By Jeffrey B. Remz, January 2007
2006 presented listeners with a lot of great under the radar albums that weren't getting played on country. Well, in fact, neither was the top album of 2006 either!
This isn't the gospel, but just one person's humble view of the year past.
Best of 2006 albums:
1. The Dixie Chicks - "Taking the Long Way" (Open Wide/-Monument/Sony) The Chicks' country star isn't what it once was, of course, but so what? They still sound great and aren't taking any prisoners here either, not even country radio (sic).
2. Johnny Cash - "American V: A Hundred Highways." Just because the Man in Black died three years ago doesn't mean the music stopped coming.
3. Sunny Sweeney - "Heartbreakers Hall of Fame" (Self-released) Hopefully an up and coming Texas honky tonker. And we need more quality female singers also. Very expressive singing and lively playing.
4. Hank Williams III - "Straight to Hell" (Curb). Hank 3 could be headed in the direction of the title, but the "somewhat" outspoken singer puts together a CD filled with vim, vigor and viewpoint to say the least.
5. Josh Turner - "Your Man" (MCA). Turner is so much more than "Long Black Train." He owns a solid voice and mixes it up musically showing his debut was no fluke.
6. James Hand - "The Truth Will Set You Free" (Rounder) This unassuming Texan honky tonker finally gets exposure outside of his home state. The humble Hand is the real deal - he sure sounds like he's lived of what he sings and probably has.
7. Solomon Burke - "Nashville" (Shout! Factory) The album from R&B legend Burke may be more soulful than country - it's really edgy country - but give Burke his due. A joyful listen.
8. Rosanne Cash - "Black Cadillac" (Capitol) - A very heartfelt disc from the daughter of Johnny Cash, and that plays a big role on this deep, sometimes sorrowful, always well-sung gem.
9. BR549 - "Dog Days" (Dualtone). It didn't seem that BR549 had much new to say after losing a few members, including co-lead singer Gary Bennett. But they reinvented themselves and put out a solid album.
10. The Wreckers - "Stand Still Look Pretty" (Warner) Michelle Branch switched gears with friend Jessica Harp and came up with an out of the blue hit disc. Lots of excellent songs and lovely harmonies.
11. The Grascals - "Long List of Heartaches" (Rounder). The hot bluegrass band showed why on their soph effort. Very energetic, short and punchy songs.
12. Jessi Colter - "Out of the Ashes" (Shout! Factory). Two decades later, Colter didn't forget how to make music. Her voice is vibrant in a surprising disc.
13. Ralph Stanley - "A Distant Land to Roam" Songs of the Carter Family (Columbia/DMZ): Does Dr. Ralph only get better with age? He pays tremendous homage to the Carters on an album of depth and simple charm.
14. George Strait - "It Just Comes Natural" (MCA) What sets this apart from many Strait discs is the depth of material. Great to see a veteran traditionalist still topping the charts as well.
15. George Jones - "Kickin Out the Footlights...Again" (Bandit) Greats Jones and Haggard are back singing each other's hits, and both do the songs a lot of justice. Interesting concept that works and shows neither is ready to fade away.
16. Bobby Osborne - "Try a Little Kindness" (Rounder). Osborne's voice lives up its reputation, simply turning in a great performance throughout a very engaging bluegrass set.
17. Johnny Cash - "Personal Files" (Sony) Just cant get enough of Cash. This is spare three-decade old material that stands up solidly. Fortunately it was released, even though that was never intended.
18. The Derailers - "Soldiers of Love" (Palo Duro). A big surprise because Tony Villanueva is no longer one of the lead singers, but Brian Hofeldt carried the Texans with the Bakersfield/Beatles sound quite well thank you .
19. Raul Malo - "You're Only Lonely" (Sanctuary) The voice behind The Mavericks does justice on a risk-laden covers album on everything from The Bee Gees' "Run To Me" to Willie's "Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground."
20. Jim Lauderdale - "Country Super Hits Vol 1"(Yep Roc) Lauderdale's an ace songwriter, but he also knows how to put his heart into the songs. Once again a pleasure to hear Lauderdale on his own here and on "Bluegrass" as well.
21. Dale Watson - "Whiskey or God" (Palo Duro). Ho hum. The real deal Texas honky tonker issues another solid disc.
22. Wanda Jackson - "I Remember Elvis" (Goldenlane) Jackson is close to 70, but shows no worse for wear on a fitting tribute to the King.
23. Trent Summar & The New Row Mob - "Horseshoes & Hand Grenades" (Palo Duro) About time Summar resurfaced. Spirited effort from Summar who delivers music with attitude.
24. Rhonda Vincent - "All American Bluegrass Girl" (Rounder) Bluegrass great Vincent shows just why she is. Fine diversity, singing and playing.
25. Crooked Still - "Shaken By a Low Sound" (Signature Sounds) Lovely airy singing from Aoife O'Donovan in a never rushed bluegrass style from this Boston-area collective.