had one top 5 hit with ‘Forgive’, but her other records fell under the radar. This is my favorite track on her debut album, a fabulous high lonesome song written by Rebecca herself with Carl Jackson, addressed to an ex she now regrets parting from, asking him “Was it as hard to be together, as it is to be apart”?
1. ‘Sad Songs And Waltzes’ – Keith Whitley (from Sad Song And Waltzes, 2000)
I didn’t nominate the album for our albums list because it featured the vocal tracks from J D Crowe and the New South’s Somewhere Between, recorded back in 1982 largely as a showcase for Keith. Crowe restored the masters and recorded new backings. Several previously unreleased tracks were added, including what became the title track, a beautifully measured sad Willie Nelson song about a lovelorn songwriter which Keith makes his own as he laments to the woman who has cheated on him:
It’s a good thing that I’m not a star,
You don’t know how lucky you are,
Though my records may say it
No one will play it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year
As it had not been released previously, I’m counting this as a new song for the decade, despite its age. It has certainly not lost any of its relevance.
What are some of your favorites from the past year that might have been overlooked? Tell us why you love them, and why you think everybody else should as well.