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Top 15 Albums of 2008

December 30, 2008

Everyone else is doing top 10 countdowns, so just for kicks I decided to switch it up and present the top 15 projects of the year. The rules are simple here, this list includes only original albums from 2008 and no re-releases or greatest hits projects, that’s it. To accompany each album I used quotes from my reviews that help define why it is on this list.

#15: “Jeff Bates” by Jeff Bates
Jeff Bates

It’s unfortunate that country radio threw away a gem like Jeff Bates. His life has had so many twists and turns that he comes to the table with an already established understanding of how to convey messages with relativity and effectiveness without going over the edge. Whether it’s through a powerful balled or comedic wordplay Jeff doesn’t miss a beat. The album is consistent, it’s mixed well, and it grows on you pretty fast for a project from an independent label. Most of all though, this album is Jeff Bates. It’s his personality, his life, his voice, and it’s all done his way and that proves to be the best way to do it and to show country radio what they’re missing.







#14: “Sounds So Sounds So Good coverGood” by Ashton Shepherd

For her debut project Ashton penned or co-penned every single track, save for one which closes the album. The interesting thing about her is that she really is her own person. Not once in this project does she let the factors of her life, from being a wife to being a rising country singer, stop her from telling it how it is. What’s also quite intriguing is that Ashton manages to dodge a common fatal flaw among newcomers here by focusing of a broad range of subjects rather than one particular one and showing off every aspect of her talent rather than focusing completely on letting everyone know she can sing.







#13: “Call Me Crazy” by Lee Ann Womack
Call Me Crazy cover
Lee Ann Womack may be far from a dominant force in country music in sales, awards, radio play and entertainment, but when you look at keeping the tradition of powerful, smooth and meaningful country music alive she is one of its pioneers. In her triumphant return following her traditional record There’s More Where That Came From, Lee Ann Womack reveals a collection of some of her darkest and most powerful works to date.








#12: “Troubadour” by George Strait
Troubadour cover
Experience, talent, respect, focus, these are the most appropriate words to describe any work by George Strait, the man with the most recorded #1 country singles ever and who has scored countless #1 albums including earning an album of the year award for his recent accomplishment. This album album is no different. The beauty of Strait is that he never writes his own songs yet he keeps his performance as believable as ever and he sings songs that are unique and original in many ways.








#11: “Lady Antebellum” by Lady Antebellum
Lady Antebellum cover

Lady Antebellum defiantly gave it their all as writers, as musicians, as singers and as people and friends in this album showing a deep connection with each other in their performance and their writing that’s hard to come by these days. While Dave takes the instrumental reins, Hillary and Charles, both related to established singers, take the vocals to a whole new level and show everything from excitement to true tear jerking reality.








#10: “That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy” by Toby Keith
That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy cover

 One can strongly argue whether Toby is in the height of his career now or if he’s trying to rekindle the fire he lost a few years ago. Whatever the case he is back to his prime and the Big Dog Daddy is better than ever. It’s nice to hear Toby sway from his traditional cliches of bar songs a patriotic anthems. He’s already established quite a few of those, he doesn’t need anymore right now. What he needed was a humanizing, character reference type of album that would show everyone who he is and what he can really do as an artist and a writer. That is this album. It’s smooth, it’s an easy listen, and it keeps the listener hooked the entire time providing a few sides of Toby that needed to be heard.






#9: “Trouble In Mind” by Hayes Carll
Trouble In Mind cover

Trouble In Mind takes full advantage of the art and the mastery that is Hayes Carll’s music. All but two songs in this fourteen track album are written or co-written by Hayes based off of his personal experiences in life from all different angles. Most of the songs surround people who are forced to come face to face with the many hardships of life and, in many cases, attempt to drown them out with the help of the bottle. However the bars and alcohol are not the complete basis of this album for if it were to actually be considered a concept album the main idea would be life in general, the good the bad and the ugly all wrapped up in a single project of fourteen well established songs.






#8: “Learn To LivLearn to Live covere” by Darius Rucker

For Darius Rucker there was no fooling around. Coming into a country project he has proved he is not just a rookie looking for some extra attention, he is a true blue country fan who really wanted to make a work of art for country fans to enjoy. The result is a very impressive collection that is sure to entertain whether you are a familiar fan of Darius from his pop days or a new fan of his from his crossover single.








#7: “X (Ten)” by Trace Adkins
X cover
When returning with new music it was important that Trace transfer his new knowledge and maturity that he obtained through his break for his second “hits” package and by his run on The Apprentice to his work in order to create a more solid and perfected artist in himself. That is exactly what he has offered for his newest album. Every track seems to ring with a new found confidence and even the most ridiculous of lyrics comes off as honest and real. What makes this project even more intriguing is that it’s far from a concept album, reaching to all different direction from war to sarcasm and even heartbreak and becoming one of the year’s more creative albums.






 #6: “Sunset Man” by James Otto
Sunset Man cover
In today’s country music James shines a bright star in a dimming sky. His maturity and vocal abilities show a lot of experience and understanding and his entertainment value is through the roof. Sunset Manraises the bar as high as it can go in the genre today for new artists and bends every boundary just enough to make it effective but not so much where the concept is overdone and lost. Talented and educated song choices and writing and experienced production and performance make this an album deserving of admiration especially in today’s genre. It may not be the perfect album, but it shines well above his competition.








#5: “Coal” by Kathy Mattea
Kathy Mattea - Coal

Concept albums are risky business in any genre. It’s hard for an artist to center and entire project around one subject without straying or overdoing it even just a little. However Kathy has enough experience and respect for the subject matter that she manages to pull this off like the professional she is. She took a concept close to her heart and turned to music to tell the world about it. There was no guarantee that anyone would ever want to hear it and there was the looming possibility and probability that she would create a controversy that would destroy her. However, instead of all this she has earned even more respect as a writer, a singer, a storyteller, and as an activist. In 11 songs she manages to criticize coal mining, celebrate it as a lifestyle, and even speak her mind about a few other subject while staying on pace. To some it up in one word: “Flawless”.





#4:”The Life Of A Song” by Joey+Rory
The Life of a Song cover

This dynamic duo knows how to sing country music, plain and simple. Before the had their big break as a duo Rory served as a successful songwriter and also had the experience of establishing his own label, Giantslayer Records. Joey was less involved before the show. She managed to release a solo album, but was more focused on her restaurant she ran with Rory’s sister. Together they managed to place third on the CMT show, thus earning them a deal with Sugar Hill records. Although I didn’t see much of the show, Joey + Rory were considered to be one of the best acts on the show, showing an understanding of what makes great country music and a flawless partnership. It is this chemistry and art that helped them form a quality debut project.






#3: “Play” by Brad Paisley
Play cover

For the career that Brad has had, it’s about time this project saw the light of day. It’s easy to be sceptical of such an album for many reasons, but the boundaries that Brad is willing to cross and the people he worked with for this project only add to what is possibly his greatest work to date. That is not to bold to state in confidence because Brad truly does his best when he can work his voice, his writing and his all around talent around his guitar. This album offers everything that fans have enjoyed in the five albums Brad has and then some and continues a growing streak of career milestones for Paisley that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.







#2: “Love On The Inside” by Sugarland
Love on the Inside cover

The beauty behind this album is that every listener can have different interpretations as to it actual quality and progression. There are so many different aspects of the music world that have been incorporated finely into their piece of work that it can be seen from many different angles with any combination of results. The fan pack even comes with three new songs that add new spins to the work and two flawless live tracks including “Life In A Northern Town”. In the end this album can be shifty and can be either praised or trumped badly by the critical ears, but it contains everything and anything that could possibly add to Sugarland as a groundbreaking act and is by far one of the better works of 2008.






#1: “That Lonesome Song” by Jamey Johnson
That Lonesome Song cover
Jamey Johnson, considered one of today’s most talented and respectful songwriters on the scene, may not have a star quality voice, but neither did Waylon or Johnny for that matter. This album is filled with more fear, passion, hatred, love, power, anguish, torture, and downright talent than any other album offered up this year. Every song rings true and leads into the next and every words and strum keeps the listener tied down and at full attention for what this guy will do next. Jamey has offered up every aspect of a great country song including sound and style while allowing himself to stay who he is and do his own thing for what sounds like the first time in his life. In an era of pop culture, media madness, and popularity contests, this album will go down as one of the biggest projects of the decade.




Honorable Mention:
“The Foundation” by the Zac Brown Band – As a debut project this is something special, it offers a look, appropriately, into the foundation of one of the biggest underdog acts in the genre from the past few years.

“A Place To Land (Capital Records Re-release)” by Little Big Town – There is just so much that this project has to offer and, surprisingly enough, the four extra tracks that Capital Records included only adds to this.

“Fearless” by Taylor Swift – Her sophomore album has more heart and vocal power behind it than her first, which wasn’t all that bad either in its entirety, and shows of a much more experienced and woman-like Taylor Swift.

“Startin’ Fires” by Blake Shelton – This project is more a “traditional Blake Shelton” feel in the sense that it contains more romatic and uptempo songs which tend to show themselves off as Blake’s forte.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris D. permalink
    January 3, 2009 4:17 am

    Where’s Patty Loveless?

    I need to get George Strait’s album still, I’ve been meaning to, same with Jamey Johnson’s.

  2. cowboybleau permalink*
    January 4, 2009 6:51 am

    They are both worth it Chris, and as far as Patty Goes I did enjoy the project and it deserved an honorable mantion, my bad, but I found it a little dull in the long run and would have landed it a 3 1/2 star grade but didn’t have time to review it. The albums on this list all received a solid 4 stars or more, save for “Call Me Crazy”, a project I had second thoughts about after numerous listens.

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