The Diamond Rio discography offers a little something for fans of everything from hardcore bluegrass to pop-influenced vocal groups.
Band members Marty Roe, Gene Johnson, Jimmy Olander, Brian Prout, Dan Truman and Dana Williams spiff up time-tested instrumentation and bluegrass-style vocal harmonies, creating songs that suited mainstream country radio in the '90s. Think of them as a more modern equivalent of Olander's old running buddies the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
After a stint as Opryland attraction the Tennessee River Boys, featuring future country star Ty Herndon as a band member, the group became certified hit-makers right out the gate. Their 1991 Arista Nashville single "Meet in the Middle" made Diamond Rio the first band to debut on top of the country music charts.
In the years that followed, great songs and strong harmonies led to more memorable singles. Through it all, the group remained true to its roots, sticking with their bluegrass-informed dedication to stories about Appalachian dreams and genuine faith in God. While contemporaries like Alan Jackson and John Conlee changed direction by going bluegrass or gospel at times, Diamond Rio songs like "Poultry Promenade," "How Your Love Makes Me Feel" and the source of what's got to be the best honky-tonk mandolin solo ever, "Bubba Hyde," always pointed back to the band's source material.
Despite representing tradition in an era a lot of us revisit with nostalgia-tinted glasses, Diamond Rio doesn't seem to get a lot of credit these days. They're so much more than just another country band with tight lead vocals and talented pickers. The group represents a modernized take on roots sounds, respectable to old souls yet digestible for the mainstream, as heard on these ten tracks.
10. "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet"
A clever turn of phrase turns Roe into a hillbilly Shakespeare for one of the band's most pop-friendly cuts.
9. "Love a Little Stronger"
The band effectively explored the tender side of '90s country with this and other cuts that are part string band throwback, part pop ballad.
8. "Beautiful Mess"
Diamond Rio kept pace with changing trends without overshadowing their sound, as heard on this 2002 hit that suited the times.
7. "Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby"
Add Buck Owens and the Buckaroos' rocking, poppy sound to the Diamond Rio formula, and you get this memorable song.
6. "Kentucky Mine"
As true roots-minded musicians, Diamond Rio often sang songs tied to time and place. In this case, the lyrics paint a grim picture of old coal miners' lives.
5. "In a Week or Two"
Give this song a listen to to sum up why those bluegrass-style harmonies keep getting championed here. Even the great R&B groups of the time would've had trouble topping this chorus.
4. "Mama Don't Forget to Pray For Me"
I doubt Diamond Rio or their mothers miss too many sessions in their prayer closets. Still, this story about a man facing hard times with the help of faith and family ranks among the band's most touching hits.
3. "Sawmill Road"
While many of these selections get described for how they're arranged, this one stands out as one of the most underrated and picturesque story-songs about simpler times.
2. "God Only Cries"
A sound Gospel message goes well with both bluegrass and mainstream country. Diamond Rio crossed those streams as effectively as ever with this absolute heart-breaker of a funeral song.
1. "Norma Jean Riley"
This near perfect mix of modern country and lightning-quick picking positioned Diamond Rio to carry the banner for Keith Whitley and others who'd paved a path for an Opryland staff band to make it to the big time.
This post was originally published on May 10, 2018.