Country.com’s critics have assembled their year-end Top 10 lists. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we share them with you: Dec. 27, Michael Gray; Dec. 28, Ed Morris; Dec. 29-30, Chet Flippo; Dec. 31-Jan. 1, Jay Orr.
1. Roots Volume I (Anti-/Epitaph), Merle Haggard
In exploring the bleak world of the 1950s work of masters such as Lefty Frizzell , Haggard evokes the lonely grandeur of the finest honky-tonk songs.
2. The Mountain (Epic), Patty Loveless
Loveless finally sounds at ease with herself in this warm collection of bluegrass and mountain works that firmly put her in the context of her Kentucky upbringing.
3. Buddy & Julie Miller (HighTone Records), Buddy and Julie Miller
The Millers are Nashville’s modern day Renaissance couple — funny and smart and possessed with a thorough grounding in both rock and country, they know how to break all the rules in the right ways. Buddy is the country equivalent of Nick Lowe crossed with Dave Edmunds and Julie is what God surely intended Stevie Nicks to be.
4. Love Letters (Warner Bros.), Leslie Satcher
She writes with the keen eye of a novelist and sings with the unfettered exuberance of an earth mother. If Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty could have sung country songs, they would have sounded like Leslie Satcher.
5. “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson , live at the CMA Awards, Nov. 7, 2001
Jackson’s show-stopping anthem is a potent reminder of the healing power of country music’s lyrics. This was the right song at the right time.
6. “America Will Survive,” Hank Williams Jr. , live at the Country Freedom Concert, Oct. 21, 2001
Junior transformed his life and career with this brilliant re-working of his “A Country Boy Can Survive.” His forceful delivery of these heartfelt words was another right song at the right time. Both this and Jackson’s “Where Were You” again prove that country music’s strength in times of adversity is not the stereotypical, jingoistic “kiss my ass/I’ll kick your ass ” song but rather the “let’s come together” song.
7. The Houston Kid (Sugar Hill), Rodney Crowell
After more than two decades of toiling in the Nashville music mill, Crowell finally bankrolled the personal album he always wanted to make. This bare-bones autobiographical saga of growing up poor and bent in Houston rings true.
8. Time (The Revelator) (Acony Records), Gillian Welch
Although we now know that Welch’s distinctive Granny garb was copied from Vicki Lawrence’s “Momma” character on the “Carol Burnett Show,” that only makes her all the more endearing. On Time, she and collaborator David Rawlings spin a magic web of country past and present, of life’s gritty realities as well as its moments of pure joy.
9. Music From Rancho de Ville (Acoustic Disc), Charles Sawtelle
Sawtelle had long been a pivotal but under-appreciated figure in the acoustic and bluegrass scene. He’s included here not because he was dying when he made this, his first solo album, but because it’s a pure distillation of all that’s good and uplifting about bluegrass, roots and acoustic music. From Sawtelle’s own fragile, moving version of “Angel Band” to Norman Blake’s gentle reading of the Carter Family ’s “The Storms Are on the Ocean,” this is music that will endure. You haven’t lived until you hear Flaco Jiminez’ lilting accordion propelling Woody Guthrie’s “The Ranger’s Command.”
10. Today (Octave), Raul Malo
Malo finally achieves the melodic Latin-anglo fusion he’s been working toward with his Mavericks recordings. He’s writing and singing mature music of substance in two languages — and some of it would actually work on country radio, given a chance.
— Chet Flippo
10 for ’01: Top Country Picks of the Year — Michael Gray
10 Towering Tunes From 2001 — Edward Morris
O Brother, What a Year — Jay Orr