This is my post for my top albums of 2008! I was looking at the new albums I had bought this year, and I only bought around 12 new country albums, most of which I thought were undeserving of being on my year-end list. So, I narrowed it down to 8 worthy candidates. I’m warning you, my comments can get lengthy, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
PS: My top 30 singles will be posted later today.
8. “Sounds So Good” – Ashton Shepherd
– This album is the epitome of potential. She has a great voice, the production is good, if a little too much at parts, and she can write. She just needs to work with other writers and hone her skills to produce songs better than the ones found on this album. That potential is worth a place on this list for me.
7. “The Life Of A Song” – Joey + Rory
– After hearing their single (Cheater Cheater), I knew this album would be country, but I didn’t know how serious it would be. It turned out to have some very heavy songs, like “Rodeo” and “To Say Goodbye” that are sad, but the album is country through and through. There are very few to no electric instruments, and Joey’s pure voice rises above the acoustic background to add the necessary emotion to the songs. Could one ask for more?
6. “A Place To Land” – Little Big Town
– So this album was re-released this year, and it really is that good. I put it on this list because it deserves to be recognized, because it’s a very entertaining album. I’ve heard people say they decided not to get this one because they think it’s worse than The Road To Here, but this album is better! The re-release made it better because 3 new tracks were added, and 2 of those tracks are amazing.
The first, “Good Lord Willing”, is the band’s new single. It’s similar to Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinking”, but LBT’s harmonies and the great chorus make “Good Lord Willing” much much better. Another new song, “Love Profound”, is an acoustic ballad that explores how love “has no limits” or “knows no bounds”. It’s a pretty song that sounds great, due to harmonies again, and has great lyrics.
As you see, the harmonies on this album make it worth buying. The songs are great, and the harmonies of this great group make them even better.
5. “Rattlin’ Bones” – Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson
– I’ve only had this for about 2 weeks, so it hasn’t quite grown on me yet, but I love it already. This is another all acoustic album, but this one was reportedly recorded in only a week, so it has that rough edge to the music that makes it very unique.
The harmonies between this husband-wife duo are heavenly, with them having mostly equal parts is most songs. They have real chemistry and tackle sad songs like “One More Year” to the fun “The House That Never Was”. They make each song stand out from the others and sound like they are doing what they truly love. They also make the listener feel what they are singing about, and it’s a very magical experience.
4. “Love On The Inside” – Sugarland
– This album has met with criticism, but I think it’s by far better than their last two albums. First of all, the feel of the album is different, with more acoustic elements than electric, which is new for Sugarland. The gorgeous background of “Already Gone” peacefully co-exists with the quiet guitar and dobro of “Very Last Country Song” and the hilarious “Steve Earle”. The wonder of this album is how it touches on so many themes and stories and still feels like it’s one album. Not surprisingly, while looking at the title, it’s all about love. “Love” is the album’s central track (and new single) that shows how love can be seen and felt in many situations, but it’s bigger than that, it’s something that words can’t describe enough, so they made an entire album about it.
Jennifer is still the most prominent on this album, but Kristian still has a larger role than he has had previously, but I honestly prefer Jennifer’s voice, so that’s all right with me. The album’s highlights are definitely the 2 latest singles, “Very Last Country Song” and “Keep You”. The duo described “Keep You” as an emotional song about being emotionally numb, kind of like a loud song about being quiet. The song has Jennifer’s most impressive vocal performance to date, and it sounds heavenly. The song recounts the time after a relationship ends where the narrator is still loving her lover who’s left, and she feels numb. She says, “Now I can’t laugh, can’t cry/ And I can’t run, can’t hide/ What do I got to do/ What do I got to do to keep you/ What do I got to do to keep you from doing this to me.” It’s a very powerful song and would make an excellent single, in the vein of “Stay”.
All in all, this album is impressive, and different than the rest of mainstream country, and it deserves to be selling as well as it is.
3. “Call Me Crazy” – Lee Ann Womack
– Was this any surprise seeing how much I love “Last Call”? It’s only taken me a few months to go from not caring about Womack to being a huge fan, and it started with There’s More Where That Came From, which I bought in August. After about a week of that album, I was eagerly anticipating her new album, Call Me Crazy. This album isn’t quite the masterpiece that her last album was, but it’s different enough to set it apart. This album, rather than being all traditional-minded, combines traditional songs and contemporary songs, or combing elements of each within songs, if that makes any sense.
One example is standout track “The Bees”, which combines the classic story song lyrics to a refreshing contemporary production. This song is so unique, I don’t know how to describe it, but Keith Urban’s backing vocals make it sweet as honey. Another great track is the heartbreaking “Either Way”. This song is the point in a relationship when one doesn’t care if the other person leaves or not, with Lee Ann saying the biting line “We can just go on like this/ Say the word we’ll call it quits/ Baby, you can go or you can stay/ I won’t love you either way.” Ouch!
Elsewhere, Lee Ann sings about some lonesome drinking (“Solitary Thinkin’”), fixing bikes and hearts (“New Again”), and some killer hooks that are too great for me to spoil (“If These Walls Could Talk”). Overall, a strong album with solid material, while being unique from her own albums and albums from other artists.
2. “Sleepless Nights” – Patty Loveless
– I finally bought it! It’s truly an amazing album, and well worth the money. What I find most interesting is that I have never heard any of these songs before, so I think I have a unique perspective. They aren’t covers of old songs to me, they’re basically just new songs to me; and they are great songs. The album covers a range of topics, but the topics are well within classic country themes, from drinking to cheating; it’s all here.
Before I bought the whole album, I had gotten a free download of “Sleepless Nights”, and it is still one of my favorites on the album. I didn’t know Vince Gill was singing on it too; that would explain why it sounds better.
I like the slow pace and the amount of sadder songs, mostly because I think that’s where Loveless shines, and she shines bright here.
I’m sure most of you already own this album and love it, but if you don’t, go and buy it now. Learn from my mistake, the longer you don’t have this album, the more time you’ve wasted without it (that made sense?).
1. “Coal” – Kathy Mattea
– Last, but by far not least, this concept album by Kathy Mattea. First of all, I bought this album on a whim. I read the review on the 9513, and I thought “That sounds dull and depressing. Pass!” But one day at Circuit City, I bought Lady Antebellum’s debut album because it was on sale, and I decided I had extra money, so I would buy Coal. Needless to say, I stopped listening to Lady A. after about a month, but I still listen to Kathy every single day. This album has Kathy speaking on behalf of the miners, dead and alive, who can’t speak for themselves, and I bet they are all proud of her. She pulls of this album with class and believability, which is something I can’t say about most country stars. Even though most, if not all, of these songs are covers, they sound like they are excerpts from her personal diary.
The album is almost all slow and mournful songs, but it’s not a draw back because of the pure country instruments (almost bluegrass) and Kathy’s colorful voice. The best track here is the warning “Dark As A Dungeon”, previously recorded by Dolly Parton on her 9 To 5 album, but originally by Merle Travis in 1946. The narrator warns young men that they should beware the coal mines. Merle has said that he got the idea from a miner in Ebenezer, KY, where the miner told him “If ever you get this old coal dust in your blood, you’re just gonna be a plain old coal miner as long as you live.” He went on to say, “It’s a habit [CHUCKLE] sorta like chewin’ tobaccer.”
The album closes with the a capella “Black Lung” originally by Hazel Dickins. It starts with a small intro, but then Kathy takes over by herself, and sadness just oozes out of her performance, it’s to amazing to describe.
What’s great is there just aren’t any weak tracks, but they all share some form of sadness that binds them together and to the real story of the coal miners.
This album was my first introduction to Mattea; I had never heard of her before I bought it, and now I have a few of her albums. This album is a historical record, a concept album, and definitely my favorite album of 2008, as well as the best introduction I could ever have to Mattea’s music.