An Alternate Take on the Decade’s Best Country Albums

Paul W. Dennis | December 11th, 2009

The 9513, Country Universe and (no doubt) other websites and publications are busy finalizing and publishing their Best Albums of the Decade lists. It is, of course an impossible task as there are hundreds of country and bluegrass albums issued each year, amounting to thousands of albums released during the last decade. When we add to that all of the pseudo-country albums (alt-country, Americana, etc.), the number is staggering.

I have listened to only a fraction of those thousands of albums. Some I never had the opportunity to hear, some I avoided because I did not like the singer’s voice (I’d rather hear a good singer sing a mediocre song than hear a mediocre singer sing a good song) and others I may have heard but they left so little impression that I forgot that I heard them. The 9513 took nominations from its various contributors and put together a list of about 250 albums, to which the individual contributor could add and rank additional titles. My own personal top 100 probably includes 25 or so titles that garnered little consideration from the rest of the staff.

This is to be expected since I am The 9513’s oldest contributor. Moreover, I grew up listening to traditional country music, with Hank and Lefty and Ernest Tubb playing on Dad’s record player. I also developed a taste for big band jazz, pop standards and Irish (not Celtic) folk music. My interest in rock ended when rock ‘n roll degenerated into heavy metal, acid rock, punk, etc–I can barely stand Marshall Tucker, and bands such as Lynryd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Kansas and Uncle Tupelo leave me cold. Certainly, this musical background influences my current tastes and preferences.

This is my personal list of the Top 30 country albums of the decade. To read The 9513’s collaborative Top 100 list, click here.

  • Time (2002)Time (2002) – Ray Price

    Both Time and Prisoner of Love (2000) are examples of a master craftsman at work. Ray Price can handle any kind of song, but expressive ballads are his latter-day forte. The title track of Time is one of the most meaningful songs I’ve ever heard:

    Time is a weapon, it’s cold and it’s cruel/It knows no religion and plays by no rules/Time has no conscience, when it’s all said and done/Like a beast in the jungle that devours its young

  • Thanks A Lot (2004)Thanks A Lot (2004) – John England and the Western Swingers

    A western swing tribute to Ernest Tubb was simply an irresistible pairing. The Swingers play well and lend a fresh perspective to the timeless music of Tubb.

  • Kickin' Out The Footlights... Again (2006)Kickin’ Out The Footlights… Again (2006) – George Jones & Merle Haggard

    Haggard sings Jones, Jones sings Haggard, and the pair duets on four tracks to outstanding effect. The two standouts are the Duke Ellington classic “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” and the old Johnny Bond tune “Sick, Sober and Sorry.” I gave a copy of this CD to my friend Tim Donovan (former keyboard player for Molly Hatchet) and he played it constantly for the next six weeks.

  • Jumpin' Time (2007)Jumpin’ Time (2007) – The Time Jumpers

    This is how live music should sound. Dawn Sears, one of two female lead vocalists for this group, failed to catch on as a solo act. Why she didn’t remains a mystery to me, as only Connie Smith, Rhonda Vincent and (perhaps) Cia Cherryholmes have comparable pipes.

  • Good Thing Going (2007)Good Thing Going (2007) – Rhonda Vincent

    The fact that Good Thing Going doesn’t appear on The 9513’s Top 100 list is a serious oversight. This album demonstrates why Vincent is the queen of bluegrass, as she delivers a masterful program of ballads and up tempos. I regard “World’s Greatest Fool” as one of the ten or so best songs recorded during the last decade. For whatever reason, the rest of the staff seems to prefer Alison Krauss and Union Station, but in my estimation, all of Rhonda’s albums are better than any of those of AKUS.

  • Kashmere Gardens Mud (2007)Kashmere Gardens Mud (2007) – Johnny Bush

    A very personal album by a singer once labeled “The Country Caruso.” Johnny’s pipes aren’t what they once were, but he’s still an impressive vocalist.

  • Naked Willie (2009)Naked Willie (2009) – Willie Nelson

    Willie’s classic 1960s recordings for RCA stripped of annoying background singers (usually the Anita Kerr Singers) and syrupy string arrangements.

  • American Shadows: The Songs of Moon Mullican (2008)American Shadows: The Songs of Moon Mullican (2008) – Cornell Hurd Band

    Before I die, I’d like to see these guys in live performance. A worthy tribute to a forgotten legend by a band that is second to none in terms of versatility and recorded personality.

  • Come On Back (2005)Come On Back (2005) – Jimmie Dale Gilmore

    Jimmie Dale Gilmore may look like a renegade hippie from the 1960s, but his vocals are pure honky-tonk. This album is a tribute to the music his late father loved. The whole album is excellent but “Walking The Floor Over You” and “Gotta Travel On” are the standout tracks for me.

  • Dwight Sings Buck (2007)Dwight Sings Buck (2007) – Dwight Yoakam

    Dwight issued many good albums during the 00s. For me, this tribute to the Baron of Bakersfield represents an artistic high point as he comes up with fresh interpretations of the undeniable classics of Buck Owens.

  • Buckin' Around (2007)Buckin’ Around (2007) – Jann Browne

    Jann Browne almost made it as a Nashville star, with a pair of Top 20 records in 1989 while with Curb records. I think Jann was a bit too country and a bit too old (35) for a label to give her a major push. This album offers a feminine perspective on Buck Owens’ music; there’s a third Buck Owens tribute album out there, by the Derailers, but so deep is Buck’s catalog that there is little overlap between the three tribute albums.

Paul’s Top 30 Country Albums of the Decade

30. Precious Memories (2006) – Alan Jackson
29. Buckin’ Around (2007) – Jann Browne
28. Cherryholmes (2004) – Cherryholmes
27. Mountain Soul (2001) – Patty Loveless
26. That Lonesome Song (2008) – Jamey Johnson
25. That’s Why I Sing This Way (2005) – Daryle Singletary
24. Roots, Vol. 1 (2001) – Merle Haggard
23. Last Of The Breed (2007) – Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard
22. Dwight Sings Buck (2007) – Dwight Yoakum
21. Come On Back (2005) – Jimmie Dale Gilmore
20. American Shadows: Songs of Moon Mullican (2008) – Cornell Hurd Band
19. Coal (2008) – Kathy Mattea
18. Tough All Over (2005) – Gary Allan
17. American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) – Johnny Cash
16. Drive (2002) – Alan Jackson
15. Naked Willie (2009) – Willie Nelson
14. Kashmere Gardens Mud (2007) – Johnny Bush
13. 5th Gear (2007) – Brad Paisley
12. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – Various Artists
11. In A Perfect World (2007) – Gene Watson
10. Good Thing Going (2007) – Rhonda Vincent
9. Here Come The Teardrops (2006) – Amber Digby
8. Jumpn’ Time (2007) – Time Jumpers
7. Willie and the Wheel (2009) – Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel
6. Kickin’ Out the Fotlights… Again (2006) – George Jones & Merle Haggard
5. Thanks a Lot (2004) – John England and the Western Swingers
4. Prisoner of Love (2000) – Ray Price
3. Time (2002) – Ray Price
2. You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (2006) – Willie Nelson
1. A Taste of the Truth (2009) – Gene Watson

  1. Mayor JoBob
    December 11, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    At least Brad Paisley made that list. 5th gear is still his tightest record in my opinion. American Saturday Night seems a little aloof to me.

  2. Casey
    December 11, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Great list. I’d have to move Daryle and Jamey up a little though. I need to check out the Gene Watson album, haven’t heard it yet.

  3. Steve from Boston
    December 11, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Interesting list Paul, it’s great to see my favorite, Patty’s Mountain Soul on your timeless list, as well as some of my other favorites.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Paul W Dennis
    December 11, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    There were several other artist who were uniqur to my top 100 that I don’t think any other contributors mentioned (or probably even heard

    #41 John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2009). I waited 35 years for the sequel to The Blue Ridge Rangers album Fogarty issued back in 1974. Same format as before, half country classic, half pop/r&b classics but performed as classic country. It was worth the wait but I’m not sure I have another 35 years left, so John, please speed it up with the next volume

    #90 Lee Ann Noel – Miss Rhythm (2008) – Ms. Noel is a transplanted Texan, now living in Florida. Lee Ann can sing anything, and sing it well. Her voice is pitched relatively low but is still distinctly feminine. The standout track on this album is the self-penned “If You’re Looking For a Fool”

    Some other entries on my top 100
    #47 Merle Haggard – Haggard Like Never Before (2003)
    #48 Livin’, Lovin’, Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers (2003)
    #49 Dixie Chicks – Home (2002)
    #62 Paul Brandt – Small Towns and Big Dreams (2001)
    #63 Darius Rucker – Learn To Live (2008)
    #70 Brad Paisley – American Saturday Night (2009)
    #71 Sunny Sweeney – Heartbreakers Hall of Fame (2007)
    #72Martina McBride – Timeless (2005)
    #75 Lembo Allen – Dancing Room Only (2004)
    #92 Guy Clark – Workbench Songs (2006)

  5. Jim Malec
    December 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I actually pushed for the Brandt disc to make the final cut. His output this decade has been excellent.

  6. Rick
    December 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Now this list is more my speed! Glad to see Sunny Sweeney make your list Paul, and I sure hope “Caught In The Webb” is in there somewhere!

    I love Jann Browne’s first three albums but her voice was just too far gone for me to like her Buck Owens tribute. If Jann would have recorded it prior to say 1995 I would have loved it as she was about as close as you could get to a female equivalent of Dwight Yoakam. Nowadays her voice is just too ragged.

    Of the few albums on your list I’m not familiar with I have to say The Cornell Hurd Band tribute to Moon Mullican intrigues me the most. The Time Jumpers are a killer band but don’t they just do covers of classic songs wriiten by other? I’d like to hear them write some new songs of their own! (Unless they already do, that is.)

    PS – Amber Digby’s new “Another Way To Live”, which was officially released this Tuesday (Dec. 8th), is very much in the league of “Here Come the Teardrops”. A review from you on that album would be much appreciated!

  7. Steve from Boston
    December 11, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    I hear ya Paul about the Fogerty BRR sequel…I like the more professional instumentation of this one, even though Fogerty did pull it off with the one man band act in the orignal.

    I do like the song selections better in the orignial though with some exceptions. More Country and Bluegrassy in the first one.

    But yeah, I’m ready for a quick follow up as well, keep ‘em coming John!

  8. luckyoldsun
    December 11, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Can’t say I’m enthralled with latter-day Ray Price. I do like the stuff he did when he used to sing country.

  9. Blake Boldt
    December 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Obviously, this is a strong set of album. I’m a little surprised to see 5th Gear as the Paisley entry, though. I preferred his albums towards the middle of the decade (Mud on the Tires and Time Well Wasted). I really like American Saturday Night, but, as has been mentioned before, I miss some of the diversity—musically, thematically—that his older discs contained.

    The Storm Still Rages was actually my favorite Vincent disc of the decade. Especially liked “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” and “Don’t Lie.” I hate that I forgot it on my list. Glad to see her recognized here.

  10. Jon
    December 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    The Storm Still Rages was actually my favorite Vincent disc of the decade.

    I think it’s a toss-up between that and Back Home Again, which squeaked into this decade by 11 days. Rhonda’s never made anything close to a bad album, but songs like “All American Bluegrass Girl” and “Bluegrass Saturday Night” on more recent releases don’t do much for me.

  11. Blake Boldt
    December 13, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    To me, she just sounded more confident on Storm, though admittedly she was moving from strength to strength. And I warmed to the material a lot more on that album. I agree—I think it’s near impossible for her to make a bad record, but she hasn’t hit those heights since, IMO. This year’s Destination Life was a solid turn, but just a notch below her best. On the particular album Paul mentioned, I liked “World’s Biggest Fool” and couldn’t get enough of “I Gotta Start Somewhere,” but the songwriting was not quite to her usual standard.

    As for the Vincent/Krauss comparisons, I think their catalogs are similar in quality (Krauss’ albums tend to rely too heavily on slow-tempo material, I think) and Vincent certainly has more vocal power, but Krauss’ voice is gorgeous in its own right and she’s helped bring bluegrass to the greater public. (In some corners, I know that’s a dubious achievement.) She’s also proven to be thego-to woman (for mainstream Nashville) as a producer, instrumentalist and harmony singer, and so on and so forth. I’m sure Paul would agree, though, that their career accomplishments are lopsided in terms of their relative talents.

  12. Blake Boldt
    December 13, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Why Krauss and no Vincent? I’m not entirely sure. Two Krauss discs made the Top 100 cut here. Raising Sand was a rare, special project that obviously struck a chord, and Lonely Runs Both Ways was a nice mix of contemporary and more-traditional offerings and seemed to be “structured” well, thematically and musically. Vincent’s catalog is remarkably consistent, but it just doesn’t seem to have one standout album that inspires such a strong response. (Though I’d argue Storm does.)

  13. Emmy
    December 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

    I also think its odd that AKUS have gotten so much more press/awards/etc than Rhonda Vincent. I would hesitate to call one “better” than the other. Both are fabulous at what they do, but they don’t do the same thing, although everyone puts them under the large umbrella of bluegrass.

  14. Jon
    December 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I also think its odd that AKUS have gotten so much more press/awards/etc than Rhonda Vincent.

    I don’t, and not because I think the reasons have anything to do with talent. One big one has to do with Rhonda being nearly invisible for most of the 90s.

  15. merlefan49
    December 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Here is my top 75

    75. One foot in the Ether: The Band Of Heathens..
    74 One Lonely Shadow: Blue Moon Rising
    73. Drive Alan Jackson
    72.That Kind of lonely Roger Wallace.
    71.Naked Willie
    70. Secrets, Profane and Sugarcane Elvis Costello.
    69.Dry Branch Fire Squad Echo’s of the Mountain.
    68.Dark Bar and a juke box J.B Beverly and the wayward drifters
    67.Trailer Tapes Chris Knight
    66.Big Country Blue Grass 20 years of grass
    65 In a perfect World Gene Watson.
    64.The Good Life Justin Townes Earle
    63.Dailey and Vincent: Dailey and Vincent
    62.Yuma, Justin Townes Earle
    61 Livin’, Lovin’, Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brother
    60. Lonesome highway Josh Williams
    59.Saving the honky tonks Mark Chesnunt
    58.Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’ Hank Williams III
    57. Downtown Cowboy Tom Phillips and the men of constant sorrow.
    56.The List Roseanne Cash.
    55.Everybody’s Brother Billy Joe Shaver.
    54.The Flatlanders Hills and Valleys
    53.Population Me Dwight Yoakum
    52. Tennessee Pusher: Old Crow Medicine Show
    51.Viper of a Melody Wayne Hancock.
    50.Big Iron World Old Crow Medicine Show
    49. 50 years of hits George Jones
    48.Balls Elisabeth Cook.
    47.Flat mountain girls Wicked talk and idle deeds
    46.Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t George Jones
    45 Soul Journey Gillian Welch
    44.Halos and Horns Dolly Parton
    43Highway for Dreams Bradley Walker
    42.Sleepless Night Patty Loveless
    41Tulsa Wayne Hancock
    40.Here come the tear drops Amber Digby
    39.Anchored in love tribute to June Carter Cash
    38.Bar of Gold Arty hill and the long gone daddies
    37.Honky Tonk Daddy The Bays Brothers
    36.Head for the Hills Jim Lauderdale
    35.Whiskey or God Dale Watson.
    34.The Last Suit you wear Larry Sparks
    33.12 ounce world Rodney Hayden
    32.Caught in the web tribute to web Peirce
    31.Mountain Soul Patty Loveless
    30. Back roads Volatile Baby
    29.Heartbreakers Hall of Fame Sunny Sweeney
    28. Once upon a time. Kimberly Murray
    27.Dona’s Got a Ramblin Mind Carolina Chocolate Drops
    26.The Rock Stone Cold Country George Jones.
    25.Empty Old Mail Box Don Rigsby
    24.Sad Songs and Waltz Keith Whitley
    23.Charlie Louvin: Charlie Louvin
    22. The Peer Sessions Merle Haggard
    21. Kickin out the Foot lights. Merle Haggard and George Jones
    20.Smokin and Drinkin Scotty Cambell.
    19.A town Blues Wayne Hancock
    18.From the Cradle to the grave Dale Watson
    17.American Junk yard Brain Burns
    16.Coal Kathy Mattea
    15.All I intended to be. Emmy Lou Harris
    14.Ralph Stanley 2 The one is two
    13.Between the whiskey and the wine. Miss Leslie
    12. Hero’s friends and Other Troubled Souls Billy Don Burns.
    11.Timeless tribute to Hank Williams Various
    10.Dirt Farmer Levon Helm
    9.Volatile Baby Traveling light
    8.Oh Brother were art thou various artists
    7.The Last Of The Breed. Willie Nelson, Ray Price Merle Haggard.
    6.Snake Farm Ray Wylie Hubbard
    5.Van Lear Rose Lottera Lynn.
    4.Press On June Carter Cash.
    3.Fair & Square John Prine
    2.Wagonmaster Porter Wagoner
    1.American IV: The Man Comes Around Johnny Cash

  16. Occasional Hope
    December 18, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Thanks for the recommendation of Ray Price’s Time – I’ve just got a copy and I’m really enjoying it.

  17. Paul W Dennis
    December 18, 2009 at 8:59 am

    I’ve received several e-mails requesting my entire list. Rather than respond to indicvidual e-mails , here are songs #31-100 in order

    Tracy Lawrence – For The Love (2007)
    Dale Watson – Whiskey or God (2006)
    Brad Paisley – Mud on the Tires (2003)
    David Ball – Amigo (2001)
    Aaron Watson – Shut Up and Dance (2002)

    Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
    George Jones – Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t (2005)
    Dailey and Vincent – Brothers from Different Mothers (2009)
    Joe Nichols – Revelation (2004)
    Sugarland – Twice The Speed of Life (2004)

    John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2009)
    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol. III (2002)
    Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights (2008)
    Mark Chesnutt – Savin’ the Honky Tonk (2004)
    Johnny Bush – Lost Highway Saloon (2000)

    Ashton Shepherd – Sounds So Good (2008)
    Rodney Crowell – The Houston Kid (2001)
    Merle Haggard – Haggard Like Never Before (2003)
    Livin’, Lovin’, Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers (2003)
    Dixie Chicks – Home (2002)

    Zac Brown Band – The Foundation (2008)
    Del McCoury Band – The Company We Keep (2005)
    John Anderson – Easy Money (2007)
    Pam Tillis – Rhinestoned (2007)
    The Notorious Cherry Bombs – The Notorious Cherry Bombs (2006)

    Dailey & Vincent – Dailey & Vincent (2008)
    Heather Myles – Sweet Talk and Good Lies (2002)
    Josh Turner – Long Black Train (2003)
    Elizabeth Cook – Elizabeth Cook (The Blue Album) (2000)
    George Strait – Troubadour (2008)

    Alison Krauss – A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection (2007)
    Paul Brandt – Small Towns and Big Dreams (2001)
    Darius Rucker – Learn To Live (2008)
    Wade Hayes – Place To Turn Around (2009)
    BR549 – Tangled in the Pines (2004)

    Billy Joe Shaver – A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver: Live (2005)
    Dale Watson – Every Song I Write Is for You (2001)
    Billy Joe Shaver – Everybody’s Brother (2007)
    Alison Krauss & Union Station – Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004)
    Brad Paisley – American Saturday Night (2009)

    Sunny Sweeney – Heartbreakers Hall of Fame (2007)
    Martina McBride – Timeless (2005)
    Dierks Bentley – Dierks Bentley (2003)
    Charlie Robison – Beautiful Day (2009)
    Bruce Robison – Country Sunshine (2001)

    Lembo Allen – Dancing Room Only (2004)
    Dale Watson – From the Cradle to the Grave (2007)
    Garth Brooks – Scarecrow (2001)
    Faith Hill – Fireflies (2004)
    Julie Roberts – Men & Mascara (2006)

    Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow (2001)
    Patty Loveless – On Your Way Home (2003)
    Dolly Parton – Halos and Horns (2002)
    Vince Gill – These Days (2006)
    David Serby – Honkytonk and Vine (2009)

    Dan Tyminski – Wheels (2008)
    Gary Allan – See If I Care (2003)
    Dierks Bentley – Modern Day Drifter (2006)
    Josh Turner – Your Man (2006)
    Lee Ann Noel – Miss Rhythm (2008)

    Dwight Yoakum – Population Me (2003)
    Guy Clark – Workbench Songs (2006)
    Dwight Yoakum – Tomorrow’s Sounds Today (2000)
    Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
    Eric Church – Sinners Like Me (2006)

    Gary Allan – Alright Guy (2001)
    Jessi Colter – Out of the Ashes (2006)
    Sara Evans – Born To Fly (2000)
    Taylor Swift – Fearless (2008)
    Lee Ann Womack – There’s More Where That Came From (2005)

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