Monday, December 27, 2010

Top albums of 2010

As we journeyed through 2010, it didn’t really feel like there were many good, solid albums being released that would get me excited and make me take notice . Even releases from many of my favorite artists were a bit… dull. One thing I am noticing is that some artists are bringing back more of a countrified sound (however slight it may be – at least it’s a step in the right direction) away from the nauseating pop-y mainstream country.

Unlike previous years, there really wasn’t a single album this year that stood out from the others to grab the top spot without contest. There were, however, many that were equally impressive and deserving to be tops on the list. In fact, I think any of those on my Top 10 could have probably been in the #1 spot on any given day, depending on my mood.

So, let’s begin:

1. Beth Hart – My California

“It’s gonna be a dark, cold December. We’re shaking lilies in the yard. Your sweet face I will remember, and how I’m gonna miss your stubborn heart. So forgive me for my weakness. I guess my faith is a little stoned. The angels cried on a Friday – the day that God walked you home. So goodbye Sister Heroine. I’ll remember everything. I love you. I love you. I love you. Goodbye white trash beauty queen. You’re cooking hot in your beat-up dreams. I love you. I love you. I love you.” – Sister Heroine

I’ve been an occasional fan of Beth’s music through the years, as it’s mainly been a single here & there that’s caught my attention. However, with this album, I found myself playing it all the way through without wanting to skip ahead and find something different. I find it a much more cohesive album than some of her previous offerings. I think part of that is because the album isn’t quite as bombastic as some of her others have been. There seems to be a mellower sound, which is more pleasant to listen to compared to some where it seemed that she was screaming at the top of her lungs.

Highlights include: “Sister Heroine” (a tribute to her sister, Sharon, who passed away a few years ago), “My California”, “life is calling” and “take it easy on me”

2. Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave

“It’s a long and a dusty road, a hot & a heavy load, and the folks that I meet ain’t always kind. Some are bad, some are good, some have done the best they could. And some have tried to ease my troubled mind. And I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound. Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.” - Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound

The fact that this is the last time I can put a new Johnny Cash album on a year-end “best of” album list aside, the reason this album is in the #2 spot here is because it’s just a plain darn good album. Johnny Cash is a legend, and he always will be. This album is a testament to that fact. Following the death of his beloved June, he immersed himself in his music, and followed his desire to record a number of songs that he’d always wanted to record before he died. As with most of his other “American” recordings, this one is simplified musically, just Johnny and a guitar. To me, that’s what makes it so intriguing. Johnny’s voice has always been (and still is) his greatest instrument – even if it does sound a bit rougher at this stage of his life. The simple acoustic guitar accompaniment highlights that. It’s what the ‘Man in Black’ has always been about – nothing flashy, but full of substance.

Highlights: “Redemption Day” (a nice cover version of the Sheryl Crow song), “Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound”, “Cool Water”, and “Satisfied Mind”.

3. Lady Antebellum – Need You Now

“And I wonder if I ever cross your mind. To me, it happens all the time. It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk & I need you now. Said I wouldn’t call, but I’ve lost all control & I need you now. And I don’t know how I can do without. I just need you now.” – Need You Now

It feels strange for me to put a mainstream ‘country’ (and I use that term loosely) group so high on the list of albums of the year, but there’s no way around it. This trio made a great album. I guess it proves again that if you have some great musical harmony, along with a good story/lyrics, I’ll probably enjoy listening to it. I think Lady A found their niche with the duet-style songs, with both male & female voices taking lead on different verses. The male/female duet is something that’s been lacking in music for the past decade. You usually have your male artists, female artists, and groups which are usually all male, all female, or a mixed group with a single lead (Trick Pony, Highway 101, etc). The male/female duet has become somewhat of a lost art. I’m glad to see these three bring that back.

Highlights: “Need you now”, “Our kind of love”, “Perfect day” and “When you got a good thing”

4. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song

“All this gripping & grinning, boozing & winning, and running. Promises break like an egg on the hot asphalt. What the hell was I thinking, drinking like I’d never get caught. These high dollar women, and the fame and the fortune, ain’t worth the ticket I bought. When the only L.A. I knew was a Lower Alabama, back when me & Hannah was wishing on a southern star. Now it’s so complicated, I really hate it. Why’d I ever want to go so far. Takin’ depression pills in the Hollywood Hills, acting like I’m playing the part.” Playing the Part

How can you not love a guy who has Bill Anderson as a guest on a song? If that’s not good enough, how about nice renditions of “mental revenge” and the Vern Gosdin classic, “set ‘em up Joe”? Still not sold? How about a guy who sounds like a cross between Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings and Trace Adkins? The final kicker – how about 25 songs in a 2-cd set? These days it’s standard to get about 10 songs on a single album release, or even 5 or 6 songs on an EP – which I think is kind of a waste (both for artist & fan). Jamey Johnson seems to be the antithesis of today’s standard artists.

Highlights: “Playing the part”, “The Guitar Song” (featuring Bill Anderson), “Can’t cash my checks”, “dog in the yard” and “lonely at the top” (‘It might be lonely at the top, but it’s a bitch at the bottom’)

5. Dierks Bentley – Up On The Ridge

“Dance around in the dirt, listen to the crickets chirp. Hear old Jake start to howl when he hears that old hoot owl. Give you all I’ve got to give. That’s how we live up on the ridge. Won’t you come with me tonight where moonlight drips into your eyes? I just want one little kiss when we get high up on the ridge.” – Up on the ridge

I know, it’s ANOTHER country mainstreamer near the top of the list. However, this isn’t your typical mainstream country album. This time around, the grass is blue with Dierks’ latest release. That’s right, Dierks is bringing you a dose of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, great harmonies, some knee-slapping and a little “Yee Haw” as he goes “down home” with a touch of class. He does it very well, too. Miranda Lambert makes an appearance on “Bad Angel”, and a nice guest appearance from Kris Kristofferson on “bottle to the bottom”. Dierks also gets quite brave and does a grassy version of U2’s “Pride (In the name of love)”. Surprisingly, it’s quite good.

Highlights: “Up on the ridge”, “Bad angel” (with Miranda Lambert), “draw me a map”, “bottle to the bottom” (with Kris K), and “you’re dead to me”.

6. Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn

“Well I was born a coal miner’s daughter, in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler. We were poor, but we had love. That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of. He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar.” – Coal Miner’s Daughter

It usually takes something special for me to enjoy a tribute album from beginning to end. With this one, the only thing needed was Loretta’s wonderful songwriting, and maybe some of my favorite singers too. There are great matchups, like Alan Jackson & Martina McBride (“Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man), the husband-wife team of Steve Earle & Allison Moorer (“After the fire is gone”), Reba with the Time Jumpers (“If you’re not gone too long”). Then there’s the one that really had me intrigued; it’s the final cut on the album, and Loretta’s signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. This time, it’s sung by Loretta, Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow. What a wonderful combination. Some may question Sheryl’s inclusion in that trio, but one only needs to take a listen to see how pronounced that her “twang” gets when surrounded with other “twangers”. She was, after all, born in the bootheel of Missouri. I also enjoyed Paramore’s take on “You ain’t woman enough (to take my man)”. The one that surprised me is Carrie Underwood’s “You’re lookin’ at country”. It just goes to show that Carrie can actually sing country music if she wanted to. Loretta’s buddies, The White Stripes, did a good job with “Rated X”. The only song I have a problem with on this album is Kid Rock’s version of “I know how”. Hey, I like the Kid, but this version of the song is just…ewwww!

Highlights: “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man”, “Somebody Somewhere” (featuring Lucinda Williams), “You ain’t Woman Enough (to take my man)”, and “after the fire is gone”.

7. Melissa Etheridge – Fearless Love

“She tried to be a good girl. She tried to make everything right. She tried to kill the voices that haunt her each & every night. She looks up to Heaven and wonders why love is so cruel. She loves him, won’t hurt him. Can’t stop the wanting of you.” – The Wanting Of You

The tenth studio album from Melissa brings more of the same raw power that this lady is known for. It’s evident that she’s got John Shanks back working with her again. Her strong voice, the rocking guitars, a sound that pulls no punches. It’s very reminiscent of Melissa in her “Breakdown” days, when she hooked up the first time with Shanks. The new album is aptly titled, Fearless Love, because the songs are about fear, love, and the battle of the two. All songs are written by Melissa as well.

Highlights: “Fearless love”, “the wanting of you”, “heaven on earth”, and “we are the ones”

8. The Rescues – Let Loose The Horses

“If everything we know all goes up in smoke, nothing can take me away from you. (let it burn down, let it burn down) Even if it rips right through. (in your arms now, in your arms now) All that we’ve been living for doesn’t matter anymore. My love, let’s watch it all burn.” – Let loose the horses

Great harmonies. If you’re going to get me to enjoy new music, that’s one of the main ingredients that will hook me. That’s what The Rescues have done here. I hadn’t heard of the group previously, but decided to take a quick listen when searching through new album releases, and this one grabbed me from the very beginning. The great harmonies and the catchy beats make for a very pleasant listen.

Highlights: “let loose the horses”, “Start a riot”, “before the fall”, and “follow me back into the sun”

9. Chely Wright – Lifted Off The Ground

“You’ll want to take my blood to smear on a slide. But if you just read on, you’ll know how I died. Terminal sadness, chronic regret, a big ball of pain in pajamas. These are my notes to the coroner. Clues with no compromise. Notes to the coroner. Details of my demise.” – Notes to the coroner

It’s been five years since we’ve been blessed with a studio album from Chely. Her last was 2005’s The Metropolitan Hotel, which I enjoyed immensely. Chely enlists the help of Rodney Crowell on this album as producer, as well as adding his guitar & vocal talents. This seems to be a more complex album than some of her previous offerings, however I didn’t feel that it was as cohesive an album as the last one. “Notes to the coroner” is my favorite song here, however, it does have one flaw that continually irks me: she always says “Cor-in-er” instead of “Cor-on-er”. I still think they should use the song in an episode of CSI.

Highlights: “Broken”, “Notes to the coroner”, “damn liar”, “snow globe”, and “object of your rejection”.

10. The Band Perry – Self-titled

“If I die young, bury me in satin. Lay me down on a bed of roses, sink me in the river at dawn. Send me away with the words of a love song. Uh-oh, Uh-oh. Lord, make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother. She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors. Oh, and life ain’t always what you think it outta be, no. Ain’t even gray, but she buries her baby. The sharp knife of a short life. Well, I’ve had just enough time.” –If I die young

I was moderately intrigued with this new group (comprised of sister Kimberly & brothers Reid & Neil) when I heard their first single, “Hip to my heart”. When “If I die young” was released as a single, it didn’t really hit me at first how great a song it was. However, the lyric “funny when you’re dead, how people start listening” kept getting stuck in my head. It was then that I started really listening to the story of the song. I hope they get to release a few more singles from this album, as the first two singles really haven’t shown their strength – harmony & instrumentation. The greatest part of this group is their instrumentation, with the mandolin, accordion, pedal steel and even the fiddle being highlighted, it brings the ‘down home’ feeling, which I seem to crave. The album seems to bring a variety of styles – from a smidgen of bluegrass, to rockabilly, to mainstream country, and everything in between.

Highlights: “If I die young”, “all your life”, “postcard from Paris”, “independence”, “walk me down the middle”, “quittin’ you”

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Okay, so that’s the top 10. You’re probably thinking, “huh? No Sheryl Crow? No Heart? No Kid Rock or Willie Nelson? Indigo Girls? Michelle Branch? Mary Gauthier?”

As I said at the beginning, the releases from many of my favorite artists were a bit dull. That’s the case here. However, they’re all coming – just not in the Top 10.

So, let’s continue.

11. Rhonda Vincent - Taken

“He doesn’t know that everything is changed. He still says he loves me, but now he looks away. And more than that, he says less & less each day. He’s telling me goodbye a little at a time. I can see it in his eyes, feel it in his touch. I hear it in his voice, but he don’t say much. In the quiet moments after we make love he’s telling me goodbye a little at a time.” – A Little At A Time

I was so close to putting this one in the Top 10, but just couldn’t find a place for it. Usually, the greatest thing about bluegrass music is the instrumentation – banjos, fiddles, mandolins, dobros, harmonicas, etc. What makes Rhonda’s music so great is that she has the wonderful voice to go nicely with it. With Taken, Rhonda offers up a few well-known covers into the mix. She does wonderful versions of “Back on my mind” and “Tonight my baby’s coming home”. As great as the up-tempo bluegrass tunes are, Rhonda really shines on the slower ballads, like “A little at a time”, “taken” and “Songs of a whiporwill”.

Highlights: “a little at a time”, “In the garden by the fountain”, “back on my mind”, and “when the bloom is off the rose”

12. Blake Shelton – All About Tonight

“Hey Baby, I just asked your daddy if I could take your hand. He said ‘Boy, over my dead body’, guess I ain’t his kind of man. But I love you and you love me, so baby I’ve got a plan. We’ll push my truck off the Red Top bridge right below the Jackson Dam. And they’ll be dragging the river, catching nothing but an old catfish. They’ll be dragging the river, that’ll show that son of a bitch.” – Dragging the river

Another short EP (I’m still divided on the concept of the EP), but it’s seven pretty darn good songs. When you add in the fiancee (Miranda Lambert) for a duet and some backing vocals, that makes it even better. And how about the great cover of the Dan Seals hit, “addicted”? That’s a great song for Blake to bring back into the limelight.

Highlights: “draggin’ the river”, “all about tonight”, “who are you when I’m not looking”, “addicted” and “that thing we do”

13. Rodney Hayden – Tavern of Poets

“Dark clouds move across the night sky. Shadows dancin’ on my wall. Never thought I’d walk a rope this tight, feeling like I’m about fall, ‘cause you… just went away. I’m waitin’ on the pain. Waitin’ on this sky to explode. Waitin’ on this bridge to catch fire. Waitin’ on this road I’ve known’s a dead end, like all your desires, ‘cause you used to love me that way and I still love you that way. And we swore that it’d never change, but you broke your promise to me. I’m waitin’ on the pain. ” - Waiting on the Pain

As the title might indicate, this album is full of great bar laments. Pain, rain, lost love, and lonely nights seem to make for a great album. I’d describe Rodney’s sound as “updated cowboy”. There’s a nice acoustic guitar, with traces of mandolin, accordion, and steel guitar sound mixed in.

Highlights: “waiting on the pain”, “Last train to Rome”, “too many highs”, and “it’s just the rain”

14. Merle Haggard – I Am What I Am

“how did you find me? And how did you know I’d be here in this hole in the ground? I can’t even see out over the edge, looking up from all the way down. I thought I’d been left here to die, when I saw your face appear. What a surprise. How did you find me here? I thought I could do it, all of it, all by myself. I thought I could win every round. Then I hit rock bottom, and the blues – I’ve got ‘em. Lifted me out of my fear. How did you find me here?” - How did you find me here?

Some good old country, simple instrumentation, and a bit of Western Swing - That’s been the standard that Merle set many decades ago. He hasn’t veered from that formula, and that’s what makes his music so great. And how can you not love a good “train” song?

Highlights: “I’ve seen it go away”, “Old tanker train”, “how did you find me here”, “bad actor”

15. Indigo Girls – Staring Down the Brilliant Dream

“I went to the doctor. I went to the mountains. I looked to the children and I drank from the fountains. There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for something definitive, the closer I am to fine. Closer I am to fine.” – Closer to fine

It’s always a treat to hear Emily & Amy singing in a live setting. This two-disc set is a compilation of live performances ranging from 2006-2009. It’s great to hear some of my favorites sung live, like “Closer to fine”, “Cold beer & remote control” and “wild horses”. And the album even gets better with the addition of Brandi Carlile on “Don’t think twice, it’s alright”.

Highlights: it’s a compilation of some of their favorites, so how can you choose?

16. Michelle Branch – everything comes & goes EP (6 songs)

“Well you walked in and knocked me right out of my seat. How could a pretty little boy make such a fool out of me. You’d better run for cover, you’d better get on your knees. You’d better think about it, then turn around & leave. I’m ready to let you go. I’m reaching for something that I can’t hold. I’m tired of feeling low. I’m getting ready to let you go.” - Ready to let you go

Michelle basically picks up where The Wreckers (her duo with Jessica Harp) leaves off. It’s an enjoyable 6-song set of a country-ish Michelle music. The drawback is that it’s only a 6-song EP. I’d really like much more.

Highlights: “ready to let you go”, “sooner or later” and “summertime”

17. David Ball – Sparkle City

“what’ll I do if I don’t have you? How will I find my way? How will I know which way to go? Oh, I’m begging you to stay. I’d be lost in this old town without your love when the sun goes down. What will I do if I don’t have you? How will I find my way?” – What’ll I Do If I Don’t Have You

I categorize David Ball as kind of a Willie Nelson type: a singer/songwriter who consistently makes great, simple music. With David, you even get a bit variety in styles. There’s the cowboy/western, swing, slight contemporary, and even a bit of Mexican flavor at times as well.

Highlights: “What’ll I do if I don’t have you”, “hot water pipe”, “smiling in the morning”, and “Tulsa”

18. Hey Romeo – that’s what I am

“I’m not a floor you can walk on. I’m not a car you can drive. I’m not a trophy for winning, and I’m not a ladder to climb. I know you’re looking for something. I think there’s something you missed. I’m also looking for something, something better than this. I am a walking, talking, breathing person, living with a need for no more hurting. Looking for a better plan, hey that’s what I am.” – that’s what I am

My introduction to the music of this Canadian trio came a few months ago when their PR people notified me at the radio station of their latest single release. (yes, sometimes being in radio has its perks!) I was immediately drawn to their more countrified sound, even though it has quite a bit of mainstream country in it. As usual, it seems to be the harmonies and instrumentation that draws me in.

Highlights: “That’s what I am”, “searchin’ for you”, “he still calls me baby” and “can’t wait to see the rest”

19. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devil’s Tattoo

“I'd never known her to cry, But this time is different for sure. She's shaking with tears in her eyes as she picks up what's left of the night. The hope for a reason seemed pure as we leave what's left on the wall. But oh, how it's taken its toll.” – The Toll

Don’t even ask me why I like this group because I honestly have no clue. It’s usually not the style of music that I enjoy. I think maybe it’s because they have kind of a unique sound and it’s not very bombastic. It sounds a bit gothic. I can thank CSI’s Marg Helgenberger for introducing me to BRMC’s music. She mentioned in an interview a few years ago that she was a fan and a friend of the group, so of course, I had to check it out. I’m definitely glad that I did. I’ve enjoyed their music ever since.

Highlights: “beat the devil’s tattoo”, “bad blood”, “sweet feeling” and “the toll”

20. Clay Walker – she won’t be lonely long

“I've nowhere to go if I wanna get down. All the usual suspects are hanging around. But after a round or two it was just a another day again. For a minute or two I'll get you off of my mind. But you keep coming back to me every time. Where do I go to get over the fact That you got on a plane and you ain't coming back? I said what I said and you did what you had to do. Where does a man have to go to get over the truth? Where do I go from you?” – Where Do I Go From You

It seems like a long time since there’s been a release from Clay Walker, but it’s actually only been three years since “fall” was released. It seems to be worth the wait, no matter how long it’s been. I never realized how much I missed his music until I listened to this album for the first time. Clay’s music seems as alive & fresh as when he first started out. I was pleasantly surprised at his cover of “Feels so right”, in which Alabama’s Randy Owen makes an appearance as well.

Highlights: “like we never said goodbye”, “where do I go from you”, “double shot of John Wayne”, and “All American”

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Top 20 not enough for you? Well, let’s continue on then.

21. Chatham Co Line - Wildwood

“ Sweet Marie, I can hardly wait, back when I thought you were my fate. But a diamond told you to walk that aisle, even though it could have been, could have been my style. She said ‘come see me when the crop comes in’ (When the water is high, you can’t afford to spin) But I’m high on the cotton and the dress is fine. (I wouldn’t spend it all if you could be mine.) – Crop Comes In

Don’t mistake this North Carolina group as just being a bluegrass band because there’s certainly a lot of Americana in the wonderful music they bring to life. ‘Wildwood’ is their fifth studio release and it’s the first they've self-produced. The music mixes banjo, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica with great harmonies. Add a great mix of stories and melodies, and you’ve got something that is starting to resemble the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Highlights: “Saturdays and Sundays”, “crop comes in”, “wildwood” and “end of the line”

22. Sarah McLachlan – Laws Of Illusion

“loving you is easy. Loving you is wondrous and pure. I shout it from the rooftops. How long must I wait till I see your smile.Might of been the moonlight, Caught up in the sparkle in your eyes. So we gotta know I should go slow, But its not in me to wait” – Loving you is easy

after listening to a lot of country, bluegrass, and a bit of pop, it’s always refreshing to take a journey with Sarah’s mellow, piano-driven songs. Some of them usually have an ethereal mystique about them.

Highlights: “loving you is easy”, “rivers of love”, and “heartbreak”

23. Willie Nelson – Country Music

“Come listen, you fellas, so young and so fine. Seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mine. It’ll form as a habit & seep in your soul. ‘Til the stream of your blood is as black as the coal. It’s dark as a dungeon & damp as the dew. The danger is doubled, the pleasures are few. Where the rain never falls, the sun never shines. It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.” – Dark As A Dungeon

If there’s one certainty in music, it’s that each year there’s going to be at least one album released by Willie Nelson. Willie’s latest release is as simple as the album’s title, “Country Music”. That’s also where Willie is at his best, making simple country music, including covers of some of the country greats, like “dark as a dungeon”, “my baby’s gone”, and “satisfied mind”. It’s simply, just Willie.

Highlights: “Dark as a dungeon”, “my baby’s gone”, “Pistol packin’ mama”, “man with the blues”

24. Sheryl Crow – 100 Miles From Memphis

“I called you on the phone. It seems like you're never home but I know. It's not that you don't care. I think it's that you're scared to let go. Don't have to tell me twice. I've made the sacrifice to hold on. I could be out instead. You're playing with my head and that's wrong. Don't you know that I love you? And there ain't no one above you. Don't know why you keep holding back. Baby, don't you know that While you're hesitating, Baby our love is fading. But you keep me hanging on.” – Our Love Is Fading

It seems that every Sheryl Crow album is an adventure. Her albums never seem to sound the same. With this latest effort, Sheryl is going back to more of her roots. Her hometown, Kennett, is located in the bootheel of Missouri – just 100 miles from Memphis (thus the title). So, she incorporated the Memphis sound into her latest collection of songs. It’s nice to have a different sound from Sheryl, but I really miss the days of “The Globe Sessions” and “Sheryl Crow” albums.

Highlights: “our love is fading”, “long road home”, “say what you want”, and “I want you back”

25. Mary Gauthier – The Foundling

“I shook my fist at my father's rage. I cursed my mother's sadness. Whatever home I tried to call my own, Washed in to that river of madness. The raging surge the stagnant mire, Taste of bread embittered. Disconnected highway lines, Where souls like ours lay livid. Passing through I'm passing through. I might be gone tomorrow. Wild and worn I'm hanging on To another day borrowed. It's another day borrowed.” – Another Day Borrowed

Mary’s 13-song offering (three are less than a minute in length) is an autobiographical look at her childhood as an adoptee and her adulthood search for her real mother, complete with two short musical interludes. The music is filled with sadness and longing, with the music itself being subdued and languid in a forlorn setting. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any happiness on the horizon, even through to the very end. While it might seem cathartic for Mary to get her musical story told, it’s quite a depressing journey for the listener to take a ride on.

Highlights: “the orphan king” and “another day borrowed”

26. Heart – Red Velvet Car

“I watched him go to the wind. I close my eyes. Goodbye, goodbye my friend yeah. A trick of light upon our eyes. A trick of time upon our lives. Ancient songs cry out to you. And surely this sweet sand is slipping through. Slipping through the glass of time. Surely this sweet sand will run on by and by. And while the days come down to you. You are just a traveler passing through.” – Sand

No matter how many times I listen to this album, I just really can’t get into it, which is quite unusual because I usually love Ann & Nancy’s music. This collection of songs just seems different, but I’m not sure why. It’s Nancy’s turn on lead vocals (too few & far between) that always seem to perk up my ears. For this album, that’s “hey you”, which is kind of a “na na na na” song, and “sunflower”. Another saving grace for this album is the inclusion of “Sand” to conclude the collection. I love when they do this song. It always seems so pure, no matter how many versions they do of it.

Highlights: “Hey you”, “Safronias Mark”, “sunflower” and “sand”.

27. Goldfrapp – Head First

“starting something, thought it could be fun. I started something, couldn't go wrong. Danger, heartache, I'd always knew there's no winner, in this game you lose. But I still wanna know how she got in the door uninvited. oo-ooh i got a rocket. oo-ooh you're going on it. oo-ooh you're never coming back.” - Rocket

I’m not usually one for mindless, dancey pop tunes, but with this album, I just can’t help but tap my toes and don’t even think about hitting the ‘skip’ button as I usually would for this kind of music. I’ve finally found some dancey pop tunes that actually have some depth to them. Miracles do happen, I guess.

Highlights: “Rocket”, “alive”, “head first” and “I wanna a life”

28. Kid Rock – Born Free

“The concrete and steel stand strong against the wind, With the memories of what was and what has been. The sounds of sweet soul music and blue-collar blues. There were 17 colors for a Chevy all red white and blue. I heard them say that you can't save that town, But I won't leave, I will stand my ground. And it's times like these we can't replace” – Times Like These

The biggest saving grace for the Kid’s latest release is his guests – Martina McBride (is that really her voice?), Sheryl Crow, Bob Seger, and the Zac Brown Band. This album is much different from his previous offerings. I like the more country feel to the album, however a number of the songs seem to be a bit subpar. “Collide” is his third song with Sheryl Crow, but their first collaboration “Picture” is still far & above anything they’ve done since then, although “Collide” really isn’t too bad. The collaboration with the Zac Brown Band is probably the best thing on the album, as their voices blend well.

Highlights: “born free”, “collide”, “flyin’ high”, “times like these” and “when it rains”

29. Little Big Town – the reason why

“I hope you’re happy now I am wide awake. Now I gotta deal with every ounce of this heartache. Why your moving on I’m stuck in this place. It’s all your fault so shut up train. Every time the front door shakes, Every time I hear the breaks, And that long whistle cryin through the night, I’m reminded of the way I feel. Just like that cold black steel gettin crushed by your wheels tonight. I can’t take no more pain so shut up train.” – Shut Up Train

Great harmonies. It gets me sucked in every time. It doesn’t really matter that their songs have become a bit more mainstream than their early songs, the melodies & harmonies overshadow that bit of annoyance. I also like the fact that they take turns on lead vocals. It brings more of a variety to the music.

Highlights: “kiss goodbye”, “shut up train”, “you can’t have everything”, and “all the way down”

30. Alan Jackson – freight train

“The love you thought was dead and gone Somehow keeps on hanging on. Even when your heart has left it far behind, Just when you have turned the page. It seems to find a way. There it is again, Every now and then. And every now and then that old feeling comes around. Every now and then I see your face in another cloud. And every now and then some old something takes me right back again. Every now and then.” – Every Now & Then

I’ll admit, I have not been a really big fan of Alan throughout the years, but he seems to consistently put out songs that I enjoy listening to. He’s able to mix enough of the classic country with an updated style of country, but not getting too mainstream pop-y like the rest of his contemporaries these days. And hey! He’s even got a train song! That brings some extra points! And then there’s the duet with LeeAnn Womack on “’Til the end”. Okay, so it’s not as great as the Vern Gosdin/Janie Fricke version, but it’s great that he can help bring some light to an old classic.

Highlights: “every now & then”, “After 17”, “freight train”, and “Til the end”

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So, that’s my Top 30 albums for 2010. How about 30 more that are worth checking out?

Kim Richey – Wreck your wheels
Highlights: “leaving 49”, “in the years to come” and “once in your life”

Chris Pureka – How I learned to see in the dark
Highlights: “barn song”, “lowlands” and “wrecking ball”

Toni Braxton – Pulse
Highlights: “hands tied”, “if I have to wait”, “lookin’ at me” and “hero”

Teea Goans – the way I remember it
Highlights: “lying in my arms”, “walk out backwards” and “letter from God”

Elizabeth Cook – Welder
Highlights: “girlfriend tonight”, “mama’s funeral”, “snake in the bed” and “I’ll never know”

Hank Williams III – The Rebel Within
Highlights: “rebel within”, “lookin’ for a mountain”, drinkin’ ain’t hard to do” and “lost in Oklahoma”

Kenny Chesney – Hemingway’s Whiskey
Highlights: “the boys of fall”, “you and tequila” and “round and round”

Flynnville Train – Redemption
Highlights: “preachin’ to the choir”, “33 steps”, “friend of sinners” and “the one you love”

Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez – the New Bye & Bye
Highlights: the songs from “red dog tracks” – “Keep your hat on, Jenny” and “must be the whiskey”.

Shelby Lynne – Tears, Lies & Alibis
Highlights: “rains came”, “why didn’t you call me” and “old dog”

Jewel – Sweet & Wild
Highlights: “no good in goodbye”, “I love you forever”, “fading” and “stay here forever”

Catherine Britt – self titled
Highlights: “I want you back”, “down”, “anywhere you are” and “call you back town”

Keith Urban – Get Closer
Highlights: “you gonna fly”, “without you” and “right on back to you”

Jakob Dylan – Women & Country
Highlights: “nothin’ but the whole wide world”, “everybody’s hurting”, and “truth for a truth”

Matt Kennon – self titled
Highlights: “drive it like you stole it”, “the call”, “the man I used to be”, and “some people piss me off”

Reba – All The Women I Am
Highlights: “the bridge you burn”, “when love gets a hold of you”, and “the day she got divorced”

Band of Horses – Infinite arms
Highlights: “factory”, “evening kitchen” and “older”

Patty Griffin – Downtown Church
Highlights: “little fire” (with Emmylou Harris), “move up” (with Ann & Regina McCrary & Jim Lauderdale)

Gary Allan – Get Off On The Pain
Highlights: “get off on the pain”, “kiss me when I’m down”, and “today”

Brother Dege – Folk Songs of the American Longhair
Highlights: “the battle of New Orleans”, “dead and gone” and “old angel midnight”

Dale Watson – Carryin’ On
Highlights: “carryin’ on this way”, “flowers in your hair”, “how to break your own heart” and “hello, I’m an old country song”

Elvis Costello – National Ransom
Highlights: “national ransom”, “I lost you”, “Dr Watson, I presume”, and “a voice in the dark”

1st aid kit – The Big Black & The Blue
Highlights: “hard believer”, “Josefin”, “I met up with the King”, and “all my trials”

Hudson Ridge – On The Right Track
Highlights: “lucky one”, “forever and for always”, “if I could only win your love”, and “the boxer”

The Webb Sisters - Savages
Highlights: “calling this a life”, “savages”, “burn”, and “in your Father’s eyes”

The McClymonts – Wrapped Up Good
Highlights: “kick it up”, “boy who cried love”, “take it back”, “I’m not done with you just yet” and “I could be a cowboy”

Lifehouse – Smoke & Mirrors
Highlights: “all in”, “had enough”, “it is what it is”, and “here tomorrow, gone today”

Josh Turner – Haywire
Highlights: “I wouldn’t be a man”, “all over me” and “I’ll be there”

Julianna Hatfield – Peace and Love
Highlights: “peace and love”, “the end of the war”, “faith in our friends” and “dear anonymous”

Amy Grant – Somewhere down the road
Highlights: “better than hallelujah”, “what is the chance of that” and “somewhere down the road”

Last but not least, I need to add one from 2009 that I didn’t find until a few months ago:

Alison Pipitone – Me & Miss Grimes (2009)

“The walls don’t talk, the paint don’t talk, the floor don’t talk. But the bricks talk, the bricks talk, the bricks talk. they told the trees, all the trees down the block. the sidewalks talk, the telephone pole shoots it down the line and the birds on the wire fly away like their wings are on fire. they sing out everything, mother mary, oh, how they sing. they all told me, they all told me you lied. – The Walls Don’t Talk

Even though I have a bunch of Alison’s previous albums, I somehow didn’t realize that she released an album last year. That’s a shame, because I was deprived of some great music for a whole year. Thankfully that was rectified, and I’ve been able to enjoy more of Alison’s gritty voice and interesting stories. She can go from introspective & contemplative to rip-rockin’ and everything in between. This has turned out to be my second favorite AP album, right behind the raw/acoustic “I’ll ask her”.

Highlights: “Hello is not the word”, “the walls don’t talk”, and “when down comes tumbling down”

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