Here are my favorite singles of 2008. As Dan has done, I lifted the entries that I had already written from our collective list for this article.
#20: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Please Read The Letter”
The album from which this song comes seems like an unlikely collaboration. It, however, somehow works as one of the best albums of the decade and any song from it would make my top twenty singles list this year.
#19: Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer”
Hank Williams III is known for relishing a rebel persona and this attitude is often reflected in his music. More often than not, his songs contain observations wrapped in harsh lyrics that cause me to wince, but his production and voice, which are both more comparable to Hank Sr. than Hank III’s father, still draws me to his music, nonetheless. This song, however, is simply pure ear candy. There’s nothing in it that makes me feel like I have to turn it down in mixed company as is the case with so many other Hank III songs. It’s nice sometimes.
#18: Jason Michael Carroll, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead”
I’m not much of a Jason Michael Carroll fan, but there’s just something about this song that is infectious. The rapid and frenzied production matches its premise, “I can sleep when I’m dead.”
#17: Gary Allan, “Learning How To Bend”
As Dan has pointed out, these aren’t words that most men would say without feeling extremely awkward. The intriguing thing about Gary Allan is that he can get away with it without anyone unfairly questioning his masculinity. He sings this song with fine vocal execution and hits those falsetto notes with incredible ease.
#16: Carrie Underwood, “Just A Dream”
While I could live with a more understated melody that sounded less like it was written by Diane Warren, I can’t help recognize that Underwood’s performance is just right for this intense song. I can only imagine that it aptly captures both the hazy confusion and blunt pain that accompanies the sudden loss of a significant other. I know it’s how I would feel.
#15: Trisha Yearwood, “They Call It Falling For A Reason”
This song really sounds like it could fit perfectly with Yearwood’s music of the ‘90s. The production is both modest and interesting at the same time. Furthermore, the lyrics are light without seeming inane. It’s a shame that this one didn’t chart better for Yearwood.
#14: Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning”
Cook’s voice is decidedly twangy. Likewise, her songs are produced with tastefully sparse instrumentation. I’m a sucker for both musical elements, so this song is bound to be one of my favorites.
#13: Emily West, “Rocks In Your Shoes”
Sure, this is one of those inspirational, feel good songs, but it’s done so well. It’s pop country perfection.
#12: Joey + Rory, “Cheater, Cheater”
Joey + Rory is one of my favorite new artists of 2008. While I absolutely love the rootsy production and Joey’s earthy voice,“Cheater, Cheater” is deliciously snarky, which brings the song over the top for me.
#11: Steve Earle & Allison Moorer, “Days Aren’t Long Enough”
This is a simple love song that’s done right. It’s romantic without being over the top. The fact that Earle sings with his wife, the talented Allison Moorer, makes the collaboration that much sweeter.
#10: Willie Nelson, “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore”
This ridiculous but fun single just sounds like a Willie Nelson song. While it’s a 2008 single, it sounds as though it could have been recorded at the height of Nelson’s career. Moreover, Willie’s voice sounds as strong as ever here.
#9: Reckless Kelly, “Ragged As The Road”
I love how this song just chugs along as if we’re on an open road. It’s a great example of a perfect marriage between lyrics and melody.
#8: LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Part of the Serenity Prayer, which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs, says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Our favorite single of the year, “What I Cannot Change”, gracefully expounds upon that prayer: “I will learn to let go what I cannot change/I will learn to forgive what I cannot change/I will learn to love what I cannot change/But I will change,/I will change/Whatever I, whenever I can.”
This song embraces a pragmatic honesty that is all too often lacking in today’s mainstream country music. Rimes understands that while there are things she should change, there will always be aspects of her life that will be out of her control. She realistically acknowledges: “I don’t know my father or my mother well enough/It seems like every time we talk we cant get past the little stuff/The pain is self-inflicting, I know it’s not good for my health/But it’s easier to please the world than it is to please myself/Oh the rest is out of my hands.” Finally, with that painful self reflection, Rimes bluntly admits, “Right now, I can’t hear about how everyone else feels/I have enough hurt of my own to heal.”
Not only is this an exquisitely beautifully written composition, Rimes sings with both power and grace. There are no fancy production or bombastic vocal tricks. Instead, the strength of “What I Cannot Change” lies in its tastefully simple instrumentation that allows Rimes’ mature and sensitive vocal performance to shine. It’s easily the finest moment of Rimes’ career.
#7: Keith Urban, “You Look Good In My Shirt”
While I prefer the original version from his Golden Road album, I’m really glad that Urban released this song. It harkens back to when his music was simpler and easier to classify as country.
#6: Dierks Bentley, Trying To Stop Your Leavin’”
Dierks Bentley has one of the most interesting voices in country music right now. His ragged voice wraps around this melodically interesting song in a way that magnetically draws its listener in.
#5: Ashton Shepherd, “Sounds So Good”
Here is a country song that promotes country living so well that it successfully convinces me that such a life wouldn’t be half bad. This is much more than I can say for so many other songs of this nature. Shepherd’s voice is twangy and crisp, the melody is catchy ad it’s easy to believe that she truly loves to indulge in the simplicity of those hot summer country days.
#4: Marcel, “I Love This Song”
Marcel is one of those quirky singers who knows how to write and sing some wonderfully mindless songs. This one is no exception. He “loves this song” and there’s no doubt about it!
#3: James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
James Otto has one of the most soulful voices in country music, comparable to Travis Tritt. In “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” he uses his vocal range to irresistible affect. While it’s often compared to Gary Allan’s “Nothin’ On But The Radio” and Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” this is a song that could have easily been delivered by Conway Twitty, as it’s in the grand tradition of steamy tracks like “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” and “I’d Love to Lay You Down.”
#2: Miranda Lambert, “More Like Her”
Miranda Lambert is best known for her tough, no-nonsense country-rock anthems. While she does those extremely well, it’s nice to hear her vulnerability in “More Like Her.” She sings this song with a sensitivity and gentleness that can only come from someone who has either lived the sentiments in the song or is a natural expert interpreter of heartache. I suspect Lambert fits both criteria. “More Like Her” has a simple melody and abstract lyrics, and the two combined with Lambert’s exquisite vocal performance make this song a gem.
#1: Josh Turner, “Another Try”
The measure of a good song is if it can properly elicit its intended emotions from the listener. Josh Turner’s “Another Try” does exactly what it’s intending to do; it nudges its listener toward sadness. With the brilliant assistance of Trisha Yearwood’s prominent and gorgeous harmony vocals, the song atly captures the sadness and regret that Turner feels as a result of neglecting his relationship. From his mistakes he learns that “there’s no changing things that we regret”/The best that we can hope for is one more chance.”