Top 10 Country Albums Of 2010

Staff | January 5th, 2011


How time flies! It’s already 5 days into the New Year, but that won’t stop us from letting you know what we thought were the best albums of 2010.

We all wondered whether Jamey Johnson could follow up on a potentially career-defining album and how Dierks Bentley’s ‘bluegrass’ project would pan out–sales-wise and from a quality standpoint. In the era of free-falling album sales, both projects have sold relatively well, even if radio hasn’t jumped on board.

Blake Shelton rode his success at radio to A-list status in the country realm–even picking up the CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year trophy in an upset bid–but with two releases (3 counting his Greatest Hits package), it remains to be seen whether Six Paks will ever be remembered by listeners as an artistic whole or just a vehicle for commercial success.

When it came to Reckless, the questions weren’t so much about the quality of The SteelDrivers’ sophomore release, but rather about their future without Chris Stapleton. However they fare in the future, he left on a high note. Johnny Cash opened his final American Recording proclaiming, “Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down,” while his ex-son-in-law schooled us in traditional country music.

And amongst them all, a few independents continued to prove their mettle, releasing superb records with no hope of fattening their wallets.

With over 300 albums in contention, only one unanimously landed amongst the staffs’ 10 best records of the year. A couple more came close, but overall, a total of 39 different albums received Top 10 honors. Considering those kinds of numbers, results are bound to be contentious and the runners-up should be commended: Randy Houser, Johnny Cash, Justin Townes Earle, and Zac Brown Band all nearly made a dent on the list.

Without further pontification, here is the crème de la crème de 2010.

Staff Picks: Individual Top 10 with comments
Previous Years: 2008 | 2007

  • The Jukebox In Your Heart10. The Jukebox In Your Heart, Mike Stinson

    With the possible exception of Brennen Leigh, Mike Stinson is arguably the most unsung singer on this list, but it’s my hope that that lack of notoriety doesn’t lead to his dismissal. He writes the kind of songs that feel transported from a bygone era (“Late Great Golden State” appeared on the 2003 Dwight Yoakam album Population Me, which is almost a bygone era) and were only recently discovered. Some are better than others, but a dud there is not. Robert Black put it best in his review when he described Stinson as “sounding like the distillation of a thousand heartaches.” Check out these songs: “Square With The World,” “No One to To Drink With,” and “Ashes of a Dream.” — Brody Vercher

  • Freight Train9. Freight Train, Alan Jackson

    For a man often criticized for playing it safe, Alan Jackson has managed to keep his fans on their toes for the last few years. After a brief romance with adult contemporary music, a gospel tribute to his mother and a collection of songs penned entirely by himself, Freight Train is, in a sense, a return to the normal, everyday Jackson album. When you’re one of country music’s few remaining legends still getting radio airplay, however, “normal” and “everyday” are compliments well-deserved for an album full of wise additions such as its titular cover song and a gorgeous duet with Lee Ann Womack. — Karlie Justus

  • The Box8. The Box, Brennen Leigh

    With her rich voice and unflinchingly honest songwriting, Brennen Leigh delivers some of the best country music you’ll hear all year. The Texan’s most recent album is a collection of midtempo, wistful traditional-leaning country. Though there isn’t a bad song to be found on the record, pay special attention to the superb “Are You Stringing Me Along,” featuring brother Seth Hulbert, a song which sounds influenced by close harmony duos like the Louvins or Delmores. — Juli Thanki

  • Homecoming7. Homecoming, Joe Diffie

    From the moment Joe Diffie and Rounder Records walked down the aisle to slicing fiddle and mandolin music, a beautiful marriage was born. Diffie had a string of hits during the Garth-dominated 1990’s, but he was always just too country to appeal to the suburban and international audiences that Brooks captured. But throw Diffie’s thick twang in front of some of the best bluegrass pickers (and singers) in town and you’ve got a great album. Diffie pays respect to the murder ballad (“Till The End”) and the upbeat romp (“Hard To Handle”). Hopefully this marriage lasts. — Pierce Greenberg

  • Welder6. Welder, Elizabeth Cook

    One of country’s sharpest, quirkiest female voices is here and there and everywhere on this musical mish-mash of an album that would’ve ranked higher if it had lived up to its title a little better. Working for the first time with Don Was, Cook pretty much does whatever she wants and leaves the welding of all these disparate identities up to us. The results are a little uneven at times, but the best of these songs – “El Camino,” “Heroin Addict Sister,” “Mama’s Funeral” – more than take up the slack. In fact, they’re downright stunning. — C.M. Wilcox

  • Carryin' On5. Carryin’ On, Dale Watson

    On Carryin’ On Dale Watson pays tribute to the Nashville of the 1960s and ’70s with polished shuffles and smooth, poignant ballads. He’s backed by some of Music City’s best session musicians (Lloyd Green, Pete Wade, and Pig Robbins), and his songwriting is sharp as ever. If there’s one song from 2010 that you should hear, it’s the Bakersfield-sounding “Hey Brown Bottle,” which sounds as though it could’ve been a hit had Merle Haggard recorded it in his prime. — Juli Thanki

  • Reckless4. Reckless, The SteelDrivers

    Chris Stapleton makes his SteelDrivers swan song one to remember on this outstanding combination of dark delta blues and traditional Appalachian bluegrass. It delivers fresh takes on traditional bluegrass themes with a flair for the history of the area. The tragic ending of the protagonist on “Good Corn Liquor” is told in sharp dobro notes representing shots ringing out. While that little bit musicianship is just a snapshot, it makes a great analogy to the rest of the album as it captures the imagination of scenes on almost every track. — Ken Morton, Jr.

  • Up On the Ridge3. Up On the Ridge, Dierks Bentley

    It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Bentley could put together a standout bluegrass album. He’s been showing off his bluegrass writing and vocal chops on every album he’s released. The impressive part is that he so successfully blended bluegrass into mainstream without creating a diluted half-hearted effort. “Draw Me a Map” is one of the best singles of the year, but “Bad Angel,” “Fiddlin’ Around” and “Love Grows Wild” are just a few of the must-listen tracks. — Sam Gazdziak

  • Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions2. Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, Marty Stuart

    As one of the key stewards of traditional country music, Marty Stuart has also crafted a number of exemplary albums that speak to the still-beating heart of the common people. His harmonizing with wife Connie Smith on two songs is alone worth the price of admission, but the best track is “Hangman,” a riveting tale written by Johnny Cash mere days before his death. Stuart pays homage to his musical heroes—Elvis, the Louvin Brothers, Ray Price—and testifies to all the grace and power that can fit in a four-minute country song. — Blake Boldt

  • The Guitar Song1. The Guitar Song, Jamey Johnson

    Johnson makes following That Lonesome Song seem deceptively easy, neatly sidestepping the problem of ‘matching’ his previous work by giving us something different enough that it defies one-to-one comparison. Where That Lonesome Song was a lean, concise wonder modeled after Waylon Dreaming My Dreams, The Guitar Song is a sprawling epic that finds Johnson exploring a wider range of sounds and emotions over two ‘Black’ and ‘White’ themed discs. The extended length left some critics wishing Johnson had pared it down a bit, but it’s testament to the quality of these compositions that there’s little agreement on which tracks should have been axed. Even if we could all agree on three to cut, there’d still be 22 deserving of this top spot. — C.M. Wilcox

2 Pings

  1. [...] Dayton called The 9513 last week to talk about the “top-to-bottom, straight country record” he funded with the help of Rob Zombie and his connection to two of the albums recently named among our Top 10 of 2010. [...]
  2. [...] Dayton called us last week to talk about the “top-to-bottom, straight country record” he funded with the help of Rob Zombie and his connection to two of the albums recently named among our Top 10 of 2010. [...]
  1. Mike Parker
    January 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Your “Staff Picks” link isn’t working.

    Good list. I’ve listened to most of these repeatedly and would probably only change a couple things at the bottom of my list: 8. Freight Train, 9. You Get What You Give 10. Harlem River Blues.

    As a disclaimer, I haven’t gotten around to the Leigh and Stinson albums yet, but will check them out.

    January 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Gotta admit, the top two on this list is spot-on.

  3. Brady Vercher
    January 5, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thanks Mike, it should be good to go now.

  4. Jon
    January 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Props to the Verchers for digging a bit deeper in the bluegrass field.

  5. megan and stewart
    January 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    dierks was a major disappointment!!!!!! won’t buy again!

  6. Barry Mazor
    January 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    “Megan and Stewart”: See, this hit and run comment would have been more useful (or convincing, or have a point)) for other human beings if you’d said how the CD disappointed you.

    So far, we know which way the thumb pints for somebody, or two somebodies, but not what this means. Or how to understand your thumbs. Or exclamation points.

  7. Rick
    January 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Wow, I actually possess three of these! I purchased “Welder”, won “Freight Train”, and Brennen’s manager gave me a copy of “The Box”! Good show! (lol)

    I’d have to say I’m far more inclined to agree with Jim Malec who included “Freight Train” on his “10 Worst Country Albums” list. Compared to Alan’s early albums its just not all that good.

    I miss seeing Mike Stinson perform around LA at the Grand Ole Echo shows and Redwood Bar downtown, but I’m glad his move to Houston is working out for him. When he used to perform “The Late, Great Golden State” he’d close by saying “And don’t bother asking me for a loan! I spent the royalty money a long time ago…”. (lol)

  8. Rick
    January 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Oh, and since there is no News Summary today:

    Music City Roots tonight will feature Minton Sparks, LA’s own Julie Gribble (who’s pitch is “Take a nibble of Gribble”), The David Mayfield Parade, and Elio and the Hank Sinatra Band.

    Also, Country Weekly is offering a free download of the Steel Magnolia song “Ooh La La” at:

    And finally, Amazon has a new freebie download sample album available titled “Experience Music: A Tune Core Country Sampler” that includes a wide variety of artists:

    Don’t miss your chance to download Colt Ford’s “Hip Hop In A Honky Tonk” featuring Kevin Flower for free! (Beacuse quite frankly that’s about what the song is worth…)

  9. Vicki
    January 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you! Jamey #1 and I can’t agree more!!

  10. Dave D.
    January 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Good list, but why no picks from Barry?

  11. Noeller
    January 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Glad to see Freight Train get some love. It was under-appreciated, IMO. The title track kicks my ass every time.

    Dierks UOTR is my personal favourite disc of the year and I continue to listen to that one over, and over and over. Roving Gambler with the Punch Brothers is dynamite, along with virtually everything else on there.

    No disagreement about JJ taking top spot again. This guy is the voice of a revolution and I pray that more radio stations (we are spinning Playing The Part like crazy…) take notice and give it some spins!!

  12. Steve
    January 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Nice to see Alan’s “Freight Train” land on the list. I really liked “Hard Hat and a Hammer” too bad it only peaked at 17.

    One that is definately missing from this list is Easton Corbin’s self titled debut. He brought back a sound missing since the 90’s. Neotraditionalism at its best.

  13. Jack
    January 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Ugh, i honestly dont get the love for Guitar Song, his album is pretty bland if you ask me

  14. Jon
    January 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Roving Gambler with the Punch Brothers is dynamite…

    Love Dierks, love the guys, but I wish someone had at least asked them to consider that they were taking that one a little too fast before wrapping up the session. It’s got speed, but not as much drive as it could. Compare to these:

    (Larry Sparks w/Mike Lilly & Wendy Miller):

    (J. D. Crowe & The New South):

    and even

    (Senator Robert C. Byrd):

  15. Barry Mazor
    January 5, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Jack, what would be your idea of NOT bland, then, if we ask you?

  16. Bill Frater
    January 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Nice list! I agree with most of them… although I have to admit, I never even heard that Brennen Leigh had an album last year, and I’m a reviewer and deejay. I love that the top too, (Jamey and Marty) both honor their country and honkytonk influences.

  17. Dave D.
    January 7, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Apologies for the off topic comment, but RIP Gary Claxton. His singing brought a lot of joy to a lot of people over the years.

  18. Trish
    January 10, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Once again the 9513v tries to be smarter and more clever than country radio and the country music audience! No Carrie Underwood mention for “Play On?

    I guess 4 #1 singles from the album so far on the country charts, Two times platinum sales to date, and winning tons of awards from the Country awards shows doesn’t get you a top ten mention for album according to the geniuses at the 9513.

    Same old same old

  19. Barry Mazor
    January 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Trish, if all you want to see, take asss of any value, or are willing to give any credit to is the sales charts, and knee-jerk bowing to them, you should just read those.

    Why waste your time?

  20. Trish
    January 10, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Barry, how about all the millions of people that are buying country music today? You are picking artists that mostly have almost no impact on country music today. Artists such as Elizabeth Cook are not even in the same league with legendary vocalists like Carrie Underwood and Reba Mcintyre, yet they get no mention on this site.

    Basically, you are calling a majority of the buyers of country music today wrong. Well sorry but you are the one wrong!

  21. the pistolero
    January 10, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I guess 4 #1 singles from the album so far on the country charts, Two times platinum sales to date, and winning tons of awards from the Country awards shows doesn’t get you a top ten mention for album according to the geniuses at the 9513.

    Maybe they just didn’t like the album that much. What’s wrong with that?

  22. Barry Mazor
    January 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Trish, I garbled my comment above in transmission. (Obviously) What It was supposed to say was:

    If all you want to see, all you will accept as of any value, or are willing to give credit to, is the sales charts, and knee-jerk bowing to them, you should just read charts.

    I’ll stand by that. As far as I can see (and by the way, and had no part in this particular list), you will not or cannot make any distinction at all between critical writing and fanzines, or promotion or advertising of the already popular.

    If there’s nothing anyone can say against or outside of that grain that you will accept as worthwhile, that’s your business, but it’s not this site’s.

  23. Barry Mazor
    January 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Dang. That’s: I had no particular part in this chart.

    Trying to do three things at once for a change.

  24. Angi
    January 10, 2011 at 11:47 am

    There isnt any mention of Taylor Swift who has brought in MANY NEW COUNTRY fans! They wouldn’t know who your picks are. You should try to bring down your eyebrows a little bit and include some of today’s hot new country stars. I’ve got Taylor on nonstop on my Yes they do play some of the artists you like but I’m able to block them out and listen to what I LIKE!

  25. the pistolero
    January 10, 2011 at 11:55 am

    There isnt any mention of Taylor Swift who has brought in MANY NEW COUNTRY fans! They wouldn’t know who your picks are.

    They wouldn’t know who Jamey Johnson, Dierks Bentley and Alan Jackson are?

  26. stormy
    January 10, 2011 at 11:58 am

    There isnt any mention of Taylor Swift who has brought in MANY NEW COUNTRY fans
    That it not true. We talk about how bad Taylor Swift is all the time.

  27. Jon
    January 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    No, Stormy, *you* talk about how bad Taylor Swift is all the time – i.e., compulsively. I’d say that “we,” that is, folks who read and post comments to The9513, are a little more divided on the subject.

    And by the way, Rick, “Hip Hop In A Honky Tonk” is a Lisa Shaffer co-write. Go Lisa!

  28. Jo
    January 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    People forget that this is the ‘best albums of 2010′ list, and not the ‘most hyped albums with the most sales’ list.

    Let’s face it, the masses often don’t buy albums and their exposure to music is merely what’s on the radio, which a marketing exec or radio programmer had a hand in more often than not. That’s not a *true* interpretation of what’s the best albums out there. Not even close.

  29. Jon G.
    January 16, 2011 at 4:50 am

    I know I’m late with this, but isn’t the murder ballad that Joe Diffie sings on ‘Homecoming’ called “‘Til Death”?

  30. Ben Grieve
    February 19, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Not too bad. Major props for not putting Taylor Swift on this list.

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