Our Top Disc Picks Of The Year

For our popular “Favorite 5″ column, country.com regularly asks artists to share their pet albums with our visitors. Sometimes they tell us their favorite albums of all time, while other times they tell us what they’re currently listening to. Currently in “Favorite 5,” in the spirit of the season, Deana Carter shares her most-played Christmas albums.

Now the tables are turned. country.com’s music writers accepted the challenging assignment of picking their favorite five releases of 1998. Challenging, because there were so many fine releases this year. In all, five writers came up with a list of 19 distinct albums (plus a batch of honorable mentions), ranging from 25-year-old country newcomer Jenny Simpson to 60-year-old folk veteran Gordon Lightfoot, from bleak singer-songwriter Gillian Welch to the upbeat Dixie Chicks.

Only two rules were placed on the writing staff: eligible albums must have been released in the past 12 months; and they had to be related to country music, meaning they fit into the broad realm of contemporary country, alternative country, folk, bluegrass, rockabilly, old-time music, Americana and Southern Gospel. An album’s artistic value, of course, was not based on its success in the marketplace, which explains how recent blockbusters by Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Brooks & Dunn, George Strait and Alan Jackson were edged out by modest-sellers by Mike Ireland and The Woodys.

Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and The Wilkinsons’ Nothing But Love racked up the most votes with three each. Williams also picked up a honorable mention citation by a fourth writer.

Williams is best known to country fans for penning “The Night’s Too Long,” which Patty Loveless took to the Top 20 in 1990, and “Passionate Kisses,” which was a crossover hit for Mary-Chapin Carpenter in 1993 and earned Williams a songwriting Grammy. It took six years for Williams to release her fifth album. But when Car Wheels hit the street in the summer it received universal acclaim, accumulating perfect or near-perfect marks in publications such as USA Today, The Village Voice, Spin and Entertainment Weekly. The cover of Rolling Stone magazine’s August 6, 1998 issue reads: “Lucinda Williams – The Making of a Masterpiece”; the article inside calls Williams “America’s greatest songwriter” and describes Car Wheels as a “heartbroken country classic.” Evidently, the writers at country.com agree.

Comprised of father Steve, 16-year-old daughter Amanda and 14-year-old son Tyler, The Wilkinsons’ debut single, “26¢,” struck a chord with listeners, and the family trio achieved country music success in an unusually short amount of time. The combo was the only new act to have a No. 1 record this year.

The Dixie Chicks–also comprised, in part, of family members–nabbed two votes with their immensely popular Wide Open Spaces album. Also, T. Graham Brown picked up a pair of votes (and an additional honorable mention) with his strong comeback album, Wine Into Water. The remaining 15 albums on the list got one bid each from our writers. The number of fresh faces that made the cut is encouraging. In addition to The Wilkinsons’ album, debut efforts by Mike Ireland, The Woodys and Jenny Simpson were among our favorites of ’98. Jo Dee Messina, Deryl Dodd, Gillian Welch and The Tractors each made the list with sophomore releases. Seasoned faithfuls Travis Tritt, The Mavericks, Collin Raye and Junior Brown made their mark, too, as well as three invaluable reissues that came out this year.

We realize, of course, our picks aren’t the final word on what 1998 had to offer. Our goal is simply that you discover some CDs that pique your interest, maybe some you want to add to your own music collection and others that may offer ideas for your holiday shopping.

Enjoy.