I might as well take this rare opportunity to share a dozen of my favorite country albums from the 2000s. Out of the hundreds of country albums I listened to over the course of a decade, here are a dozen I'm keeping, ranked in alphabetical order by artist:
Dierks Bentley (2003) -- Even though this contemporary effort established him on the charts, the music here blends old-school country and new territory quite well. That rollicking lick at the beginning of "What Was I Thinkin'" set him well on his way.
Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (2002) -- When I first heard this album, I thought, "Ah, I get it now." For the folks in the industry who couldn't figure out how he rocketed to superstardom, the answer is right here -- and in the football stadiums he's been filling with his summer concert tours.
Dixie Chicks, Home (2002) -- With roots in bluegrass and Texas country, these feisty women were the coolest thing going early in the decade. I miss them every day. Anybody who merges Patty Griffin, Stevie Nicks and Bruce Robison this elegantly gets my vote.
Alan Jackson, Like Red on a Rose (2006) -- At work, this record is always within reach because Alison Krauss' subdued production keeps me from losing my composure when things get stressful. I hope he'll make at least one more album like this in his career.
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (2008) -- Even today, "In Color" gives me chills, especially that chorus. ("If it looks like we were scared to death ...") Have you been in a room when everybody's singing it with him? Incredible. Somewhere, Waylon Jennings is smiling.
Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004) -- Thanks to Krauss' way with complex and mature material, I used this beautiful album therapeutically for months on end. Now I can't even remember what was bothering me. Hey, it worked!
Livin', Lovin', Losin': The Songs of the Louvin Brothers (2003) -- From Joe Nichols' lively "Cash on the Barrelhead" to Johnny Cash's scripture recitation in "Keep Your Eyes on Jesus," traditional country fans embraced this Grammy-winning tribute.
Willie Nelson, You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (2006) -- This heartfelt tribute to the Texas songwriter sparkles in every way. "You Don't Know Me" couldn't be simpler -- she comes in, he stays put, she goes away -- yet it gets me every single time.
Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires (2003) -- In a remarkable display of versatility, the Opry star scored big hits with "Celebrity" and "Whiskey Lullaby." Farther along, I'm also fond of his hard-country tunes like "Hold Me in Your Arms (And Let Me Fall)."
Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life (2004) -- After their Nashville showcase, I remember thinking, "Please let this succeed!" Even in that tiny club, the out-of-town trio was playing for the rafters. "Baby Girl" and "Something More" helped the rest of us catch up.
Keith Urban, Golden Road (2002) -- To this day, "Somebody Like You" makes me feel like a million bucks. Nobody connects sensuality and spirituality so effortlessly. True-to-life lyrics, evocative singing, killer production -- who wouldn't wanna be this guy?
Lee Ann Womack, There's More Where That Came From (2005) -- That introductory fiddle stop paves the way for regret, heartache, bad decisions, wrong turns and other sunny topics. She's never sounded so much at home. Let's hope the title comes true.