Category Archives: 2008 Rewind

2008 Rewind: “In Color,” Jamey Johnson

jameyjohnsonJamey Johnson’s “In Color” is the greatest country song of 2008. There’s no quantifiable evidence to support the argument, and in terms of artistic validity, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? But  “In Color” lives up to the title; it’s not the feel-good story of the year, but it’s oddly humbling and heartwarming, all in a nice, neat four-minute package.

Johnson penned the epic ballad with rising star James Otto and Nashville songwriter,  Lee Thomas Miller. In three-verse perfection, they play out a high-detail performance that eerily echoes our difficult times. “In Color” is a broadly applicable song, with the themes of economic hardships, wartime efforts and everlasting love all wrapped around a simple, understated chorus.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Country songs, or at least the really mainstream ones, aren’t rigged for regular Joes anymore, and especially the cockeyed pessimists of the bunch. But you can just imagine Joe in some two-bit tavern, sitting there transfixed, getting drunk on Johnson’s gravelly growl and his fascinating stories.  This is a hard scene for some Music Row handlers to conjure up, but one that’s nonetheless vital to the survival of the art form.

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2008 Rewind: Crazy Lonesome

thatlonesomesongMusic Row preaches positivity, but a pair of Nashville’s heartbreaking best sang the blues this year

Songs of solitude are the lifeblood of country music; loneliness has spawned a slew of classics. Hank Williams measured his pain when, inspired by marital discord, he wrote “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” In George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a man pines for a former flame until death becomes him. And with her country-pop standard, “Crazy,” Patsy Cline pled insanity as a result of unrequited love.

The pathos-plagued singers of the past recorded songs that soothed their own discomfort while serving as sweet elixir for listeners in the midst of their own miseries. Bent on survival, these timeless artists transferred hurt into heartrending performances.

Conventional logic now holds that such despair would upset the daily rhythm of Music Row. The feel-good anthems that now filter through country radio have signaled the end of sadness at the forefront of the format.

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2008 Rewind: The Not-So-Desperate Housewife

trishaAs a new generation arrives, Trisha Yearwood flies under the radar on Music Row

A beautiful blonde, signed to Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records, remained a constant force in popular country music, churning out chart-topping singles and blazing the concert trail with a slew of the year’s most-played songs.

That’s Taylor Swift, for all of you playing along at home, but another of Borchetta’s singers is a beautiful blonde operating in Nashville, though she’s not the top draw that she was in the early stages of her career. Trisha Yearwood debuted in 1991 with the classic tale of Katie and Tommy, “She’s in Love With the Boy,” and twenty top ten singles, a shelf-full of Grammys, ACMs and CMAs and fifteen million albums sold signaled her reign over the country queendom in the ‘90s, an era of milk and honey and unsurpassed riches for the genre’s top acts.

In this decade, with a host of pretty young things clamoring for their own star turn, Yearwood receded into the shadows, with an extended break between 2001’s Inside Out and her 2005 comeback disc, Jasper County. She appeared to like regular life so much that her career could’ve easily fallen by the wayside. She could’ve taken a permanent break from her all-consuming profession and embraced small-town life in Oklahoma, lining up lunch dates with her fellow housewives and trotting out her trusty meatloaf recipe for hubby Garth Brooks. But instead, she continued to produce some of the strongest musical statements in country music, and that mission resulted in her career-best album last November.

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2008 Rewind: In Covers

sleepless-nightsThree talented ladies unveil a batch of remakes that recharge their creative batteries

Recording a covers album can be a daunting task; only a singer with a clear artistic vision is worthy of the adventure. Even then, the risks involved often outweigh the rewards. But this year, a trio of country’s finest singers proved that such an exercise can be a liberating, and ultimately, satisfying experience.

Sleepless Nights, Patty Loveless’ fourteen-track collection that culls from the traditional country catalog of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,outclasses much of the original material issued by Music Row this year. But its humble beginnings found Loveless in one of the worst slumps of a career spanning three decades.

Loveless spent most of the ’90s scooping up industry awards and selling gold and platinum. Her success was particularly gratifying for Music Row; she was a critical darling who, with the help of husband/producer Emory Gordy, Jr., framed traditional country music in a contemporary mold. But as Music Row became a pop-oriented culture, Loveless enveloped herself in the sounds of the past. In 2001, she issued a critical favorite, Mountain Soul, a sterling set that embraced her Kentucky upbringing and the stringband stylings of bluegrass and acoustic country. On Your Way Home, a rich blend of shuffling honky-tonk and fiddle-laced balladry, followed in 2003.

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Dan Milliken’s Top 10 Albums of 2008

squintydan-christmas_avatarHappy holidays, everybody! I’m back with my personal top ten albums of the year, a list that took a stupid-long time to put together but is very nice to have done. All I would say as a note is that I like all of these albums very much and don’t think the rankings should be scrutinized to death, because my tastes certainly change frequently enough.

Okay, you get it. Let’s do this. Va-VOOM!

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Dailey and Vincent, Dailey and Vincent

I typically lean progressive in my bluegrass tastes, but there’s simply no arguing with this dynamic twosome, whose debut finds them ripping into a straight-ahead traditional style with such crazy-polished singing, playing and writing that they practically become the new standard. Excellent.

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Kathy Mattea, Coal

Confession: I wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Although I like Kathy Mattea’s voice and generally love concept albums, I had trouble getting into this set of mining-related songs as a whole, which may be because I personally have trouble digesting so many bare-bones story songs in one sitting, or may be because the album itself becomes a bit monotonous after a while. It’s kind of hard to say, and I finally decided that it’s just the sort of thing I personally have to be in the right mood for. Objectively speaking, though, I think what Mattea and producer Marty Stuart have achieved here is easily one of the most fully realized artistic expressions of 2008, and it’s pretty hard to gripe about on a song-by-song or sonic basis. So #9 feels about right for me.

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Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof

Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Cody Canada take note: Reckless Kelly’s latest set showcases just how tersely effective the whole “country-nodding Texas rock” shtick can be when you pay the same attention to developing compelling lyrical ideas that you do to ‘tude (and I say that with love, because I enjoy work from all of the acts mentioned above). Bonus points for the year’s best album cover.

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Blake Boldt’s Year-End Lists

amazingpicture0Happy holidays!

Singles:

1.  “In Color,” Jamey Johnson
2.  “Waitin’ on a Woman,” Brad Paisley
3.  “This Is Me You’re Talking To,” Trisha Yearwood
4.  “She Left Me for Jesus,” Hayes Carll
5.  “What I Cannot Change,” Leann Rimes
6.  “Last Call,” Lee Ann Womack
7.  “Anything Goes,” Randy Houser
8.  “Dig Two Graves,” Randy Travis
9.  “Please Read the Letter,” Alison Krauss & Robert Plant
10.  “Fine Line,” Little Big Town
11.  “Mockingbird,” Allison Moorer
12.  “Crazy Arms,” Patty Loveless
13.  “This Town Needs a Bar,” Jeremy McComb
14.   “Just Got Started Loving You,” James Otto
15.  “Takin’ off This Pain,” Ashton Shepherd
16.  “Gold,” Emmylou Harris
17.  “Every Other Weekend,” Reba McEntire & Skip Ewing
18.  “You Look Good In My Shirt,” Keith Urban
19.  “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert
20.  “Love Don’t Live Here,” Lady Antebellum

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Dan Milliken’s Top 20 Singles of 2008

Let’s do this, y’all. You’ll recognize some of these write-ups from our collective list, but others weren’t posted there or were cut down for that list. This is my “Director’s Cut” version, you might say – or maybe the “UNRATED!!” version, depending on your taste in films.

In any case, here are my favorite 20 things designated as country music singles in 2008 (that I picked up on, anyhoo):

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Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning”

Cook mines an abstract Velvet Underground song and halfway convinces you it was always meant to be a quiet country reflection. The production and vocal are a bit too buoyant to fully convey the song’s weariness, but they do flesh out its gentle message of hope, and that’s not too bad, either.

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Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer”

Silly and shallow it may be, but III’s turbo-campy lament of hard times + booze was also this year’s sweetest piece of hillbilly ear candy. I think it sounds like the fastest, most frivolous thing Johnny Cash never recorded, but maybe that’s just me.

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James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”

What’s this? A contemporary country single with a traditional structure that skips on big choruses? A distinctive voice at the helm? Oh? It was the most played song of the year? Huh. So country music fans want to hear unique-sounding singers singing some semblance of actual country music on the radio? How perplexing.

In all seriousness, this smash really is a fine example of feel-good radio fluff that still manages to sound human. It’s impossible to evaluate honestly without the requisite (and very valid) comparison to Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” but honestly, I think Otto out-sexed his predecessor by a good margin. Turner gave a fine performance with his standard sweetness, but Otto opted for randy, slightly jagged cooing that ultimately sounds much more convincing coming from a man in this particular situation.

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Joey + Rory, “Cheater, Cheater”

My soft spot for frivolity shows itself again. This tell-off ditty has a cute bite, and its malicious irrationality is delivered with a knowing wink that has been regrettably absent in many recent, like-minded harangues (cough cough, “Picture to Burn”). Still, it’s the frenetic bluegrass production and the couple’s palpable chemistry that ultimately sell the thing.

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Josh Turner featuring Trisha Yearwood, “Another Try”

I’m always game for more regret on country radio, particularly when you’ve got two of the best singers in the biz on the job. The only thing holding it back for me is the melody, which is a bit too “Peabo Bryson goes country” for my taste.

sugarland-love-on-the-inside#15

Sugarland, Little Big Town & Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town”

There is a certain kind of song whose impact simply defies logical explanation, which seems to tap something so primal in the human spirit that you don’t even want to try explaining it for fear you might belittle it somehow. You couldn’t ask for a better example of that phenomenon than this cover of Dream Academy’s surreal ode to singer-songwriter Nick Drake, which resolves into a chorus of tribal “hey ma ma ma ma”s that somehow manage to say more (to me) than most actual words ever do.

It’s much more “Lion King soundtrack” than “country,” of course, but the union of all of these unique individual voices evokes the sort of grand communal warmth that you can normally only find in church or around a campfire. Personal favorite moment: Jake Owen’s solo, which he sings with such silky ease that it makes you pissed he hasn’t found better material for himself yet.

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