(of the past twenty years)
Since I listen to more CDs with female vocalists than anything, I thought it would be appropriate to confine my list of favorite CDs to such. I listen to all kinds of music, so this list has CDs from alternative, country, R&B and pop/rock. The artists are either solo female singers or groups with a female vocalist, and they’re all from the past twenty years, so don’t expect to see Patsy Cline or Nancy Sinatra. I thought it only fair to include the best CD from each artist, so you will only see one Madonna CD, as much as I would have liked to add “Confessions On a Dancefloor” or “Erotica” to the list. Also, some artists may have had a few standout songs on their CDs (and throughout their careers), but this is a list of the best CDs - the whole package, so you won’t see some artists here that you may have expected (and there are, of course, plenty of CDs I would have liked to include that I just couldn’t fit within the number of slots - see the honorable mentions after the three-way tie at #25). Without further adieu…
1. The Cardigans “Gran Turismo”
This album is ten years old, but sounds remarkably modern. Great electronic beats tinge a CD that oozes atmosphere. It was originally criticized for being “too dark,” but it was more ahead of its time than anything. This was The Cardigans’ attempt to shed the pop image that their mega-hit “Lovefool” attached to them, ostracizing them from their fans. They couldn’t have gone in a more different direction, and the end result is a wonderful alternative, experimental record. Since “Gran Turismo,” The Cardigans have softened their sound, but the songs that stand out on their subsequent efforts recall the type of sound offered in this, a perfect album, under appreciated, but more than deserving of the top slot on this list.
Download These: Erase/Rewind, Explode, Hanging Around, Marvel Hill, My Favourite Game.
For Further Listening: Feathers and Down
2. Garbage “Version 2.0”
Garbage first appeared on the scene with a breathy, sexy, bold song called “Queer,” and they just kept getting edgier with their second CD, which was nominated for “Best Album” at the Grammy Awards, and headed up by “Push It,” a song that received much attention. “Version 2.0” is an even darker album than The Cardigans’ “Gran Turismo,” but it worked for their image, especially fronted by the sexy-trashy Shirley Manson. Clever lyrics permeate this CD that varies from harsh grating sounds to soft Gothic piano sounds.
Download These: Special, Hammering In My Head, Push It, The Trick Is To Keep Breathing, You Look So Fine.
For Further Listening: Boys Wanna Fight
3. Madonna “Ray of Light”
Madonna reinvented herself with acclaim when “Ray of Light” was released. She had gone “spiritual,” and many of the songs that appear on this album are soaked with Eastern sounds and boast lyrics that spout wisdom aplenty. And does it well. The best music conveys a certain mood, and this CD has not only an overall cohesive sound, but actually feels like a spiritual experience with slow songs full of strings and fast songs sparse with lyrics.
Download These: Ray of Light, Skin, Sky Fits Heaven, Frozen, The Power of Good-Bye.
For Further Listening: How High
4. Mindy McCready “I’m Not So Tough”
This is the best that country-pop has to offer. Personal issue aside, Mindy fills her CDs with fantastic songs that speak of conflicting conscious and are catchy as all hell. She pours her heart into these songs, which vary from cheeky to sultry, all sung with a strong voice that is rarely heard in music. It’s unfortunate that Mindy’s talent has grown with each album, as they’ve sold less.
Download These: I’m Not So Tough, All I Want Is Everything, I’ve Got a Feeling, Over and Over, Take Me Apart.
For Further Listening: Lovin' Your Man
5. Vanessa Carlton “Harmonium”
This is the perfect Goth album. The lyrics are darkly pretty, accompanied by beautiful moody piano music. Hailed by critics, “Harmonium” conveys Carlton’s varied experiences with catchy melodies and an array of emotions.
Download These: White Houses, Who’s To Say, Afterglow, Papa, She Floats.
For Further Listening: Paint It Black
6. Mandy Moore “Wild Hope”
Starting out as a pop princess, Mandy’s had to fight headlong to become a serious artist. This is it. Marking her debut as a songwriter, Moore’s songs are poignant, insightful and lyrical. For “Wild Hope,” Moore has shed any ties to sugar-pop for a folksy sound that suits her. It’s a unique sound, a perfect summer album, and an absolute delight.
Download These: Most of Me, Few Days Down, Looking Forward To Looking Back, Wild Hope, Nothing That You Are.
For Further Listening: Umbrella
7. Sophie B. Hawkins “Whaler”
From the early 90’s Hawkins came onto the scene with a bang with “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Her second CD, “Whaler,” contained her #1 hit “As I Lay Me Down,” and was full of other quirky, experimental sounds, where Hawkins herself worked on much of the percussion sounds. This album is just a wild ride and a lot of fun.
Download These: Right Beside You, The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty, I Need Nothing Else, Sometimes I See, Mr. Tugboat Hello.
For Further Listening: I Want You
8. Shivaree “Who’s Got Trouble?”
Shivaree’s “Who’s Got Trouble” transports you to a smoky blues bar with lead singer Ambrosia Parsley’s breathy vocals and often depressing subject matter.
Download These: New Casablanca, I Close My Eyes, Someday, Mexican Boyfriend, The Fat Lady of Limbourg.
For Further Listening: Goodnight Moon
9. Janet Jackson “janet.”
A classic CD with a lot of soul, Janet moves between sweet love ballads and sexy dance numbers. The beats are varied, and even includes an opera singer on “This Time.”
Download These: That’s the Way Love Goes, If, This Time, Throb, Again.
For Further Listening: Escapade
10. Jewel “0304”
Critically panned, I don’t care what people say, Jewel’s “0304” is amazing. Electronic sounds fill an album that’s a welcome, unique departure from her country sound, where she tackles some darker subject matter and stretched her wings, doing what she will, experimenting with sound to impressive results.
Download These: Intuition, Fragile Heart, 2 Become 1, Haunted, Yes U Can.
For Further Listening: Who Will Save Your Soul?
11. Jessica Andrews “Heart Shaped World”
It was hard for me to narrow down which CD of Jessica Andrews was going to be included in this soundtrack. Her second album “Who I Am” is on equal footing with her debut, “Heart Shaped World,” which I chose, and has a certain overall feel to it that I love, but “Heart Shaped World” perhaps contains the more memorable songs. Some of the greatest country-pop songs out there.
Download These: You Go First, The Riverside, Unbreakable Heart, I Do Now, I Will Be There For You
For Further Listening: Who I Am
12. Dixie Chicks “Taking the Long Way”
Following the then-objectional comment that front singer Natalie Mane made at a concert overseas, the Dixie Chicks, once country darlings, saw their CDs burned by protesters and their songs all but banned from radio. But they get the last laugh as some of the greatest talent to come from country, they get the critical acclaim, album sales, a Grammy for Best Album, and more fans than ever, despite the closedmindedness of the ridiculous entity known as country radio. “Taking the Long Way” is a ballsy response, with some of their best songs yet.
Download These: Easy Silence, Not Ready To Make Nice, Voice Inside My Head, Baby Hold On, So Hard.
For Further Listening: Travelin’ Soldier
13. No Doubt “Rock Steady”
No Doubt has been innovative since they appeared with “Just A Girl,” but their CD “Rock Steady” really illustrated how they could spread their creative juices for some extremely unique, fun songs.
Download These: Hella Good, Making Out, Don’t Let Me Down, In My Head, Platinum Blonde Life.
For Further Listening: Ex-Girlfriend
14. Shania Twain “Come On Over”
Shania Twain became an overnight sensation with “You’re Still the One,” but her entire CD is full of catchy country tunes, selling over ten million units with her bold lyrics and soft ballads.
Download These: Love Gets Me Every Time, From This Moment On, When, You’re Still the One, You’ve Got a Way.
For Further Listening: Nah!
15. Dannii Minogue “Neon Nights”
This fantastic dance CD comes from the sister of superstar Kylie Minogue. A star overseas herself, Dannii has filled her CD with some of the baddest beats to ever grace a dance floor.
Download These: Put the Needle On It, Creep, I Begin To Wonder, Mighty Fine, It Won’t Work Out.
For Further Listening: Everything I Wanted (Xenomania 12” Mix)
16. Lily Allen “Alright, Still…”
Before Amy Winehouse shocked America, Lily Allen was on the scene with her cheeky lyrics and British accent. Boasting a unique sound, this is one of the best, freshest CDs in recent memory.
Download These: Smile, Everything’s Just Wonderful, Friday Night, Friend of Mine, Alfie.
For Further Listening: N/A
17. Sheryl Crow “Tuesday Night Music Club”
“All I Wanna Do” propelled Sheryl Crow to the forefront of Adult Contemporary music. The rest of her debut album is also damn good, tinged with country sounds, and Crow’s distinct crooning.
Download These: All I Wanna Do, Strong Enough, I Shall Believe, Leaving Las Vegas, Can’t Cry Anymore
For Further Listening: If It Makes You Happy
18. Sherrie Austin “Love In the Real World”
Australian-born Sherrie Austin constructs a country album with country songs void of a lot of the pop influence heard in her contemporaries. They’re a lot of fun, and sung with a lot of sass and tenderness.
Download These: Never Been Kissed, Good Love Comin’ On, That’s No Way To Break a Heart, All the Love a Heart Can Hold, Heart To Heart
For Further Listening: Back Where I Belong
19. Poe “Hello”
Music doesn’t get much edgier than Poe’s debut album. Rough and raw, “Hello” has dark, angry lyrics and harsh sounds, but also some lovely little simple songs.
Download These: Hello, Trigger Happy Jack (Drive By a Go-Go), Angry Johnny, Fingertips, Fly Away
For Further Listening: Wild
20. Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill”
“You Oughta Know” made Alanis Morissette the poster child for angry chick music, but you know what? Totally earned. And other songs from her debut album are just as fun, sung with confidence and some brass balls.
Download These: All I Really Want, You Oughta Know, Hand In My Pocket, Ironic, Head Over Feet
For Further Listening: Moratorium
21. Patty Loveless “Long Stretch of Lonesome”
Like Sherrie Austin, this CD is good old country, full of songs of love lost and all of that stuff that makes country music the music of pain.
Download These: To Have You Back Again, I Don’t Want To Feel Like That, High On Love, Like Water Into Wine, You Don’t Seem To Miss Me,
For Further Listening: I’m That Kind of Girl
22. TLC “Crazy Sexy Cool”
A Soulful album that puts it right out there in the title what you’re going to find inside.
Download These: Creep, Diggin’ On You, Red Light Special, Waterfalls, Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes
For Further Listening: Baby-Baby-Baby
23. Aimee Mann “Magnolia: Original Soundtrack”
Lovely, simple songs with clever lyrics are par for the course on any Aimee Mann CD you pick up, but when she put together the soundtrack for Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus “Magnolia,” she soared to new heights of heartache and vision.
Download These: One, Deathly, You Do, Wise Up, Save Me
For Further Listening: That’s Just What You Are
24. Amy Winehouse “Back To Black”
Amy Winehouse is not a black woman, but she sure as hell sounds like one. And just try to get “Rehab” out of your head after you’ve heard it.
Download These: Rehab, You Know I’m No Good, Back To Black, Me & Mr. Jones, Wake Up Alone
For Further Listening: Stronger Than Me
25. (Tie) Britney Spears “Britney”
The princess of pop earns that title with this CD, where she gets a little racy with her lyrics, and produces some of the best dance-pop tracks available.
Download These: I’m a Slave 4 U, Lonely, Boys, Cinderella, Let Me Be
For Further Listening: Toxic
25. (Tie) Expose “Expose”
This album represents the best of that late-80’s, early 90’s period of music. It has that synthesized sound, some pretty cheesy lyrics, but damn, it’s infectious as all hell.
Download These: You Don’t Know What You Got, I’ll Never Get Over You (Getting Over Me), Angel, I Specialize In Love, Give Me All Your Love
For Further Listening: Point of No Return
25. (Tie) Natalie Imbruglia "Left of the Middle"
There are some dark lyrics on this CD if you listen for them, but otherwise, this is a great overall pop CD with some catchy, interesting tunes.
Download these: Torn, Big Mistake, Leave Me Alone, Wishing I Was There, Smoke
For Further Listening: Beauty On the Fire
20 Honorable Mentions (In alphabetical order):
Fiona Apple “Tidal” - Download: “Sleep To Dream”
Christina Aguilera “Christina Aguilera” - Download: “Genie In a Bottle”
Tracy Bonham “Blink the Brightest” - Download: “I Was Born Without
Boy Krazy “Boy Krazy” - Download: “Who Could Ask For Anything More”
Toni Braxton “Secrets” - Download: “Un-Break My Heart”
Mariah Carey “Daydream” - Download: “Looking In”
Brandi Carlile “The Story” - Download: “The Story”
Linda Davis “I’m Yours” - Download: “I’m Yours”
Celine Dion “The Colour of Love” - Download: “Misled”
Melissa Etheridge "Yes I Am" - Download: "I'm the Only One"
Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” - Download: “Can’t Take
.....My Eyes Off Of You”
Whitney Houston “My Love Is Your Love” - Download: “It’s Not Right,
.....But It’s Okay”
Jem "Finally Woken" - Download: "24"
Jennifer Lopez "On the 6" - Download: "If You Had My Love"
Kylie Minogue “Fever” - Download: “In Your Eyes”
Monica “The Boy Is Mine” - Download: “Street Symphony”
Lorrie Morgan “Shakin’ Things Up” - Download: “One of Those Night
Mindy Smith “Long Island Shores” - Download: “Little Devil”
Chely Wright “Single White Female” - Download: “It Was”
Rachel Yamagata “Happenstance” - Download: “Be Be Your Love"