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Launching Soon: World Records – An Older Album Review Series

Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


I’ve agonized how to launch a feature like this for far too long now.

Given that album reviews basically function as this album’s lifeblood, I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t review older albums. Sure, time is always an issue – I can’t even keep up with the wave of current releases these days, let alone past ones – but the bigger issue has always been, well, me. You see, my problem with approaching older works is that I feel a need to canonize them within either an artist’s discography or the genre at large. But I’ve learned over the years that that’s a job for music historians – an important one, don’t get me wrong, especially for preservation purposes – and not for people like me looking to actively track their own personal likes and dislikes with music released. There’s also the issue of it being a much more demanding and daunting learning process compared to one where I approach modern releases, given that it’s hard to escape conversations surrounding historical context with older releases. And finding time not only to listen to that one past album but also to examine it within the context of an artist’s entire discography at large – or within the context of the country music genre in general – well … again, it’s daunting.

Still, I think most people look to outlets like this one for new discoveries, and there’s just as much value to be found in digging up a gem from the past yet unheard as there is something new. My original intention with this feature, then, was to pick past albums at random to review, or review an artist’s discography in order from start to finish (sort of like what the excellent My Kind of Country once did). But I’m not sure I’d cover as much ground as I’d prefer adopting that method for just myself.

So, starting next week, I’m launching a review series aimed at older albums that takes a little piece of every method I’ve considered thus far. Ultimately, I’m picking 10 albums from five different decades – from the ‘70s to the 2010s – with the only rule being that I can only pick one release per artist per decade, all of which … maybe aren’t considered classic releases, so much as iconic ones. This will not, I repeat not, wind up as a compilation of “the 50 best country albums ever” or anything like that when it’s eventually finished. No, if anything, my goal, much like with my Pop Goes the Country series from before, will be to very loosely tell country music’s story through these releases – where it’s been and where it’s going. That’s why I’ve tried to pick albums that represent the various sounds we’ve come to associate with the genre, all while making sure they’re notable on their own merits, too.

These will not solely be historical examinations. While historical context will, naturally, weigh in with these discussions, I’m going to balance them out with the same analytical thoughts for the albums themselves that characterize my reviews of modern works. In a sense, I’ll be offering my thoughts on these albums not only on their impact at the time of their respective releases, but also how well they’ve aged today, and only from the perspective of my personal taste. And all of this goes without saying, but this isn’t meant as a way to shake up the discourse – I can’t influence an album’s legacy by talking positively or negatively about it years or decades after the fact, and I’m glad for that. Also, if you’re wondering why I’m stopping at the ‘70s, it’s because it, to me, symbolizes when country music started to care more about the album concept at large, even if there are, of course, great albums that came before. A few last things to keep in mind – there are a few releases, like, say, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, that I feel function better as historical pieces rather than albums meant to review in the context of easy listening purposes, hence why I might have overlooked them in favor of another album to spotlight. And then there’s the issue regarding albums I actually have covered here before that are arguably – or maybe undeniably – notable. Even if I think certain reviews haven’t aged well, I’ve loosely covered albums like Gary Stewart’s Out of Hand, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, Randy Travis’ Storms of Life, Alan Jackson’s Drive, and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (among others) in some capacity before, making repeat discussions feel redundant.

So, which 50 albums will I be covering? Find out below:

70s

  • Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger (1975)
  • Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1971)
  • Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors (1971)
  • Tom T. Hall, In Search of a Song (1971)
  • Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)
  • Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky (1975)
  • Tanya Tucker, TNT (1978)
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors (1973)
  • Kenny Rogers, The Gambler (1978)
  • Guy Clark, Old No. 1 (1975)

80s

  • Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache (1981)
  • George Jones, I Am What I Am (1980)
  • Merle Haggard, Back to the Barrooms (1980)
  • George Strait, Strait From the Heart (1982)
  • The Judds, Why Not Me (1984)
  • Reba McEntire, My Kind of Country (1984)
  • Steve Earle, Guitar Town (1986)
  • Dwight Yoakam, Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room (1988)
  • Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris Trio (1987)
  • Clint Black, Killin’ Time (1989)

90s

  • Garth Brooks, No Fences (1990)
  • Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man (1991)
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On (1992)
  • Iris DeMent, Infamous Angel (1992)
  • Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly (1994)
  • Son Volt, Trace (1995)
  • Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
  • Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
  • Marty Stuart, The Pilgrim (1999)
  • The Chicks, Fly (1999)

2000s

  • Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul (2001)
  • Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid (2001)
  • Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires (2003)
  • Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying (2004)
  • Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
  • The Chicks, Home (2002)
  • Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From (2005)
  • Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless (2008)
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (2008)

2010s

  • Eric Church, Chief (2011)
  • Brandy Clark, 12 Stories (2013)
  • Turnpike Troubadours, Diamonds and Gasoline (2010)
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (2013)
  • Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014)
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller (2015)
  • Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle (2016)
  • Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (2016)
  • Tyler Childers, Purgatory (2017)
  • Ashley McBryde, Girl Going Nowhere (2018)

Welcome to: World Records.

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