(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Here are my Top 10 albums of 2007.
1. Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love, Trisha Yearwood
A certain amount of maturity enriches many artists. And it certainly has done so for Yearwood, who has never sounded more confident and sure of herself and her abilities and her material than she does on this album.
2. Dirt Farmer, Levon Helm
I know this is not catalogued as a country album, but Dirt Farmer is by far the most country-sounding record of the year. It's truly as country as dirt. Helm sounds like the very mountains and the prairies singing. Like the voice of the land itself. There are some voices that carry the world of human experience in them, like those belonging to Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson. And Helm. There is a very good reason why Helm was the voice of The Band.
3. A Place to Land, Little Big Town
Better songwriting, better harmonies, better picking. LBT continues to demonstrate what country music can be with the right rock and folk elements tossed in. I think the album unfortunately missed its commercial and critical potential because the first single wasn't the right one to introduce this work. I suspect that won't happen again.
4. Wagonmaster, Porter Wagoner
There will never be another album like this. I've had arguments with friends who say, "Thank God!" when I say that about Wagonmaster, but I mean it -- and in a good way. No one like Porter will ever come down the country road again, with his sensibilities and his unerring sense of the country music lifeline. The last of the great hillbillies.
5. Raising Sand, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant
An unlikely pairing has led to a musical delight. As those of you know who have listened to Plant's solo albums since the demise of Led Zeppelin, he is musically adventurous by nature. And country and bluegrass fans well know that Krauss is a musical free spirit. Together, they venture where country has never gone before.
6. Dwight Sings Buck, Dwight Yoakam
I know this is a great tribute to the late Buck Owens, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. Dwight can channel the Bakersfield Sound like no one else, and this is a total balls-to-the-walls blowout. The listening experience would definitely be enhanced by a frosty six-pack and the smells of sawdust on the floor and chalk dust from the pool tables.
7. Unglamorous, Lori McKenna
Her songwriting is more and more insightful. If she sounds a little more polished here than on earlier works -- because Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore produced it -- so be it. You don't have to record in the tool shed to be good. Listen to "Drinkin' Problem."
8. Rhinestoned, Pam Tillis
She has bounced all over the musical map in her storied career, from jazz to rock to folk to country, and now she pulls all that together for what I consider to be her most complete album ever. One of country's great voices settles down a little bit and sounds right at home.
9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert
The woman's got the brass it takes to make it in this man's business. "Gunpowder & Lead" and "Famous in a Small Town" and the title song got all the attention, but give a listen to "Love Letters" or "Desperation" or Lambert's take on Patty Griffin's "Getting Ready."
10. (Tie) Diamonds in the Sun, Walt Wilkins & the Mystiqueros; The Wolf, Shooter Jennings
This is a tie between two flawed but incredibly promising albums by two emerging artists and songwriters who are carving out their own territories. Texas artist Walt Wilkins has departed from his solo career by recording with the Mystiqueros, four very talented writers and singers who, with Wilkins, turn into one excellent country rock band. While the album veers wildly between a raucous, early Steve Earle vibe and an Eagles or Poco earnestness, the result is highly satisfying. Jennings, on his third studio album shows that he's not the best singer in the world and not the best songwriter in the world, although he's unique in his writing and his voice. But importantly he's becoming his own artist, and an exciting one at that.