Top Country Albums of the Decade (#80-#71)

Staff | December 3rd, 2009

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One of country music’s most beloved vocalists, the daughter of an icon, a 30-year mainstay of country radio and an unheralded young woman from Florida are among the artists to land in the third installment of our countdown of the decade’s top country albums. Mix in some family-band bluegrass, some honky-tonk, and a few surprises, and the result is 10 diverse albums from 10 unique artists that will still sound great in the next decade.

  • Troubadour (2008)80. Troubadour (2008) – George Strait

    Strait is so consistent that it’s difficult to make a really outstanding album, because most of them are just as good as the last. In other words, he has set a high bar–which means high expectations. Mainstream efforts like “I Saw God Today” and “River of Love” feel more forced than genuine, but the rest of the disc’s material is up to par with Strait’s best work. — Pierce Greenberg

  • See If I Care (2003)79. See If I Care (2003) – Gary Allan

    Although not as important or as successful as some of his other works, even a mid-level Allan album like See If I Care is a good deal better than most of the competition. Nearly fourteen years into his career, he remains one of the most under-appreciated artists on country radio. Need proof? Hear the way he matches Willie Nelson lick for lick on the closing number, a fine cover of Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life.” — CM Wilcox

  • Jasper County (2006)78. Jasper County (2006) – Trisha Yearwood

    This entire album is enjoyable from start to finish, and with “Georgia Rain,” Yearwood lets loose with her incredible range and the power of her glorious soprano voice. While some of today’s contemporary country peers may have pipes that rival Yearwood’s strong voice, few, if any, have the emotional tug with every verse and every note like she does. The production leans a little more traditional country than her more recent release, and if you bought the re-released version in 2006, you got a great (if little heard) Garth Brooks duet called “Love Will Always Win.” — Ken Morton, Jr.

  • Cherryholmes (2004)77. Cherryholmes (2004) – Cherryholmes

    This is the album that catapulted family band Cherryholmes into the glitzy, glamorous world of bluegrass stardom. Originals including “Brand New Heartache” expose then-teenage daughter Cia as a promising young songwriter while well-chosen covers of Hazel Dickens’ “Workin’ Girl Blues” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Workin’ Man (Nowhere to Go)” round out a mighty fine acoustic album. — Juli Thanki

  • A Pretty Good Guy (2001)76. A Pretty Good Guy (2001) – Chris Knight

    The most amazing thing about Chris Knight’s second studio album, A Pretty Good Guy, is that it somehow managed to be even more introspective than his landmark debut. “Send A Boat” and “Becky’s Bible” are deeply sensitive country songs so well crafted that you’ll wonder how Knight is anything less than a household name. The rest of the disc is fleshed out by sharp-as-a-needle story telling and Knight’s signature gravel-lined growl. — Jim Malec

  • Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't (2005)75. Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t (2005) – George Jones

    When you’ve been in the music business for 50 years, there’s sure to be a handful of songs you passed on recording, songs that would later become hits for other artists. Here, the Possum masterfully covers several of those passed-on songs including “On the Other Hand” and “Detroit City,” where he’s joined by Dolly Parton. Closing out the album is the one hit Jones didn’t miss: “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which was re-recorded for this project. — Juli Thanki

  • Black Cadillac (2006)74. Black Cadillac (2006) – Rosanne Cash

    Within a two-year span, Cash lost all three parents–father, Johnny; mother, Vivian; and stepmother, June Carter–and her sorrow echoes throughout this stark opus. Black Cadillac serves as a musical grieving process for Cash, as she ponders her fractured faith amidst arrangements that range from chamber pop to acoustic folk. At one stage, she sings, “God is in the roses…and the thorns,” her weary voice nearly buckling under the contradiction. Black Cadillac ponders the world’s oldest conflicts–heaven and hell, life and death, anger and acceptance–in a confessional tone that plants Rosanne firmly within her family tradition. — Blake Boldt

  • The Blue Album (2000)73. The Blue Album (2000) – Elizabeth Cook

    When your father plays bass in the prison band while serving time for moonshine running, what else can a girl do but grow up to be a country singer? The self-released Blue Album is Cook’s first record, and it showcases her incredible talent as a performer and writer in the vein of Loretta Lynn. This talent didn’t go unnoticed; two years later Cook released her major label debut, and at the close of the decade, she’s one of the best independent artists out there. — Juli Thanki

  • Savin' The Honky Tonk (2004)72. Savin’ The Honky Tonk (2004) – Mark Chessnutt

    As a pioneer of the neo-traditional movement, it may come as a surprise to find Chesnutt on this list at all, considering the huge shift in the modern country sound since he first charted standards like “Too Cold At Home” and “Brother Jukebox.” However, Savin’ the Honky Tonk is a superb exercise in the best of what the previous decade had to offer, as retro as it may now sound. — Karlie Justus

  • The Houston Kid (2001)71. The Houston Kid (2001) – Rodney Crowell

    A gritty, uncompromising album that delves into Crowell’s troubled east Texas childhood, The Houston Kid is a pop-rockabilly beauty, filled with prickly details of small-minded Southern life. Throughout, Crowell sings in a flat, detached drawl–spinning tales about an AIDS-stricken prostitute, drug-addicted street orphans and his own abusive father–with a rare mix of disgust and compassion that fits perfectly with the gently-pulsing production. The highlight: a duet with father-in-law, Johnny Cash, on the nostalgic, knee-slapping “I Walk the Line (Revisited).” — Blake Boldt

  1. Rick
    December 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I’m in total agreement with Juli regarding the inclusion of the debut albums from Cherryholmes and Elizabeth Cook on this list. I always love to hear songs off the Cherryholmes’ first album performed live on the Opry, like “He Goes To Church On Sundays Now” was last Saturday night.

    I have all of Elizabeth Cook’s CDs and favor the Blue album as by far the best. Some of the songs off the album were re-recorded and produced differently for her major label “Hey Y’All” album and I think they were all diminished in the process. Once Elizabeth married Tim Carroll he began exposing her to rock and Americana music that has greatly impacted her musical sensibilities, so her pure hillbilly streak has sadly been diluted. As with Allison Moorer’s debut “Alabama Song”, these southern belle, home spun traditional country loving gals lost their musical innocence quickly after their first albums due to the dreaded “Nashville Effect”! (lol)

  2. BRETT ROBERTS
    December 3, 2009 at 11:25 am

    there better be an old crow medicine show & justin townes earl album somewhere on this list & geeorge jones hits i missed ilove george jones hes one of the best but come on

  3. Paul W Dennis
    December 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Rick is correct, of course. Fortunately, Elizabeth Cook is so country that even the diluted version is much more country than anything else coming out of Nashville

  4. Leeann Ward
    December 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    I have to say that I really never got into the Brooks/Yearwood duet. Good album though.

    Good call on the Yearwood, Cook, Allan, Jones, Crowell and Cash discs though.

    I can’t say that I agree with the Strait entry.

  5. J.R. Journey
    December 3, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    This third section has the best albums yet, IMO. But I guess that’s the point of a countdown, to list the best albums last. I certainly agree with the inclusion of the Strait, Allan, Yearwood, Cash, Chesnutt, and Crowell discs – the others I either haven’t heard or didn’t like as much as you guys.

    Really enjoying these lists and the writers comments on each album too.

  6. SW
    December 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    8 years later and I still can’t get enough of “The Houston Kid” I think it should’ve been higher..

  7. Steve Harvey
    December 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    THE HOUSTON KID is my number one album of the decade, so needless to say I think it’s placed far too low on this list. SEE IF I CARE is a fantastic record also, and a perfect example of a straight ahead contemporary country record that excels in all areas from production to song selection to vocals. It is marred by ‘Tough Little Boys’ though.
    I’m a little disturbed that the mediocre TROUBADOUR is rated almost as highly as those two records, but I guess that’s what comes of this voting method.

  8. Carisa M
    December 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    You know you almost forget how long ago some of these albums really came out. I know I gave you guys some sh*t about Top 20 music, but, well Gary Allan really isn’t considered Top 20 is he? See If I Care is a great record. I despise when the industry misses an artist that’s there waiting to be seen.

    You guys have done me well so far!! :) I’m impressed. It’s why I follow, get your emails & check in often!!

  9. Josh
    December 5, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Thumbs up from me for: Allen, Yearwood, Knight, and Crowell…all underrated to some degree.

  10. Josh
    December 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    the last 3 albums just mentioned, I had a blast listening to the previews! Wow…how did I overlook those???

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