Saturday Open Thread – Best of 2008, So Far?

So according to journalist Chet Flippo, Sugarland’s upcoming album, Love on the Inside, is a keeper:

Sugarland’s upcoming CD is a leading candidate for country album of the year…by and large, musically they have not disappointed. They’ve cut only one song that sends me reeling from the room in pain. And that is “All I Want to Do.” Some people I’ve talked to love it. Others dislike it heartily. It’s a very polarizing song. Naturally, it will probably turn into their biggest radio hit ever. It’s also the first cut on Love on the Inside, but once you get past it, you emerge into a wonderful place– where Sugarland is being mostly acoustic.

Such cuts as the big ballad “Love,” the Appalachian-flavored “We Run,” the dirge-like “Genevieve” and the waltz “Already Gone” rely heavily on acoustic guitars, with a subtle organ thread now and then working underneath, along with occasional mandolin flairs.

Good news, I’d say.  I thought their second album found them on a plateau rather than showing artistic growth, so I can’t wait to hear this upcoming one.

It’s also got me wondering, with half of the year already gone, what are the best albums of 2008 so far?  My best-of list will definitely include Kathy Mattea, but other than that, I’m too far behind on my listening to name any other favorites. I’ll be reviewing albums from earlier this year over the next two weeks, getting caught up.

What do you think are the best albums of the year so far?  Any big disappointments?


  1. Boy, I’m commenting a lot recently. Too much time at home this weekend. Anyway, it seems like the best albums always seem to come out later in the year. The only winner I’ve heard so far besides Mattea’s set is Ashton Shepherd’s debut, which isn’t so much an amazing album as it is a very promising one. It’s about half great songs and half okay songs that don’t leave much of an impression either way. Good production throughout, compliments her voice well. She’s hardly subtle, but it works surprisingly well; Pitchfork quipped that, “Shepard excels by singing the hell out of everything, as if that’s what it takes for a young woman to be heard.” Good stuff for a newcomer.

  2. I LOVE Sugarland and am so pleased to read this early review. They are such a welcome change, especially in the “Duo” category. It’s great to see an act that actually writes their own music instead of going to the usual well everyone else dips in to.
    Nothing would please me more than to see Sugarland have incredible success with thoughtful work.

    Re: Mattea…. love her work and have for many years. I agree that her new work is unprecedented. With that, it will be TOTALLY ignored by Music Row, ie. CMAs and ACMs but should receive kudos and a nod from the Grammys.
    I hope that Kathy and Marty Stuart are deservedly recognized for “Coal”.

  3. I’ve really become a fan of Lady Antebellum. Thier first single was really good, even if it was over played and their second was one of my favorite songs on the album, this being summer and all. I think what I really like though about them is the surprise I heard listening to the mix and match between the guy and girls voices, especially on “Looking for a good Time” and “One Day You Will.” I really hope their next single is “Home is Where the Heart is” mainly since it is my favorite song on the album.

    I also really enjoyed Montgomery Gentry’s new album since it took them back to why I like them. Some People Change was too slow for them and I’m glad they went back to thier “Gone” and “Hell Yeah” southern rock roots.

  4. To start with the negative, I really didn’t like George Strait’s album. It was very bland all the way through. Critics and fans alike love it though, so it seems that I’m in the minority. Another album that was disappointing was Alan Jackson’s new one. I liked it much better than Strait’s, but I hoped for a lot more after his break from regular country music and the promise of 17 songs. It was okay, but left a lot to be desired.

    As for the albums that I have enjoyed so far: Ashton Shepherd and James Otto have released albums that I have really enjoyed so far.

    I’m looking forward to Randy Travis’ new album and, now, curious about Sugarland’s. And since I’m a hopeless sucker for all things Christmas, I can’t wait for Faith Hill’s Christmas album that’s supposed to come out in the fall.

    I’ve bought so much music this year that it’s ridiculous.

  5. It’s been a fairly weak year thus far for mainstream country acts– most of what I’ve been listening to on my iPod are the 2nd and 3rd singles from albums released in 2007.

    Mattea’s Coal is, by far, the best country album I’ve heard this year. I’ve also enjoyed Hayes Carll’s Trouble in Mind, Justin Townes Earle’s The Good Life, Ashton Shepherd’s Sounds So Good, Carlene Carter’s Stronger, Emmylou Harris’ All I Intended to Be, and the self-titled debut from The Steeldrivers. Dierks Bentley’s greatest hits set is solid, but I think his studio albums are all better investments. Jewel’s Perfectly Clear was better than I expected, but only one track on it really sounds like a country song and not like Pieces of You: Redux. George Strait’s Troubadour and Lady Antebellum were both solid but underwhelming, and I just flat-out disliked Alan Jackson’s Good Time, Julianne Hough, and Willie Nelson’s Moment of Forever.

    The new Randy Travis is a mess– great songs, great production, but his voice is shot all to hell, though “Dig Two Graves,” the first single, masks that fact pretty well. There are several tracks on which he sounds so rough– as in Taylor Swift performing a live duet with Gary LeVox rough– that I wondered if my promo copy didn’t use his un-mastered scratch vocals. My hard-drive crashed this week, but I hope to have a full review of that one up soon.

    I’m pleased to hear that “All I Want to Do” isn’t representative of the new Sugarland album. Because, while I tend to ignore a good deal of what gets played on country radio, I can’t think of the last mainstream single that I actively hated as much as that one.

    On the alt-country / americana / whatever front, there hasn’t been one truly standout record, but I would give somewhere between a passing recommendation to a full-on endorsement to albums by Punch Brothers (the new project from Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile), Alejandro Escovedo, Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer, Tift Merritt, Kathleen Edwards, Drive-By Truckers, Vetiver, North Mississippi All-Stars, and Matthew Ryan. Sheryl Crow’s Detours is easily her best record since The Globe Sessions, though it also makes an about-face from her increasingly rootsy direction.

  6. Albums that immediately spring to mind as some of the best of 08 so far would be George Strait (sorry Leeann!), Ashton Shepherd, Kathleen Edwards (which coincidentally I have on right now).

    I am very much looking forward to Sugarland’s album, already have the Fan edition on preorder here in the UK.

  7. I’m disappointed to hear that Travis’ voice sounds shot. It sounded pretty good on his first two singles, I thought, though I didn’t like “Faith In You” very much.

  8. Speaking of Snider…though I don’t think they’re the same…I’m interested in Chris Knight’s new CD that’s coming too.

  9. Dan M. is right—the second half of the year seems to always show the cream of the crop. Mattea’s album is terrific, and I’ve been impressed from what I’ve heard of the new Sugarland record. They appear to be finding an almost perfect blend between critical and commercial, at least beyond the first single. It should be a very arresting album.

    Both Lee Ann Womack and Patty Loveless, who each released their last music in 2005, will be returning to the fold in the fall. I expect high quality, although radio success will likely allude them. Let’s see if Tim McGraw can also rebound from a subpar 12 months.

    What about songs of the year? Thoughts anybody?

  10. I agree with you folks that include Ashton Shepherd’s “Sounds So Good” in your best of list for 2008. Its actually surprising an album of that nature could come out of a big Nashville label these days, but I’m really gad it did.

    Now I know Jamey Johnson originally released “The Lonesome Song” in 2007 independently, but since its going to be released on CD by a label this year I’ll cheat an include it on this best of 2008 list! (lol)

    Mixed Bag: I’ve really been enjoying the self-titled EP from “The Wrights” and “I Want A Love Like That” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in ages. In fact sometimes I think my car CD player’s repeat button may get stuck when that song comes on! On the other hand their newly released basement project “In The Summertime” just contains too many covers that move at the pace of a funeral dirge…..

    Honorable Mention: Jypsi’s self titled debut if you cut out their covers of “That’s All Right With Me” (Thous shalt not mess with Mandy Barnett at her artistic peak) and “House of the Rising Sun” which drags at an unberable pace. If Lillie Mae would just nail the notes rather than coming in low and scooping up (something she may have unfortunately learned from listening to Mandy Barnett’s CDs), she could be a great vocalist. I want a CD of thsi album, not the sonically inferior MP3 download! Grrrrr…

  11. After hearing them on the Opry tonight, I was compelled to download/buy The SteelDrivers album. It’s great and the lead singer’s voice is incredible. It’s more bluegrass than country, but they’re in the same family…

  12. So far the best I’ve heard are:
    COAL – Kathy Mattea
    GOOD THING GOING – Rhonda Vincent
    OPEN THAT GATE – John England & THe Western Swingers
    THE HIGH NOTES – Ricky Skaggs
    JUMOIN’ TIME – The Time Jumpers

    The Hayes Carll and Ashton Shepherd discs both just barely miss this list – the Carll disc has two songs on it I positively detest, and the quality of the songs on Shepherd’s album are a bit inconsistant

  13. Paul, I agree that there are a couple of songs on Shepherds album that I don’t love. It’s one I want to review, though I realize it’s been out for awhile. I still love the over all product. I didn’t like Hayes Carll’s album…maybe I was disappointed after it had so much hype.

  14. Oh, and I should mention Caroline Herring’s album, which is really good!

    BTW, someone mentioned Patty Loveless having a new album this fall… Really? I thought she was record deal-less?

  15. Hands down Lady Antebellum takes my top Country album so far this year. Carter’s Chord has possibilities… as does Ashley Monroe if the poor girl could ever actually get an album out.

    My problem with Ashton Shepherd is that she over sings what are otherwise great songs. Listen to the first couple lines of “Sounds So Good”.. does she need to draw out the last word of EVERY line? Really? It’s like she’s trying too hard to sound redneck. Ashton, please don’t turn into another horrid act like Gretchen Wilson.. you can actually sing when you don’t try so hard.

    Kasey Chamber’s new album with Shane Nicholson is a treat. It’s different, and by no means will be getting US airplay.. but it’s a solid disc listenable front to back.

    Outside of Country there’s no doubt for my vote for Album of the Year thus far… Los Campesinos! is just too much fun to pass up.

  16. <>

    My greatest pet-peeve about country music (other than the mystifying success of Rascal Flatts) is when singers feel like they have to patronize with the southern drawl. As if suddenly we’re all a bunch of yokels drinking from jugs with “X-X-X” on it and a stem of wheat between our teeth.
    And it’s not so much the artist as it is the suits on Music Row thinking all us hick cornpones out here have to be talked down to. Then again, they also think RF is country …. so who knows?! LOL!

  17. I’m currently obsessed with Emmylou Harris’ new CD. Her voice gives me chills. I am also a fan of the Wright’s self-titled EP. I’m really looking forward to Chris Knight’s new CD (I didn’t know one was coming out!) and whatever Lee Ann Womack puts out.

    I was not a fan of George Strait and Alan Jackson’s new CDs, which I normally would be. I was underwhelmed by the new CDs by Lady Antebellum, Julianne Hough, Jewel, Jypsi, etc. (in other words, the new crop of radio darlings). If I hadn’t discovered blogs like this one, I would have given up on country music altogether years ago. So thanks for all the great suggestions above! There are a few I haven’t checked out.

  18. Still don’t think anyone should be considering Jewel country anything. Rodeo hubby or otherwise.. just more drivel from her. All downhill since that first stellar breakthrough album all those years back. Heck, Jessica Simpson has more right to claim that.. and well.. no.

    Sure would like a new CD from Julie Roberts… Chely Wright.. Patty Loveless…

    On a side note.. I’m a big fan of the “Sound Opinions” podcast out of Chicago Public Radio. Lots of good music I would otherwise never have come across, some old stuff I’ve gone back and changed my mind on, and insightful hosts. It’s Rock/Pop focused though… but why on earth aren’t there ANY good country music podcasts? Browsing iTunes is disappointing as everything is either crap or long out of production. Does anyone know of any good country podcasts? Preferably very music (and not entertainment) focused.

  19. Chely Wright has a new CD coming out this September. Its produced by Rodney Crowell–I’ve heard a couple of thing on her myspace, and I can’t wait to hear more

  20. Jonathan’s mention of Justin Townes Earle reminded me that I had wanted to give him a try after reading a review on the9513 awhile back. I’m sure glad for the reminder. I just bought it and after a cursory listen, I love what I’ve heard. He has a warm country sounding voice backed by a wonderfully organic production.

    As for Ashton Shepherd, I understand what you mean to a point. I used to feel that way about Dwight Yoakam; I thought his voice was too exagerated. Now, however, I appreciate such voices. When I first heard Ashton’s voice, I was taken aback by its strength and twang; I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. Now, I’m hooked. I don’t think she’s necessarily playing up her twang. From the way she talks, her singing voice doesn’t surprise me at all. In the end, I suppose it’s a matter of taste. Since I love Vince Gill, I obviously appreciate a polished voice now and then. Lately, I’ve found that I’ve been drawn to raw voices more and more though.

  21. Sam: Patty’s new record,Sleepless Nights will be released September 9th on Saguaro Road Records. I also have to agree that Ashton Shepherd oversings her songs.Her voice is pure and powerful in concert just as it is on record. Sometimes less is more.

  22. Sugarlands new one hopefully will be a huge success like the single is. The single is currently on the Top 10 downloaded songs on iTunes and that hasn’t been done by any country artist in awhile to my knowledge, and im ALWAYS on iTunes. I am mainly a Top 40’s Country listener and i know im definately the minorty on this page, but im only 16 and thats what i like. Sugarland is one of my favorites and i think that their next album will be huge. Lady Antebellums debut record also was excellent.

    I know i said i mainly like the Top 40 stuff, but let me make one thing clear Rascal Flatts newest material is terrible. I know its been said many times, but seriously? Nobody wants to hear Bob that Head anymore

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