Compiling a list of the year’s best albums is a much easier task than putting together a list of the year’s best singles. My list is comprised entirely of works by veteran artists who have more or less been put out to pasture by country radio but continue to produce quality music for their loyal fans.
10. Provoked — Sunny Sweeney
In a sane world, Sunny Sweeney would be a superstar. But even though she never quite found her niche at radio and is no longer on a major label, her first release in three years makes it crystal clear that she’s not about to quietly fade away.
9. Beauty Is … The Final Sessions — Ray Price
Ray Price was dying of cancer while recording his swan song, but you’d never know it by listening to it. His voice sounded remarkably strong for an 87-year-old in declining health. Fans of Price’s countrypolitan period will enjoy this one.
8. Carter Girl — Carlene Carter
Her tribute to her famous ancestors has a few missteps along the way — mostly when the arrangements get a little too contemporary but overall Carlene Carter’s labor of love is very well done and well worth the asking price.
7. Band of Brothers — Willie Nelson
Willie’s voice has grown weaker with age but he is still a top-notch musician and songwriter and shows that he can still deliver the goods with this collection produced by Buddy Cannon.
6. Do You Know Me: A Tribute to George Jones — Sammy Kershaw
I can’t think of anyone better suited to do a Jones tribute album, whether it be covers of the Possum’s classic hits or biographical title track that was written for but never recorded by Jones.
5. Influence, Vol. 2: The Man I Am — Randy Travis
This album’s tracks were all recorded in the same sessions as those that appear on the first Influence volume that was released last year. I had initially feared that Volume 2 would be made up of the leftover tracks that weren’t deemed good enough for the first disc, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strong Volume 2 actually is. I may even prefer it to its predecessor.
4. Our Year — Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis
This sparsely produced follow-up to last year’s Cheater’s Game is the perfect antidote to the overproduced bro-country currently being pushed by Nashvegas. I was a little surprised that they released this album only a year after its predecessor. Is it greedy to wish for another one in 2015?
3. Blue Smoke — Dolly Parton
After releasing a trio of critically acclaimed bluegrass albums in the early 2000s, Dolly lapsed back into the pop-country territory that she’d explored throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. She recovered nicely with Blue Smoke, and I really hope that this is the beginning of another creative surge and not just a one-off.
2. The Way I’m Livin’ — Lee Ann Womack
This was the comeback story of the year as far as I’m concerned. The Way I’m Livin’ is the sort of album I had hoped she would release as a follow-up to There’s More Where That Came From. It took almost a decade to happen but it was well worth the wait.
1. Out Among The Stars — Johnny Cash
This vintage Cash album was recorded mostly in the 1980s when the Man In Black was still in good voice. He was in the midst of a commercial dry spell and label politics prevented the completion and release of the album for 30 years. It was recently discovered and completed by his son John Carter Cash and is a real treat for Cash fans.