Miranda Lambert’s best album, Vince Gill’s epic artistic endeavor and an Opry legend’s final turn in the spotlight all land on the third-to-last installment of our countdown of the decade’s top 100 country albums.
- 30. Revolution (2009) – Miranda Lambert
The wunderkind sheds some of the more outrageous elements of her previous album–the violence, the threats of violence, the aftermath of violence–for a more measured take on romances bad and good. The results are just as powerful: “Dead Flowers” (not about heroin) and “White Liar” are two of her best songs about emotional violence, revealing new, life-size facets of a familiar artist. — Stephen M. Deusner
- 29. Everybody’s Brother (2007) – Billy Joe Shaver
Few could release a project like Everybody’s Brother, Billy Joe Shaver’s take on what he calls “Jesus songs.” It takes testicular fortitude to record a damning tune like “If You Don’t Love Jesus” and fervent conviction to write one as charismatic as “Get Thee Behind Me Satan,” but Shaver hasn’t ever been one to follow convention. Music deserves the kind of passion he brings to his craft and judging from the songs on Everybody’s Brother, Shaver’s passion is Jesus–not in a homo way of course. A superb release through and through. — Brady Vercher
- 28. Precious Memories (2006) – Alan Jackson
The sturdy standard bearer for down-home traditionalism proved himself a surprisingly agile artist in the 2000s, earning entries in the top third of our list with three separate, and very different, projects. The first is this charming, stately collection of traditional gospel numbers, recorded as a private gift for his mother and subsequently made available to fans. Even without any singles released, it went soaring toward platinum status. Long known for his ability to imbue even average material with uncommon sincerity, Jackson seems right at home with these simple songs of devotion–songs which so richly deserve his talent. — CM Wilcox
- 27. Raising Sand (2007) – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
The combination of Led Zeppelin’s front man with one of bluegrass’ most recognized names seemed strange, but Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, along with producer T-Bone Burnett, made it a GRAMMY-winning, platinum-selling success. The album, a collection of covers from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, The Everly Brothers and Gene Clark, featured minimal, moody instrumentation that took both artists out of their respective comfort zones. The album reached #2 on both the Billboard Country charts and the Top 200 charts. Along with its six GRAMMYs, Raising Sand made Plant one of the unlikeliest recipients of a CMA award. — Sam Gazdziak
- 26. Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004) – Alison Krauss and Union Station
There’s an emotional and auditory intimacy with Krauss’s ethereal vocals that only meet their match with the incredible musicianship of Union Station–particularly the haunting Dobro playing of Jerry Douglas–“Unionhouse Branch” might be some of their best picking to date. The band covers Woodie Guthrie’s “Pastures Of Plenty” brilliantly as well as add to the long list of AK&US classics with “Rain Please Go Away” and “A Living Prayer.” It is contemporary bluegrass with tight heavenly harmonies–nearly perfect. — Ken Morton, Jr.
- 25. Trouble In Mind (2008) – Hayes Carll
One of the best artists to emerge in this decade, Hayes Carll’s first two self-released albums showed his considerable songwriting talents. He came into his own in 2008 with the release of Trouble In Mind on Lost Highway Records, though. The sly sense of humor, the clever wordplay and a knack for detail show that Carll has studied his Guy Clark songs, but songs like “She Left Me For Jesus” and the autobiographical “I Got A Gig” put him above much of his Texas singer/songwriter competition. — Sam Gazdziak
- 24. Drive (2002) – Alan Jackson
If apples were Alan Jackson music, then Granny Smiths would be Drive. This album represents the quintessential consistency that has made Jackson a star; There’s tongue-in-cheek (“First Love”), nostalgia (“Drive”), and a rousing duet with George Strait (“Designated Drinker”). Oh yeah, and one of the most relevant songs of the decade in “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?” — Pierce Greenberg
- 23. Mud On The Tires (2003) – Brad Paisley
By the time Mud on the Tires was released, Paisley was already a radio mainstay, with eight straight singles from two albums reaching the top 20; however, it was his “Whiskey Lullaby” duet with critical darling Alison Krauss that put the country music community on permanent notice. As his first album to reach the top of the charts, it’s also his best mesh of swingy traditional tunes à la Buck Owens and his own unique, burgeoning style of social commentary cut with stinging guitar riffs. — Karlie Justus
- 22. Wagonmaster (2007) – Porter Wagoner
One of country’s preeminent artists largely forgotten by the non-Opry listening audience; the kinds of songs forgotten by the country industry at large; the highlight being a song about forgotten members of society, written by Johnny Cash and subsequently forgotten by the producer, Marty Stuart, when it was given to him to deliver to its intended singer (“Committed To Parkview”). It took a non-country indie label (Anti) to allow all these forgotten factors to coalesce and give Porter Wagoner his due opportunity to record and release Wagomaster, an album that ultimately became his last after he checked out from the rat race a short five months later. Wagoner left us with a bonafide classic and fine swan song indeed. — Brady Vercher
- 21. These Days (2006) – Vince Gill
These Days was a project recorded as four distinct albums: rock, ballads, vintage honky tonk, and acoustic. The 4-CD release, featuring an incredible 43 new songs, is an amazing artistic endeavor–one made all the more special by guests such as Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Rodney Crowell, Phil Everly, the Del McCoury Band, Emmylou Harris, John Anderson, Lee Ann Womack, (daughter) Jenny Gill, (wife) Amy Grant, LeAnn Rimes, Gretchen Wilson, Guy Clark, Trisha Yearwood, Michael McDonald and more. Yes, and more. — Ken Morton, Jr.