26. Jeff Bates - 'Leave the Light On" (RCA). That great deep voice of Bates ought to be illegal. Such timbre and a strong soph CD that fell by the wayside unfortunately.
27. Sammy Kershaw - "Honky Tonk Boots" (Category 5) - A surprisingly strong effort from Kershaw since he's been in a holding pattern for awhile. But he sings real well in a well-produced Buddy Cannon disc.
Johnny Berry and the Outliers - "Fegenbush Farm" (self-released); Frankie Miller - "The Family Man" (Heart of Texas); Bruce Robison - "Eleven Stories" (Sustain); Chris Knight - "Enough Rope" (Drifter's Church); Pinmonkey - "Big Shiny Cars" (Back Porch); Lee Roy Parnell - "Back to the Well" (Universal South); Radney Foster - "This World We Live In" (Dualtone);Alecia Nugent - "A Little Girl...A Big Four-Lane" (Rounder); Dave Insley - "Here With You Tonight" (DIR); The Texas Sapphires - "Valley So Steep" (Lowe Farm); Bradley Walker - "Highway of Dreams" (Rounder); Tennessee Rounders - "Here We Go" (The Rounders Music); John D. Hale Band - "One of a Kind" (Driftin' Camel Jock); Slaid Cleaves - "Unsung" (Rounder); Darrell Scott - "The Invisible Man" (Full Light)
Best country movie: "Shut Up & Sing." The documentary about the Dixie Chicks and their problems in the wake of Natalie Maines' comments may have been the only country movie out there this year also, but aside from family scenes and a bit too much posing, the movie is enlightening, especially for the uninitiated about the inner workings of a band during times of crisis.
(A Most Welcome) Surprise surprise: Jack Ingram finally achieves commercial success on a live album no less, "Live Wherever You Are" with two hit singles, "Wherever You Are" and "Love You." Who'd a thunk it after the Texan bounced around to his third label, an upstart yet?
The best newcomer of 2006: The Wreckers were clear cut winners with Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp dishing out a lot of attitude on a pop leaning country disc with bite. A succession of other new artists - Shannon Brown, Jamey Johnson, Rockie Lynne, Jake Owen, Eric Church and Trent Tomlinson released half-way decent albums, but they all tended to rock way too much amidst a big sound and not particularly stellar sales, though Tomlinson did okay.
Pushing the Envelope: Alan Jackson hands down. First he releases "Precious Memories," a gospel album in February and then a spare, low key "Like Red on a Rose" in September, but outside the musical mainstream, and people even buy them. Jackson is not exactly cookie cutter Nashville.
That's country? - Bon Jovi tops the COUNTRY charts with "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Catchy song, but radio programmers ought to listen up because where's the country sound.
That's country, part II? - Carrie Underwood. "Some Hearts" was released in '05, but hit radio hard in '06 with a bunch of non-country songs. She doesn't show any twang live either.
Nashville Star? - Chris Young was clearly deserving of winning the title, but this still isn't the best way to find talent, which is really watered down for the non-country crowd with lots of pop songs and contestants with seemingly little knowledge of country music's roots.
Sophomore slump - Julie Roberts' Men & Mascara" (Mercury) hands down. Her debut received a lot of praise, but the follow-up tanked.
Tribute: "She Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool: A tribute to Barbara Mandrell" (BNA) A few acts here, like Dierks Bentley and Terri Clark, give the songs kick. A generally well put together album.