Check out Part 1

John AndersonJohn Anderson - Easy Money
Like many veteran country stars, John Anderson didn't retire so much as fade from the spotlight as his new records slowly started to sell less and less. After an early-'80s peak, his hits started to dry up after the mid-'90s and while he continued to work, cutting records and playing shows, he slowly fell off of Nashville's radar. Cut to the middle of the 2000s, when Big and Rich were major players in the Music City, and their key songwriter, John Rich, approached Anderson with the offer of producing and collaborating on a new record. Anderson accepted and the resulting album, Easy Money, saw the singer returning to his first major label, Warner, but it's a homecoming in another sense, too, because it's the biggest, boldest, and best record he's made in a long, long time. Read more >>


Toby KeithToby Keith - Big Dog Daddy
After he becoming a bona fide superstar in the wake of "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue," Toby Keith refused to play it safe, blowing up his persona to mythic heights on 2003's Shock'n Y'All, stretching his musical legs on Honkytonk University, and calling off all bets with the Lari White-produced White Trash with Money, where he got soulful and soft in equal measures. After that trilogy of exploration, Keith snaps back to the basics on Big Dog Daddy, his first self-produced album and his first album of nothing but pure, hardcore country since his star rose in the early years of the new millennium. This isn't a retreat as much as it's a reaffirmation of his strengths as a singer, songwriter, performer, and interpreter. Read more >>


Martina McBrideMartina McBride - Waking Up Laughing
Martina McBride scored big with Timeless, her collection of classic country tunes in 2005. It was yet another feather in the singer's cap. McBride's reign near the top of country music's pantheon has been near constant. She's picky about the songs she chooses to sing, she works with sympathetic producers, and her voice is, well, timeless. She's got the Southern twang, but its timbre carries within it a vast scope of American music. Check "Anyway," the first single and video from 2007's Waking Up Laughing, and one of two tunes on the set McBride had a hand in writing (and she produced the set herself -- she's earned the right). Read more >>

Brad PaisleyBrad Paisley - 5th Gear
Brad Paisley is in a strangely nostalgic mood on 5th Gear, its title both a reference to its status as Paisley's fifth studio album and to the numerous car songs scattered across this album. Those car songs aren't mere celebrations of magic machinery; they're infused with nostalgia -- he holds to a very teenage interpretation of the power of the car, meaning that the automobile is the embodiment of freedom, and this isn't his only gaze back to adolescence, either. He's even writing letters back to his 17-year-old self, consoling him that things are gonna turn out OK after all is said and done, which gets to the core of 5th Gear: Paisley is happy about how things have turned out but he still can't help but look back just a little wistfully. Read more >>

leann rimesLeann Rimes - Family
LeAnn Rimes planned to succeed This Woman, her 2005 return to country, with a pop album called Whatever We Wanna in 2006, but as This Woman continued to sell steadily in the U.S., that album wound up seeing the light of day only in Europe. Instead of issuing Whatever We Wanna in America in 2007, Rimes released an entirely different, brand-new album called Family, a record that was closer to country than her 2006 Europop excursion. Of course, this makes it tailor-made for the American market, where she is still seen primarily as a country singer, not a pop star, but Family isn't quite a crass commercial move. Read more >>

Pam TillisPam Tillis - Rhinestoned
Let's face it: there is only one Pam Tillis. Her voice, one of the purest country instruments to come out of Nash Vegas in the last 30 years, draws on the music's rich and varied tradition, and points forward to the place where country, bluegrass, rock, pop, swing and soul meet. She may not be recording for the major labels anymore, but, as evidenced by Rhinestoned, she's making better music now than she's ever made in her life. The 11 cuts here, penned by some of Nashville's finest songwriters, are delivered with the kind of savvy and artistry that only a veteran can muster. Tillis delivers "Something Burning Out" with all the ache and confusion of a woman who cannot understand why love itself is not enough. Read more >>

Josh TurnerJosh Turner - Everything Is Fine
The man with the biggest, most distinctive bass voice in country since Johnny Cash is back with album number three. Josh Turner scored big with the "Long Black Train" on his debut and took it over the top with the two big singles off his breakthrough sophomore album "Your Man," (the title track) and the monstrous hit "Would You Go with Me." While it's true that Turner kept producer Frank Rogers on board, along with mixing king Justin Niebank and many of the same musicians, there is still more of his actual personality on Everything Is Fine than on his previous albums put together. Read more >>

carrie underwoodCarrie Underwood - Carnival Ride
The pivotal American Idol moment for Carrie Underwood was when she teased her hair to the heavens and sang Heart's "Alone," belting out the power ballad with sincerity and a natural flair for drama. It was the surest sign that Carrie wasn't merely the country star the show gladly pigeonholed her as, that she was a pop star by any measure. Of course, the great irony was that Carrie had little interest in being a pop star; she wanted to be a country singer, but the sheer magnitude of American Idol meant that she was already a pop star who needed to cross over to country, a reverse of the usual crossover move. Underwood pulled off that tricky maneuver with a deceptive ease on her 2005 debut, Some Hearts, which turned into a smash success, turning sextuple platinum at a time when many albums struggle to go gold, even surpassing the sales of the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Read more >>

Gretchen WilsonGretchen Wilson - One of the Boys
Gretchen Wilson set the country music charts on fire with her smash single "Redneck Woman" and her debut album, Here for the Party (2004). The track -- though composed by colleague John Rich (of Big & Rich) -- became an anthem for women all over America. Written especially for Wilson, it is from-the-gut, working-class feminism for the post-feminist age, straightforwardly sung with a celebratory vengeance. As a slice-of-life singer who embodied and brought to life each cut on the album, she became an "overnight sensation." Her follow-up, All Jacked Up (2005), was recorded and rushed out by Sony a year later. Certainly the marketing department wanted to capture Wilsonmania, since her debut sold five-million copies. Read more >>