Top Country Albums of the Decade (#90-#81)

Staff | December 2nd, 2009

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The second installment of our countdown of the decade’s top 100 albums is a male-dominated affair, save for a Georgia peach with big old voice and a young Aussie Sheila with a love for traditional country.

  • Twice The Speed Of Life (2004)90. Twice The Speed Of Life (2004) – Sugarland

    Twice The Speed Of Life may not be the most perfect of the three albums Sugarland has released to date, but the debut that launched the career of the then-trio is stronger for its flaws. Strands of less-than-stellar songwriting crop up at various times throughout the collection’s 11 tracks, and Garth Fundis’ production sometimes sounds rudimentary. Still, the album possesses a sense of urgency and rawness that is seldom captured after a star is fully formed. Twice The Speed Of Life lacks the sheen of Enjoy The Ride and Love On The Inside, but excitement and energy emanate from these tracks–sometimes in too much abundance–resulting in a record that reads like the diary of a group of individuals who realize that they’re on the cusp of something great. Sugarland’s songwriting has grown sharper with every release, just as Jennifer Nettles’ voice has been given room to stretch. But the group has yet to capture the same warmth and charm that defined its first entry. — Jim Malec

  • A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver - Live (2005)89. A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver – Live (2005) – Various Artists

    Friends and admirers came together on August 16, 2004, to celebrate Billy Joe Shaver’s 65th birthday. Stories were told and songs were sung–this is the result. The stories range from Todd Snider’s poignant reminiscence of Eddie Shaver to Robert Earl Keen and Joe Ely’s entertaining re-tellings of their first encounters with the night’s honoree. Other guests covering Shaver’s songs include Texas songwriters Bruce Robison, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dale Watson. — Brody Vercher

  • Shut Up And Dance88. Shut Up And Dance – Aaron Watson

    While lacking the shine of subsequent efforts under the guidance of Ray Benson, the outstanding song selection on Aaron Watson’s 2002 release, Shut Up and Dance, make it his strongest effort to date and offers a little something for every country music lover, from heartbreakers to swinging barnburners, with plenty classic turns of phrases mixed in. For pure entertainment, it’s hard to beat. — Brady Vercher

  • Dirt Farmer87. Dirt Farmer – Levon Helm

    Good lord, Levon Helm shouldn’t sound so good. The former Band drummer beat throat cancer and a whirlwind of professional setbacks and came out stronger from the experience, but his first studio album in 27 years is no woe-is-me pity party, but a celebratory collection of traditional tunes and recent cover songs. Helm plows through them all with irrepressible and irresistible spiritedness, picking up right where the Band left off. — Stephen M. Deusner

  • Father Time (2008)86. Father Time (2008) – Hal Ketchum

    In an era of over-production, Hal Ketchum decided to record Father Time the old-fashioned way–live and direct-to-tape. In the course of two days, he pragmatically strung together 14 strong tunes the way records used to be recorded–with even the tracklist following the order of how they cut it in studio. What resulted is Hal Ketchum’s signature vocals with thoughtful lyrics and gentle instrumentation. — Ken Morton, Jr.

  • X (2008)85. X (2008) – Trace Adkins

    Among lighter radio staples such as “Hot Mama,” “Chrome” and the infamous “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” Adkins’ X emerges as somewhat of an anomaly: Between the haunting “’Till The Last Shot’s Fired,” the defeated “I Can’t Outrun You” and the alcohol-infused “Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink,” its diverse sense of heft showcases the singer’s voice at its absolute best. However, despite it topping many Best of 2008 lists, Adkins’ affinity for choosing silly instead of substance over the past decade–and his entire career–weighs down this album in an entirely different way. — Karlie Justus

  • Too Far Gone (2006)84. Too Far Gone (2006) – Catherine Britt

    Recorded in Nashville with a cast of notable musicians including the late Don Helms on steel; co-produced by Keith Stegall; featuring songs by Ashley Monroe, Guy Clark, Paul Overstreet, Bruce Robison, and Dean Dillon; with Kenny Chesney on background vocals. Most remarkable of all is Britt herself, an Australian wunderkind with a voice twice her age and a better handle on country traditions than most of her Nashville counterparts. It should have been the smash of 2006, but it wasn’t even released in the States. — CM Wilcox

  • That's Why I Sing This Way (2005)83. That’s Why I Sing This Way (2005) – Daryle Singletary

    Singletary has always waved that traditional country flag–and he’s never sounded prouder than on That’s Why I Sing This Way. This album’s chockfull of covers–some of them well-known, like “Walk Through This World With Me” and “Long Black Veil,” but also some almost-forgotten gems like “Kay.” This album could double as a country music history lesson. — Pierce Greenberg

  • Closer To The Bone (2009)82. Closer To The Bone (2009) – Kris Kristofferson

    Though his gravel-voice may divide listeners, Kris Kristofferson is one of music’s finest songwriters. Even more stripped down and solemn than 2006′s This Old Road, Closer to the Bone feels a little like Kristofferson delivering his own eulogy, singing to his children “Darling, if we’re not together/There’s one thing I want you to know/I’ll love you from here to forever/And be there wherever you go.” If only we all could be so eloquent. — Juli Thanki

  • This One Is Two (2008)81. This One Is Two (2008) – Ralph Stanley II

    Ralph Stanley II has been touring with his father, the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley, for years. In 2008, he stepped out to release a record of his own, a tiny little project that garnered almost no attention in commercial or critical circles. That’s a shame, because This One Is Two is a wonderful collection of traditional country music augmented by a touch of bluegrass flavor. Stanley II, whose voice is characterized by a warm mountain drawl, capably covers Garth Brooks (“Cold Shoulder”) and Lyle Lovett (“L.A. County”), while also offering up a batch of originals that run from fun to heartwarming. Although Stanley II is far from the most dynamic singer, he surrounds his vocals with interesting and masterfully performed instrumentation on an album that is a simple joy for fans of undeniably country music. — Jim Malec

  1. Jeff Dykhuis
    December 2, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Now were talkin, getting to some of the good stuff now. If 82, 88 and 89 are that far down the line, this will be very interesting.

  2. Noeller
    December 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Our station was one of the only in Canada to spin the “That’s Why I Sing This Way” single and I still love it to this day. What a great bit of nostalgia there…

  3. Rick
    December 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I guess my question on the other thread about tribute albums being included has been answered! (lol)

    Its nice to see Catherine Britt’s first RCA Nashville album included even though it was never released here in the US. I’m glad her Aussie label connections got it released at all. Catherine has been working on a new album down under with assistance from Bill Chambers and Shane Nicholson. Here’s what she had to say about it in a recent message post: (Dated 11/22/09)

    “Hey guys!!
    Well, here is an update from me… I have been in the studio recording a new album due out early next year…. I cannot wait for everybody to hear it! it’s produced by Bill Chambers and Shane Nicholson and engineered by Nash Chambers. I have written every song on the album, some by myself and some with some of my songwriter friends.

    This album is a result of me coming home and taking creative control back over my music and albums and it’s a lot like my first album (Dusty Smiles and Heartbreak Cures) in that respect. We went out on our own without a label and recorded it in a Melbourne studio called ‘Sing Sing’ with some amazing muso’s like Shane, Bill, John Watson, Jim Meginee and James Gillard and then added the finishing touches at Shane’s house on the coast. I am NEVER going to compromise my music and who I am as an artist ever again and this album is a start to my new future as the exact artist I want to be.”

    Well its nice to see Catherine has learned some important life lessons from her time spent in the heart of the Nashville Big Label Music Machine…

  4. Steve Harvey
    December 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I’d rate the Britt record a lot higher, but I’m very pleased to see it make the list.

  5. Leeann Ward
    December 2, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    I need to suck it up and buy the expensive used copy of the Britt album on Amazon. I really liked the clips. The news about her recording with Bill Chambers and Shane Nicholson is exciting.

    I think the Singletary album is enjoyable enough, but it’s certainly not one of my favorite covers albums. I think he’s relied on covers way too much.

  6. Paul W Dennis
    December 2, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    On my personal listing I have Daryle’s album much higher – in my top 30 in fact. I also have Aaron Watson’s album much higher

  7. JCH
    December 3, 2009 at 2:19 am

    I agree with Steve Harvey. I would have rated Britt’s record much higher but it’s nice to see the recognition. Sometimes it seems as though the Australian contingent of country music (sans Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson) exists in a vacuum.

  8. J.R. Journey
    December 3, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    It’s nice to see Sugarland making the cut, though I wouldn’t rank their debut as their finest work.

  9. Bob
    December 4, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Glad to see the Ketchum cd on the list although I would have rated it a lot higher, especially now that I’ve seen half the list. I think his 2001 cd “Lucky Man” is also worthy of inclusion here. It includes one of my favorite uptempo country songs, “She’s Still in Dallas” which is solely written by Hal. If you do a 100 best singles of the decade, I would also include a single he didn’t write, Gary Burr’s “In Front of the Alamo” with Leann Rimes accompanying Hal. Even though it was not a hit, I would have it in the top ten.

  10. highwayman3
    December 4, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Leeann u might as well fork over the $ for Catherine Britt, I doubt u’d regret it, I know I didnt, but you probably can download just it for cheaper eh.

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