Tag Archives: Gary Allan

Leeann Ward’s Top Singles of 2008

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.

hank-iii#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.

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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):

elizabeth-cook-balls#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.

hank-iii-rebel-proud#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 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.

james-otto-sunset#18

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.

joey-rory#17

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.

josh-turner-everything#16

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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Best Country Singles of 2008, Part 2: #30-#21

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.

#little-big-town-place30

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

willie-nelson-moment#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

raconteurs-single-art#28

The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs & Ashley Monroe, “Old Enough”

A thrilling, organic collaboration that sounds cooler and more convincing with each listen. It probably hasn’t gotten enough exposure to be remembered several years down the line, but it’s one of 2008’s most compelling arguments for the uncanning of country music.  – DM

eddy-arnold-seven#27

Eddy Arnold, “To Life”

A glorious swan song from an incomparable talent.    When it charted shortly after his death, Arnold became the only artist in history to hit the country singles chart in seven different decades. – KJC

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Discussion: Billboard’s 2008 Year-End Charts

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. 22 More Hits, George Strait
17. 5th Gear, Brad Paisley
18. 35 Biggest Hits, Toby Keith
19. Some Hearts, Carrie Underwood
20. Everything Is Fine, Josh Turner
21. Lucky Old Sun, Kenny Chesney
22. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert
23. Sunset Man, James Otto
24. Living Hard, Gary Allan
25. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum

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The Steeldrivers, The Steeldrivers

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.

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Discussion: Giving Thanks

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 dodged.   I’d make a snarky comment about CMT’s lack of music programming, but the reality is that I’ll take Nanny 911 and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition over Crossroads: Def Leppard/Taylor Swift any day.

What are some country music miscellanea that you’re thankful for this year?

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Discussion: Key Albums of the ’00s (So Far)

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?

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CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

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.

lady-antebellum2008

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.

2007

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.

2006

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.

2005

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.

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The Jealous Heart

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 from past hurts, we feel we deserve everything, or perhaps nothing. And we’re proud. Very proud.

And pride’s the most interesting vice to me, because it’s the enabler for so many others. Pride is the central reactor when relationships go awry and one of the typical reasons they remain so. Think about it. Cheating isn’t just offensive because it violates trust; it’s offensive because it’s humiliating, because it shatters someone’s pride. Conceding the opposing point an argument isn’t undesirable because it has any real tangible consequences; it just makes someone worry they won’t be taken seriously. It’s an affront to pride.

That oft-mentioned concept of a “wounded” pride is especially evident, I think, in jealousy. Nothing is more humbling – or dangerously frustrating – than having no control over the object of one’s desires.

And like I said, what art form is more well-versed in that sort of thing than country music? Jealousy has been one of the thrusts of the genre since back when it was it was still called “hillbilly music.” Country’s first superstar, Jimmie Rodgers, had an iconic hit with “Blue Yodel #1,” a song that found him cooing,

I’m gonna buy me a shotgun with a great long shiny barrel
I’m gonna shoot that rounder that stole away my gal

…and of course,

I’d rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log
Than to be in Atlanta, treated like a dirty dog

Now, if that’s not jealousy and wounded pride, I’ll slap a sad kitten. That straightforward, cathartic approach to emotional reporting is part of what drew me to country music in the first place, and a big part of why I continue to identify with it (not that I fantasize about shooting people, but you know what I mean). Country music just gets jealousy. It understands why jealousy happens, and the different ways different people act on it. That’s why we can have “Before He Cheats” and “More Like Her” in the same genre and have them both make perfect sense. It’s not that the genre endorses the emotion; it just acknowledges that it happens, that it makes its own kind of sense. And that it does have consequences. And people need to hear those things sometimes.

For my money, there’s no better exploration of jealousy than the title track of my first-ever Gary Allan purchase, See If I Care. Dark, brooding, and emotionally frank, the song finds its narrator obsessing over the the very specific pains of seeing his old flame waltz around with another man. It’s sad as hell, which of course means Allan knocks it out of the park. I’ve revisited it a few times myself when it’s seemed especially pertinent. Um. Yeah.

This would normally be the part where I asked you to chime in with your favorite song on the given subject. But of course, I realize this particular topic is not the most flattering one to have a discussion about. Who wants to own up to having a certain song they turn to when they’re at their most scathing, self-pitying, and generally not-commendable? But you know what? I’m just gonna tell you straight up: we are running out of things to talk about for these discussions. And it’s late, and I worked pretty hard on this one. So I want to see some answers, darn it!

Whining aside, what are some of your favorite songs based around or prominently featuring jealousy? It doesn’t have to be one you personally relate to; if you find the song interesting, that’s good enough!

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Gary Allan, “She’s So California”

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 sterile. And Allan, as artistically aware as most any country artist, can’t quite capture the desire necessary to carry this song above Nashville’s assembly line of cookie-cutter country songs. It’s quite listenable, Allan’s singing is terrific once again, but “She’s So California” is a throwaway song from a true talent.

Grade: B-

Written by Gary Allan, Jamie Hanna & Jon Randall

Listen: She’s So California

Buy: She’s So California

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