One walk through the magazine rack at the grocery store will prove to you it’s been Taylor Swift’s year in country music. She’s on at least three major publication covers this week. She’s also on the big CD “top seller” lists too. in fact, this years best sellers in country music include Swift along with Sugarland, Kenny Chesney, the Eagles and, as always, Garth. But there are a few other 2008 releases that have really made an impact on the popular country landscape this past year. Don’t miss giving these disks a listen. And, yes, this list also includes the newly anointed superstar Swift.
Jamey Johnson released “That Lonesome Song” this year and it was a big risk for the Mercury Records label. The singer songwriter takes some bold leaps and exposes some very personal lyrics that cut to the bone of the traditional country fan. The hit single “In Color” is just the start to the depth of the paint a picture lyrics. Johnson has also backed the material up with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen on the normally country averse David Letterman show. Johnson is the songwriter behind the George Strait CMA Song of the Year “Give It Away” and some are already calling “In Color” a Song Of The Year contender. That is if another single off this rustic release doesn’t top it in 2009.
Alan Jackson makes this must have list with the crowd pleasing “Good Time“. Not only is the title track an undeniable hit he also follows it with “Small Town Southern Man” and “Country Boy.” When it comers to mainstream radio hits Jackson has cemented another two years of material from which to draw. All with infectious singalong hooks. Best of all the music is all traditional – keep ‘em coming back – country. Less hype. More twang.
Zac Brown had to swim against the current to make his debut big label debut stick. He did it without a big label and without Nashville. The Zac Brown Band’s “The Foundation” is a refreshing new attitude for country music. It’s a jam band pickin’ tropical kinda Bob Marley Jamestaylor-ish sound with singalong lyrics. It could define a “Georgia Country” sound. Despite being an outsider in Nashville (Brown had to pull Chicken Fried from the Lost Trailers after they leaked their version without permission) Browns lead single rose to the top of the radio charts and camped at number one despite having his original label (Live Nation) implode. Now that he’s broken the ice with listeners watch for a few more big songs to come to radio (next up the hard but fun to decipher “Whatever It Is”). There’s a reason Kid Rock says is the cd he listens to over and over in his car with his family. It’s just great.
Another artist breaking barriers is Darius Rucker. His “Learn To Live”
has received a warm embrace from the country community mainly because its good material made even better with his rich vocals. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” became a quick number one and “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” looks to have the same potential. Other possible future big hits include “All I Want” (featuring the picking of Brad Paisley) and “Drinking and Dialing.” Darius did something that other country converts like Jessica Simpson and Jewell have failed to do. Country crossovers have baggage in the eyes of programmers but everybody still loves “Hootie music”. Oh yeah… It also feels good to finally have an African American in the format.
Lady Antebellum has created a new sound for Country music too. Their self titled debut is pop music disguised as good young country with great vocals and an extra dose of charisma from the group. Don’t miss the mega ballad duet
“All We Ever Had” that is reminiscent of Joe Cacker and Jennifer Warren. It’s a good example of the power vocals of Hillary Scott (daughter of “Does He Love You” Linda Davis) and Charles Kelley (brother of singer Josh Kelley.. hubby of Kathrine Heigl). Finally a new country group that’s young but not over processed.
Finally, Taylor Swift deserves the accolades she’s been receiving lately. It’s almost unfathomable to have an teenage country superstar that writes all her own stuff. She did it with “Fearless” . Teens relate because there’s truth in the lyrics… Moms remember when… and Dads are happy to have some good girls still out there in the Paris Hilton obsessed world. Swift can veer a bit too pop for some but somehow with an 18 year old voice is expected. The table is set for her to take over the world and with that comes the risk of flaming out. But for now it looks more like she’ll have longevity with a strong single (White Horse) to ride into 2009. Next up: selling out arenas.