A look at country music's best of the year.
The best albums of 2008
1. “Comal County Blue” – Jason Boland and The Stragglers
2. “Damn Right, Rebel Proud” – Hank Williams III
3. “Bulletproof” – Reckless Kelly
4. “All I Intended To Be” – Emmy Lou Harris
5. “Trouble In Mind” – Hayes Carll
6. “did7” - Mike McClure Band
7. “Vagrants & Kings” – Cory Morrow
8. “Country Jam” – Eleven Hundred Springs
9. “Keep It Simple” – Van Morrison
10. “Real Animal” – Alejandro Escovedo
A SIX-PACK TO GO
“Comal County Blue” – Jason Boland and The Stragglers
“Comal County Blue” was Jason Boland’s first release in nearly two years, made unique by a strange twist of fate. Normally, a big release will be preceded and immediately followed by a press blast and concert tour. No so with this album. Boland had emergency throat surgery for a “blood-filled polyp” on his vocal chord and spent a couple months healing the golden tones that make his brand of Texas/Oklahoma country so enjoyable.
The title track brings the listener in Boland’s daily world: “I guess it finally rained, it’s down to 85; I bet the fish are biting, down by the river side, And it’s the only place made colder, around here in the middle of June … I need to pay my taxes, I don’t like to mow my lawn; I have a harmless habit, of being fine wherever I am, But the way this water’s rising, I need to get up above the dam; Tonight I’m rolling up north, back to where I pay the dues, Tonight the answer’s Austin, for the Comal County Blue.”
Boland exorcizes personal demons in the haunting track “Bottle By My Bed” while noting the light at the end of drinker’s personal tunnel: “Now I’m going back home / It’s down this path I’m led / And I’m no longer empty like the bottle by my bed.”
Boland also pays tribute to his forebears in the Music business with the rousing “Outlaw Band.”
Crank this track: “Sons and Daughters of Dixie” – Boland rips a failed response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: “Those who turned a blind eye, will answer for their sins, and ask you for redemption, when your cities rise again”, while memorializing those who rode out the historic killer storm’s aftermath: “The back shall not be broken, Of the soul that won’t be killed, One thing a Southern man knows how to do is rebuild; Look away, glory’s just a few miles down the road, a better day’s at the end of this long row we must hoe; The good Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise, we’ll make it through another year; Keep the sons and daughters of Dixie dry and wipe away your tears.”
“Damn Right, Rebel Proud” – Hank Williams III
You’d think the son of a county music legend and the grandson of THE country music legend would be welcome in Nashville.
Boy, would you be wrong, and this October release will only cement his place as the instigator of the outlaw country anthem “Pop Country Really Sucks.”
In “The Grand Old Opry (Ain’t So Grand Any More),” Hank III eloquently points out “Didja know Hank Williams ain’t a member but they keep him outside their door; Hell, they didn’t really want Johnny Cash back in ‘74, and the Grand Old Opry ain’t so grand anymore. Well they were nervous about Waylon, ‘cuz he had a crooked smile; for many, many years they didn’t really want Bocephus cuz he played too damned loud, do you really think they wanted Johnny Paycheck hanging around? Hell no ‘cuz their too damned uptight, while real rebels like to get wild and get down.”
This album is pure country (and a departure from Hank III’s self-described “punk hell-billy,” some of it – like “Wild and Free” gloriously coon-assed: “I’m just trying to get ahead in this reckless life, workin’ hard and playin’ when I can, raisin’ hell in the mud and living off the land. I get tired when I have to walk a straight line, cuz the devil’s pourin’ drinks and his daughter needs a ride.”
Crank this track: “Six Pack of Beer” - Hank III hits it home for those of us “livin’ on Creditor Road” with this hot pickin’-and-a grinnin’ number. “Well, workin’ real hard ain’t hard to do, when you ain’t got a lot of money coming to you; Well, I ain’t got a dime so I’ll just sit here; Even though I’m broke, I got a six-pack of beer.”
“Bulletproof” – Reckless Kelly
The band, formed by the brothers Willy and Cody Braun, continues to grow their fan base with another quality album, from their roots in the mountain west to Texas and the rest to singing the National Anthem at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
The first track, “Ragged As The Road I’m On” rips in the finest country-rockin’ tradition with a catchy melody, driving rhythm and visual lyrics. “This road I’m on, it’s been cracked by the cold, scorched by the sun, searched by the soul; And it’s a working back breakin, it’s a pickaxe a-swinging, it’s steel wheels turning a steel rain singin’, And I’m rollin, faster than a locomotive, tougher than the edge of the Rockies. hotter than a smokin’ gun, Ragged as the road I’m on.”
“American Blood,” the most controversial track chronicles the plight of a young man not old enough to drink but old enough to serve his country and sacrifice his limbs. Regardless of your view of the war, the song drives home the soldier’s bitterness who “came back with American blood on his hands” by declaring “God bless the U.S.A. but God damn Uncle Sam.”
Crank this track: “God Forsaken Town” - It was eerily ironic that this tribute to the human spirit was released last summer right when Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was under water. “The voices on the radio, cracklin off and on; the Corps is on the water and the levee’s all but gone; there’s children in the treetops, and soldiers in the sky; it’s too late now to run, I’d never make it out alive. So let the rains sting my neck, let the Mighty Mississippi take this God forsaken town; let the storm in all its fury, come and carry me away; and take me to that place somewhere on higher ground.”
“All I Intended To Be” – Emmy Lou Harris
There is a reason Miss Emmy Lou is the reigning queen of country. She has stood the test of time while Faith Twain, Shania Hill and Carrie What soon fade from sight.
This June release traced Miss Emmy Lou’s two-plus decade career back to it musical roots.
It is why, 20-odd years later, we’d still “Walk All The Way From Boulder To Birmingham” just to see her smile. We’d do it for soul-chilling ballads like “Gold,” that cut to the heart: “You gave up your finest treasures, for the one you saw in me; but how could I know the measure, of all you needed me to be; tho I came with sweet intentions, more my pockets could not hold, no matter how bright I glittered, I could never be gold.”
The album also features classic tracks like Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five And Dimers Like me” and Merle Haggard’s “Kern River.”
Crank this track: “How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower” – You’ll hear chords that will remind you of the song’s namesake, but that just adds to its charm. “She was his sunshine, she was his moon and morning star; His words would run true, On the chords of her guitar; He was driven, and to her for days and days, till the lonesome valley, finally drove her far away. How she could sing the wildwood flower, he lost the girl he wold love so long, In the end, he knew she’d been his finest hour, now all he has left of her is this song.”
“Trouble In Mind” – Hayes Carll
Rousing barely pays tribute to this album, chuck full of off-the-wall and off-the-cuff that is too rough for mainstream, from “A Drunken Poet’s Dream” to “A Bad Liver and A Broken Heart,” and “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” to “Knocking Over Whiskeys,” you have to have lived it to fully appreciate it.
You’ll feel like you’re on stage with him in the uptempo “I Got A Gig,” as he lists all the wonderful, terrible and bizzare things you see from the lights on the stage. “Oil patch boys and those who went to college, rules you don’t break and laws that ain’t knowledge, barefoot shrimper with a pistol up his sleeve, some’ll go the heaven, some’ll never leave; pill sin the tip jar, blood on a strong, Lord I never thought I’d see these things. I got a gig baby.”
Crank this track: “She Left Me For Jesus” – This Tongue-in-cheek boy-lost-girl ballad smacks fun of the genre standard and should be taken as just that; otherwise, it’s downright blasphemous. “She Left Me For Jesus, and that just ain’t fair; she said that He’s perfect, how could I compare? She says I should find Him, and I’d know peace at last; ah, If I ever find Jesus, I’m kickin’ his ass …”
“did7” - Mike McClure Band
The driving force behind The Great Divide’s fifth solo album is country through and through, which is a departure from the last couple that had at least a pair of speaker blasting rockers on it.
Don’t be fooled, though, you’ll still want to crank this album.
McClure’s guitar licks are only rivaled by his lyrical ability. The beauty of his words is left to the interpretation of the listener.
Crank this track: “The Eagle and The Crow” – “An eagle never wasted as much time, as when he tried to learn to fly from a crow; he could have spent his time, up on the mountain high, but he wasted it on circles down below.”
ALBUM NOT TO MISS IN ’09
“Undone: Tribute to REK”
This double-CD tribute to Robert Earl Keen will likely draw some much attention with such noteworthy Texas/Red Dirt artists as Cody Canada, reckless Kelly, Jason Boland, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Roger Creager.
Five of the 27 tracks are by Keen, including “Wild Wind,” “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” “Goodbye Cleveland,” “For Love,” and the classic “Road Goes On Forever” - which is why this party will never end.
“When I heard that MusicFest was paying tribute to my life in music, my first thought was, ‘Tribute? I’m too young to die! They can’t put me out to pasture yet.’ I got over that. I went to the tribute. I listened. Each of these talented young artists brought their own brand of magic to every one of my songs. I heard melodies and nuances I never knew existed. Their passion and perspective was truly overwhelming. When it was over, although I AM too young to die, I knew I can go with a smile on my face.”
– Robert Earl Keen, as posted on lonestarmusic.com
These albums are all available through iTunes, but for the best and most expansive selection of country that doesn’t suck, visit www.lonestarmusic.com.
THE BEST OF ’08 ITUNES INTERNET RADIO
2. Boot Liquor Radio (SOMA FM)
4. radioIO alt country
5. Southern Sounds Radio alternative country
Lake Sun Leader