First off let’s set some ground rules. Only albums from the years 2000-2010 will be eligible for the list. The sweet spot of country music, smack between the traditional but mundane sound of the 90’s and the weird metro/bro/EDM thing that’s going on right now, in which lies the beautiful valley of perfection that is country music from 2000-2010. Also, only one album per artist is allowed on the list (As much as I would love to talk about ten Kenny Chesney albums, we like to give the other guys a chance too.)
10). My Kinda Party-Jason Aldean (2010)
This is an incredibly controversial way for me to start out the countdown. I worry immensely about sending a congratulatory message to Jason Aldean by giving him a spot with such prestigious comrades. Much of what Aldean stands for, bro country, is an inability to write music and lack of musical creativity and talent. However this album is awesome, strong guitar with steel guitar crying throughout: “My Kinda Party”; “Fly Over States” (I’ll never be able to fly on a plane the same way anymore); “Tattoos on This Town” (the music video made me cry and is worth the watch); “Don’t You Want to Stay”, the most powerful song on the album with Kelly Clarkson; and “Dirt Road Anthem”, perhaps the only country rap song I’ll ever be okay with. But the depth songs, specifically “Texas Was You”, “See You When I See You”, “Just Passing Through” and “Churchpew or Barstool”, are also awesome, a phenomenon noticeably absent among Aldean’s bro-country comrades.
9). Long Trip Alone-Dierks Bentley (2006)
This album adds a much-needed grit and toughness factor to the list. Dierks is rough around the edges, as shown by songs like “That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me”, “Hope for Me Yet”, and “Can’t Live It Down”. But while being an outlaw is certainly a theme, Dierks doesn’t let it define him at all, as he delivers emotion through “Long Trip Alone” and “Trying to Stop Your Leaving”. But the best song on the album by far is “Free and Easy Down the Road I Go”, a truly unique offering and one that I am proud to call a country music song, a song that can transport you from your basement to a desert somewhere in Utah at the press of a button. The most impressive part of Long Trip Alone is that Dierks maintains his energy and skill in every song.
8). Taylor Swift- Taylor Swift (2006)
Yes, I realize Taylor Swift is on the list, and no, that’s not soft because she is truly amazing. This first album is proof enough. Honestly, I’m not an expert but in my opinion, Swift belongs in conversations for best songwriter of all time as she has now easily dominated two genres. More impressive, Taylor Swift (album) was released when Taylor was 16 and she has a writing credit on every song. Although you may argue for days as to whether this is a country record or not, it’s excellent regardless. Taylor’s melodies are amazing, “Tim McGraw”, “Teardrops on My Guitar”, are both excellent, and “Our Song” is Taylor’s best song to date.
7). Twice the Speed of Life-Sugarland (2004)
Let me start this by saying I’m a huge fan of Sugarland and some might look at Twice the Speed of Life at the seven spot as incredibly generous, but I would argue it is well deserved. Starting the album with “Something More” and “Baby Girl” is how you make a statement as a band, with two sonically impressive and lyrically thoughtful hits right off the bat. And while the first two are the highlights, the remainder is consistent and diverse. “Hello, Tennessee” and “Fly Away”, are also excellent, demonstrating a different facet of Sugarland’s capability.
6). Golden Road-Keith Urban (2002)
While Keith is arguably the most consistent country artist from 2000-present Golden Road stands out as his finest work. The utterly refreshing opening of “Somebody Like You”, into “Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me”, sets the tone, but Keith expands from this theme, having fun with “You Look Good in My Shirt” and portraying sadness in “You’ll Think of Me”. It’s all here. Golden Road is the full package.
5). Chief-Eric Church (2011)
I think I have a special connection with Eric Church as an artist, especially as he contrasts with other mainstream country singers of his age. But I can objectively say Chief is an amazing album. Everything that makes Eric great is on display here.
4). Home-The Dixie Chicks (2002)
When you listen to Home by the Dixie Chicks, you generally get frustrated at their selfishness; they kept all the good songs for themselves. The Dixie Chicks channel a traditional sound, complete with banjo, fiddle, and mandolin, separating them from their rock-driven counterparts. Ultimately, however, the songwriting separates this album from the rest: every song with has a melody that simply cannot be ignored.
3). 5th Gear- Brad Paisley (2007)
I don’t think there are any other albums that can boast the singles that 5th Gear can. “Ticks”, “Online”, “I’m Still a Guy”, “Letter to Me”, and “Waiting on a Woman” are five successful singles — all both individually unique and awesome, but collectively they complete each other. While the rest of the album is relatively average I don’t think a set of five songs from any other album can ever compete with these.
2). You Get What You Give-Zac Brown Band (2010)
When you listen to You Get What You Give, you get the sense that Zac Brown Band works with so much more instrumental and songwriting talent than anyone else in the business. But what makes You Get What You Give special is the fact that not an ounce of their talent goes to waste.
1). When the Sun Goes Down- Kenny Chesney (2004)
The victor in a landslide goes to Kenny Chesney’s masterpiece When the Sun Goes Down. Start to finish, every song sounds like it could be the album’s best song. Literally, no other album stands a chance and it’s not their fault really. Seriously, listen to it.