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My Top Picks of 2007 - Predictions for 2008
by Cheryl Harvey Hill, Sr. Staff Journalist

This past year has been an intense one for me personally and, for that reason, my contributions to CSO have been minimal. Lucky for our readers, and for me, CSO has a really great staff of writers, photographers and album reviewers who are more than capable of picking up my slack. However, I do want to say I really appreciate the folks who missed me and took the time to write and tell me so. For those of you who asked, I'm doing fine; we just had a lot of things happen last year. In the first six months of 2007 we had three deaths in our family and my husband (pictured right) came down on orders for Afghanistan which initiated the 17th move of our 26 year Army career and, no, it doesn't get any easier and, yes, I am still unpacking! Enough about me. Needless to say, we are glad to have this past year behind us... and ya know, I think there is probably a country song in all that somewhere.

Despite everything, I did manage to actually review a few albums this past year, attend a concert or two and do a couple of interviews. So it wasn't difficult to choose my top favorites from this past year so, without apology for my recapitulation, here it is.

Joe Nichols, Real Things, is the classiest of classic country. His voice has matured so well and the last time I saw him perform was in Ruidoso, New Mexico where the audience was an eclectic blend of young/old, men/women, children, teenagers; all utterly smitten with him and equally mesmerized by his performance. He is one of those great artists who is truly comfortable on stage, and it shows. And when it comes to standing ovations, well, sitting at a Joe Nichols concert is not an option. If you remain seated while he performs, you can't see him because everyone else is standing - from the first note of the first song to the last note of the encore. Some artists are magnificent in concert but their recordings don't reflect their true talent while other artists are great in the studio but have a really tough time getting beyond the stage lights to gain a hold on their audience. Nichols excels at both; he personifies the word entertainer.

Another obvious pick for me is Toby Keith. Big Dog Daddy, clearly proved that Toby has every right to brag and with all that talent, how can we not forgive him his somewhat arrogant stance at times. Man oh man, I could listen to him all day (and I sometimes do). This album was pure Toby and pure excellence. Vocals, lyrics; awesome. BTW, I readily admit that I often give him special consideration because he is so dedicated to supporting our troops. A lot of artists talk the talk but Toby walks the walk. Hooah!

If you haven't listened to Kelly Lang's Jagged Edges, you are really missing out. There is nothing jagged about Lang's amazing voice and not only is she one of the most beautiful artists I've ever met but she is also one of the most prolific songwriters I have ever encountered. Her song "Under a Tennessee Moon" should be the anthem for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. Come to think of it, "prolific" may be an understatement. This gal has a magical way with words.

How do you spell "perfection"? That's easy for me; Tracy Lawrence, Ty Herndon, LeAnn Rimes, and Rissi Palmer. Lawrence showed that putting your money where your mouth is really can make you successful if you have the talent to back it up. He does. Taking control of his own career proved to be the wisest career decision he has ever made. Herndon is like a country music staple and the reasons why are crystal clear in his last album. Like fine wine, he just keeps getting better. Speaking of getting better, while Rimes hasn't really impacted radio this past year, she is such a classy young lady. She is not afraid to be totally real in an industry that often seems to be out of touch with reality. Rimes is such an incredible breath of fresh air. So elegant. So beautiful. And the girl can sing circles around anyone she wants. Speaking of beauty and the ability to sing circles around folks... that brings me to Palmer. I was already a huge fan of her music before I heard her version of "My Grown-up Christmas List" but that song clinched it for me. What an amazing talent!


As for new artists that I was most impressed with in 2007, who will be launching their debut albums in 2008, I haven't changed my mind much there either. Gene Bowshier and Crystal Sands are both living up to my expectations and proving to be well-rounded, resourceful, performers. Both of them are incredibly talented, as easy on the eyes as they are on the ears, have fantastic personalities, and are steadily garnering support from the country music fans across the country and both are set to release their debut albums in a few months.

Crystal Sands has made several trips to Nashville to record and, although she is still residing in her home state of Maryland, she is planning to move to Texas in a few weeks where she feels she can learn a lot. Her move was inspired, in part, by a chance meeting with one of her musical idols; Leona Williams. Sands is one determined artist. Although she has been singing since the age of three, she didn't play an instrument and had never written a "real song" (her words) but in the past year she has learned to play guitar, took a few piano lessons, vocal lessons ("to strengthen [her] voice and learn how not to damage her vocal chords"), learned some yoga ("to help with breathing correctly"), taken part in a few songwriter rounds, and has written or co-written several of the songs for her album. To prepare herself for touring, she has been singing several nights a week at local venues in, or near, her hometown and although she often appears with a local band, since learning the guitar, she has found that she really enjoys doing acoustical performances and is encouraged by the enthusiastic responses she has received from her audiences. I can vouch for her extraordinary charisma, and the enthusiasm of her audiences, since I witnessed it first hand while she was out here in Las Vegas. I saw her perform for Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada. At the conclusion of her performance Governor Gibbons, while being interviewed by local media, stated that "Crystal Sands is not only talented and beautiful but young people like her, with so much heart and talent, are our future; and she is also the future of country music." Well, what can I say? He took the words right out of my mouth. I agree completely.

I guarantee you will "Slip and Fall" for Gene Bowshier and, like many true entertainers, he isn't limiting himself to merely singing either. He is currently involved in a movie project for box office that is being written by Actor/Writer/Director Louis Mandylor. Filming is scheduled to begin in the early spring and he is very excited that some of the music from his forthcoming debut release, also due out by late spring, will be featured in the movie. The songs were inspired by his late father, the 1950's rockabilly artist known as "Little Donnie Bowshier." His father, backed by The Radio Ranch Boys, experienced a childhood battle with polio that left him confined to a wheelchair throughout his three-decade career. "I never looked at my father as handicapped; I didn't see his wheel chair when I looked at him. What I saw was my hero, a man that I wanted to be when I grew up." The senior Bowshier experienced some radio success in 1957 with a song he wrote titled "Stonehart," and during the course of his career he appeared on the Opry, recorded a duet with Bobby Bare ("Another One of My Near Mrs."), and almost made it onto the country charts with a song titled, ironically, "Falling for You." Gene's admiration for his father has been the primary inspiration for his career choice and recalling his father's strength has always been his motivation. To prepare for his film role, he made a trip out to Los Angeles to meet and work with an acting coach and he is excited about the opportunity to work in this film while being able to cross promote his musical career. He also recorded a very special song, dedicated to our military, with another of his musical heroes, Jimmy Fortune; formerly with the Statler Brothers.

Last but not least is the inimitable, beautiful, captivating, personable, mega-talented Cowboy Crush (right). Apparently I will not live long enough to ever understand this industry. These gals are AMAZINGLY talented and have played to SRO audiences around the world. Would someone please slap the powers that be at Curb!?! Please.

If my top picks list sounds familiar well, what can I say? I know I can recognize the superstars; after all, the very first artist I ever predicted for superstardom was Reba... need I say more? Hey, listen; don't take my word for it. Just mosey through our archives or visit their official websites or myspace sites and listen for yourself. Until next time, I'll be keepin' it country.


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