Country Music was pretty good in the ’00s.
Looking back on the decade’s top albums it’s easy to see how the landscape of country music change. Nearly every year albums were released that introduced new stars to the country audience. Established artists also reinvented themselves with important albums during this period.
I tried to narrow things down to 25. Some big cuts had to be made. It was tough to compile. I had it down to about 30 or so and it was getting tough…
Let’s look back on the 25 most important country albums of the ‘000s…
Top Country Albums 2000-2009
Doin’ My Thing – Luke Bryan (2009)
Little Bit of Everything – Billy Currington (2008)
The Man I Want to Be – Chris Young (2009)
Phil Vassar – Phil Vassar (2000)
Scarecrow – Garth Brooks (2001)
25) Learn to Live – Darius Rucker (2008)
In 1994 Hootie & The Blowfish became just about the biggest band in the world. During their run in the ’90s they defined the era of garage band rock. Lead singer Darius Rucker was the face of the band. His raspy voice and knack for approachable melodies and lyrics made the band’s music special (all four members contributed to songwriting and lyrics).
Flash forward to 2008… Hootie was still on the road each year playing shows. They were releasing albums on a fairly regular basis, but were not selling as much as during their big days when their debut shipped over 16 million copies.
Darius took some time away from Hootie and worked his way into a deal at Capital Nashville. He and producer Frank Rogers created a collection of songs that was both pop and country. The result was 2008’s Learn To Live and it proved more successful than anyone could imagine.
The album yielded 3 number one hits right out of the gate and a fourth made it to the top 3. If anyone tells you they knew Darius Rucker would have that kind of success in country music they’d be lying to you. He overcame the biggest odds in Nashville and succeeded.
Darius took his approachable style and made millions of country fans believers. In fact, Darius changed the country landscape in a way with his debut country release. Learn To Live showed others that it’s ok to make music targeted at radio. It works. It’s what fans want.
Darius Rucker was one of the biggest and most unlikely success stories in country music in the 2000s.
24) Tough All Over – Gary Allan (2005)
Gary Allan stumbled along in the late ’90s as he and his label worked to define the artist. It was tricky. Gary’s style is vastly different than other country artists. He’s got a little edge to him. His voice is raspy with plenty of soul and definition. And from his appearance you might think Gary is the former lead singer of Extreme or something.
As the decade turned to the ’00s, Gary figured things out. He ran off album and album in the early ’00s with hit after hit. His fanbase was growing and things were looking up.
Then in 2004 tragedy struck Gary. His wife committed suicide after a battle with depression. Gary was left to figure his life out and provide for his kids – 3 his own and 3 step kids from his wife. It’s unimaginable for most just how painful this time in Gary’s life must have been. Many would not be able to continue with something like work after an event like this, but Gary took to his music for the grieving process and the result was 2005’s Tough All Over and it became perhaps his signature album.
The album featured two singles lead off by Gary’s cover of Best I Ever Had previously written and recorded by alt-rock band Vertical Horizon. Gary’s version was somber and sad. The emotion bled through his pores as he poured his heart and soul out on the track. Fans connected with the sadness and made the song Gary’s first to achieve gold status.
The album saw one more single, another sad tune about life and how things are not always happy and cheery.
Tough All Over caught people’s attention in 2005. It was nothing like the happy music most artists put out. This album was drenched in difficult emotions and tough situations. The album proved a winner as fans connected to the music. It turns out music can help people through life even when things are tough all over.
23) Your Man – Josh Turner (2006)
He was the second coming of Randy Travis.
In 2002, Josh Turner released his first single. The song cracked the top 50 on the charts and didn’t make much noise. Josh kept his head down and in 2003 things changed with his first top fifteen single. The soft spoken kid soon had a huge hit on his hands and was drawing comparisons to the great Randy Travis for his deep, traditional country voice.
One more single was released from Josh’s debut album and it didn’t make a huge impact. Things were at a bit of a crossroads for the new country star. Would he become the superstar like his idol, Randy Travis, or would he disappear?
Then in 2005 Josh released his sophomore record and it turned things way around. The first two singles reached the top spot on the charts. Josh came into his own and really found his place in country music with the record Your Man. The album was packed with sexy, romantic tunes about love and life. People ate it up by the millions and Josh became a huge star.
The 2000s in country music will probably be remembered for the pop leaning country songs released to radio. Josh Turner was a traditionalist right from the get go and he changed the type of music people were listening to. Country fans now have traditional country to listen to again on radio with Josh Turner.
Your Man was a game changing type of album and Josh Turner is still going strong even today. There is no slowing this traditional country singer down.
22) License to Chill – Jimmy Buffett (2004)
Jimmy Buffett, country star?
In 2003, Alan Jackson recorded a new track for his second greatest hits collection. The song, It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere, had a summertime feel and Alan knew he had to get the king of summertime on the horn to line up a duet.
Jimmy Buffett came in and did his verse on the track with Alan and the song took off. I remember hearing for the song for the first time and thinking it was something special. It was catchy. It seemed like such a clever hook for a song and to add in Jimmy Buffett made it an over the top smash success.
Jimmy, always one to take advantage of good fortune, set in the studio to record a country-leaning album. The result was License to Chill and it sold nearly a quarter million records on its opening week of release in 2004. The album had Jimmy originals and even a cover of the countriest of all country songs Hey Good Lookin’, which went to the top ten on the country singles charts.
Jimmy was once again on the top of the charts and radio for the first time in three decades and this time he was doing it on the country charts. Everybody owned a copy of License to Chill it seemed. Classic Jimmy fans may have been a little caught off guard by the slight change in approach from Jimmy, but they still bought the set. My mom even had a copy in her car throughout the year.
It was a great album from a legend in music and it really stands out as one of the best albums of the 2000s.
21) Horse of a Different Color – Big & Rich (2004)
Now here was a game changing album.
In early 2004 a song started making the rounds at country radio. The song wasn’t just any song. It was Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy and it really caught country fans off guard. Some really hated it. Others absolutely loved it. And at the center of the attention was John Rich and Big Kenny – Big & Rich.
In the mid ’90s John Rich got his start as the bassist and occasional singer for the successful band Lonestar. Big Kenny started out as a struggling wannabe pop star. The two eventually found each other somewhere in Nashville and they got to jamming. They eventually created a devoted following and took other artists under their musical wing.
What started out as a simple saying in a bar one night turned into a career changing song for the duo. Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy became an anthem for the country party crowd. Big & Rich played loud and they played in your face.
The entire album the guys released in 2004, Horse of a Different Color, was full of fresh sounding music. Nobody had ever played like this in country music before and if they had it hadn’t been on radio for quite some time.
The album sold millions of copies and made the guys superstars.
People really hated this album while others couldn’t get enough. It seems that’s not a bad way to go about it. If you piss off half the people and make the other half love you you’re probably doing something right.
Horse of a Different Color changed country music. It was a huge album.