In Country Music in 2008, as with any year, there will be the good, the bad, and the in between. In 2007 country music had a lot of good, too much bad, and a fair share of the in between. As is customary on a music website, I have compiled a list of my favorite songs from the year 2007. Without further verbositiy, here is the list:
30. Brad Paisley – “Letter To Me”
A single released from the “5th Gear” album.
If there was an artist in country music who rivaled Keith Urban’s sheer musical ability it’d be Brad Paisley. I’ve always liked Paisley but over the years his humorous songs sometimes don’t appeal to me as they probably should. “Ticks” was a perfect example of this. However, Paisley has always counter-balanced his humorous songs with genuinely inspired moments and “Letter To Me” is one of those moments. I never expected this song written by a grown-up Paisley to his fifteen-year-old self to be a single but here it is as one. Kudos to both Brad and his label for getting it out there. It’s clever (as all of his songs seem to be, even the creepy/tacky ones like “Ticks”) and worth seeking out because who hasn’t wished they could write a letter to their younger selves?
29. Jason Meadows – “18 Video Tapes”
From the “100% Cowboy” album.
Singing in a voice that’s similar to radio star Craig Morgan, Jason Meadows sings a touching parental story. Afraid that his unborn child will grow up without a father, a man decides to record a video tape of ‘lessons’ for each year of the child’s life. It’s the kind of song that country music does well and goes down a well-worn path and carves a refreshingly new perspective on it. Vince Gill, once again, shows why he’s one of the most gracious singers in the business by singing flawless harmonies behind the former contestent of Nashville Star.
28. Lady Antebellum – “Love Don’t Live Here”
A single available digitally and from their forthcoming album.
A trio comprised of Charles Kelley, Hilary Scott and Dave Haywood. The band has ties to a couple moderately famous people in Josh Kelley and Linda Davis. Charles is Josh’s brother (and former drummer) and Hillary is Linda’s daughter. The trio formed in 2006 and was signed to a major contract in 2007. Perhaps hoping to clinb on the Sugarland gravy train, Capital Records signed the trio. Coming somewhere in between Sugarland and Little Big Town this band with an interesting name certainly has created a catchy debut single that also is one of my favorite moments of the year.
27. Ashton Shepherd – “Takin’ Off This Pain”
Available in the digital format.
Recently released to radio, Shepherd is one of the critical ‘ones to watch for 2008. With a strong traditional country mentality, Shepherd seems to have fans and the industry abuzz. With a voice like hers and a song like “pain” it’s easy to see why. Terri Clark seems to be having a hard time at radio these days so maybe Ashton will take her place as the ‘traditional girl’ the way both Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift seem to be the ‘pop girls’ at radio.
26. Ashley Monroe – “I Don’t Want To”
A single that is available in the digital format.
Released in 2006 but charting in 2007 within the Top 40, “I Don’t Want To” also features Ronnie Dunn. While they sound OK together, Monroe’s distinctive voice is what makes this song. Sadly, radio doesn’t seem to be “Satisfied” with miss Monroe. I guess it is just that hard to break female artists at country radio. Hopefully as gifted as Ashley is that she’ll get the chance to have a full album released.
25. George Canyon – “I Want You To Live”
From the Canadian release “Somebody Wrote Love”
A huge hit in Canada from the former Nashville Star runner-up, George Canyon penned a touching song that deals with a well-worn discussion (death) in country music and manages to make a compelling song with it. It also shows off Canyon’s fine voice as he sings the chorus “I want you to live, I want you to love, I want to go back to the way it was, to hear you say my name again, I want to see your smile again, I want you to live.“ Anyone who’s lost someone close to them will certainly relate to the lyrics of this potent ballad.
24. LeAnn Rimes & Marc Broussard – “Nothing Wrong”
Album track from “Family”
Firmly into her second decade as a country artist (at only 25 years old), LeAnn finally took the reigns of her career and recorded the best album of her career. This duet pairs one of my favorite male vocalists with one of my favorite female vocalists. Co-written by the pair with songwriter Blair Daly, The song finds the two outstanding vocalists blending their voices together. While not steeped in traditional country tones, the song is nonetheless a greasy, gritty love song. It works really well and helps lend some credence to my feelings that Broussard probably could have a successful country career if he wanted it.
23. Lance Miller – “She Really Loves Me”
Channeling classic country vocalists of yesterday (particularly Gene Watson), Lance Miller came out with this dandy little single in March of 2007. I never expected it to be a huge hit at country radio (its way to ‘country’ for a debut single) but I did expect the song to do marginally well. I guess country radio’s target audience didn’t like the former Nashville Star contestant’s lyrics. It basically says that the woman has stopped complaining about his messy habits at home and told him to go ahead and go out with the boys at the bar. He says “Either she really loves me or she doesn’t really love me anymore.” Humor always has a place in country and I suspect if Brad Paisley had written/recorded this gem instead of Miller it would’ve been a multi-week number one hit.
22. Lori McKenna – “I Know You”
Can be found on the album “Unglamorous”
Singe JoDee Messina made it ok for women from Massachusetts to be country artists, The family McGraw’s favorite songwriter (Tim co-produced the record), McKenna has made waves in the Nashville industry with her songwriting style. The first track off of her “debut” Nashville album, “I Know You” is a rocking reminder to men out there that their wives often know them better than they think. It’s also a warning to the same men who might consider cheating or leaving ‘for greener pastures.’ This song is as real as a song can get and that still can be a hallmark of country music if given the chance.
21. Brooks and Dunn – “God Must Be Busy”
A single released from the “Cowboy Town” album.
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have been around seventeen years now and in that time they’ve achieved almost every acknowledgment and award conceivable. Often found wasting his talents away on lighter fare, Dunn is one of the best male vocalists in any genre. He has a flexible voice that can go into falsetto as easy as anyone but it is songs like “God Must Be Busy” and “Believe” where he offers up a master class in vocals. Co-written by Dunn, the song basically says just what the title suggests; that God must not be able to respond to everything they pray to him for.
20. Eric Church – “Lightning”
From the album “Sinners Like Me.”
One of the best ‘album tracks’ of 2006 makes an appearance here due to it being released to the video outlets as a single . A simple acoustic guitar strums through the chorus as Church sings from the point of view of a death row inmate about to meet his maker. “Lightning” finds Eric asking forgiveness from everyone and not really being sure what will happen (although the final verse does allude to redemption in heaven). It’s the strongest song on Church’s album, far from mainstream radio success and the song that he secured a publishing and album deal with.
19. Taylor Swift – “Our Song”
A single from the album “Taylor Swift.”
Currently the darling of the country music industry, the seventeen-year-old Swift has moved around two million albums on the basis of three singles and currently has a healthy cross-over career going. While her first two singles didn’t ‘grab me,’ “Our Song” has an immediate hook that will wrap any adult wrapped in nostalgia. It’s just a well-written and produced song (with great fiddle fills and a banjo and dobro driven rhythm section). It’s no surprise to me that the song is Miss Swift’s first chart-topping hit from an album that was co-written by her. A cross-over pop remix of this song is no doubt in the plans for 2008.
18. Tracy Lawrence – Find Out Who Your Friends Are
From the “For The Love” album.
Tracy Lawrence was one of 2007’s biggest surprises. He spent about 40 weeks working this single to radio and was rewarded with his First #1 hit in 10 years. One of the 1990’s biggest stars, this song also became a CMA Award winning song when the ‘trio’ version of the song won for Best Collaboration with Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. While that version is what helped make the song the big hit it was, Both versions stand on their own to support a lyric that says friends will always show their true colors when another friend is down on their luck.
17. Keith Urban – Everybody
From the “Love, Pain & the whole Crazy Thing” album while radio version can be found on the “Greatest Hits” CD.
One of three Keith Urban tracks to make my list, “Everybody” is one of those “well-duh!” kinds of songs. It is the kind of song that talks directly to the heart. It says that we don’t need to ‘go it alone’ in life and that there is always someone to talk to. It’s a great song that obviously was written from pain that Keith had in his own life before Nicole Kidman(and right before he went into rehab again). It could even be seen as a love letter to Nicole. As with all KU singles, Everybody was cut down to fit radio airplay (thus removing part of his brilliance as an artist, the solos), but it still is one of 2007’s best songs from perhaps my favorite artists.
16. Hal Ketchum – My Love Will Not Change”
From the UK release of the “One More Midnight” album.
I first heard Hal do this song a couple of years ago. A cover of the Del McCoury band’s bluegrass hit, “My Love Will Not Change” fits Hal Ketchum’s folksy vocals just right. While less’ bluegrass-y, the song still retains the rootsy nature but is instead turned into a delightful slice of Americana music that I hope will see the light of day as a release in the States.
15. Jack Ingram – “Measure Of A Man”
A single released off of the fine “This Is It” album.
Jack has had a good run at radio the last year and a half or so. While people probably will always ‘hate’ him for one of two things (or for both), with them being his ‘sell-out’ for radio airplay and is cover of “Lips Of An Angel,” I’ve liked Jack for a long time and don’t think he’s sold out at all. In reality, country radio just caught up to his country rock hybrid. Written by Radney Foster (Don’t be fooled, Ingram is a great writer too), “Man” is a slice of Petty heartland rock that has big sweeping hooks, strong production values and a great vocal from Ingram. While not a Top 10 hit, this song proves that radio still doesn’t always ‘get it.’
14. Rodney Atkins – “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)”
From the album “If You’re Going Through Hell.”
2007 was a year to remember for Adkins (as was 2006). Two of his songs went #1 (making it 3 in a row) and both of them were in the Top 5 country airplay songs. “Cleaning This Gun” is Rodney’s current single and it shows a side of the south where fathers are often very protective of their daughters and picky about the men they go out with. This well-written, picaresque song discusses the subject quite well. It has been a favorite of mine from the record and I’m glad Atkins and Curb Records released it.
13. Kenny Chesney – “Demons”
From the “Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” album.
“When I’m not chasing demons, there’s demons chasing me” is the hook of the song. While there’s no memorable repeated chorus, “Demons” is one of those songs that helps remind people that Chesney is a good songwriter and song interpreter. It’s also a song that’s never going to get a shot at country radio. because of the pace and five minute and a half running time. That actually is probably a plus since Chesney’s singles seem to get played too much at radio.
12. Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – “I Need You”
From Tim McGraw’s “Let It Go” record and Faith Hill’s “Greatest Hits” album.
“I Need You like a needle needs A vein” could be the most unusual country lyric of the year yet it is the actual hook of the song. Then again Brad Paisley made a pick-up line about Ticks popular so maybe not, but I digress. Tim and Faith have recorded together quite a bit but this is one of the few true duets in their catalog. It’s a mature song performed expertly by a ‘power couple’ who truly has ‘made it’ and shows no signs of the typical ‘Hollywood” meltdowns.
11. Trace Adkins – “I Wanna Feel Something”
From both the “Dangerous Man” and “American Man: Greatest Hits 2” albums.
Criminally ignored at radio, this is the kind of song that made me a fan of Trace Adkins in the first place. He is one of the better song interpreters but all too often records silly songs like “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” or “Swing.” Even if those songs sell albums to the ladies it’s songs like this one that make me a fan (and able to forget the ‘ditties’ radio gets to play). The vocal is strong, the mandolin-paced melody is nice and the lyrics highly relatable (about the want to not wander through live ‘numb’). Who hasn’t felt like that once or twice?
10. Blake Shelton – “Back There Again”
From the “Pure BS” album.
Now starting to get national exposure outside of the country music community, Blake Shelton has had a steady stream of hits on the country charts. Written by respected songwriter Tom Douglas, “Back There Again” is a slice of pure country ballad perfection. It’s a song that discusses a guy who doesn’t have the heart to go through ‘slow-motion suicide’ by self-destruction. the lyric here really hits home:
9. Trisha Yearwood – “Heaven, Heartache & The Power Of Love”
From her album of the same name.
I could argue for hours, with musical evidence, that Trisha is the best female vocalist recording music today. She controls her instrument better than other like-voiced artists (Carrie Underwood for example) and knows that vocal power doesn’t need to be in a song to sell it. It’s the nuances of a lyric that the voice should show off and this song is a perfect example it.
8. Jamey Johnson – “In Color”
From the “That Lonesome Sound” album.
After having a cute little single (“The Dollar” on BNA Records, Jamey was unceremoniously let go by his label in 2006. Around that time he was gaining success as a songwriter (For songs like “Give It Away” and “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”). In the middle of 2007 Jamey recorded a powerful traditional country record and released it digitally. One of the standout tracks is “In Color.” It’s a slow-building lyrical gem that showcases Jamey’s strong vocal ability. That voice alone would get many a men a record deal but add in the ability to turn phrase and melody and it should be a big crime that labels screw-up with acts like Jamey Johnson.
7. Porter Wagoner – “Committed To Parkview”
From the album “Wagonmaster.”
Much like what happened with Johnny Cash and his “American Recordings” series, Porter reached critical success at the end of his life with “Wagonmaster.” the Centerpiece of the Marty Stuart-produced effort is this great Cash-penned song. Wagoner intros the song with a story about his own time at the mental hospital. Cash gave it to Porter. Simple acoustic music with an age-worn voice, “Parkview” is nonetheless one of 2007’s finest country songs.
6. Keith Urban – “Stupid Boy”
From the “Love, Pain & the whole Crazy Thing” album and the new “18 Kids: Greatest Hits” CD.
Keith Urban is an artist who has gotten better and better with every year. He’s most certainly earned his place at the top. While the single edit of the song is available some places, it pales in comparison to the album version of the song. the Single barely alludes to the fact that Keith is the ‘stupid boy’ whereas the album cut reveals it with a mournful guitar and vocal over the course of nearly three minutes. Urban and his label must agree for “Stupid Boy” is one of two ‘album cuts’ to make his recent “Greatest Hits” release.
5. Joe Nichols – “Real Things”
From the album of the same name.
When I listen to this song I think of my family. It is one of the finest honest-to-God country songs I heard in 2007. It spills out my feelings about life and family in a way that I wish I had written it. Nichols sings over a soft dobro/mandolin/acousic guitar backed melody in his typical laid-back way (like Merle) that just feels like home. When you’re thousands of miles away from home, songs like this mean something. That’s the power of music, folks.
4. Sugarland – Stay
From the album “Enjoy The Ride”
While Trisha Yearwood is the finest female vocalist in music, Jennifer Nettles isn’t far behind. Together with her musical partner Kristian Bush, Nettles survived the sophomore slump in a big way in 2006/2007 with “Enjoy the Ride.” The mere fact that the band was confident enough to release this soft, acoustic ballad as a single is awesome but add in perhaps Nettles best vocal to date (backed simply by Bush’s guitar) and you have a potent song. Just awesome.
3. Vince Gill – “What You Give Away”
Can be found on “These Days.”
From the inspired and Grammy nominated 4 disc opus, “What You Give Away” is a song that should be a theme song for some political artist for it is the exact platform that they should be preaching from. Vince has often lived by these words: “No matter what you make, all that you can take, is what you gave away.” Add in stellar guitar solos (two different guitars), the harmony vocals of Sheryl Crow and you have what should’ve been a huge radio hit. Sadly, they didn’t think so. Still, Country’s greatest humanitarian has left us with a thought provoking song.
2. Tim McGraw – “If You’re Reading This”
From the “Let It Go” record.
With a world debut on the ACM Awards in early 2007, Tim found himself in the unexpected position of having two songs on the radio at the same time. Radio demanded the song be ‘remixed’ for airplay and after initially relenting to do so, stating that the war themed song was a special song for the show, Curb and McGraw did just that. Never officially recorded in a studio, the song drips with raw emotion as it plays out as the final will and testament of a fallen soldier. It’s probably one of the best songs Tim’s ever sang and he co-wrote it with the Warren Brothers. A superb song that that a fan of any genre can appreciate.
1. Keith Urban “I Told You So”
From the “Love, Pain & the whole Crazy Thing” album while radio version is found on the 18 Kids: Greatest Hits” CD.
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that it’s not often that a melody grabs me before the lyrics do but “I Told You So” managed to do just that. From the first time I heard it on “Love, Pain…” I was hooked. The fact that a song like this would be my favorite song from 2007 is quite a rare thing indeed. Urban has a knack for creating snappy melodies to go with his lyrics when he writes the songs but the melody made here is…inspiring. It rocks out, adds a Celtic touch in the fiddle arrangements to go with progressive rhythm, banjo (a ganjo in Urban lingo), and has killer guitar fills that sound new and fresh to me, which they most certainly are for country radio. Without a doubt Keith Urban deserves the #1 song of the year with a gem like “I Told You So.”
While I’m sure some of you will think this list has it’s fair share of “the bad” or “the in between,” I feel these 30 songs represent most of “the good” from country music circa 2007, even if it is a heavily mainstream country leaning sort of list. Have any songs you think I missed? Feel free to discuss. Cheers. and Happy New Year.