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The Best Of 2008
By: George Peden, CSO Staff Journalist

As we quickly move into the new year, it’s that time again to reflect, ponder and try to name the best albums of 2008. And that’s not too easy, given the amount of music that hits the turntables at CSO Central.

Before I move into what I consider my best listening of 2008, let me give a celebratory clap to some albums that pushed my stereo levels to high.

Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker came up with Learn To Live. The album showed what sooner-or-later tends to be the modern way – pop artists find not only a home but also a reliable fan base when they lock on to country. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”, the kick-off single, is right up there with anything released this year to radio.

Lady Antebellum, with their self-titled release, were an exciting listen. Catchy tunes, memorable hooks and classy vocals make them a band to watch and listen more for in 2009. Their CMA nod is a signpost to better ahead.

Alan Jackson never fails to please. He delivered a full load in his unique and understated style on Goodtime. The album, again, proves that a winning formula doesn’t need tampering.

Time Flies was a welcomed visitor from John Michael Montgomery. Out of the loop for a little while, JMM gave us an album that was a refreshing reminder of what style and the right lyrics can sound like.

Sugarland confirmed their place on the country totem pole with the cranked Love on the Inside. Jennifer Nettles has one of the best voices in country; this album confirms it.

Toby Keith won me over with That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy, while The Road Hammers instilled a new appreciation for 18-wheelers with me on Blood Sweat & Steel. Back When I Knew It All, the Montgomery Gentry release from earlier this year, confirmed, again, this dynamic duo just don’t make a bad record.

To add some random names to the above mix, I enjoyed James Otto and Sunset Man, the troubadour George Strait, and a couple of Indie acts that made me sit up and listen were Michael Thomas, Big Bob Young, and Royal Wade Kimes with his How The West Was Sung. 

But, if you’re like me, there are always a couple of albums that make you continually reach for Replay. They’re albums that enjoy the car ride, the work computer, and the familiarity of the home CD player.

For me, these are those albums.

After an absence of eight years, the wait was worth it. Randy Travis unveiled one of the best albums of the year with Around the Bend. Clear and clean vocals, sharp and poignant tunes of spiritual reflection and change, all added to an album long overdue.

I raved about her in my August review and I’ll rave about her now: Ashton Shepherd. The gal with the sweetest Alabama twang not only writes convincing tales of love, loss, happiness, and changing circumstances, she does it with a strong feel for her charged lyrics. I just know my ravings will continue with her next album. Sounds So Good more than lives up to its name.

Patty Loveless revealed her country soul on a standout this year, Sleepless Nights. Loveless gave us the best of traditional country, packed strong with a voice and a career that justified her saunter on the path least traveled these days.

Well beyond the radio popular is an album that really, really grows. John Hiatt and Same Old Man, an album recorded in his home studio, is special and brilliant. Raw and telling, all done in a lazy and laidback conversational style, the work comes critically and industry hailed as his best. Have a listen. You’ll soon hear why.

Alongside these favored albums of 2008 comes Ralph Stanley11 and This One Is Two. Stanley’s album worked on many levels for me. His voice is smooth, melodic and honed with solid country timbre – proving the son of bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley did more than watch the passing traffic from the back of the tour bus. Stanley has learnt his craft, and he’s learnt it well. Good songs, good playing, good voice, it all equals a better than great album.

Have I missed anyone? Sure! Why not help me out and send along your “best” of the rest to us here at CSO. We’d like to hear what worked for you, what was your favorite album of 2008.

In closing, thanks to Jim (our editor) for his ready wit and help, best regards to all my fellow writers and, finally, warm wishes and safe travels to you our readers.

2009, let's go.


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