Honor roll: Grammy Award for Best Country Album

Each of these albums has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:Home (Dixie Chicks)

Home

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks aren’t old enough to remember when radio programmed pop records next to country, rock, folk, and beyond, but their Texas DNA tells them that’s the way music was meant to be heard. On Home, which they coproduced in Austin with Lloyd Maines, the father of lead singer Natalie Maines, they strip off the star-making gloss of Nashville and get down to the meat of the matter, turning out an acoustic record that gives a big Texas howdy to bluegrass. But that’s only the framework they use to salute all their influences, from the raggedy rock of…

Album:Lonely Runs Both Ways

Lonely Runs Both Ways

Alison Krauss, Union Station

Nobody makes somber sound more exquisite than Alison Krauss. She’s come an awfully long way from her days as a teenage fiddle prodigy, as her glamour gown on this CD’s cover suggests and the bittersweet maturity of the music confirms. Krauss exchanges her bluegrass fiddle for the chamber strains of viola on much of the material, including four songs by Robert Lee Castleman (whose “The Lucky One,” “Let Me Touch You for Awhile,” and “Forget About It” were previously popularized by Krauss). Castleman’s compositions showcase the emotional intimacy and interpretive…

Album:Van Lear Rose

Van Lear Rose

Loretta Lynn

Garage-rock hero Jack White producing honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn? And Lynn comparing him to renowned Nashville producer Owen Bradley? Yes, we all know the world is rapidly shrinking, but now we’ve seen everything. Most stunning of all—they nailed it. For the first time, Lynn has written all of an album’s songs, and her lyrics are as cutting and incisive as ever. On the powerful, biting “Family Tree,” she brings her babies to the home of her husband’s mistress so that they can see the “woman that’s burning down our family tree.” Throughout she cunningly…

Album:Livin', Lovin', Losin'

Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

Various Artists

Given their impact on generations of country, country-rock, and bluegrass acts, it’s amazing the Louvins haven’t had a modern tribute before. Unlike tribute albums that stumble through inconsistent performances and ill-matched material, this one soars, the selections well matched to the paired artists. Joe Nichols and Rhonda Vincent capture “Cash on the Barrelhead’s” sassy humor. Emmylou Harris—who spearheaded the Louvin revival—and Rodney Crowell are relaxed on the Louvin hit “My Baby’s Gone.” Merle Haggard and the album’s producer Carl Jackson capture the…

Album:Timeless

Timeless: The Songs of Hank Williams

Various Artists

Like 1999’s tribute to Gram Parsons, Timeless: The Songs of Hank Williams revives the tired “tribute” concept and applies it in homage to a key figure in country music. Interpreting songs from across Hank Williams’s short and troubled career, a range of high-profile artists use different approaches with equally gratifying results. Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow and Hank Williams III play familiar songs with traditional arrangements (Ms Crow’s yodel is an eye opener); Beck, Mark Knopfler and Keb’ Mo’ stay closer to their own idioms. Keith Richards’ reedy vocal…

Album:Breathe

Breathe

Faith Hill

From the suggestive series of photos in the CD’s packaging to the aerobicized dance-floor workouts within, Faith Hill refuses to concede an inch of crossover dominance to Shania Twain. Except for a seductive duet with husband Tim McGraw on “Let’s Make Love” and an occasional pinch of fiddle or steel guitar, there’s little here to characterize Hill as a country artist. As pop, the results range from pretty (“Breathe,” “Love Is a Sweet Thing”) to pretty slight (“I Got My Baby,” “If My Heart Had Wings”) to borderline inane (“Bringing Out the Elvis,” the voyeuristic…

Album:All Jacked Up

All Jacked Up

Gretchen Wilson

Here for the Party, this sassy, strong-singing Redneck Woman’s 2004 debut, was a giant smash, but All Jacked Up’s even better: diverse, rockin’, and topped by a sensuous, soulful surprise bonus-track version of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” Wilson kick-starts this guitar-and-fiddle-fired CD with the title track—a whiskey-drinkin’ sequel to “Redneck”—and the ode to down-home women “California Girls.” “Skoal Ring” suggests that the couple that chaws together stays together, and “One Bud Wiser” is a crafty tongue-in-cheek weeper that pays…

Album:Fireflies

Fireflies

Faith Hill

It’s hard to imagine a more schizophrenic album than Fireflies, but Faith Hill, the comely pride of Star, Mississippi, had a lot of different factions to please. There’s the country set, furious about the L.A. excess of 2002’s Cry, as ravaged a pop album as ever made. Then there’s the club set, which actually mistook Cry for music, and wanted more. Finally, there’s Hill herself, still bruised from the critical drubbing the last album got, and obviously feeling the need to prove herself anew, going brunette to show her transformation. The bad…

Album:Jasper County

Jasper County

Trisha Yearwood

Four years after her last album, 2001’s Inside Out, Trisha Yearwood returns with a solid effort that reclaims her place on country radio, particularly with the evocative, bittersweet ballad “Georgia Rain,” on which her fiancé, Garth Brooks, contributes quiet harmony. Brooks isn’t the only notable guest on Jasper County—Ronnie Dunn drops by on “Try Me,” and Beth Nielsen Chapman (always one of Yearwood’s favorite tunesmiths) harmonizes on “Trying to Love You,” one of the album’s prettiest heartbreak songs. Yearwood varies her repertoire with such…

Album:Time Well Wasted

Time Well Wasted

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley’s previous release, Mud on the Tires, was the sort of landmark album nearly every artist has difficulty topping. Not so this time. On Time Well Wasted, Paisley’s voice—never overwhelmed by overmixed instruments (a problem dogging many current vocalists)—remains keenly focused. There’s quality material in abundance, heavy on originals and delightfully quirky bonus tracks. The album’s first hit, Paisley’s self-penned “Alcohol,” has the potential to become a lasting anthem in a genre where booze songs long ago became an art form. Guy…

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