Top 10 Country Albums of 2006

Willie Nelson's Tribute to the Late Cindy Walker Places First

Reflecting on the stack of CDs released in 2006, three members of’s editorial team unanimously agreed that it doesn’t get any better than a Country Music Hall of Fame member singing classic songs written by another Country Music Hall of Fame member.

CMT editorial director Chet Flippo, writer-producer Craig Shelburne and managing editor Calvin Gilbert were in accord for the choices — if not the actual rankings — of the Top 10 albums of 2006. Granted, a there were a few disagreements, but those tended to be gentle debates. No injuries — physical or emotional — resulted.

1. Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway)
This collection may be better than anything Willie has cut since Stardust almost 30 years ago. Age has weathered his voice, but it’s also given it a graceful gravitas and a worn patina that suit these sepia-toned song chestnuts very well. A good song doesn’t know its age and exists in a timeless place where it can live forever. All 13 songs, such as “Bubbles in My Beer” and “Not That I Care” and “Dusty Skies” are highlights. — Flippo

2. Alan Jackson, Like Red on a Rose (Arista Nashville)
The first listen is tough because the subtlety is so unexpected. The second time is easier. And three months later? Can’t stop listening. Exemplary songs, singing and production. — Shelburne

3. The Wreckers, Stand Still, Look Pretty (Maverick/Warner Bros.)
With the Dixie Chicks still in exile from mainstream country radio, the Wreckers helped fill the void when it came to upbeat energy and pop-oriented musical hooks. Some scoffed at the notion of pop hitmaker Michelle Branch teaming with singer-songwriter Jessica Harp for a country album, but there’s an undeniable quality to their crisp harmonies and well-constructed songs. — Gilbert

4. Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone (Capitol Nashville)
This album is all about moving forward — both lyrically and career-wise. If the cinematic, powerful title track lands in the right movie, this troubadour can expect big returns. — Shelburne

5. Julie Roberts, Men & Mascara (Mercury Nashville)
Others can sing louder, but few can sing as convincingly. She nails the heartbreak songs but she may be one up-tempo hit away from making it, finally. We’re still rooting for her. — Shelburne

6. Solomon Burke, Nashville (Shout! Factory)
Burke first recorded country in the 1960s with such songs as “Just Out of Reach” and “Down in the Valley” — and he gets it. Nashville is the very essence of soul country. On duets with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Gillian Welch, Burke sounds fully energized — as any man should be by that lineup of female partners. He is in wonderfully good voice, and the man takes control of these songs. Solomon Burke sounds fully at home in Nashville. — Flippo

7. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (American Recordings/Lost Highway)
Though he never sounder weaker in voice, in many ways the new work is the most emotionally effective and affecting thing he has ever done. Though weak in voice and almost completely blind by then, his spirit was never stronger, and that spirit shines through strongly on these intense performances. They are not musically pretty, but they will grab and hold your attention through sheer will. — Flippo

8. Jim Lauderdale, Country Super Hits, Vol. 1 (Yep Rock)
Jim Lauderdale’s 2006 bluegrass CD was great, but it’s a particularly tricky proposition to capture the essence of classic country without turning it into something resembling a cartoon caricature. Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, the project includes some super songs, among them “Honky Tonk Mood Again” and “I Met Jesus in a Bar.” If you’ve ever complained, “They don’t make music like that anymore,” rest assured that Lauderdale managed to do so this time around. — Gilbert

9. Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac (Capitol)
Written in part to her reaction to losing three parents in a short time, this is one of the most meaningful and musically significant works of her career. And it goes beyond the lyrics, as key as they are. Rosanne Cash has become increasingly musically proficient over the years, and her songs and arrangements more and more encompass musical influences ranging from country to classical to trance to gypsy to folk. — Flippo

10. Vince Gill, These Days (MCA Nashville)
Easily the most ambitious release of the year, Vince Gill visited everything from traditional country, gospel and bluegrass to jazz and blues to in this four-CD package. Not all of the 43 original songs will be remembered as classics, but it’s hard to name another country artist who could come this close to hitting such a lofty goal. It’s an impressive achievement from a true artist who’s obviously not afraid to take some major chances. — Gilbert

Other noteworthy albums, in alphabetical order by artist, include:

Mark Chesnutt, Heard it in a Love Song (CBuJ Entertainment)

Guy Clark, Workbench Songs (Dualtone)

Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (Open Wide/Columbia)

Alan Jackson, Precious Memories (ACR/Arista Nashville)

George Jones and Merle Haggard, Kickin’ Out the Footlights … Again (Bandit)

Kris Kristofferson, This Old Road (New West)

The Little Willies, The Little Willies (Milking Bull)

Van Morrison, Pay the Devil (Lost Highway)

Kenny Rogers, Water & Bridges (Capitol Nashville)

Mindy Smith, Long Island Shores (Vanguard)

Josh Turner, Your Man (MCA Nashville)

Various Artists, She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool: A Tribute to Barbara Mandrell (BNA)