Country Music has flourished over the years. Along with it were notable artists who have cemented their names in the industry. Let’s have a recall of their top country albums over the past 4 decades.
The era when Country music was subject to numerous innovations including the addition of synthesizers, saxophones, and pop sensibilities. This was also the heydays of today’s biggest country stars like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson.
Roxanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” – 1981
Roxanne’s 3rd album following her self-titled debut album and “Right or Wrong.” Its success solidified Roxanne’s career and as one who would stick around for a very long time. The album showed Roxanne’s capabilities as a songwriter, singer, and performer. The album also contained Roxanne’s first 3 number 1 hits namely, “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” “Blue Moon with Heartache,” and “Seven Year Ache.”
Randy Travis’ “Storms of Life” – 1986
Travis Tritt entered the country music scene with a bang. His debut album, “Storms of Life,” was a certified three-times platinum record. The album also included his number one hits “On the Other Hand” and “Diggin’ Up Bones.”
Rodney Crowell’s “Diamonds and Dirt” – 1988
Rodney Crowell had a successful stretch in his career as a collaborator and songwriter for other musicians. He performed with Roxanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and more. But upon the release of “Diamond and Dirt,” Crowell took center stage.
This was his most successful album, certified gold and 5 consecutive singles produced. His single, “After All This Time,” earned Crowell a Grammy award for Best Country Song of 1988.
Dwight Yoakam’s “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room” – 1988
“Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room” was Dwight Yoakam’s third consecutive number 1 album. This album ushers us to his commercial successes as it contained his all-time hit singles like “Streets of Bakersfield” and “I Sang Dixie.”
Reba McEntire’s “Sweet Sixteen” – 1989
This was Reba McEntire’s 16th album which also remained for 16 weeks on top of the charts. This marked Reba’s come back to country music after her brief respite from the limelight. The album also gained crossover success when it peaked as the top 100 of the Billboard 200. This included her hit singles “Cathy’s Clown,” “Walk On” and “Til Love Comes Again.”
Clint Black’s “Killin’ Time”-1989
Along with other upcoming artists known as the “Class of 89,” Black’s debut album “Killin’ Time” launched his career to an incredible height. This produced 4 number-one singles with “A Better Man” and Nobody’s Home” named Top Songs of the Year in 1989.
The entry of the ‘90s gave country singers a huge variety of opportunities. More radio stations were giving time to air country artists and their work. Here are the top country albums during this decade of alternative media.
Garth Brooks “No Fences” – 1990
Garth Brooks is one of the artists that really dominated the ‘90s. His album, “No Fences,” has remained on the Billboards Top 40 Overall Albums chart for almost 2 straight years. This was also a certified 17 times platinum album with 4 number one hit songs.
Trisha Yearwood, “Trisha Yearwood” – 1991
Trisha Yearwood’s debut album showcased her diverse range and empathetic vocal approach. Her featured songs transitioned from raucous roadhouse numbers to tender ballads like “The Woman Before Me.”
Brooks & Dunn, “Brand New Man” – 1991
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn released their 1991 debut album Brand New Man as “Brooks and Dunn.” The album contained a collection of self-written songs and was awarded as six-times platinum, a huge career launch for the duo.
Vince Gill “I Still Believe In You” – 1992
“I Still Believe In You” spotlights Gill’s strengths. The album was also five-time platinum where 4 of its 5 singles were no. 1s.
Mary Chapin Carpenter “Come On Come On”- 1992
“Come on Come on” was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s way of separating herself amongst her fellow artists. This featured a folk and country soundscape that perfectly matched Mary’s open-hearted vocals.
Tim McGraw’s “Not a Moment Too Soon” – 1994
After his debut album failed to make it to the charts, Tim McGraw advanced by leaps and bounds with “Not A Moment Too Soon.” This featured his much more confident and self-assured style of music.
Lucinda Williams “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”- 1998
“Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” redefined what alt-country could be. This contained a multitude of moods, the type where a fiery joy turns into sudden despair. The album also won the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Faith Hill’s “Faith” – 1998-1999
Faith Hill’s 1st album after taking three years off the music industry. It was, per se, her major comeback. Her rest paid off as she’s able to record great music with 4 singles reaching top 5 including “The Kiss” and “Let Me Let Go.” The album’s sales were over 6 million and it peaked at number 2 on the country charts.
Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” -1998-1999
“Wide Open Spaces” featured a heady mix of bluegrass and country-pop sounds. The band’s first hit single, “There’s Your Trouble,” first appeared in this album. In total, more than 12 million copies of the album were sold. This made this as the best-selling duo or group album in Country music history.
Shania Twain “Come On Over” – 1997-2000
Shaina Twain’s “Come On Over” could just have been the biggest country blockbuster album of all time. It was certified diamond by the RIAA twice. This means that the album sold 20 million copies.
“Come On Over” also included Twain’s top 10 country hits including “Love Gets Me Over Time,” “You’re Still The One,” and “Honey I’m Home.” The album also featured Twain’s adventurous songwriting with themes about empowerment, romance, womanhood, and home life.
Rounding up the best albums of the past decades where several new platforms and styles affected the industry was quite a challenge. Now let’s have a look at the following top country albums where their impact played a contributory role in defining the age of globalization.
”O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Soundtrack – 2000
This Grammy-Winning collection that featured artists such as Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, The Stanley Brothers, and several others was an expected hit! The soundtrack even overshadowed the success of the film where it was significantly used. This album introduced a whole new set of younger audiences to the beauty of old-time music and to bluegrass.
Tim McGraw’s “Set This Circus Down” – 2001
This is Tim McGraw’s 7th album. His efforts to make his mark in the mainstream finally succeeded through this album with the singles “Angel Boy” and “Angry All The Time.”
Johnny Cash’s “American IV: The Man Comes Around” -2002
This was the last album released in Cash’s lifetime. The album was a brilliant collection of songs that totally defines what a legend Cash was. Cash had even predicted what his listeners would feel upon hearing his songs. On the album’s title track, he said that “the hairs on your arm will stand up.”
Keith Urban’s “Golden Road”-2002
As a young man, Keith Urban had the drive to be a young guitar slinger that is ready to take on the world. This drive was evidently translated into his album, Golden Road. The songs ranged from sweet romantic tunes to wildly uninhibited ones. As the album gained fame, so did Urban in becoming a global superstar.
Dixie Chicks’ “Home” -2002
“Home” was said to be the last country album that the Dixie Chicks produced. This was, more or less, more of a genre-hopping move because the songs presented in the album were a fusion of bluegrass music and country. The album’s success also highlighted the tremendous songwriting talents of Patty Griffin and Radney Foster.
Brad Paisley’s “Mud On Tires”-2003
Brad Paisley’s 3rd album “Mud On Tires” showed significant changes from his previous albums. Paisley also included the mournful song “Whiskey Lullaby,” which featured Alison Krauss, and his humorous tune, “Celebrity.”
Lee Ann Womack’s “There’s More Where That Came From”- 2005
After the release of her successful pop album “I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack took a look back on how she was brought to the dance. “There’s More Where That Came From” took her back to the hardcore traditional country sound which eventually led her to success.
Carrie Underwood’s “Some Hearts” – 2005-2007
This is one of Carrie Underwood’s best-selling albums. She also won two Grammy awards for Best Country Songs with “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and “Before He Cheats.” Underwood’s song selection usually focuses on strong themes, but it’s her room-filling vocals that truly elevated each song from the album.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand” – 2007-2008
“Raising Sand” featured a rock guru and a country music songbird who met in the middle. Most people would think that this might not work, but it did. The careful song selections and the distinctive production of T-Bone Burnette played a very crucial role in the album’s success. As a result, every note and every breath made in every song sounded magical.
Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” -2008-2009
Like it or not, the fame and love that Taylor Swift earned throughout her career have nothing to do whether she’s Country or Pop. It was her outstanding songwriting skill. The majority of her songs have always stood out amongst her colleagues’ song releases. “Fearless” was a clear example of that.
Another decade is over and Country music has ushered in a new generation of artists and their top country albums.
Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” – 2010
Taylor Swift has always been a young music prodigy. “Speak Now” could well be considered as Taylor Swift’s 1st album post-teen years. Just like with her other albums, Swift’s songwriting flair was the key to this album’s success. This was also the only album in history that had 17 Billboard Hot 100 hits.
Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels” – 2011
Pistol Annies trio Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley caught the country music world in surprise with the release of their debut album “Hell on Heels” in 2011. The record immediately rose to the top of the charts. Though the album didn’t have singles that stood out, it had several key songs including “Lemon Drop” and “Takin’ Pills.”
Brandy Clark’s “12 Stories” -2013
Most of the songs that were featured in Brandy Clark’s debut album “12 Stories” were originally written for other artists but they declined them. That turned out as Clark’s blessing in disguise as she’s able to record an album filled with 12 lyrically-twisty, deeply-catchy, and folk-tinged story songs.
Sam Hunt’s “Montevallo” – 2014
Sam Hunt’s debut album where he co-wrote every song. Most of the album’s songs brought Hunt success like the back-to-back number one hits “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time,” and “House Party.”
Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood” – 2015
Mr. Misunderstood featured a different approach from Eric Church’s earlier releases. This album could well be called as the byproduct of Church becoming a father.
Church produced songs that were more reflective like “Kill a Word,” Record Year” and the album’s title track. The album peaked at number 2 of the Country albums chart and in all-genre of Billboard 200. It also won CMA’s Album of the Year Award.
Jason Isbell’s “Something More Than Free” – 2015
Following his album ”Southeastern Batch, Isbell’s “Something More Than Free” was ground-breaking. The album won the Best Americana Album at the Grammy Awards featuring hit songs like “24 Frames.” This particular song also features the gritty, honest storytelling that Isbell mastered. It was also a crossover success peaking at number 1 on the folk-country and rock charts.
Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller” – 2015-2016
What would the Country music scene look like today without Chris Stapleton? It’s a bit surprising to know that his 1st studio album came out only in 2015, but with a bang! It gave Stapleton massive winnings as Album of the Year from CMA and ACM, Best Country Album at the Grammy Awards and was also at the top of the Billboard Music Awards. All those within two consecutive years.
This triple-platinum album introduced to the world what a Chris Stapleton is made of after years of low-profile songwriting.
Sturgill Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” – 2016
The album was inspired by the birth of Simpson’s son. Everything in it was heart-felt from the concept of a sailor’s letter to his wife and his son, accompanied by Sampson’s experimentation on sounds, progressive viewpoints, and capped by his unmistakably Country voice.
Margo Price’s “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” -2016
Margo Price’s “Midwest Farmer Daughter” was a high seed on the top county album chart when it managed to climb the top 10. This was also the 1st female album produced by a newcomer artist.
Kacey Musgraves “Golden Hour” -2018
“Golden Hour” showed us that Kacey Musgraves was moving into the next stage of her career. She blended classic country elements with entirely new, innovative traditions. The album also won Kacey Musgraves’ massive critical acclaims including the all-genre award for the Album of the Year for the 61st Grammy Awards.
Some of the most-awaited releases were from Sam Hunt, Brandy Clark, Dan+Shay, and the Dixie Chicks. Let’s see whose works will make it to the top country albums chart for this year.