100 Best Country Albums of the 2000s: Part Two (79–60)
How about we just hop right back in? We’re only on part two, and we’re getting to the best of the best.
79.) So You Wannabe An Outlaw
Artist: Steve Earle
Producer: Richard Bennett
Steve Earle has tapped every side of his musical influences. He’s done folk, straight-ahead rock, country rock…you name it, he’s done it. With So You Wannabe An Outlaw, the troubadour returned to some of his earliest roots. This record is self-admittedly an unabashed tribute to Waylon, Willie, and the boys. Contrary to popular belief, there *is* a sound most associated with outlaw country that matches with the fight for the freedom of the artist. It’s that driving back-beat. And it’s what Earle channels here. The guitars are tuned like Waylon’s, and the atmosphere truly feels like Honky Tonk Heroes. It’s a fantastic throwback.
78.) This Old Road
Artist: Kris Kristofferson
Producer: Don Was
The greatest songwriter music has ever seen is in fine form here. The center-piece is the title track, which conveys the mood of reflection and contemplation that can be found across the album
77.) American III: Solitary Man
Artist: Johnny Cash
Producers: John Carter Cash and Rick Rubin
The Man in Black was fighting various illnesses in the run-up to American III. Some of the songs, like “I Won’t Back Down” reflected his condition. But the album as a whole, like much of the American Recordings songbook, is a beautiful mix of classic country, folk, and rock. Johnny’s voice may have been weakening, but his words were still as powerful as ever.
76.) Modern Day Drifter
Artist: Dierks Bentley
Producer: Brett Beavers
One of the great things about Dierks’ career is the maturation of his subject matter as he’s grown. Dierks has always been authentic. In 2005, he was the carefree young star, ramblin’ from town to town and recording albums that fit into where he was as a man at the time.
75.) Wild Ones
Artist: Kip Moore
Producers: Brett James and Chris DeStefano
Kip was forced to scrap an entire album’s worth of material after the lead single to his sophomore album didn’t preform as his label wanted. Out of that dark place and amidst Kip’s own stubbornness and belief in what he was doing came Wild Ones. It’s anthemic and moody. Kip’s preferred writing style for the album was to come up with the bass lines and guitar riffs before writing the lyrics. The approach worked and led to one of the most unique records mainstream country had seen in a long-time. Plus, it really helped broaden Kip’s underground fan-base. He may not have been releasing number one after number one, but he was selling out show after show. More to come from Kip.
74.) Van Lear Rose
Artist: Loretta Lynn
Producer: Jack White
Icons never go out of style. Miss Loretta sounds as good here as she did in the early 1960s. This is some of the best material of her career. What’s awesome about listening to the album is the clear influence it has on new artists like Margo Price who want to record traditional country music in the 21st Century. “Well Portland, Oregon and sloe gin fizz…”
73.) Grandpa’s Guitar
Artist: Whitey Morgan
Producer: Whitey Morgan
So much of the underground country movement owes its success and recognition to Whitey Morgan. He’s up there with Hank 3 in terms of influence. By Grandpa’s Guitar, Whitey was already a couple of albums in. But he decided to record a pseudo-tribute album to the songs that influenced him the most, many of which he was introduced to by his grandpa.
72.) Everything Is Fine
Artist: Josh Turner
Producer: Frank Rogers
One of the greatest voices country music has ever had the pleasure of calling their own. In a perfect world, this is what mainstream country would still sound like. Plenty of fiddle, steel, and dobro. It’s not about never evolving. It’s about evolving in a way that still respects the genre’s roots. Josh Turner is a master of it. Plus, the Stapleton/Spillman co-write “Another Try” is one of the greatest country songs of all-time.
71.) Mud On The Tires
Artist: Brad Paisley
Producer: Frank Rogers
There was something almost inevitable about Brad Paisley’s ride to stardom. A master of the guitar, a clever lyricist, plenty of charisma. He’s one of the good guys of the genre. He does so much for the history of the genre and represents the country music community so well on the world-stage. The foundation of his superstar-status was cultivated on this album.
70.) If You’re Going Through Hell
Artist: Rodney Atkins
Producers: Ted Hewitt and Rodney Atkins
A smash record. Four number one’s. Songs that are still played on country radio today. Plus several fantastic album cuts including “Angel’s Hands” and “A Man on a Tractor.” Both are great deep cuts that exemplify that mid 2000s mainstream country sound.
69.) From A Room: Volume 1
Artist: Chris Stapleton
Producers: Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton
I won’t lie, this was an underwhelming effort from Stapleton after Traveller. But it was still fantastic. And that’s what sets him apart from the majority of his peers. This album makes the list more for its cohesion as a collection of songs rather than any specific moments that set it apart.
68.) Luke Bell
Artist: Luke Bell
Producer: Andrija Tokic
Where are you, Luke? This album should have been the start of something great. Traditional country music for a thirsty underground community ready for authenticity. I and many other are ready for more, but for now we’ll settle for listening to this on repeat…
Artist: Shane Smith & The Saints
Producer: Possibly self-produced. Bob Gentry produced their first album.
These guys are a cut above most of the Texas Country community. They’re on par with Turnpike Troubadours, Whiskey Myers, and Ryan Bingham as far as I’m concerned. Their lyrics can be incredibly focused but also relatable to the listener. And how great is it to hear fiddle-driven songs? Coast is the band at their best.
66.) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Artist: Miranda Lambert
Producer: Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke
Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is to Revolution what Eric Church’s Carolina is to Chief. An album that solidified and locked-in the trajectory that Miranda’s career would take. She wasn’t going to follow the rules, and she wasn’t going to try to appease mainstream country. She was going to record an album that she wanted, in a way that would make her fans happy and draw in those who weren’t yet familiar with something different than the rest of the mainstream.
65.) Carrying On
Artist: Montgomery Gentry
Producer: Joe Scaife
I honestly think country music listeners forget how big and influential Montgomery Gentry was. At a post-Garth/Shania time when much of the country music world was trying to find a way not to lose its popularity with the mainstream pop world, Montgomery Gentry was recording unabashed Southern country-rock. If Alan Jackson was the George Jones disciple with his legendary take on neo-traditional country, Montgomery Gentry was the Waylon disciple. Outlaw to their core. “Cold One Comin’ On” features clever songwriting and stone-cold country instrumentation while “The Fine Line” deserves a listen from everyone who considers themselves country music fans.
64.) Port Saint Joe
Artist: Brothers Osborne
Producer: Jay Joyce
What a fantastic, well-crafted album. It flows together so nicely, and the instrumentation is both calm and raw at the same time. I wrote extensively about it before in an album discussion, and it’s been one of my favorites of 2018. “Tequila Again” is such a breezy cut, and “Shoot Me Straight” is a rollicking center-piece.
63.) Honky Tonk
Artist: Son Volt
Producer: Mark Spencer
This is straight-ahead, stone-cold, Bakersfield-type country. Jay Farrar is one of the finest songwriters in music. His previous albums were more lyric-driven, with the words and ideas right up front for the listener to absorb. With Honky Tonk, the excellent songwriting is still there, but the listener can tell that there was a conscious effort made to focus on the sound and instrumentation. This is thinking-man’s Bakersfield country.
62.) The Mountain
Artist: Dierks Bentley
Producers: Jon Randall and Ross Copperman
It feels like The Mountain is the album Dierks has been waiting his entire career to record. The Mountain allowed Dierks to combine his rootsy, organic influences with some of the atmospheric production he was seeking on Black. This isn’t Up On The Ridge 2.0. But I’m glad it’s not. Dierks has found his defining record.
61.) The Outsiders
Artist: Eric Church
Producer: Jay Joyce
The Chief’s most out-there record. There’s a hodgepodge of influences on display, but Church makes it work. I doubt he’ll ever record anything like this again, but who knows? Also, The Outsiders made for a great live tour.
60.) Walk The Line
Producer: T-Bone Burnett
The soundtrack to the biographical film based on the life of Johnny Cash. There aren’t any original songs here, but Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon excel in their own interpretations of the many classics in the movie.
Part Three up next! Albums 59–40.