Carrie Underwood is the top winner of the inaugural Country Universe Reader’s Choice Awards, earning first place in all four of the races in which she was eligible. In addition to being named Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist, her #1 hit “Just a Dream” won for Single and Music Video.
Also popular with readers this past year were:
- Sugarland, who won Vocal Duo/Group by the widest margin of any of the winners, and placed second for Artist and Album. Additionally, lead singer Jennifer Nettles placed second for Songwriter.
- Jamey Johnson, who won for Songwriter, and placed second in the Male Vocalist race. His hit “In Color” came in third in both the Single and Music Video races, and he also placed third in the Artist race.
- Brad Paisley, who won easily for Male Vocalist and came in second for Music Video with “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
- Patty Loveless, who topped both Sugarland and Lee Ann Womack to finish first in the Album race.
Among up-and-comers, Lady Antebellum and Joey+ Rory proved most popular, finishing first and second in the Rising Star race and second and third in the Vocal Duo/Group Race. Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood also did well, with both women placing behind Underwood in the Female Vocalist race. Yearwood’s hit “This is Me You’re Talking To” placed second for Single, and Womack’s Call Me Crazy finished third behind Loveless and Sugarland for Album. And with wide disagreement in the Songwriter race beyond Johnson and Nettles, the red-hot Taylor Swift makes her only appearance on the list, placing third.
Our five winners of the Album Giveaway each received an Amazon Mp3 Gift Certificate for the cost of the album they chose from the various top ten lists of our writers. The winners, and the albums they selected:
Araceli Pinto Corrales – Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
Andrew Lacy – Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
Zachary Jodlowski – Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song
Michael Kattman – Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Laura Britton – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
Thanks to all of you who voted, and everyone else for your loyal readership! Read on for the winners, along with the editors’ choices in each category. Percentages reflect the total amount of points received, with the maximum possible percentage of 50%, which would require a first-place vote on every ballot.
If you didn’t submit a ballot this time around, share your preferences in the comments!
Expanding on Blake’s discussion last night, let’s end 2008 with a look back on our favorite country music happenings in 2008.
My personal favorite was this year’s stunning Country Music Hall of Fame inductee list. Gaining long overdue entry were Tom T. Hall, Emmylou Harris and The Statler Brothers, all of whom I’d been hoping to gain entry since the early days of Country Universe.
Speaking of Country Universe, it’s hard to believe that at this time last year, I was still the only writer. The contributions of Leeann, Blake, Dan and Lynn have transformed this site into something far beyond its humble origins. My goal is to be the worst writer on my own site, and they helped me achieve that goal in record time!
What were your favorite country music moments of 2008?
This is my fifth such list in as many years, and I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed by the albums of 2008. If it wasn’t for the contributions of the other writers, who made me aware of some fine albums I might have otherwise missed, it would’ve been difficult to compile a list at all. That being said, there were at least ten albums from 2008 that I will be listening to in 2009 and beyond.
Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players, Honey Songs
No matter how much honey you put in the mix, the ragged words and vocals of Jim Lauderdale will cut through. The glorious contrast between Lauderdale and his sonic surroundings make for a fascinating listen.
Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song
It’s rare for any act to make a debut album without compromise, let alone one that hails from a reality competition show. This is pure, straight off the back porch joy.
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones
A pure roots album with a progressive edge, the best of its kind since the Dixie Chicks moved to L.A.
Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
While it doesn’t reach the heights of There’s More Where That Came From, there are some fine moments here that are on par with Womack’s best work, especially the passive-aggressive “Either Way” and the Wynette-worthy “If These Walls Could Talk.”
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
Effortlessly excellent. Loveless is so in her element here that it’s a wonder that it took more than two decades to record this in the first place. A wonderful treat to feast on while we wait for her next proper studio album.
Gone are the days where this would just be called the Country Universe’s Top Singles of 2008. The collective tastes of our writers makes for more distinguished lists, but thankfully, there’s still a place for my personal favorites. Here are the twenty singles of 2008 that I enjoyed the most.
#20: Reba McEntire & Kenny Chesney, “Every Other Weekend”
A welcome return to domestic themes, which have often provided McEntire with her best work. This plays out the like the epilogue to “Somebody Should Leave.”
#19: Sara Evans, “Low”
Triumph in the face of adversity, as the surrounding negative energy is rejected in favor of a positive and determined move toward the future. Plus, it’s a little bluegrassy, which just sounds cool.
#18: Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt”
Even Conway Twitty wasn’t so good at slipping in mature themes so skillfully. There are children across the country bopping along to this one without a clue about how she ended up wearing that shirt.
Turner’s unsure vocal reveals emotion for a moment, then pulls back, then reveals a little bit of it again. He’s hoping for one more chance, but it doesn’t sound like he’s convinced himself that he’ll truly “hang on for dear life” next time.
#16: Tim McGraw, “Let it Go”
Letting go of the past doesn’t mean that you forget your mistakes. Rather, you resolve to learn from them without letting them dictate your future.
Chris Stapleton’s voice just blows me away. As Lee Ann Womack has recently observed, he sings like a real man. He takes Travis Tritt’s soulfulness to a whole new level. With incredible harmonies and terrific songs not limited to “Blue Side of the Mountain” and “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”, this is a strong project that certainly stood out in 2008.
Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Comal County Blue
I love Boland’s folk-tinged country voice, which sings these memorable fiddle laden melodies to great affect. While the lyrics can be abstract at times, they still manage to feel meaningful. I’ve come to realize that what ultimately appeals to me about this album is the fact that it reminds me of good nineties country music, which is the era that drew me to this genre in the first place.
Darrell Scott, Modern Hymns
My admiration for Darrell Scott is unending. I, of course, love his voice, but I especially love his thoughtful songwriting. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” just floors me every time I hear it. In this project, however, he chose to cover some of his favorite songs that he classifies as modern hymns. Unsurprisingly, these choices turn out to be as interesting as his own compositions, which simply confirms that his talent is inspired by tasteful writing equal to his own.
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Admittedly, nothing about this album is warm or pretty. Johnson’s vocals are harsh and the songs are mostly darker than we’re accustomed to hearing in country music these days. Along with the outlaw tinged productions, these factors are the fundamental elements of this great album.
Peter Cooper, Mission Door
While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it is Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics which catch you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.
The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This grossly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums.
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.
In a year where excellent mainstream country albums were few and far between, there were still many wonderful projects waiting to be discovered by listeners willing to look for them. Among all releases, mainstream and alternative, traditional and contemporary, folk and Americana, the Country Universe staff deems these ten the best.
Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players, Honey Songs
You could forgive Jim Lauderdale if he showed signs of wear on Honey Songs, his fourth release in a span of 18 months. Instead, he’s produced yet another fresh package, this time by cherry-picking the best parts of rock ‘n’ roll’s roots and throwing ‘em into his ever-sharp traditional songwriting blender. His tunes have never been more perfectly framed, either, which you can attribute to the aptly-named “Dream Players,” a droolworthy backing line-up consisting of guitarist James Burton and drummer Ron Tutt (both Elvis Presley vets), pianist Glen D. Hardin and pedal steeler Al Perkins (both renowned session players), and bassist Garry Tallent (of Springsteen’s E. Street Band), not to mention Emmylou Harris, Kelly Hogan, Patty Loveless and Buddy Miller on vocals. If it’s been a while since you heard an instrumental part that sounded like it was actually written to complement its song, rather than just create sound, check out the melancholy electric/steel duet in the intro to “Borrow Some Summertime.” – Dan Milliken
Sugarland, Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)
There has been no shortage of country acts that incorporate arena rock into their spin on country music, but on their third album, Love on the Inside, Sugarland manages to do so without the sound overwhelming the country identity of the work. At its heart, this is an acoustic country record, with most of the songs beginning with bare-bones instrumentation and more than a few staying that way.
But the clean and fresh production would all be for naught if the material wasn’t so strong, and Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush have collected their strongest batch of songs to date, with “Already Gone”, “Very Last Country Song”, “Keep You” and “We Run” only increasing in charm and power upon repeated listenings. The Deluxe Fan Edition is the version to go for, as the extra songs prove a fascinating listen. They’re almost fully formed and make you wonder why they weren’t deemed worthy of being on the regular album, until you notice that the hook isn’t quite strong enough or the lyric starts to fall apart at the bridge. Such tracks are usually unearthed years later, if at all, so it’s an extra treat to hear the good material that didn’t warrant inclusion on a great album. – Kevin J. Coyne
Peter Cooper, Mission Door
While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it’s Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics that take you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.
The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This mostly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums. – Leeann Ward
Country Universe has presented you with its top 40 singles of 2008, but as you know, singles rarely scratch the surface of a great album. Over the course of the past year, while listening to various albums, I made note of songs that stuck out for one reason or another. Although this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, here are some of my favorite songs of 2008:
#1 “She Left Me For Jesus” (Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind)
Honestly, when is the last time you heard a song this slyly clever? This laugh-out-loud engaging? But not just anyone could pull off this song. Carll’s slow laughing drawl is absolutely perfect and he nails every punch line. He not only gets the joke, he assumes you do as well. Carll readily acknowledges that this song isn’t for everyone, but in my book, it’s an instant classic.
#2 “Red River Shore” (Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8)
Bob Dylan, that enigmatic icon, continues to raise the bar for singer-songwriters. It’s nearly ridiculous at this point. This year, Dylan treated us to a grand smorgasbord of songs with the latest in his bootleg series. “Red River Shore” was one of the few previously unreleased songs on the set, and it’s perhaps the best on the album. I could spend hours ruminating over what Dylan intended with his lyrics about star-crossed lovers, but instead I’ll leave you with his opening lines: “Some of us turn off the lights and we live / In the moonlight shooting by / Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark / To be where the angels fly.” This is, as the album booklet suggests, an elegant summation of Dylan’s artistic credo. If only others took note.
#3 “I’ve Done Everything I Can” (Rodney Crowell, Sex and Gasoline)
On “I’ve Done Everything I Can,” Crowell acknowledges that incredibly delicate interplay between father and daughter; that difficult line a father must walk between wanting to protect his little girl, and preparing her for the real world. He sings: “The sun comes up tomorrow / But there are no guarantees / It can rock you like a baby / It can knock you to your knees / The path that lies between us / Is a rough and rocky rue / I’ve done everything I can / There’s nothing I can do.” This song reminds me rather poignantly of my own father, who occasionally walked that fine line with grace, but usually just blundered over it with good intentions.
Our top ten singles of the year represent the very best of what country music is and what country music can be. With a combination of rising stars and veteran artists, it’s clear that the genre has worthy guardians waiting in the wings, even as the current keepers of the flame show no signs of fading away.
Ashton Shepherd, “Takin’ Off This Pain”
I cheated a bit by throwing this one into the mix, since it was technically released last fall. But as it wasn’t on the site’s 2007 singles countdown and didn’t even peak until this past May, I’m going to take this opportunity to opine, quite simply, that this single paints the best kind of picture of everything contemporary country in the 2000’s can be. It’s not pure traditionalism, as some have suggested – there’s a lot more modern drive than old-school shuffle at work here – but few major-label artists this decade have updated the spirit of classic country more loyally or convincingly than Shepherd has with this debut. Even if you take away the whopping voice, you’ve got clear, focused storytelling with palpable personality and an unusually clever hook. Loretta Lynn is smiling to herself somewhere. – DM
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.” - LW
Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ on a Woman”
Donn Sampson and Wynn Varble penned this moving piece, one centered around the (mostly correct) notion that the fairer sex exercises greater, ahem, patience than their male counterparts. A newlywed husband on a shopping trip with his young bride meets an elderly man at the local mall. Soon, he’s listening to the advice of the sage, one who sees the waiting as one of life’s sweet, simple pleasures. The corresponding video clip, featuring iconic television actor Andy Griffith, added gravitas to an already-compelling lyric that ponders mortality and the everlasting love in a healthy marriage. – BB
Music videos feel like a dying art form in country music, if only because so few videos are played on CMT and the life cycle of a single often stretches past six months. But there have been a few good ones this year. Three of my favorites:
There’s something haunting about the darkened room in which this forlorn ballad is being sung. Loveless is no stranger to lonely rooms doubling as video sets, with “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” taking a similar approach. But it’s never been more effective, perhaps because it sets such a perfect tone for the song itself.
This won CMA Music Video of the year, and deservedly so. I was somewhat tepid on the song before seeing the video. I don’t remember ever listening past the second verse, actually. But the Andy Griffith appearance added a new charm to the song, and kept my attention long enough for me to hear the bridge, which clinched the song for me. Now it’s one of my favorite songs that Paisley’s ever done.
It’s easy for me to take the beauty of New York City for granted because it’s just the place where I happen to live. But every once in a while, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to live here. Just the other night, driving home from my school’s Christmas show, I saw the first snow of the year falling on Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. That was one of those times I was reminded. This video was another. I love a song that’s country as it gets being acted on the grand stage of New York. We get our hearts broke up here, too, and there’s no shortage of bars for people to drown their sorrows in.
You can check my selections out on YouTube by clicking on the song title, or at CMT by clicking on the graphic on the right.
What do you think were the best music videos of 2008?