Honor roll: Country albums

Each of these Country albums has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

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…

Album:Be Here

Be Here

Keith Urban

Australian-born Keith Urban, hot off the double-platinum success of his 2002 sophomore album, Golden Road, is kind of like contemporary country’s Tom Cruise. The kid is just so unjustly talented, likeable, and good-looking that it’s hard not to hate him. But such jealousy is apt to melt into begrudging admiration and affection after a quick listen to this third album. True, some of Urban’s self-penned adolescent love laments and bright-eyed paeans to life in the slow lane do sound a bit callow and derivative. But, with his resolute tenor and his…

Album:EP 2003

EP 2003: Music for the Epicurean Harkener

Mason Williams

Since the EP (extended play) recording format, an icon of the record industry I remember from yesteryear, is one that is still around today, I decided to do an EP for this CD release.

As a composer, I write in a variety of different styles and genres. Back in my earlier days with Warner Bros. Records, I was using my albums as a way to explore writing songs and music rather than going for commercial hits. I had instrumental pieces, songs, comedy songs, poems, etc. all mixed together. Sometimes certain kinds of material on the same album don’t fit that well together as a listening experience. An odd mix can end up being like, as the old saying goes, “apples & oranges.” This album is all oranges.

All of the musical compositions and songs I write are crafted works, as opposed to spontaneous expression forms. I continue…[more]

Album:Here for the Party

Here for the Party

Gretchen Wilson

Her mother was 16 when she had her, and her father moved on when she was two. By the age of 15, with a double-barrel shotgun always at the ready, she was managing a kicker bar in rural Illinois where the corn fields meet the pig farms. That gave Gretchen Wilson something to sing about, with attitude in spades. “You might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore,” she admits on the smash single “Redneck Woman,” “but in my neck of the woods I’m just the girl next door.” Wilson, already the toast of Nashville before this full-length debut hit the shelves, isn’t just…

Album:Live Like You Were Dying

Live Like You Were Dying

Tim McGraw

On the back cover of his ninth album Tim McGraw sits atop a horse, which just happens to be standing in the foyer of an elegant home. McGraw sits backwards in the saddle, looking not at where he’s going, but where he’s been. The image tips off the theme of this solid, 16-song album—for a singer who doesn’t write, it’s as close to autobiography as it gets. “How Bad Do You Want It,” for example references not only bluesman Robert Johnson’s crossroads chat with ol’ Lucifer, but also the kind of relentless drive that got McGraw to the top of the Nashville heap. The…

Album:Tambourine

Tambourine

Tift Merritt

Merritt’s resonant if somewhat conventionally alt-country debut Bramble Rose did little to predict this blue-eyed-soul breakout. A mix of hard-charging guitar rockers, horn-charted grooves, and pensive singer-songwriter ballads, Tambourine might have resulted in a stylistic hodge-podge, but producer George Drakoulias lends the same punchy, live-tracked vitality that distinguished the best work of the Jayhawks, Black Crowes, and Maria McKee. Merritt taps deep into her southern musical roots to find her own voice, and that voice has fully…

Album:Cry

Cry

Faith Hill

Faith Hill finally owns up to what we knew all along. She may be from deep-dish Mississippi, but she isn’t a country singer, and never has been. This babe’s a diva now. And, as she says in her best Diana Ross voice on “Free,” “There ain’t nothin’ I can do about it.” But what she could exercise some control over, as the coproducer of her fifth studio album, is the quality and style of her particular brand of über-pop, which on Cry considerably ratchets up the noise factor from 1999’s Breathe. The songs, many written by tunesmiths long working…

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