With a string of highly influential releases, 1968 was a great year for albums. Yet when those albums, all now celebrating their 50th anniversaries, get namechecked, country sets don’t usually make the cut. Country albums, especially ones from before the rise of Outlaw Country in the middle Seventies, tend to get dismissed as “Hits plus filler,” a single or two padded out by an LP’s worth of decades-old country standards, plus maybe a couple of versions of someone else’s recent hit. This was true sometimes, but not always. More to the point, these dismissals are deaf to all the times when an old song, delivered by a new singer in a new arrangement, allowed listeners to hear that old song as if for the first time – or to discover new meanings altogether.
Listening today, 1968 stands out as an especially great year for country albums. The best tended to be interested in different sounds, and in different parts of the human experience, than Electric Ladyland or Lady Soul, Beggars Banquet or The White Album. But in that excellent company is exactly where the country albums below belong.