The Best Albums You Might Have Missed in 2002

Dozens and dozens of CDs drift through the CMT News offices every year and we do our best to listen to them all. Sure, some are terrible and some go on to sell millions of copies. Yet, some CDs don’t attract much attention, but they’ll stay in our CD players for days at a time. Recommended by the CMT News team, these are the best country albums you may have missed in 2002.

Flowers and Liquor, Hayes Carll
Hayes Carll, who lives on an island near Galveston, Texas, offers an easygoing, mostly acoustic album that’s clever when it needs to be. Already a favorite in Houston clubs, Carll can win over a crowd with his stories, whether or not they’re set to music. An astonishing debut. — Craig Shelburne

Happy Birthday, Buck!, Various Artists
(Texas Round-Up Records)
This heartfelt tribute evolved from the annual Buck Owens birthday party at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas. The 22-track collection features Owens’ hits performed by Rodney Crowell, David Ball, Jim Lauderdale, the Derailers, Toni Price, Rosie Flores, Monte Warden and Ray Benson, among others. Most arrangements remain true to Owens’ originals, so there’s no shortage of twang and Telecaster guitars. Includes a reunion of bassist Doyle Holly, drummer Willie Cantu and steel guitarist Tom Brumley — members of Owens’ band, the Buckaroos, in its mid-’60s prime. — Calvin Gilbert

Midnight & Lonesome, Buddy Miller
Buddy Miller’s Midnight & Lonesome (Hightone) is another tour de force by Nashville’s quintessential Renaissance man, who is in a class by himself. As guitarist, producer, songwriter and Emmylou Harris’ right hand man on tour, Miller is a one-man fusion of blues, rock and country. A highpoint here is Miller’s moving version of Jesse Winchester’s riveting “A Showman’s Life.” — Chet Flippo

Miss Fortune, Allison Moorer
(Universal South)
Allison Moorer’s resonant vocals are impeccable, considering that no vocal tuning or pitch correction tools were used on Miss Fortune. Her songwriting skills are also as strong as ever, especially on the bold and bluesy “Ruby Jewel Was Here,” the devastatingly honest “No Place for a Heart” and “Dying Breed,” a dramatic tale of a woman who follows in her family’s dismal history of drugs and alcohol. — Lori L. Reed

Now Again, Flatlanders
(New West)
The Flatlanders’ first album in 30 years offers a new collection of roots, country and Western swing tunes reminiscent of old-time radio. Smooth harmonies and clever lyrics of singer-songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely meld together on 13 new tunes, all with a nostalgic feel. From the mournful ballad “Going Away,” through the sultry “South Wind of Summer,” featuring Lloyd Maines on steel guitar and Dobro, the wit and texture of Now Again weaves melodies and humor that keep listeners coming back. — Donna Priesmeyer

One of the Ways, Max Stalling
(Blind Nello)
This third album from Max Stalling sounds more like a string of demos than an album, and that’s meant as a compliment. “Ain’t Fallin’ in Love (With You Tonight)” might remind folks of a time when Rodney Crowell and early George Strait still got airplay. Bruce Robison produced. — Craig Shelburne

Pearl Snaps, Deryl Dodd
(Lucky Dog)
Deryl Dodd’s Pearl Snaps is a fun, true country comeback effort from a guy who was, at one point, knocking on death’s door. Dodd’s voice and music are a true embodiment of country music of old. It takes me back to hearing my granddad playing the AM radio and reading his newspaper. Includes “A Bitter End” and remakes of Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown.” — Angela Gimlin

Rivertown, Walt Wilkins
(Western Beat)
On Rivertown, Walt Wilkins shows us what we usually don’t look close enough to see — the simple richness of everyday life. With soothing guitar, Celtic-twinged fiddle and just enough steel, Wilkins points out the value of old houses, fresh snow and growing up. He shows us life can be a little crazy and even scary sometimes but reassures us that it will all turn out just fine. By track 11, “Hey Tomorrow,” you believe him. — Jennifer Meyer

Stray Dogs, Rod Picott
(Welding Rod)
This rugged troubadour offers a restless brand of folk reminiscent of a less-angry Steve Earle. Rod Picott keeps quiet in his live shows, but Stray Dogs picks up the pace. Any man who chases younger women will get a kick out of “Up All Night.” Alison Krauss harmonizes on “Circus Girl.” — Craig Shelburne

Sunflower, Darden Smith
Darden Smith has sung most of these revealing, well-crafted songs for years in Austin, and it’s worth the wait to finally have them on record. With his fluid vocals and phrasing, “Perfect Moment” is just that. Any album with Patty Griffin and Kim Richey on harmonies scores huge bonus points. — Craig Shelburne

Sweet Talk and Good Lies, Heather Myles
With her fourth album Sweet Talk and Good Lies, Heather Myles further certifies her credentials as country music’ s reigning honky-tonk queen. Her tough but sensuous voice tackles some new honky-tonk songs here, including a soulful duet with Dwight Yoakam on “Little Chapel.” As I’m fond of saying about her, Myles has more brass than a hardware store. — Chet Flippo

While You Were Sleeping, Caitlin Cary
(Yep Roc)
Perhaps the most melodious album of the year. Caitlin Cary cut her singer-songwriter chops in the celebrated alt-country band Whiskeytown, and While You Were Sleeping proves she possesses a mighty fine voice on her own. Leaving never sounded so sweet as on “Please Don’t Hurry Your Heart.” — Craig Shelburne

See the complete Best of 2002.