Last week The 615 listed our top country music singles of 2011, from Thompson Square's "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" to Kenny Chesney's " You and Tequila." Now, it's time to recognize achievements in that beleaguered format, the "album." Nashville's finest -- including new stars like David Nail and veterans like George Strait -- kept busy this year. Check out our best-of picks (in alphabetical order).
"Anniversary Celebration" | Randy Travis
To celebrate twenty-five years as a force in the business, Travis looked back to some of his past glories, and also looked forward with some great new material. Worth the price alone was the collaboration with Shelby Lynne on "Promises" and Tim McGraw on the attitude-filled "Can't Hurt A Man."
"Eleven" | Martina McBride
Making her debut for Scott Borchetta and Republic Nashville, this was one of McBride's most varied albums of her career. From the power ballad feel of "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" to the wistfulness of "Summer Of Love," and the sensual strains of "You Can Get Your Lovin' Right Here," McBride shows once again why she is thought of as the Gold standard.
"Guitar Slinger" | Vince Gill
There have been a lot of talented artists to come down the pike the past five years, but there is only one Vince Gill. This album - his first during that time span - features a diverse mix of everything he does well. There's the bluesy side of "Tell Me Fool," the traditional stylings of "The Old Lucky Diamond Motel" and the beautiful "Threaten Me With Heaven," among many other great tracks! This is how it's done!
"Here For A Good Time" | George Strait
It seems that every Strait album usually makes the year-end lists, but there's a good reason for that. The legendary performer knows what his audience wants, and he gives it to them time in and time out. The lyrical content is somewhat darker at points, with "Poison" and "Drinkin' Man" being key examples, and does he hint at retirement in the future with "I'll Always Remember You?" Stay tuned!
The Love Of God | Kenny Rogers
After a career that has spanned fifty-plus years, Rogers recorded an album that runs the musical gamut. There's the bluegrass-Gospel tinge of "I'll Fly Away," featuring The Whites, as well as the contemporary sounds of "Circle Of Friends," with Point of Grace. He also delivers one of the more musically potent versions of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" that I have heard in some time!
"Hell on Heels" | The Pistol Annies
It was somewhat of a risky move for an artist of Miranda Lambert's stature to release an album as part of a group so close to her own album. However, tracks like "Hell On Heels," "The Hunter's Wife," and "Boys From The South" were among the most entertaining released in country in 2011. And, one more thing… Ashley Monroe is a star. 2012 will prove that!
"Sound Of A Million Dreams" | David Nail
If there was an award given for the best pure male vocalist in Nashville, it very might well go to this Missouri native. Nail, a longtime favorite in Music City, excels once again with this disc. "Half Mile Hill" is a highlight, as well as the stunning "Catherine," but if you're like me, you just might have the title cut on repeat. It - and he - is that good!
"This Is Country Music" | Brad Paisley
After a dozen years of recording, Paisley released what some consider to be his finest work yet. From the power and passion of "Remind Me" to the frustration of "A Man Don't Have To Die" to reuniting one of country's all-time greatest acts with "Old Alabama," Paisley hit all the right notes with this one.
"Where Country Grows" | Ashton Shepherd
There was no let down with the sophomore release from this Alabama native who stresses her twang. If anything, cuts such as "Rory's Radio," "That All Leads To One Thing" and the sassy title cut show that she's a force to be reckoned with!
"Wildflower" | Lauren Alania
The runner-up on "American Idol" this year won't have to play second fiddle to anyone for a while - providing her music is as strong as this. Producer Byron Gallimore provides the Georgia native with the platform to dazzle, and she does on her debut project. Look out for "Tupelo" in 2012. I have a feeling it could be huge!
HONORABLE MENTION: "Kitty Wells Dresses" | Laura Cantrell
Without getting into the age-old discussion about what country music is or is not, alt-country goddess Laura Cantrell deserves kudos for putting together this lovingly produced tribute album to the "Queen of Country Music," who set the bar and the standard before anyone else!