Thursday, January 6, 2011

That Nashville Sound's Top 10 Albums of 2010

That Nashville Sound is looking back on the year behind us and thrilled to death that we live in a generation that has a near-limitless amount of music to choose from. Our favorite 2007 album was the Alison Krauss & Robert Plant album Raising Sand, the top spot on our 2008 list went to Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy and 2009 went to Eric Church's Carolina. But 2010 had some terrific albums that will go down as some of my big music collection’s favorites. The ten albums are a wide variety of country genres from more contemporary country to traditional country- and even some inspirational and bluegrass stuff thrown in as well. But without any further delay… here’s That Nashville Sound’s Top Ten Albums of 2010…

10. Dandelion- Becky Schlegel
With a singing style somewhat reminiscent of Jewel, Schlegel floats and flutters like a dandelion on a breeze–hushing to a whisper and then flying into falsetto on the same line. There’s an emotional charge that belies her soft delivery on several of the tracks: pitiful heartache on “So Embarrassing,” lonely sexual regret on “When It Rains” and anticipatory trepidation on “Reunion.” Combined with terrific musicianship from the likes of Randy Kohrs’ resonator guitar work, it’s a haunting piece of perfection.

9. Welder- Elizabeth Cook
This quirky album can be considered an acquired taste, but it has some of the most memorable tracks recorded this year. It has a family full of skeletons in the closet with “Mama’s Funeral,” a look at loss and southern revelations, “Heroin Addict Sister,” a haunting and somber take on a wayward sibling, and “I’m Beginning to Forget,” written by Cook’s mom. The best track on the album is “El Camino,” a 1970’s tale of falling in love with a guy that won’t give up his bell-bottomed mojo. It’s trashy and loose- and genius.

8. The Age of Miracles- Mary Chapin Carpenter
The Age of Miracles sees Mary Chapin parting a bit from her recent folk(ish) sound and returning to her roots of country music–musically and sonically. She does it with a literacy and lyrical depth that exemplifies why she is one of this generations most underrated songwriters. Historical storytelling is the album’s strength, with the biographical “Mrs. Hemingway” and “4 June, 1989,” told from the perspective of a young Chinese soldier ordered to clear the protesters from Tiananmen Square. Miracles is a terrific poetical take about the mysteries of love, fate, imagination, life and the world.

7. Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions- Marty Stuart
Stuart recorded Ghost Train in hallowed ground with his talented bride, who helped co-write nearly every track, and delivers a theatric collection of traditional country stories. Whether it’s the last song Johnny Cash ever wrote like “Hangman,” or the gorgeous duet he sings with his bride on “I Run to You,” Stuart never loses sight of his mission of honoring the roots of his musical legacy. The themes of Middle America easily blend the classic covers and the brand new material.

6. Reckless- The SteelDrivers
Chris Stapleton makes his SteelDrivers swan song one to remember on this outstanding combination of dark delta blues and traditional Appalachian bluegrass. It delivers fresh takes on traditional bluegrass themes with a flair for the history of the area. The tragic ending of the protagonist on “Good Corn Liquor” is told in sharp dobro notes representing shots ringing out. While that little bit musicianship is just a snapshot of the album, it makes a great analogy to the rest of the album as it captures the imagination of scenes in song on almost every track.

5. Homecoming- Joe Diffie
The album instrumentation is modern bluegrass but draws on Diffie’s strength of a traditional country approach with song topics that celebrate family, faith and community, and includes my favorite single of the year in “Route 5 Box 109.” It’s a reflection on days gone past filled with nostalgia, such as Martha White’s Flour, childhood fishing for brim and Schwinn bicycles. It forgoes all the common radio clich├ęs of down home living and why the country is so much better than the city and concentrates on his own powerful reflections of the sentimental minutia that made his upbringing so special and memorable.

4. American VI: Ain’t No Grave- Johnny Cash
As I reviewed back in March, Rick Rubin put together an incredible collection of songs that has Cash commenting on his own passing and reflecting on the afterlife. The emotionally fragile American V dealt with June Carter’s death and Cash’s own mortality. VI turns the page and incredibly reflects his passing and that all is right. The album ends with quite possibly the most appropriate swan song ever recorded in “Aloha Oe.” The symbolic farewell phrase of Hawaii isn’t an accident. It’s a carefully chosen reflection that Cash has finally made his way to paradise and we can only surmise that he’s hand-in-hand with June looking down on us. The album is an eulogy in song.

3. They Call me Cadillac- Randy Houser
On Cadillac, Houser combines soulful country and honky-tonk rocking steeped in the blues. A great example is “Somewhere South of Memphis” which starts with an uneven acoustic guitar about a place “where music isn’t about business” that explodes into a great bluesy guitar riff. That line of the song is appropriate, as Houser has made an album that is intentionally less commercial in its appeal and more representative of who he is as an artist. His outstanding and passionate delivery contrasts beautifully with the heavenly harmony with Lee Ann Womack on “Addicted.” This is self-discovery by an artist at its best.

2. The Guitar Song- Jamey Johnson
Johnson does an incredible job of demonstrating the art of songwriting on this album. No track better exemplifies this fact than the stark “That’s Why I Write Songs.” Johnson talks and sings his way through a perfectly believable acoustic and sparsely produced song of why he sings like he does. “I knew what I was born to do,” he croons as he pays sweet dedication to the songwriters “that gave us chills” both in lyrics and in sound. The songs are simple, yet emotionally charged and filled with a spiritual depth. Music production does the same and the result is a great example of why Johnson’s music is so different from what we’re hearing today on modern country radio. It makes you feel.

And That Nashville Sound's vote for the best album of 2010 goes to...

1. You Get What You Give- Zac Brown Band
With two band members added to the Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give has a richer, fuller and more robust sound than its predecessor. With country as its heart and soul, these incredibly talented musicians borrow from several different genres and put the instrumentation equal to the lyrical importance. Escapism is the common theme throughout the album–the ZBB boys can sing about a laissez-faire lifestyle as well as anyone. And therein lies the paradox that makes the album so unique and special. The music is about not caring about the world while they’re playing their instruments like the world depends on it.

Thanks goes out to the editors over at The 9513 for sharing this list here at TNS in addition to their year-end list featuring all of the amazing writers of that site. I would highly recommend clicking HERE and seeing all of the other highly recommended albums that were rated as Top Tens by my peers there at The 9513.

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