On the best tunes of ’08…

I didn’t buy that much new music this year, at least if you define that term as “music released in 2008.” What I did buy, though, was pretty good. George Strait’s Troubadour was another winning collection from the South Texas cowboy, and as regular readers know, I thought Metallica’s Death Magnetic was the best thing they’ve recorded in 20 years. But even with that, I thought it’d be interesting to see what the Houston Chronicle’s music critics thought were the best cds released this year. Neither George nor Metallica made their list, which wasn’t really surprising because, of course, many of the critics take the road less traveled and pick a lot of stuff that wasn’t really commercially successful. I did see, though, that both of them were raving about one of my favorite country discs that came out this year, Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song. I’ve heard it said that getting such critical acclaim as Johnson’s album received runs the risk of turning people off, and I can see where that comes from. I remember how everyone was making such a big deal out of Garth Brooks in the early ’90s and I never really thought he was all that. But with the state of modern Nashville country I’d say that Jamey Johnson deserves every single bit of praise that comes his way. With the way things are I’d say it’s a lot more of a risk to make a solid country record like That Lonesome Song for a new artist like Jamey Johnson than for an established artist like George Strait, and even Strait’s latest had more of a pop sensibility to it than Johnson’s record did. (Just as an illustration, I thought “River of Love” sounded a lot like something Kenny Chesney might have done, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. But then the title track, “House of Cash,” and “Make Her Fall In Love With Me Song” more than made up for that one clunker…) Some really dark stuff made its way onto Johnson’s record, including “High Cost of Living,” whose protagonist trades his idyllic life for “cocaine and a whore,”, the searing steel guitar-soaked divorce ballad “Angel” and “Mary Go Round,” the tale of a woman whose man’s infidelity sends her off the deep end. Definitely not your typical commercial country radio fare, but the top-10 hit “In Color” was still among the best songs on the cd. It’s the song I bought the cd for and it remains my favorite on it.

I see Jacksonville native Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy made one critic’s best-of list and that wasn’t a big surprise either. From what I’ve heard of it, it’s as solidly traditional as her last effort, There’s More Where That Came From, which for my money was arguably one of the best country cds of the decade, mainstream or not. Definitely another one I’ll have to check out. I see Joey Guerra had this to say…

Young upstarts Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood may have had better years, but neither comes close to the emotional resonance of Womack’s tunes.

…and the only thing I can say in response is, Yep. Well, not the only thing. Underwood has a hell of a voice, I’ll give her props for that, but she wastes it on total crap like “Some Hearts” and “All-American Girl,” and even on better songs like “Last Name” and “Before He Cheats” she just kinda falls flat. As for Taylor Swift, well, she has a decent voice when she stays in her range…but in regards to that range, if that voice were a car, it would barely make it out of the Walmart parking lot on a full tank of gas before running out. I don’t think either Underwood or Swift could have pulled off an album like “There’s More Where That Came From” as well as Lee Ann Womack did. She has the voice. They don’t. And it’s really just that simple.
But the music I did buy that got played more than anything else, again, was from earlier in this decade. The two cds that really stand out were from a couple of the Texas/Oklahoma red-dirt folks, 2005’s Garage from Cross Canadian Ragweed and 2004’s Rollercoaster from the Randy Rogers Band. I originally picked up Garage not long after it came out, when I was in North Texas on my Hurricane Rita vacation, and it just didn’t really reach out and grab me like the self-titled Purple album did. Its lead-off single, “Fightin’ For,” turned out to be my least favorite Ragweed tune, and the only one from the cd that really stuck with me, believe it or not. A girl from Fannett that I dated for a little bit told me that she and her red-dirt-loving friends called that cd “Garbage,” because they thought it was the worst thing Ragweed had done. From my impression of the cd as formed by “Fightin’ For,” I had to agree, although I later heard live cuts of “Dimebag” (the guys’ tribute to the murdered Pantera guitarist “Dimebag Darrell” Abbott), “Late Last Night,” “Final Curtain,” “Sister” and “Blues For You” and thought they were pretty good. (almost half of the Garage cd, what the hell?) Later on I heard “This Time Around” on the radio, and that was the song that prompted me to get off my ass and go looking for the cd. (When I bought it on my Rita vacation, I accidentally left it with my uncle when I came back to Southeast Texas.) I picked it up and the studio versions of those songs turned out to be great too; the cd as a whole turned out to be much, much better than I remember. According to my iTunes data, “Lighthouse Keeper” and “This Time Around” are the second- and third-most-played songs on my iPod. No surprise there, as they were my two favorite songs on that cd. (No. 1 on the most-played list was Metallica’s “All Nightmare Long,” my favorite song on Death Magnetic.) The Garage cd was the second-most-played cd proper on the iPod after Death Magnetic…
…and the third-most-played was the Randy Rogers Band cd. The big song I remember hearing on the radio from this one was “Tonight’s Not The Night,” and it remains my favorite on the Rollercoaster cd to this day. I also liked “Down And Out,” the beautiful ballad “Love Must Follow You Around,” and the band’s own versions of “Again” and “This Time Around,” both of which were written by Randy Rogers and Cross Canadian Ragweed frontman Cody Canada. I sure would like to see the RRB properly record “Some Fools Never Learn”  one day, though…that’s always been my all-time favorite song and the bootleg live version on Youtube is very, very good.
Last, but certainly not least, another cd that didn’t come out in ’08 but that I picked up this year was Nickelback’s All The Right Reasons. Like I’ve said before, I don’t have much use for the ballads like “Savin’ Me” and “Far Away,” but the harder-rocking songs like “”Animals,” “Side of a Bullet” and “Rockstar” were more than worth the price of the cd. Between “Side of a Bullet” and CCR’s “Dimebag,” I’d have to pick “Side of a Bullet” as the DD tribute I liked better. I’d love to see Chad Kroeger and the guys do more harder-edged stuff like that and less of the ballads. Kroeger doesn’t do that whole “sensitive guy” thing well, IMHO…
So, that’s my two cents. (Maybe more since I spent over two hours writing this…) Comments from the peanut gallery?



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