The “comeback” effort from three Chicks, as well as Taylor Swift’s debut album, land near the mid-section of our countdown of the decade’s best country albums, but this 10-disc installment is best characterized by it’s Southwestern flair; Texans Kris Kristofferson, Amber Digby, Guy Clark and Dale Watson join the march across the halfway point as we work our way to #1.
- 60. Amigo (2001) – David Ball
“Riding With Private Malone” was the hit, but the rest of the album was the revelation: the staid traditionalism of Ball’s earlier albums had scarcely hinted at the distinctive Southwestern flair he brought to this party. He croons, swings, waltzes, polkas, and yodels his way through this largely self-written set, as light on his toes as a tumbleweed across a West Texas plain. — CM Wilcox
- 59. Blood And Candle Smoke (2009) – Tom Russell
You may not have heard of folksinger Tom Russell, but you’ve certainly heard his songs, which have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, and other big guns. Blood and Candle Smoke is a rootsy journey from Africa to the American Southwest, featuring insightful lyrics and stunning imagery. 2009’s been a good year for Russell: he also teamed up with Gretchen Peters for the excellent folk-country album One to the Heart, One to the Head. — Juli Thanki
- 58. Taking The Long Way (2006) – Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks were once the future of country music, but that future came to an abrupt end following Natalie Maines’ controversial comments in the spring of 2003. When the band emerged three years after “the incident,” it did so with defiant album that sounded nothing like its predecessors–and which stood zero chance of finding a home at country radio. Produced by Rick Rubin, Taking The Long Way went on to sell millions of copies and win five GRAMMYs without the support of a hit single. The highlight of this immensely personal and often angry collection is the opening tri-fecta of “Taking The Long Way,” “Easy Silence” and “Not Ready To Make Nice,” all three of which were co-written by the Chicks and Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson. — Jim Malec
- 57. Easy Money (2007) – John Anderson
John Rich produced this memorable album that relies heavily on Anderson’s distinctive baritone vocals and steel-guitar laced honky-tonk anthems like “Brown Liquor” as much as the couple of terrific obligatory ballads like “Bonnie Blue” (co-penned by Cowboy Troy). It’s the John Anderson, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard collaboration on “Willie’s Guitar” that is the highlight of the album, however–worth the price of admission alone. — Ken Morton, Jr.
- 56. Workbench Songs (2006) – Guy Clark
A performance of “Out In The Parking Lot” once prompted Joe Ely to quip that he could almost see the dust rising off the stage. It’s a song that packs imagery worthy of a Larry McMurtry novel into less than five minutes and it’s that same penchant for imagery that spills over into most of Clark’s writing, especially on Workbench Songs, where he describes an especially windy season in Texas and a woman leaving a rodeo clown for a bull rider in a way only Clark can. — Brody Vercher
- 55. Whiskey Or God (2006) – Dale Watson
Mr. Ameripolitan himself rings in at a respective No. 55; the oft-times defensive Watson is probably the purest traditional country artist of the decade–and Whiskey Or God is most certainly his best effort. There’s no filler on this album–only two of the songs are more than three minutes long–but those two-minute vignettes cut right to the point, and Watson’s rumbling vocals make you believe every word–whether it be about a cross-dressing trucker or a lonesome night with tequila. — Pierce Greenberg
- 54. Halos & Horns (2002) – Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton uses her magnificent and distinctive set of pipes to make each song her own, even when the material seems well outside her typical wheelhouse, such as on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” and Bread’s “If.” With haunting vocals on the spiritual numbers “Hello God” and “Raven Dove” and her signature songwriting on “These Old Bones” and “Sugar Hill,” Halos and Horns is vintage Dolly. — Ken Morton, Jr.
- 53. Taylor Swift (2006) – Taylor Swift
Young and attractive, Taylor Swift shouldn’t sound so good, but she sprang forth fully formed. If she wasn’t quite a mature artist on her self-titled debut, she nevertheless showed a compositional knack for pop hooks and incisive songwriting. To her credit, she played to her own demographic, and it was her youthfulness that made “Our Song” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” so charmingly exuberant and so genuinely heart-rending, respectively. — Stephen M. Deusner
- 52. This Old Road (2006) – Kris Kristofferson
After a decade without an album of new material, Kristofferson released This Old Road in 2006, garnering comparisons to Cash’s late-life epic American recordings. Like those records, he’s in a reflective mood, trying to make sense of life, and a mostly acoustic setting, but there’s plenty of the political fight left in him that he’s known for as he sings about perceived injustices in the world. The only stupid man is one who thinks he knows everything or one unwilling to learn and Kristofferson is still in awe and humbled by life and creation itself; while he thinks he has some of the answers, he knows he doesn’t have them all and those open to conflicting ideas might just discover deeper truths. — Brady Vercher
- 51. Here Come The Teardrops – Amber Digby
Hundreds of wannabe singers descend upon Nashville each year, but Music City native Amber Digby reversed course, trekking to Texas so her swinging country style could blossom. She perfected her winning formula on Here Come The Teardrops, a marginalized, modern-day classic that recalls the best of Connie Smith. Digby tears into the opening track, hard-country shuffle “Hinges on the Door,” then resurrects the bleak George Jones chestnut “Flame in My Heart” with equal aplomb. — Blake Boldt