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 Read More
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): #20 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. #19 Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer” Silly and shallow it may be, but III’s turbo-campy lament of hard times + booze was Read More
The list continues today with the next ten entries, a collection of hits, could’ve been hits and should’ve been hits. Adventurous radio programmers, take note. #30 Little Big Town, “Fine Line” There’s a fine line between imitation and tribute, and Little Big Town lands on the proper side of the balance. Karen Fairchild steps forward on this flashback to ’70s SoCal country-rock, and her biting, expressive performance matches perfectly with an admonishment of a distant lover. Very fine, indeed. – BB #29 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. – LW #28 The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs & Ashley Monroe, “Old Enough” A thrilling, organic collaboration that sounds Read More
Earlier this week, Billboard announced the year-end charts in all musical genres. Billboard’s chart year runs from the first week of December (2007) to the last week of November (2008), and the country albums list provides an interesting commentary on the current state of the genre. Below is the list of the 25 best-selling country albums of the year. 1. Long Road Out Of Eden, Eagles 2. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift 3. Carnival Ride, Carrie Underwood 4. The Ultimate Hits, Garth Brooks 5. Still Feels Good, Rascal Flatts 6. Love On The Inside, Sugarland 7. Enjoy The Ride, Sugarland 8. Raising Sand, Robert Plant / Alison Krauss 9. Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, Kenny Chesney 10. Reba Duets, Reba McEntire 11. Greatest Hits, Keith Urban 12. Troubadour, George Strait 13. Fearless, Taylor Swift 14. Good Time, Alan Jackson 15. American Man: Greatest Hits Volume II, Trace Adkins 16. Read More
The SteelDrivers The SteelDrivers With their eponymous debut, The Steeldrivers have delivered a stirring symphony of haunting rhythms and clever stories that are classified as bluegrass. But the five-piece band, a collection of veteran musicians based in Nashville, isn’t constricted by that genre’s time-tested strategies. In the spirit of bluegrass legend, Bill Monroe, their work transcends labels, borrowing liberally from Americana, blues and country in an mix that alters the direction of contemporary bluegrass. The band’s central figure is Chris Stapleton, one of Music Row’s finest songwriters and a gripping vocal talent. He’s an imposing figure on record with a bluesy howl that uncovers the brilliance in every murder ballad and forlorn love song that it meets. Joined with these stringband stylings, his voice is free to roam. The Steeldrivers is filled with pessimism, drenched in the rich, resonant harmonies of Stapleton and his bandmates.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to say what we’re thankful for. Keeping the focus on country music, here are some things that are inspiring gratitude on my part: New Channels of Distribution The days of wandering around in the wilderness after you’re dropped from a major label are long gone. Today, even superstars like Toby Keith and icons like Dolly Parton are selling their music directly to the people. The great talents don’t need middlemen. Great Singers on the Radio Carrie Underwood. Toby Keith. Jennifer Nettles. Gary Allan. They’re plain great singers, making even ordinary material sound better than it is. Thankfully, they’re often working with excellent material, with powerful results. DVR There’s simply no way to navigate CMT and GAC anymore without having your mute button handy. The good shows can be recorded automatically (I’m looking at you, GAC’s Master Series) and the bad ones Read More
Since Dan has clearly tapped into a burning nostalgia for the first decade of this century, I’ll ask the logical follow-up question: What are the key albums of the decade, so far? For me, the top one’s a no-brainer. Home, the Dixie Chicks masterpiece. Nothing else even comes close in my mind. But I’d add a few others to the short list, especially Gary Allan’s Tough All Over and Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From. One thing’s for sure. You can strike this year’s CMA Album nominees from serious contention. What do you think are the key albums of the decade, so far?
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page. 2010 Luke Bryan Easton Corbin Jerrod Neimann Chris Young Zac Brown Band Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible. This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination. With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race. 2009 Randy Houser Jamey Johnson Jake Owen Darius Rucker Zac Brown Band Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation. 2008 Jason Aldean Rodney Atkins Lady Antebellum James Read More
Relationships are tricky business. I’ve got to think country music knows that better than any other art form. Here in the real world, we tend to talk about our relationships with others in simple terms: friendly, intimate, casual, committed, short-term, long-term, stable, messy. Boring. Fun. Weird. Like each one can be reduced to a basic theme. A bite-sized blurb for your next cocktail party conversation. But no relationship ever really has just one card in play. Human interaction is built on any number of individual and shared characteristics, many of which typically go unspoken. We have our obvious dispositions, of course – we’re sweet, or sarcastic, or reserved, or blunt – but then you throw in all the stuff that doesn’t make it into small talk, that we usually don’t identify in ourselves until long after the crap has hit the fan: we can’t empathize, we crave validation, we’re wary Read More
One of the most criminally overlooked staples of country music in the last decade, Gary Allan continues the course of his album Living Hard with the release of its third single, “She’s So California.” No one would expect that Allan could reach the emotional depths of Tough All Over, his heartbreaking collection from 2005, but Living Hard made compromises that were not so evident on the last album. The uptempo numbers were a welcome relief from the raw, despairing tone of Tough All Over, but “She’s So California” is little more than album filler designed to fit comfortably between the other country radio standards of today. Allan’s gravelly vocal will always elevate even the most inane material, and thankfully he’s recorded very little of it since his debut in 1996. But the passion and precision on his best tracks isn’t apparent here. The production is modest enough, but it’s a bit Read More