Best Albums of 2011: #10-1

Staff | January 3rd, 2012


sunnysweeneyconcrete10. Sunny Sweeney – Concrete

Rooted in traditional country, Sunny Sweeney’s sophomore album is slick enough for contemporary, as she netted her first Top 10 single with “From a Table Away.”  Sweeney’s taken a big step with her songwriting since debut record Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, co-writing seven of Concrete’s ten tracks with talent like Radney Foster and Brennen Leigh (the latter co-wrotethe stellar “Amy,” written from the perspective of the other woman). That skill, combined with her voice, which sounds like a Miranda Lambert-Natalie Maines hybrid, means Sweeney’s got a bright future ahead of her, especially if she can capitalize on her foothold on radio.


dirtdriftersthisismyblood9. The Dirt Drifters – This is My Blood

Despite what country radio says, rural living is hard. Blue collar life can be grueling at times, and sometimes, back roads are just dirty. The Dirt Drifters understand. This five-piece band infused their music with a real life perspective of back-breaking work that is equal parts of pride and grit. They backed it with tons of musical energy and gave away 30,000 copies of the album during their live shows this year.


vincegillguitarslinger8. Vince Gill – Guitar Slinger

Following up on a tour de force project like These Days is no easy task, but if anyone’s up to the task, it’s Vince Gill. On Guitar Slinger he covers a wide variety of country styles, even dabbling into soul and R&B, with typical Gill finesse. Make sure to give a listen to murder-suicide song “Billy Paul,” which features backing vocals from Gill’s preteen daughter. Read Ken Morton, Jr.’s review here.


thisonesforhim7. Various Artists – This One’s for Him: Songs of Guy Clark

Tribute records tend to be hit or miss. This double-disc collection is strictly the former. With a roster overflowing with talent and material that any songwriter would give a kidney for, it’s the best country music tribute album since the salute to the Louvin Brothers, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’. Radney Foster’s magnificent version of “L.A. Freeway” in particular stands out, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a song that isn’t worthy of being placed on “repeat.” Read Sam Gazdziak’s feature on Guy Clark here.


hellboundglorydamagedgoods6. Hellbound Glory – Damaged Goods

We can’t get enough of these guys and their brand of “scumbag country.” The Reno-based band’s third album is their most mature work to date, with top-notch, Haggardian songwriting from Leroy Virgil and a ragged, addictive sound that’s got the ability to gain a few fans on the mainstream side of the country music aisle.


chrisyoungneon5. Chris Young – Neon

Young ditched a longtime companion, his cowboy hat, for the album cover, but his country influences can still be found in the music. From the touching sentiment found on the father-son song “Flashlight” to the “weekend on the rocks [and] an old school jukebox” of the title track—which is arguably the best song Young has ever recorded—Neon is a solid collection of music from one of country’s most talented young stars. Read Juli Thanki’s review here.


hayescarllkmagyoyo4. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)

Whether he’s growling out fierce country rockers like “Stomp & Holler” or twanging through minimalist banjo tunes like “Bye Bye Baby,” this Americana A-lister can captivate a crowd like few others. KMAG YOYO harnesses that live energy on several standout songs, most notably the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” flavored, hallucinatory title track and the hilarious, “opposites attract” duet with Cary Ann Hearst, “Another Like You.”


matracadreamingfields3. Matraca Berg – The Dreaming Fields

It had been nearly 12 years between Berg albums. The Dreaming Fields was more than worth the wait. “You and Tequila,” co-written with Deana Carter, got the lion’s share of attention in 2011 thanks to Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter’s recording, but it’s just one in a collection of 11 stellar songs; from the piano-laced title track about the death of the family farm (which also appeared on Trisha Yearwood’s Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love) to the bluesy, hard-edged other woman tale “Your Husband’s Cheating on Us,” Berg proves why she’s one of the best singer-songwriters in country and roots music. Oh, Matraca. Don’t ever leave us again.


mirandafourtherecord2. Miranda Lambert – Four the Record

Four the Record was one of our most anticipated records of 2011, and Miranda didn’t disappoint. She effortlessly covers a lot of musical ground here, from the rocking “Fastest Girl in Town” to the fuzzy, bluesy-sexy “Fine Tune,” to straight up country on “Dear Diamond,” which is one of the best songs she’s written to date. Well-chosen covers of songs by Gillian Welch and Brandi Carlile round out another solid outing. Read Karlie Justus’ review here.


pistolannieshellonheels1. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels

Turns out the best things do come in threes: Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, and Angaleena Presley made our year with a debut record full of impeccable writing, and toe-tapping arrangements. Let’s hope that the Annies’ New Year’s resolution is to put out another record ASAP. Read Karlie Justus’ review here.



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  1. SamB
    January 3, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Of the ones I’ve heard on the lists here, I generally agree with the comments and the rankings given, with a couple of notable exceptions (I’m surprised by how high Four the Record is, for example).

    And then there’s a few I haven’t heard that have been added to my Spotify queue for listening when I’ve finished my own list.

  2. Rick
    January 3, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I’ve only purchased two of the albums on the Top 20 list here at Engine 145, but they came in at # 10 and # 1 so I’m one contented clam! I’d rather go see a live concert these days than shell out for more recorded music.

    Let’s see this month’s shows will include Albert Lee, Elephant Revival, Wade Bowen, Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, and that’s not counting the free Saturday night Ranch Party shows at LA’s historic Farmer’s Market off Fairfax. Next month “Lake Street Dive” returns to McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Yee Haw!

  3. Leeann Ward
    January 3, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Nice to see Miranda and Pistol Annies taking the top spots. I really think they were the bright spots of mainstream country last year.

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