Top Country Albums of the Decade (#40-#31)

Staff | December 7th, 2009

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Gene Watson, Randy Travis, Pam Tillis, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price have all long been cast aside by country radio, but each of these incredible artists continued to produce great country music into the first decade of the 21st century…and each earned a place approaching the upper reaches of our countdown. Mixed in with all that star power is an alright guy, a trio of Americana landmarks and two of the decade’s most compelling debut efforts.

  • Alright Guy (2001)40. Alright Guy (2001) – Gary Allan

    While other mainstream stars sift through songs by self-appointed “hitmen” on Music Row, Gary Allan goes to Americana stalwarts–especially on Alright Guy. Songs by Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison are speckled throughout the record amongst more mainstream–but good–tracks like “Man to Man” and “Man of Me.” Allan’s voice can make any lyric sound good–as evidenced on “The One”–but he really shines when his voice compliments the lyric, rather than saving it. — Pierce Greenberg

  • A Taste Of The Truth (2009)39. A Taste Of The Truth (2009) – Gene Watson

    Watson didn’t land on any radio airwaves or industry award show stages in this decade, but he also didn’t rest on past hits such as “Fourteen Carat Mind” or “Farewell Party.” Instead, the balladeer released six albums, three of which contained (mostly) new material. A Taste of The Truth is the strongest of those collections, confirming Watson’s role as one of the best interpreters of heart-wrenching songs in musical history. This trait is best exemplified on “Three Minutes at a Time,” a full-circle song that finds Watson drowning his sorrows in a traditional country tearjerker infamously (and ironically) known for its power to mend a heartache. — Karlie Justus

  • Beautiful Day (2009)38. Beautiful Day (2009) – Charlie Robison

    Five years without an album and chatter about Charlie Robison centered around the mailed-in performances and a seeming loss of passion before news of his divorce from Dixie Chick Emily Erwin surfaced. Shortly after, Robison released Beautiful Day, an album that showcased the emotional struggle in his effort to come to grips with his grief. The album is mostly devoid of his trademark humor and avoids overwrought dreariness, but if subtle despair sounds this sweet, here’s to a midlife crisis…not really, but you get the point. — Brady Vercher

  • Rhinestoned (2007)37. Rhinestoned (2007) – Pam Tillis

    For her first outing on her own indie label (the adorably named Stellar Cat Records), Pam Tillis knew exactly what to do: gather a bunch of songs from ‘can’t miss’ writers like Leslie Satcher, Jon Randall, Gary Nicholson, Walt Wilkins, Matraca Berg, Verlon Thompson and Bruce Robison, and caress them with a voice that has only grown more sultry and sweet through years of use. That’s just what she did, making her first album of new material in six years a career highlight and clear indication that the best was (and is) still yet to come, major label be damned. — CM Wilcox

  • Around The Bend (2008)36. Around The Bend (2008) – Randy Travis

    The only secular Randy Travis release of the decade is a true winner–and rightfully placed in the upper half of this list. Travis is a workman and perfectionist–if he does an album, everything’s going to be just right. Around The Bend is like a well-prepared meal, with all the ingredients that make up a great country album mixed in at just the right proportion. — Pierce Greenberg

  • Written In Chalk (2009)35. Written In Chalk (2009) – Buddy And Julie Miller

    The 2000s were bookended by Buddy & Julie albums: their self-titled joint debut in 2001 and their long-in-coming follow-up earlier this year. It’s way too long between albums, but this sly, sweet album was worth the wait. Do any two voices sound better together–more natural, more comfortable–than theirs? The guests may be bigger names, but few singers can convey the nostalgia of “Ellis County” or the heartache of “June” as exquisitely as this power couple. — Stephen M. Deusner

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)34. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007) – Miranda Lambert

    Miranda’s second best album comes in at #34, just a bit behind her latest effort, Revolution. In fact, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might have been higher, had it not been for that latest release, which uncovered some of the one-dimensional qualities of Crazy-Ex. Sure, this album’s great–there’s a nice mix of head banging revenge and tender regret–but the writing is a couple notches below Revolution, which proves that the only person who can outdo Miranda at her own game is Miranda. — Pierce Greenberg

  • The Life Of A Song (2008)33. The Life Of A Song (2008) – Joey + Rory

    Call it the Tammy and George Effect or Johnny and June Syndrome–there’s something about a husband and wife duo that pulls stories about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of love onto an entirely different level. Enter Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek, two of only three artists on this list to have appeared on one of the nationally televised singing competitions that forever changed popular music artist development in this decade. The duo escapes the reality show curse with an album that toes artistic brilliance, as standout songs “Rodeo,” “Sweet Emmylou” and “Heart of the Wood” rank as some of the best of the decade. — Karlie Justus

  • The Good Life (2008)32. The Good Life (2008) – Justin Townes Earle

    With one name declaring blood lineage to Steve Earle and another that transcends his family tree to pay reverence to Townes Van Zandt, it shouldn’t be surprising that Justin Townes Earle knows how to put together a song or two. The Good Life is Earle in his prime, showcasing the intensely narrative style of songwriting he inherited from those before him, as well as a voice that can hellishly howl as easily as it can tenderly touch. Artists with a voice (both figuratively and literally) as strong as Earle’s only come along once every blue moon. — Brittney McKenna

  • Last Of The Breed (2007)31. Last Of The Breed (2007) – Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Ray Price

    A trio of Hall of Famers joined for this two-disc set–22 songs deep–that allows all three men a chance to show off their considerable goods. Produced by Fred Foster, Last of the Breed boasts legendary songwriters Harlan Howard, Kris Kristofferson and Cindy Walker, among others. Price is the anchor of this timeless masterwork; his rich, expressive voice remains one of the preeminent instruments in country music history. It’s the sheer enjoyment of recording that shines through on Last of the Breed, further evidence of country music’s pure beauty and vitality.– Blake Boldt

  1. Razor X
    December 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I enjoyed the Gary Allan, Gene Watson, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis and Joey + Rory albums. Not sure how I missed Last of the Breed but I definitely want to check that one out.

  2. BRETT ROBERTS
    December 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    32 & 31 are the best so far still needs some old crow medicine show

  3. Josh
    December 7, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Gotta say…most on this list I haven’t yet reached to due to forgetfulness or carelessness…either way, now’s a great time to dig in and catch up. Kudos.

  4. John P
    December 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Great seeing albums by Gary Allan and Gene Watson on this list though personally I would have to move both into the Top Ten.

  5. Rick
    December 7, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Its not only nice to see Joey + Rory on this list but also to see them ranked so high! I’ll be a heretic here and admit I enjoy Joey’s “Strong Enough To Cry” album a bit more than “Life of a Song”.

    I don’t have any of the others but my pick of the litter would be the Gene Watson album as I can’t say the rest interest me. In terms of taste in music Karlie and Juli are cleaning up on this list…

  6. Brady Vercher
    December 7, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I thought it was pretty clear, but no single person is responsible for the albums that appear or their placement–it was a collaborative effort. Blurb assignments were somewhat of a free-for-all process, though.

    How many albums do you think Miranda has, Steve?

  7. Steve Harvey
    December 7, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I would’ve swapped SEE IF I CARE and ALRIGHT GUY around in your rankings, but it’s great seeing Allan make another well-deserved appearance in the chart. ALRIGHT GUY is worth the money for his incredible cover of ‘What Would Willie Do’ alone.

  8. Paul W Dennis
    December 7, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Good group of albums although I have the Watson and Price/Haggard/Nelson entries much higher on my personal list

  9. Rick
    December 7, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    It may not have turned out as accurate or relevant, but limiting each artist to just one album on this list would have made it far more interesting! (Well to me anyway.) All these artists who are getting multiple albums listed tend to be those I have no interest in. Including the albums from lesser known artists who got bumped by multiple entries from the likes of Gary Allan, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Todd Snider would have been nice. Okay, I know I’m probably in a minority of one regarding this matter…

  10. Steve Harvey
    December 7, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    How many albums do you think Miranda has, Steve?
    I count four:
    Miranda Lambert (2001)
    Kerosene (2005)
    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
    Revolution (2009)

    Am I missing one?

  11. Mayor JoBob
    December 7, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Gary Allan shows up a lot! Is Tough All Over yet to come?

  12. Brady Vercher
    December 7, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Hmm, looks like I responded on the wrong thread. Guess that’s what I get for reading comments in the backend. I thought you were commenting about her 3rd album appearing higher up even though it was on this list, but it looks like you left that comment over here.

  13. Steve Harvey
    December 7, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Gary Allan shows up a lot! Is Tough All Over yet to come?
    It better be!

  14. Sheep
    December 7, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I’m gonna have to check out Joey + Rory’s album. I find it interesting that they’re from the same state as I live, Iowa. Heck, I remember advertisements of them coming to a local county fair in my area!

  15. Rick
    December 7, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Hey, I just noticed Karlie’s comment regarding Joey + Rory:

    “Enter Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek, two of only three artists on this list to have appeared on one of the nationally televised singing competitions that forever changed popular music artist development in this decade.” So Miranda Lambert is the other former reality show contestant which means Carrie Underwood did not make this list at all! Woo Hoo! I must say the list at Country Universe took a big hit in credibility by including Carrie. Good show 9513!

  16. Blake Boldt
    December 7, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ranked significantly higher on my personal list, though I’d agree that Revolution showcases a matured, more-thoughtful Miranda.

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is such a singular expression, a girl-on-the-verge tale that I don’t see as one-dimensional at all. Sure, she gives an abusive boyfriend the business (“Gunpowder and Lead”), makes a barroom scene (the title track) and generally raises hell, but you also see the more-vulnerable underbelly of all this aggression and anger, especially in the slower middle section. For a confused, ticked-off character, she’s awfully self-aware and knows she had a hand in her own circumstance. The disc sounds great, too, unlike the much-talked-about loudness of Revolution.

    Crazy is a “period” album, just like Revolution serves notice that she’s a sort-of settled-down young woman now. Miranda’s a tamer personality than em>Crazy suggests, but it’s a great example of establishing a narrator and cohesive thread of thought while being sharp and detailed enough to make that point of view unique. I don’t mean to ramble, but I think the record’s worthy of such attention. And, though I know not everyone here will agree, worthy of big praise, too.

  17. merlefan49
    December 7, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    You guys pick some of the cds I picked for my list. Once you post the entire thing if you want I’ll post mine.

  18. Leeann Ward
    December 8, 2009 at 6:54 am

    I’m totally with Blake on this.

  19. Pierce
    December 8, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I guess I meant one-dimensional relatively speaking. I didn’t meant one dimensional overall, but rather seemingly one dimensional for Miranda. Does that make any sense? Maybe not.

    Either way, I totally agree with you. Like Brady says, just because I wrote the blurb doesn’t mean that’s where I put the album. That being said, Crazy-Ex might’ve been a little higher up for me.

  20. Blake Boldt
    December 8, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    @Pierce: I follow! I just know that the record is viewed differently by others, and I wanted to put my two cents in. Keep on keepin’ on.

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