Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
I’ve agonized how to launch a feature like this for far too long now.
Given that album reviews basically function as this album’s lifeblood, I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t review older albums. Sure, time is always an issue – I can’t even keep up with the wave of current releases these days, let alone past ones – but the bigger issue has always been, well, me. You see, my problem with approaching older works is that I feel a need to canonize them within either an artist’s discography or the genre at large. But I’ve learned over the years that that’s a job for music historians – an important one, don’t get me wrong, especially for preservation purposes – and not for people like me looking to actively track their own personal likes and dislikes with music released. There’s also the issue of it being a much more demanding and daunting learning process compared to one where I approach modern releases, given that it’s hard to escape conversations surrounding historical context with older releases. And finding time not only to listen to that one past album but also to examine it within the context of an artist’s entire discography at large – or within the context of the country music genre in general – well … again, it’s daunting.
Still, I think most people look to outlets like this one for new discoveries, and there’s just as much value to be found in digging up a gem from the past yet unheard as there is something new. My original intention with this feature, then, was to pick past albums at random to review, or review an artist’s discography in order from start to finish (sort of like what the excellent My Kind of Country once did). But I’m not sure I’d cover as much ground as I’d prefer adopting that method for just myself.
So, starting next week, I’m launching a review series aimed at older albums that takes a little piece of every method I’ve considered thus far. Ultimately, I’m picking 10 albums from five different decades – from the ‘70s to the 2010s – with the only rule being that I can only pick one release per artist per decade, all of which … maybe aren’t considered classic releases, so much as iconic ones. This will not, I repeat not, wind up as a compilation of “the 50 best country albums ever” or anything like that when it’s eventually finished. No, if anything, my goal, much like with my Pop Goes the Country series from before, will be to very loosely tell country music’s story through these releases – where it’s been and where it’s going. That’s why I’ve tried to pick albums that represent the various sounds we’ve come to associate with the genre, all while making sure they’re notable on their own merits, too.
These will not solely be historical examinations. While historical context will, naturally, weigh in with these discussions, I’m going to balance them out with the same analytical thoughts for the albums themselves that characterize my reviews of modern works. In a sense, I’ll be offering my thoughts on these albums not only on their impact at the time of their respective releases, but also how well they’ve aged today, and only from the perspective of my personal taste. And all of this goes without saying, but this isn’t meant as a way to shake up the discourse – I can’t influence an album’s legacy by talking positively or negatively about it years or decades after the fact, and I’m glad for that. Also, if you’re wondering why I’m stopping at the ‘70s, it’s because it, to me, symbolizes when country music started to care more about the album concept at large, even if there are, of course, great albums that came before. A few last things to keep in mind – there are a few releases, like, say, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, that I feel function better as historical pieces rather than albums meant to review in the context of easy listening purposes, hence why I might have overlooked them in favor of another album to spotlight. And then there’s the issue regarding albums I actually have covered here before that are arguably – or maybe undeniably – notable. Even if I think certain reviews haven’t aged well, I’ve loosely covered albums like Gary Stewart’s Out of Hand, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, Randy Travis’ Storms of Life, Alan Jackson’s Drive, and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (among others) in some capacity before, making repeat discussions feel redundant.
So, which 50 albums will I be covering? Find out below:
- Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger (1975)
- Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1971)
- Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors (1971)
- Tom T. Hall, In Search of a Song (1971)
- Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)
- Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky (1975)
- Tanya Tucker, TNT (1978)
- Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors (1973)
- Kenny Rogers, The Gambler (1978)
- Guy Clark, Old No. 1 (1975)
- Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache (1981)
- George Jones, I Am What I Am (1980)
- Merle Haggard, Back to the Barrooms (1980)
- George Strait, Strait From the Heart (1982)
- The Judds, Why Not Me (1984)
- Reba McEntire, My Kind of Country (1984)
- Steve Earle, Guitar Town (1986)
- Dwight Yoakam, Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room (1988)
- Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio (1987)
- Clint Black, Killin’ Time (1989)
- Garth Brooks, No Fences (1990)
- Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man (1991)
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On (1992)
- Iris DeMent, Infamous Angel (1992)
- Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly (1994)
- Son Volt, Trace (1995)
- Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
- Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
- Marty Stuart, The Pilgrim (1999)
- The Chicks, Fly (1999)
- Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul (2001)
- Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid (2001)
- Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires (2003)
- Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
- The Chicks, Home (2002)
- Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From (2005)
- Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
- Taylor Swift, Fearless (2008)
- Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (2008)
- Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies (2009)
- Eric Church, Chief (2011)
- Brandy Clark, 12 Stories (2013)
- Turnpike Troubadours, Diamonds and Gasoline (2010)
- Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (2013)
- Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014)
- Chris Stapleton, Traveller (2015)
- Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle (2016)
- Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (2016)
- Tyler Childers, Purgatory (2017)
- Ashley McBryde, Girl Going Nowhere (2018)
Welcome to: World Records.
6 thoughts on “Launching Soon: World Records – An Older Album Review Series”
great looking list!
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Hi Zack – this looks awesome! I’m really looking forward to this. I have at least some level of familiarity with almost all of these albums (and I am very familiar with some), so I’m looking forward to revisiting them and reading along. Are you going to be reviewing them in chronological order, or will it be more of a random process?
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The order listed above *should* be the order I’ll follow, though this is me thinking about it in theory rather than in execution. Things could change – I have the order set the way I do to tell a very loose but still connected country music story – but the order above is the goal!
Sounds good – thanks!
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I’ll applaud you for this. I have thought about for years to make a blog and cover country music albums from the 90’s back because there wasn’t many people who were not only doing this but covering albums/artists from the 70’s back. The problem I ran into was not only lack of time but where to start and would anybody even care about a review of random albums by say Skeeter Davis, Mac Davis, Norma Jean, Jerry Reed etc. Also like you pointed out I didn’t grow up in those era’s (1992) so I might be missing something historically about the album or it’s production and it would be really hard for me not to compare to the artist’s future albums/masterpieces that weren’t recorded yet or to later albums as that could be unfair. When I use to talk with my grandpa and we would discuss albums from his time period we found a lot of common ground but there were times where i didn’t think the music was that great. There are a few country standards that people love to praise but I just don’t get it. Example “Release Me (And Let Me Love Again” has been recorded by 100’s of artists but i just think the song isn’t really that great. Good luck and I can’t wait to see your reviews. A lot of those albums I consider classics but we will see how they hold up.
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Hey, I think you should! I know you mentioned a lack of time, which, yeah, I totally understand myself (😅), but even if it is sometimes a learning process, that’s OK – I’d say as long as you’re honest with where you’re coming from it’s all good.
I definitely hear you on how well classics have aged well today versus how they were received way back when. The main difference to me between songs today versus then always seems to point to just the plainspoken nature of how lyrics were delivered in the past – more straightforward and direct in getting to the point, and a little more mature overall, which definitely helps, but also means some songs can lack the dramatic punch or flair of some material today.
Granted, that’s just my perspective! I’m looking forward to mapping out these albums as well. Thanks for reading along!