The Best Country Music of 2009

by Juli Thanki and Dave Heaton

15 December 2009


5 - 1


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Gene Watson

A Taste of the Truth

US: 25 Aug 2009
UK: 21 Sep 2009

Review [23.Nov.2009]


Don’t throw that farewell party just yet: two years after In a Perfect World won critical acclaim, Gene Watson is back and better than ever. A Taste of the Truth is everything that’s good about traditional country. Rhonda Vincent is once again stunning as Watson’s duet partner on feel-bad song of the year “Staying Together”, which paints an all-too-vivid portrait of a loveless marriage, while Trace Adkins joins Watson for “I Think We’ve Got a Pulse”, an optimistic toe-tapper about the state of country music. Best of all is “Three Minutes at a Time”, a country song about country songs and their ability to see us through the worst of heartaches. Juli Thanki



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Chuck Mead

Journeyman’s Wager

(Thirty Tigers)
US: 17 Mar 2009
UK: 12 May 2009


BR549’s style of country often strikes me as too reverential, more about emulation than inspiration. In comparison, former BR549 singer Chuck Mead‘s first solo LP is the sound of cutting loose. The songs still look back to country’s past, but more like 1970s truck-driving songs and beer-drinking honky-tonk songs. These songs are boisterous, more out of frustration with life than as a partying gesture. They have a traveler’s sense of restlessness, but also a bitterness that can only come from getting your heart broken. That provides grit and feeling to match the dark humor in songs like “She Got the Ring” (“and I got the finger”). There’s loneliness here too, though it sure sounds like he’s having a ball. Dave Heaton



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Miranda Lambert


US: 29 Sep 2009
UK: 29 Sep 2009

Review [27.Sep.2009]


She’s teeny and blonde, but don’t get Miranda Lambert confused with fellow reality show alum Carrie Underwood. This Texan loves guns, red meat, and shilling for Cotton, Inc. Her third album is her best to date, displaying a marked growth in her songwriting, evident in first two singles “Dead Flowers” and “White Liar”. Throw in well-chosen covers from Buddy and Julie Miller (“Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go”), Fred Eaglesmith (“Time to Get a Gun”), and John Prine (“That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round”) and you’ve got an album that treads the line between radio-friendliness and alt-country sensibility. At only 26 years old, Lambert’s got a bright future ahead of her in country music; best not take your eyes off her. Juli Thanki



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Brad Paisley

American Saturday Night

(Arista Nashville)
US: 30 Jun 2009
UK: 30 Jun 2009

Review [5.Aug.2009]


Brad Paisley made his mark as a smart-ass with a mean guitar who could churn out hits. For this album, his best, he sharpened his chops while letting his guard down more. The overarching theme of the album is awe at where he has grown to in his personal life, with a wife and kids, and at where our country has grown to, with a diverse population electing an African-American president. The two are tied together intelligently, to make this a concept album of sorts, but just as smart is the looseness of that concept, the way the album allows still for drinking songs, break-up songs, and playful pokes at masculine sense of importance. The tough guy with a sensitive soul has become a new-country archetype; kudos to Paisley by breathing life into it by being willing to laugh at himself and to think. Dave Heaton



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Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

Willie and the Wheel

US: 3 Feb 2009
UK: 3 Feb 2009


This was a damn good year for Willie Nelson albums. Naked Willie stripped the lush Nashville Sound from a collection of Nelson’s 1970s recordings, leaving the minimalist sound Willie wanted all along. The best Nelson album of the year—perhaps one of the best Willie Nelson albums ever—finds him doing his best Bob Wills impersonation. Willie and the Wheel was an album a long time in the making. In the 1970s, Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler handpicked several songs for Willie Nelson to record with Western Swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel, but the project didn’t actually get underway until 30-some years later. If this album had come out back when Wexler first pitched the idea, chances are that by now it would be considered a classic. Brimming with incredible talent and infectious joy, Willie and the Wheel is a keeper. Just try listening to standards like “Hesitation Blues” and “Right or Wrong” without smiling. Juli Thanki


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