Category Archives: Opinion

Our Thoughts on Some Early Summer Single Releases

The summertime has officially come for country radio and like all summer music cycles, the charts are loaded with light, airy summertime vignettes.  Some artists, like Steve Holy, have chosen to release counter-programming in the form of ballads. As with the spring, the summer music cycle is filled with new artists, like Adam Gregory and 2007 Nashville Star alum Joshua Stevens. Here’s a rundown of some of the new singles out at radio and our thoughts about their hit potential.

Chris Cagle – No Love Songs:

I have always liked Chris Cagle and most of his songs and I originally hated this Craig Wiseman tune but it’s kinda grown on me since I added it to my ‘radio singles’ playlist on iTunes.  I don’t really care for the spoken verses but the chorus is catchy and the song will serve its purpose at radio, to keep passive listeners on the station between between the commercials, which is radio’s goal.  It’s an inoffensive song that will probably hit Top 20 or even the Top 10.  Grade: C-

Rock N Roll and PensacolaJoshua Stevens – Rock ‘N’ Roll and Pensacola:

When Joshua was singing on Nashville Star last season I had the feeling that he was another pleasant, radio-ready artist but was otherwise interchangeable with a multitude of other artists.  I still feel that way.  Stevens has a smooth voice that recalls Keith Urban among other artists and has written a song about being in a bar band in Pensacola, Florida.  It’s a decent enough song but I doubt that it’s a hit, especially coming from an upstart label in Nashville that couldn’t get a great single from Rockie Lynne to do much of anything on the charts. Grade: C-

Rissi Palmer – No Air:

With a countrified remix remake of the Jordin Sparks pop hit, Rissi Palmer could have her first big chart hit with “No Air.”  Produced by Taylor Swift‘s producer Nathan Chapman, “No Air” places Rissi firmly in the Underwood/Swift camp of female country singers.  She’s singing a decent song that showcases her powerful vocals and since it’s a remake of a pop hit that has a similar audience, it’s likely to do well at radio, even if it’s nothing more than a recording with banjos, mandolins and fiddles added to the mix.

Adam Gregory – Crazy Days:

Only 22 years old and already an eight year veteran of the music business, Edmonton, Alberta native Adam Gregory has followed fellow Canadian band Emerson Drive stateside with a record deal on Midas Records.  With an expressive vocal that reminds me of a younger Gary Allan, Gregory has himself a monster of a hit with “Crazy Days.”   It’s a song that details a couple still in love and in search of their wilder youth.  Since Gregory is still very much a ‘kid’ himself, the lyrics aren’t as believable as they’d be if someone like the Previously mentioned Allan would’ve sang the song but since Gregory’s voice has matured into a fine instrument, he sells this song.  Grade B+.

Ashton Shepherd – Sounds So Good:

With her debut single “Takin’ Off This Pain'” barely finding a home within the Top 20 at country radio, Ashton and her label MCA have smartly decided to release the summer anthem “Sounds So Good.”  With a banjo driving the melody, Ashton sings about the kind of things that work with the country audience.  Good music, good beverages, dirt roads and country life.  This is a hit in waiting that should bring more fans to the wonderfully charming Shepherd.  Grade B.

Steve Holy – Might Have Been:

Steve Holy first came on the country scene around 1999 but didn’t have a major hit until the year 2001 with “Good Morning Beautiful.”  Five years later Steve had another hit with “Brand New Girlfriend” and now he returns with “Might Have Been.”  While I loved “Good Morning Beautiful” for it’s simple message, I thought “Brand New Girlfriend” was a bit to much in the ‘ditty’ mold and was gonna be hard to follow-up.  It was.  Until now.  “Might Have Been” has a strong lyric, an engaging melody and vocal from Holy that’s the best of his career thus far. Grade A-

One Flew South – My Kind Of Beautiful:

With three-part harmonies that recall Crosby, Stills & Nash,  One Flew South arrives on the country music scene with “My Kind of Beautiful,” a song that was originally recorded by one of its writers, Andy Griggs on his “This I Gotta See” record.  Another of the song’s writers is One Flew South’s producer Marcus Hummon.  The melody is perfect for the summertime and those three-part harmonies are really good.  They make Rascal Flatts sound like amateurs as well.  Will radio spin the hell out of it? I don’t know. Still, I like the song.  Grade: A.

Little Big Town to Capital, The End for Equity?

Recently Craig Morgan left Broken Bow Records for the greener pastures of major label SonyBMG and now platinum recording artists Little Big Town are doing the same thing with their move to Capital.  What’s kind of surprising about their move is that they aren’t giving up on their current record “A Place To Land” but are in fact bringing it with them to Capital.  From Capital’s standpoint this is a win-win for them.  Since Little Big Town owned their master recordings for both “A Place To Land” and “The Road To Here,”  Capital basically is a bigger distributor for their albums at this point.    I do wonder if Little Big Town will retain the rights to both albums or if they recieved a ton of cash from Capital to sell the rights.  Also, did Capital pay some money to Equity (a.k.a. Clint Black and Mike Kraski) to get the label rights. 

Whatever the case, this probably spells the impending end of Equity as a full-service label.  They’ll still probably serve as Clint Black’s label but Kevin Fowler, Laura Bryna, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Mark Wills, and Carolina Rain might be right to worry a bit.   Equity and Broken Bow both looked like new models for independent labels but both labels have taken big hits when their biggest artsts have left for traditional major label promotional muscle. 

Lady Antebellum is Primed for Stardom

Lady Antebellum – “Lady Antebellum” (2008 Capital Nashville)

It’d be very easy to dismiss Lady Antebellum as Capitol Nashville’s attempt at capturing the same audience that Sugarland has managed to capture for Mercury.  In a sense they are similar.  Both groups are songwriting collectives, both groups got their start in Georgia, and both groups scored big debut singles.  But that’s where the similarities end.  Aside from Lady A (as they call themselves) being two dudes and one girl instead of the other way around, the trio alternates vocals between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott.  The group also has a deep pedigree in the music business.  Kelley is the brother of successful pop singer Charles Kelley while Hillary is the daughter of Grammy winning vocalist Linda Davis.  The third member of the group is lead guitarist Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley’s long-time friend.

After forming in 2006, the trio quickly attracted a following and signed with Capital Nashville in 2007.  By the end of 2007, they had released their debut single “Love Don’t Live Here.” Currently just outside of the Top 10 at country radio, the single has succeeded at planting the seed of anticipation for the trio’s self-titled debut album.  The production has a ‘just-enough’ glossy sound backing up Kelley’s soulful lead vocal while the remaining members of Lady Antebellum showcase that this trio has been listening to the singer-songwriting super group records of the 1970s.  “Lookin’ For A Good Time”  finds Kelley singing lead vocals for the verses while Hillary Scott takes the leads on the chorus.  It’s a catchy, feel-good, story about ‘not promising anything more than one night.’

All We’d Ever Need” finds Scott and Kelley trading verses of a lyrically strong contemporary country song tailor-made for a show-stopping moment in concert.  This is a song Tim and Faith or Garth and Trisha would’ve loved to have cut.  It was the very first song that Scott/Kelley and guitarist Dave Haywood wrote together and after hearing it, I can see why they had reason to form a group.   Scott takes the lead on “Long Gone” and it makes sense since it’s a song she wrote prior to creating Lady Antebellum with Haywood and Kelley.  While Kelley has a rich baritone ‘soulful’ voice, Scott’s own voice reminds me at times of Natalie Maines and of course her own mother. 

Teaming up with superstar songwriter Tom Douglas, Lady Antebellum wrote “I Run To You” and despite the recycled song title, the song may just be the best track on the record.  Hitting some nice falsetto notes Kelley and Scott take turns about singing all the ways one can run away from something and then by the chorus, they run away from pressures of life back to the security of love.  A little optimistic? Maybe.  But the driving pop/rock melody backing up the words is what really sells the song.  It’s a hit.  “Love’s Lookin’ Good On You” and “Slow Down Sister” both have fun, drive with the windows down melodies that fit summer radio playlists like a glove.  They’re not deep but they’re entertaining.  In what seems to be a time-tested country music tradition, Lady A ends their record with a philosophical, uplifting story song in “One Day You Will.”  It’s another ‘event’ song for the trio and one that could do very well on radio if chosen as a single. 

With big hooks, glossy pop-ish production from veteran Paul Worley and songwriter Victoria Shaw (“The River” by Garth Brooks), and strong songwriting, Lady Antebellum’s self-titled debut gives a label a lot to work with. Add in their comely looks and what we’ve got here is a package that is fully developed and ripe for country stardom. So while the trio is similar to Sugarland, they have more than enough artistic merit, and vocal power, to stand on their own as a real threat to knock Rascal Flatts off of its perch as the best contemporary country group.

Lady Antebellum 

Early 2008 Country Album Round-up

 Since it’s nearly impossible to give every album released an in-depth report, I have decided to present my thoughts on a few of the recently released records with a grade.  At the very least, these mini-reviews aren’t Maxim-like ‘educated-guesses.’  I’ve actually listened to them. 

Allison Moorer

Allison Moorer – Mockingbird

(New Line Records)

2.5

I have been a fan of Allison Moorer’s since her first appearance in “The Horse Whisperer” years ago.  The idea of her doing a cover record was a good one.  However, I don’t think she should’ve left it with just female songwriter/artists.  While a unique take, the whole album leaves me wanting more.  Take her spin on Joni Mitchell‘s classic “Both Sides Now.”  That song was brilliantly re-worked by Mitchell herself so Allison had a lot to live up to and she simply didn’t do it.  “Ring of Fire” is reworked here but it sounds too weird to my ears.   A couple songs are given brilliant arrangements and one of them is “Dancing Barefoot.” 

Dolly

Dolly Parton – Backwoods Barbie

(Dolly Records)

3

Dolly Parton hasn’t released a mainstream country record in almost two decades.  She’s dabbled in bluegrass and gospel and even tossed out a patriotic record for fans to devour.  While critically acclaimed, the bluegrass records didn’t set the charts on fire so Dolly decided to return to what she knows.  Perhaps one of country music’s greatest songwriters, Dolly also sings quite well for someone who’s 62 years old. She could actually teach some of the new female artists a thing or to.  The record starts off with the criminally ignored “Better Get To Livin’.”   I would’t have expected Fine Young Cannibals‘ “Drive Me Crazy” to be a good choice for a country song but Dolly makes the song work with her charming persona.  It’s still not very ‘country’ as some other tracks are on “Barbie” though.  Dolly shows her roots on the stone country title track and current radio single “Jesus & Gravity” is the most mainstream song on the record and if it cannot get Dolly back on the airwaves as a solo artist, nothing can.

Doug Stone

Doug Stone “My Turn”

(Progression Music Group)

two

It might seem like it’s been a cat’s lifetime since Doug Stone has been in the public eye but his “My Turn” record proves that he’s still hard at work.  Released in late 2007 (but given a digital release in ’08), the album shows that Doug still has the goods as a vocalist.  The biggest problem for Doug is his love for anonymous ballads that derailed his career in the late 1990s.  Aside from “Don’t Tell Mama,” a cautionary drinking and driving song, there are no “I’d be Better off (In A Pine Box)” tracks to be found here.  Only more of the “More Love” types of songs.  This is a record only the loyalist of his fans will enjoy. 

 Trent Willmon

Trent Willmon – Broken In

(Compadre Records/Music World Records)

3

He released two albums on the Columbia label before parent Sony merged with BMG.  Since Willmon barely sold anything, the Texan rancher was part of the corporate artist purge (along with Rodney Crowell and Jon Randall).   Compadre Records signed him up and released a fine ballad “There Is A God” that got lost at country radio.  The title track is the new single and its finding more of an audience.  The problem with the record seems to be that Willmon doesn’t know rather to ditch Nashville for Texas or Texas for Nashville.  It’s a quandary that was present on his first two records as well.  Still, Trent does have a strong voice, writes well and has a few tracks worth seeking out.  “Cold Beer and A Fishing Pole” is as country as they come while the Brett James/Ashley Monroe penned “The Truth” has potential to be a big hit at country radio. 

durrance12.jpg 

Eric Durrance – I Lost It All (EP)

(Wind-up Records)

two

There’s no denying the fact that Eric Durrance has vocal and writing talent.  What I don’t understand is why Wind-up, a label new to the Nashville ‘game,’ would release this digital EP now.  It seems to be under-produced. While this is usually good for a demo, it doesn’t work as the first major release for the artist and label in the genre.  The title track follows the same path as Emerson Drive‘s “Moments” does and it packs as strong of an emotional impact to boot. While I actually love the acoustic nature of the song, I expected a full band to back up Durrance after the first verse.  It’s a problem that plagues the whole effort.  “Wait ‘Til I Get There” was a recent free iTunes “Discovery Download” and with the right production touches, it’s a smash hit.    The closing track, “And Then Some,” which I first heard on songwriter Dan Demay’s own record, closes out the EP with a similarly themed song as the title track. My basic problem with the EP is that country music isn’t exclusively ‘acoustic.’

Tift Merritt (Fantasy Records) 

Tift Merritt – Another Country

(Fantasy Records)

4.5

I fell in love with Tift Merritt the first time I heard her major label debut “Bramble Rose.”  After the acoustic soul “Tambourine,” Tift was unceremoniously dropped by Lost Highway Records and in between that time Tift moved to France and, despite not knowing the language, began to thrive again artistically.  The results are present on “Another Country.”  The title track absolutely sparkles while “My Heart Is Free” rocks and recalls her last record.  There’s something about that crystal clear voice that just hits me hard.  There really isn’t a bad track on “Another Country,” including the album closing French track “Mille Tendressess.”

Jim Lauderdale (Yep Roc)

Jim Lauderdale – Honey Songs

(Yep Roc Records)

4.5

Jim Lauderdale is probably known to most country music fans as the writer of many country songs (for example, George Strait‘s “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This“)  but there are more fans out there who know of Jim’s Grammy winning stint as a bluegrass performer (with and without Ralph Stanley).  On “Honey Songs” the prolific artist returns to his roots-rock/country hybrid that he’s been playing since his mid-1990’s days as a Warner Brothers artist.  Featuring a short 10 tracks, “Honey Songs” is the work of a man who’s making music for the sake of making music.  “Honey Suckle Honey Pie” kicks off the record with a rollicking’ melody that recalls Dwight Yoakam while “It’s Finally Sinking In” sits right next to the stone country tracks “Hittin’ It Hard” and “Borrow Some Summertime.” The latter of which wouldn’t be outta place on a Strait or Alan Jackson record. 

Those of you keeping record at home may notice that I haven’t covered the two most recent releases.  That’s because both Alan Jackson‘s “Good Time Ashton Shepherd‘s “Sounds So Good” will both be features here in seperate, longer reviews.  

What Country Music Is All About

Bluefield Butterfly.  Image (C)Bluefield

Bluefield – “Butterfly”

(Country Thunder Records)

There are times when I’ve wondered if I have somehow grown too jaded to enjoy country music, then a song comes along and reminds me why I love country music.   Butterfly is one of those songs.  Written by vocalists Rick Ferrell and Jennifer Hicks, the song beautifully discusses, over the course of five minutes, a story of how a young couple unexpectedly finds themselves with the dilemma of unexpected pregnancy.  Where Eric Church‘s “Two Pink Lines”covered similar territory, “Butterfly” goes a different route. 

While the song starts off with the couple planning on aborting the child, it goes on to, in a way that is not preachy at all, find the couple having second thoughts.  The lyrics themselves are so good, so well thought out and the use of the butterfly as a metaphor for an incubating child is a good one.  It’s a powerful song that people on both sides of the abortion debate should be able to appreciate.  Vocally, Rick Ferrell is as strong and unique as he was when he recorded his DreamWorks solo album in the early part of the decade. Former Nashville Star contestent Jennifer Hicks supports him quite well and the duo seamlessly blend their voices well (a la Little Big Town). 

Despite my personal appreciation of this musical masterpiece, I don’t know if radio will ‘get it;’ especially being a five-minute ballad and being pimped by the newish Country Thunder Records.  Still, I hope it at least manages to crack the Country Top 50.  It’s too good of a song to not get a chance.  Perhaps, even a shot at AAA or CCM radio is in order for the song.  It’s too good of a song to not get a chance. 

Grade: A

Truth in Advertising?

Chris Cagle - My Life’s Been A Country Song (C) 2008 Capital Records.  Used With Permission.

Chris Cagle – “My Life’s Been A Country Song”

Capital Records (2008)

3

 Chris Cagle has stated that his career goal is to have teenage fans crank up his music much in the same way he did with AC/DC.  When I heard the “Anywhere But Here” CD in 2005, I immediately felt that he could fill a similar void in country music: just plain ole party music.  He even started out that way with the song “My Love Goes On and On and On…” and later “Chicks Dig It.” The song on “Anywhere But Here” that grabbed me was “Hey Y’all.”  It was a groovy little song yet somehow the label didn’t release it and instead chose to release ballad after ballad to radio.  So with his own statement and my own feelings about where Cagle could turn out to be a huge star in country music, instead of a ‘b’ or ‘c’ level artist, does he manage to do it with his new release, “My Life’s Been A Country Song?” 

In a word, no.

However you slice it, “My Life Is A Country Song” isn’t gonna showcase Cagle as the country version of AC/DC.  There are a couple of songs that do come close.  One of them is “It’s Good To Be Back.”  I first heard this song on the little watched “American Band” music contest.  Former Warner Brothers recording artist Sixwire sang the song, which members Andy Childs andSteve Mandilewrote, and the judges on the show said it was radio ready.  And I didn’t doubt that then and I don’t doubt it now.  The song is a radio smash.  No matter who sings it.  Cagle sings the fast-paced lyrics quite well and it is a song that reminds me of his old songs. 

As good as the song is, the rest of the album slides into mid-tempo ‘love and loss’ songs or lite heartland rock.  Cagle is an engaging vocalist and, for the first time in his career, has recorded a record where he didn’t write one of the songs.  The lead-off single, “What Kind of Gone,”  is a good example of Cagle’s career so far.  It’s also a perfect example of what is wrong with country music these days.  The song’s lyrics find Cagle wondering aloud about all the ways that “gone” can be interpreted.  He then wonders if it’s a ‘whiskey’ or ‘a couple of beers’ night at the bar.  The song itself is catchy, performed well and produced just as we expect country music to be produced (it’s the best Cagle’s sounded, no doubt because he changed producers) but how many of these kinds of songs does country radio need to play.  It just rides the fence and doesn’t pick any kind of side.  That’s what’s wrong.  I generally like Craig Wiseman‘s songs but his “No Love Songs” I just don’t get (even if the hook is pretty good).  The spoken verses are just too much for me. 

With a title like “I Don’t Wanna Live” you’d expect Cagle to be singing a stone-country song but what instead comes out of the speakers is a Keith Urban-like track.  The lyrics of the song, written by Brett James and Blair Daly, are fine but they really could’ve benefited with a few fiddles and steel guitars in addition to the tuned up Telecasters and drum loops.  It’s a middle of the road “I want you back” kind of song that doesn’t help lead any credence to Cagle’s hopes of getting those teens to listen to the record.  “Keep Me From Loving You” DOES manage to prominently feature fiddles and the steel guitar is mixed in the background somewhere and that, along with well placed b-3 and harmony vocals manages to recall the 90s era of country music.  It’s a nice diversion from the other tracks.  

Rhett Akins co-wrote “Little Sundress” and the song is a fun little summer song.  If “Good To Be Back” isn’t released as a single for the summer, then Capital Nashville better release this track.  The southern rock melody isn’t bad and the fiddle backed vocal helps set a fun mood.  Also, since it is an Akins song, the song doesn’t head towards Rascal Flatts territory.  Again with the title of “My Life’s Been A Country Song,” I expected at least noticeable fiddles and maybe a touch of steel guitars and, fortunately, Cagle and Scott Hendricks deliver.  As far as the lyrics go, Cagle should’ve done what Garth often does and added or changed a verse of the song (without taking credit) to fit his own crazy life, because he did go through some “country song” moments.  Still, as it is, the song is a strong, radio-ready song that bridges the gap of older country songs and modern country songs. 

In the end Chris Cagle has made a decent enough mainstream country record that has four or five single-worthy songs.  The “filler” tracks, however, are not any better than his own self-written tracks.  But I guess if his and the label’s goal was to get him back on radio then this album truly is truth in advertising, even if it often is exactly what is wrong with country radio. 

Living Hard with Real Things and That Lonesome Song about Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love: The Best Country albums from 2007

With 2007 now in the books and the best singles discussed, it’s time for The Lost Highway to disseminate its favorite albums from the year. There were some surprising releases on this list along with some that weren’t so surprising. Also, there are a few albums that just didn’t hit the mark they were intending to hit. The rules for our list are simple. The only qualifications are that the album should be released in the last calendar year, contain all-new material and be released for the country music market. So, pour yourself your favorite beverage and sit back and enjoy the list.

Josh Turner

15. Josh Turner – Everything Is Fine
(MCA/UMG Nashville)
Josh Turner has a voice for the ages. It’s a strong resonating baritone that can convey every lyric he sings with honesty and sincerity. It’s that kind of vocal ability that made Randy Travis a superstar and has also found Turner doing quite well. “Firecracker” started the record off on a nice note but it’s the two ‘duets’ “Another Try” and “Nowhere Fast” that really make this a record worth owning. The second single from “Everything Is Fine,” “Another Try” is also Turner’s first real ballad released to radio since he became a radio star. Trisha Yearwood adds her sterling vocals to the song. Anthony Hamilton co-wrote and duets on “Nowhere Fast” and who’d have thought these two seemingly different vocalists would turn out a great track? “So Not My Baby” is a fun little summer song while “Soulmate” is a classic sounding love song that may just end up a wedding anthem in the years to come.

Songs For Somebody

14. Bobby Pinson – “Songs For Somebody
(Cash Daddy/CuBJ Entertainment)
Bobby Pinson has the kind of haggard, expressive voice that is easily identifiable. Unfortunately that seems to be the kind of thing that radio really doesn’t want nowadays. Sometimes it seems as if they don’t want music with any identity but instead ‘background’ music that people don’t mind hearing in between the commercial breaks. With that said, Bobby Pinson self-made and released “Songs For Somebody” and used the internet to initially distribute it. Songs like “Back In My Drinkin’ Days” and “Just To Prove I Could” are as well produced and written as anything on radio but they go deeper because they have that great voice emoting each lyric. Songs like “ Past Comin’ Back” and “If I Met God Tonight” help to clearly identify Pinson as a superstar songwriter.

Miranda Lambert

13. Miranda Lambert – “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
(Columbia Records)
While Miranda may be a bit ‘over-rated,’ she still delivers good records. The title track, “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Guilty In Here” showcase her raucous side while “Down” and her biggest hit to date, “Famous In A Small Town” showcase the more literate, Mary Chapin Carpenter-like songwriter in her arsenal. It all adds up to a wonderfully complete sophomore record. It’s the kind of sophomore record that Gretchen Wilson probably wishes she had made to follow-up “Redneck Woman.”

this-is-it.jpg

12. Jack Ingram – “This Is It
(Big Machine Records)
Jack Ingram has always been a favorite of the Lost Highway, and his emergence in 2006 as a radio star was well-earned. “This Is It” contains all of the previously released singles, the chart-topper “Wherever You Are,” and Top 20 singles “Love You, and “Lips Of An Angel.” Also included are “Measure Of A Man” and new single “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely” Another standout is “Hold On.

Sarah Johns

11. Sarah Johns – “Big Love In A Small Town
(BNA Records)
While there wasn’t a hit single released from the record, Sarah Johns was able to see her album get released to radio. This is the kind of record that could remind some of Sara Evans’ debut record in that it is unabashedly country. Such a record seeing the light of day on a major label and without a true hit single is something we all should be championing. Standout tracks include the title song, “The One In The Middle” and “He Hates Me.”

Balls

10. Elizabeth Cook – “Balls
(Thirty One Tigers)
Formerly on Warner Brothers Records, Miss Cook has managed to release a record that out does that WB one-off. Too ‘traditional’ for radio, Cook released one of the better singles in “It Takes Balls To Be A Woman” (which was somehow forgotten on our best singles list). There isn’t a bad track on the whole disc and if radio were not so ‘pop-oriented,’ Elizabeth would most surely have had a hit or two already from this classic release.

For The Love

9. Tracy Lawrence – “For The Love
(Rocky Comfort Records)
The first release from his own record label, Tracy Lawrence sure hit the mark with “For The Love.” It is his best record in about a decade and features a nice mixture of traditional country tunes (“Just Like Her) with more mainstream fare like the stellar “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” single. The second single of this solid selling record , “Til I Was A Daddy Too” is a wonderful song which shows off the newer, softer side of Mr. Lawrence.

5th Gear - Brad Paisley

8. Brad Paisley – “5th Gear
(Arista Nashville)
Brad Paisley may make some goofy songs like “Ticks” but it’s songs like those, along with his strong vocals that help keep him country. His stellar guitar playing doesn’t hurt matters either and lead-off track (and future single) “All I Wanted Was A Car” showcases all that has helped Mr. Paisley become a superstar. Other strong tracks on the CD are “Letter To Me,” “Better Than This” and the Carrie Underwood duet “Oh Love.”

PURE BS

7. Blake Shelton – “Pure BS
Warner Brothers Records
2007 is the year in which Blake Shelton seemingly put it all together. His record featured two strong singes, the more mainstream “Don’t Make Me” and the more traditional sounding “The More I Drink.” But they’re not even the best songs on the record. “Back There Again” and “It Ain’t Easy Being Me” get that nod.

letitgo.jpg

6. Tim McGraw – “Let It Go
(Curb Records)
Even without “If You’re Reading This” “Let It Go” is one of the best releases of the year. But when you add one of the years best singles to a record full of all kinds of great country songs, you have a stellar record. Aside from the Number one hit “Last Dollar (Fly Away),” the record also contains “I Need You,” I’m Workin’” and “Between The Devil And Me.”

Living Hard (C) 2007 MCA Nashville/Universal.

5. Gary Allan – “Living Hard
(MCA/UMG Nashville)
Gary Allan has sung just about everything in his career and there isn’t a time that we didn’t like it. Even when singing songs that did not really fit his mold, Gary managed to place some grit onto them. More often than not “Living Hard” comes off as sounding like a record from a man firmly in his groove. “We Touched The Sun,” “Like It’s A Bad Thing,” “Learning How To Bend,” and “Half Of My Mistakes” are the standouts here.

Real Things (C)Universal South.

4. Joe Nichols – “Real Things
(Universal South)
From the moment “The Impossible” was released to radio, we knew Joe had everything it took to be a country music star. Joe has managed to continue to make compelling singles but never has really pulled-together a top-flight album until now. The title track could be the best song he’s ever recorded while singles “Another Side Of You” and “All Good Things” only tell part of the story as Joe’s recording of “She’s All Lady” proves that a great song is a great song and it does not need to be ‘pop-sounding’ to be worthy of airplay.

Jamey Johnson

3. Jamey Johnson – “That Lonesome Song
(Big Gassed Records)
Jamey Johnson released one record in 2006 with major label BNA Records. But, for some reason, they didn’t like him enough to get passed a half-hearded promotion of his second single. Jamey took back the reins of his career and steered it towards songwriting and scored when George Strait won the ACMs with “Give It Away.” Jamey based the song on his own life and much of what’s found on “That Lonesome Song” follows the same path. “High Cost Of Living,” “In Color” and “Next Ex Thing” are but three of the great tracks found on this record.

Wagonmaster

2. Porter Wagoner – “Wagonmaster
(Hellcat Records)
While it won’t have the same ‘iconic’ status among all music genres as Johnny Cash’s “American IV” record did, “Wagonmaster” nonetheless had a smaller impact on those who’ve given the record a chance. It’s one for the ages, a piece of quality material from a legendary artist. Like Cash’s last few albums, “Wagonmaster” showcases a great artist making vital music. There isn’t a bad track on the record and Marty Stuart’s production is reverential and the stories told by Porter are nothing short of genius. “Committed To Parkview” and “Albert Ervin” are just two of the standouts.

Trisha Yearwood

1. Trisha Yearwood – “Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love
(Big Machine Records)
The title track was a Top 20 hit for Garth Brooks’ bride but it did more than enough to announce the re-emergence of a superstar vocalist of the highest order. Trisha Yearwood is the best vocalist of her generation (in any genre of music, male or female) and rivals some of the all-time greats. Her voice is an instrument that can wrap itself around a lyric and pull out every ounce of drama and emotion out of it. Every track on the record stands up to the best of her work and “This Is Me You’re Talking To” is perhaps the finest moment of Trisha’s career. It’s a career record. She reaches for the sky but never over sings and always controls her voice, something the younger female vocalists could learn from. Trisha’s had a few hits that were penned by Matracia Berg and a couple here, “They Call It Falling For A Reason” and the gorgeous “The Dreaming Fields,” could both be hits. “Sing You Back To Me” is another beautiful song from Tony Arata and it works as a perfect ending to 2007’s best album.