Standard Disclaimer: Contrary to the title, I don’t do “best of the year” lists. My “best of” list always includes material released in previous years which I discovered during the current year. Purists may complain, but it is what it is. Frankly, it’s a catch-22. Some years there isn’t enough quality material to compose a decent list (I had no 2007 list) and other years there’s simply too much. And I don’t even kid myself … there’s no way that I can keep up with everything. Sometimes it takes me a year or two to find the good stuff. Oh, and there’s never a set number. Every year several of my friends exchange the “Best 50 of The Year”. My list might contain 50 entries, but more often than not it’ll be like 11 or 63. Overview: 2008 was a typical year for me, as far as anything can be labeled “typical”. I’ve always been on something of a pendulum, swinging between old school Country (Buck Owens, Hank Williams, et. al.) on one end and heavy, crunching Metal (Kittie, Motorhead, et. al.) on the other, and always including everything in between. During 2008, the pendulum moved to the Country end of the spectrum, and I think this list reflects that. Music has always been a voyage of discovery for me, and in that regard, 2008, while somewhat sparse, was a lot of fun. And now, without further ado and in no particular order, here is my list of the Best Music of 2008.
Aaron Tilt - Bonnie Blue Sky (LoneStar Music) Original Release Date: April 13, 2007
Whether you call it Red Dirt, Brown Grass or Texas Country, there’s no denying the flood of talent stirring up the Oklahoma/Texas music scene. And while Aaron Tilt isn’t a household name, he’s easily one of the more talented musicians to appear on the horizon in the past few decades. Bonnie Blue Sky, his debut album, is a real delight. Bagpipes, percussion, guitars, you name it. Aaron plays every instrument, and this album shows some real promise as a songwriter. This isn’t your typical country album. It’s loaded with heart and passion.
Antony and The Johnsons - Hope There’s Someone (Amazon) Original Release Date: June 2004
Check out this YouTube video. If you don’t like it, skip this entry and the next. For my money, this is some original, haunting stuff. This is a 3-song EP and the title song makes it all worthwhile.
Antony and The Johnsons - I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy Original Release Date: January 2001
This is another EP which, unfortunately, is out of print now. However, the three songs are available on other albums. Antony might very well be a genius. I submit the title track as proof. Check out the YouTube thing.
Lightnin’ Hopkins - The Very Best of (Amazon) Original Release Date: August 15, 2000
I discovered Lightnin’ Hopkins while researching Townes Van Zandt. This is roots Blues at its finest. Lightnin’ isn’t a name you hear often, outside of Van Zandt fans and hardcore blues aficionados. But his music is very approachable, deep, heartfelt and pure. This is good stuff.
Townes Van Zandt - Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (Amazon) Original Release Date: February 5, 2007
Townes Van Zandt was an amazing songwriter. He never realized the fame that he should’ve had. And he lived a pretty damned sad life. For more information on him, read A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt. This album, recorded live at The Old Quarter in Houston in 1971, catches Van Zandt at his peak. While his entire life was a series of high peaks and incredibly deep valleys, he really shines here. It’s an inspiring glimpse at what he could have been. If you like this album, you’ll most likely dig everything he did. Buy ‘em all, but start here.
DragonForce - Inhuman Rampage (Amazon) Original Release Date: June 20, 2006
These guys are amazing. Duel guitars straight from Hell. They’ve garnered a solid underground following from their awesome songwriting abilities and dumbfounding talent. But their real break came when the song Through the Fire and Flames was included on the Guitar Hero 3 soundtrack. Unfortunately, arcane copyright laws prevent me from linking to the video. Hell, DragonForce can’t even link to it from their own website. YouTube has several versions of the song from the Guitar Hero 3 game though.
Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind (Amazon) Original Release Date: April 8, 2008
This entry is notable for two things. First, it’s the first of only two albums actually released in 2008. Second, it’s fucking astounding on every front. First class songwriting, first class musicianship, first class execution. Hayes Carll is an amazing artist. This is the only album in my collection that I keep on my iPod 24/7. Also, check out Little Rock and Flowers and Liquor. Unfortunately, Flowers is out-of-print, but you might be able to find it at eMusic. (Update: Flowers is available on iTunes.) They’re all equally fantastic and highly recommended. I am a huge fan now.
Tarja Turunen - My Winter Storm (Amazon) Original Release Date: November 19, 2007
Tarja Turunen is the original singer for Nightwish. This is her first post-Nightwish album and, to the best of my knowledge, her first solo effort. I was hesitant about this because I love the new Nightwish and, while I always loved Tarja’s voice, I was not confident that she could carry on her own. I was more than a little concerned about the direction she might take. This album laid all my fears to rest. Embarrassingly so. She frigging rocks it out. If you like the Tarja-era Nightwish, buy this album now.
Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Amazon) Original Release Date: March 13, 2007
The release date is the date of the remastered release. I’ve never been a big Neil Young fan and have frankly been curious as to why so many people think he’s so great. Someone turned me on to this album and I have to say that I was blown away. I still don’t consider myself a Neil Young fan, but I now understand his appeal. Over the course of 2008, I’ve listened to every album Neil Young has released. If you’re like me, this is the only Neil Young album you’ll ever need.
The Whigs - Mission Control (Amazon) Original Release Date: January 22, 2008
My first couple of listens didn’t move me. But somewhere along the line, as the album was mixed in shuffle play among the many other new albums this year, it really started to shine. There’s so much to like about this one. Parker Gispert has a real way with a song and the rest of the band is tight. Dead-on tight. If I weren’t so jaded, I’d be surprised that this band isn’t huge. Of course, this only the band’s second major label release, so (hopefully) time might prove me wrong. I enjoy this album more every time I hear it.
And that’s it for the “new” stuff for 2008. I admit, it’s an eclectic list. But what the hell, you can dance to most of it. Now it’s time to check out the rediscoveries, i.e. albums/groups I’ve heard before but, over time, have forgotten about.
Gram Parsons - G.P./Grievous Angel (Amazon) Original Release Date: March 1990
This album is actually Gram Parson’s first two albums combined into one CD. It’s astounding. When you listen to what he was doing in the early ’70s and then listen to albums from the Red Dirt or alt-country scene today … he was so far ahead of his time. Plus, these albums have the added bonus of having Emmylou Harris carrying backing vocals. The song Grievous Angel is worth the purchase price. This is the pure stuff.
Willie Nelson - One Hell of a Ride (Amazon) Original Release Date: April 1, 2008
Okay, so technically this isn’t something that can be rediscovered since it was released in 2008. But all the songs have been released prior to this. This is simply a new collection of those songs. And, frankly, when it comes to Willie Nelson, it can be damned hard to decide which boxed set to get because he has so damned many of them. This set gets my recommendation. This is good stuff.
And that’s it for 2008. Here’s hoping that 2009 is better because, imo, this past year was a little dry.
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