Best Songs of September ’08

Brady Vercher | October 21st, 2008

September saw a rash of superb releases that tended to dominate the list, although eleven different albums end up making an appearance. I have to think artists that know what they’re doing are able to duplicate quality while others only reach greatness every once in awhile due to luck. A couple of interesting notes about songs released last month: three well respected men sang songs from a female perspective (Rodney Crowell, Hal Ketchum, and Bruce Robison) and Dom Perignon was mentioned by two artists (Hal Ketchum and Darius Rucker). I didn’t pay attention, but were there that many songs about beer?

With the number of releases, there’s bound to be some disagreement, so let’s hear what you consider to be some of the best songs of September 2008. And yes, I realize it’s late, but you’ll have to forgive me of my transgressions.

  • Lonesome River Band - No Turning Back 20. “Flowers” – Lonesome River Band
    Closing out the list is the final track on Lonesome River Band’s No Turning Back. Written by Billy Yates and Monty Criswell, “Flowers” is reminiscent of Sugarland’s “Joey,” but provides a stronger lyric. And while it’s a bit schmaltzy, it makes for perfect bluegrass material.
  • Darius Rucker - Learn To Live 19. “All I Want” – Darius Rucker
    “All I Want” is among the few bright spots on Darius Rucker’s promising, but rather lackluster debut country album. And though, like many of the songs on Learn To Live, it isn’t necessarily original (see “Give It Away”), the combination of Rucker’s distinguishable vocal, the attitude in his performance, and the barroom piano make this the standout track.

    Read the review of Learn to Live.

  • Chris Knight - Heart of Stone 18. “Heart Of Stone” – Chris Knight
    I happen to agree with Ben Cisnero’s claim that Knight is content with occupying the tough guy persona, so despite making for a pleasurable listen, the album failed to provide any absolute gems. The title track, however, is one of a couple that delve a little deeper and with a line like “The baby didn’t make it/So neither did we,” it’s worth highlighting. Knight’s voice is an acquired taste, but it allows him to more fully inhabit the characters of his songs.

    Read the review of Heart of Stone.

  • Bruce Robison - The New World 17. “Larosse” – Bruce Robison
    This tale of a man trying to sell his horse is both humorous and heartbreaking and yet it’s unclear whether anything the narrator says is actually truth. As Mike Parker describes it, it’s “a master class in subtext.”

    Read the review of The New World.

  • Cherryholmes - Cherryholmes III: Don't Believe 16. “This Is My Son” – Cherryholmes
    Considering Cia Cherryholmes is only 24, the maturity of “This Is My Son” is a little surprising. It serves as a prayer by the narrator to keep her son safe and draws a parallel between God’s sacrifice and her own as her son goes off to fight a war for people he doesn’t even know. Cia’s plaintively restrained performance proves singers don’t need to test the limits of their vocal abilities to make a song standout. Look for this group to crossover to country and keep your eye out for this particular song to be remixed with a piano and drums and sent to country radio.
  • Wade Bowen - If We Ever Make It Home 15. “Turn On The Lights” – Wade Bowen
    Affecting and heartening, Wade Bowen wrote “Turn On The Lights” while his wife was suffering from postpartum depression. To describe what they were going through, he likened the experience to a child being afraid of the dark and the song serves as an affirmation of Bowen’s dedication to help bring her out of the dark.
  • Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Rattlin' Bones 14. “Sweetest Waste Of Time” – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson
    The title phrase serves as a curious way for Chambers and Nicholson to express their love for one another, but it’s original and works in a charming sort of way. And with the strong steel presence, it also sounds fairly traditional.
  • Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Rattlin' Bones 13. “Wildflower” – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson
    In this beautifully haunting track about the intricacies of a relationship, Chambers voice sounds ethereal as her and Nicholson trade lines before joining each other on harmony. Good stuff.
  • Bruce Robison - The New World 12. “Twistin’” – Bruce Robison
    This little boogie-woogie rockabilly number is easily the catchiest of the month. It’s near impossible to keep from groovin’ (or tappin’ your toes for the tamer folks) while this one’s flooding from the speakers.

    Read the review of The New World.

  • Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher 11. “The Greatest Hustler of All” – Old Crow Medicine Show
    Clocking in at just over seven minutes, “The Greatest Hustler of All” is one of the longer songs you’re liable to stumble across this month. Like “Sweetest Waste of Time,” saying a woman hustled your heart is a curious way to phrase it, but it’s certainly imaginative. It may drag on too slow for some, especially in comparison to some of the torrid material found on Tennessee Pusher, but the sparse arrangement, evocative imagery, and distinctive vocal combine for a totally unique performance. Besides, we could always use a little more harmonica.
  • Hal Ketchum - Father Time 10. “Continental Farewell” – Hal Ketchum
    The brutal honesty of this track provides for an experience that’s just as shocking after repeated listens. Backed by circus-like music, it’s a hardcore smack down on a fling that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. It’s quite brilliant!
  • Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher 9. “Lift Him Up” – Old Crow Medicine Show
    It’s surprising that these uplifting words, written by Blind Alfred Reed, about treating your fellow man with kindness in his time of greatest need aren’t accompanied by a spiritual message. Nevertheless, this song serves as a creed by which we should aspire to live our lives.
  • Ralph Stanley II - This One Is Two 8. “They Say I’ll Never Go Home” – Ralph Stanley II
    Guilty without a chance for innocence is the verdict in “They Say I’ll Never Go Home.” The narrator is told he’ll never return home, but I guess they never heard “Green, Green Grass of Home.” He does indeed go “home” after paying for a crime he never committed. Stanley’s vocal isn’t the most pristine, but it’s filled with character and his emotive ability ranks amongst the best.

    Read the revew of This One Is Two.

  • Patty Loveless - Sleepless Nights 7. “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” – Patty Loveless
    Among the less heralded songs on Loveless’ album of choice covers, her performance on “I’ Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” comes straight from country’s soul without sounding dated. The production and her performance stay out of the way of the lyric and let it speak for itself. If only current artists would take heed.

    Read the review of Sleepless Nights.

  • Ralph Stanley II - This One Is Two 6. “L.A. County” – Ralph Stanley II
    Although Stanley’s cover of this tale of a murder committed in jealousy doesn’t really bring anything new to Lyle Lovett’s original, it’s a song worth hearing. Country music could use more murder ballads.

    Read the revew of This One Is Two.

  • Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Rattlin' Bones 5. “Rattlin’ Bones” – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson
    Like the rest of the songs on Rattlin’ Bones, the title track features the duo’s vocal harmonies and somewhat bare instrumentation, but it also features Nicholson on trash can. How’s that for different? It has a catchy beat and singable lyrics along with this killer line: “Late one night, sorrow come round/Scratching at my door.”
  • Patty Loveless - Sleepless Nights 4. “Cold Cold Heart” – Patty Loveless
    The predominant instrument on this Hank Williams standard is Loveless’ impeccable voice. I said well-known covers wouldn’t play prominently in these lists, but Loveless sufficiently changes the arrangement and interpretation for it to qualify and when you pair a classic country song with a true country voice, it’s kinda hard not to sing its praises.

    Read the review of Sleepless Nights.

  • Hal Ketchum - Father Time 3. “Yesterday’s Gone” – Hal Ketchum
    Not many songs deal with the aging of a loved one and it’s not clear whether or not that’s due to mainstream songwriters not being talented enough to capture the sentiment or country’s preoccupation with younger generations. Indeed, it may be a tough topic, but it’s something nearly everyone experiences and makes for a worthy song. Ketchum nails the sentiment as the young narrator tries to cope with the frailty of his once strong grandfather.
  • Ralph Stanley II - This One Is Two 2. “Lord Help Me Find My Way” – Ralph Stanley II
    Stanley’s vocal exudes sincerity as he pleads with the Lord to help him find his way on the closing track of This One Is Two. It’s a deeply personal and touching account of a man trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and measure up to his standards. And it’s almost heart-wrenching to listen to Stanley as he ponders his father’s mortality: “I know there’ll come a time/When we’ll have to say goodbye/But he’s left me a roadmap/That keeps me riding high/So Lord, help me find the way/To bless me with the words that I want to say/Lord, help me find the way/To be the man he wants me to be/Each and every day.”

    Read the revew of This One Is Two.

  • Hal Ketchum - Father Time 1. “Sparrow” – Hal Ketchum
    The truth is, Hal Ketchum had a number of tracks that were worthy of featuring on this list and it’s a travesty that he’s largely ignored these days, so supporters of good country music need to purchase his album posthaste. Though “Sparrow” is based during the Civil War, it’s implications on any war are readily apparent and it’ll send shivers down your spine as Ketchum sings “Well, we belly-crawled our way through the corn rows/Sherman’s boys were waiting in the willows/They cut us down ’til we were only ten/May I never feel that kind of cold again.” Can you say wow?

Listen to the Best Songs of September 2008 Playlist on Rhapsody

  1. Chris N.
    October 21, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Regarding alcohol references: I’ve long been disturbed by the sheer number of modern country lyrics about drinking red wine. I thought beer was the official country beverage (or whiskey if you’re hardcore).

  2. Chris N.
    October 21, 2008 at 9:29 am

    (And of course, Dale Watson drinks gasoline and spits fire.)

  3. Thomas
    October 21, 2008 at 9:50 am

    god bless, dale watson and make him not forget about his gasoline drinking habit, when he lights his next cigarette.

  4. Rainbow
    October 21, 2008 at 11:03 am

    I want “A Baby Changes Everything” on that list, as well as “Why Baby Why”.

  5. Kelly
    October 21, 2008 at 11:04 am

    i have noticed a weird number of “cherry wine” references, most notably (and infamously) in “Holler Back”….

  6. Matt B.
    October 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Can’t forget the mentions of “‘Shine” in some songs, like, um…well…”Shine” by Matt Stillwell… Nice list of songs by the way…

  7. Dan Milliken
    October 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Well done, once again! Love this feature.

    That Bowen song was killer when I saw him perform it acoustic; I was disappointed to find that the production on the studio track (and really the whole album) is so tepid; it sort of neuters the piece for me.

  8. Matt B.
    October 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Oh and on Continental Divide,” I saw Hal sing that first verse and chorus A Capella at his CD release party. He also sang (just him and his guitar) “Millionaire’s Wife” and “Invisable” he said he couldn’t sing “Divide” with a guitar because he didn’t know that many chords…

  9. Brady Vercher
    October 21, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Rainbow, “Why Baby Why” would be a worthy addition, but other than being sung by a female, it adhered too close to the original.

    Dan, thanks. I’m not a big fan of the production on Bowen’s album, either, and would much prefer to hear him in a more restrained environment. I’m an acoustic fanboy, though.

  10. Dan Milliken
    October 21, 2008 at 11:35 am

    As am I.

  11. Rick
    October 21, 2008 at 11:55 am

    The Cherryholmes family performed here in Torrance early this year and publicly performed some brand new songs for the first time (well that’s what they said) and one of those songs was “My Only Son” and it blew me away. At 24 Cia Leigh has never had a date or a boyfriend (no time for either) and yet writes great heartbreak and cheatin songs and now one about a mother’s sacrifice. I really hope Top 40 country radio takes to the remixed countrified version of “My Only Son” but I’m not holding my breath…..

  12. Drew
    October 21, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    What do you mean Nicholson on trash can?

  13. Brady Vercher
    October 21, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    He’s expressing his musical talents while channeling his inner Oscar the Grouch.

  14. Drew
    October 21, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I’ll have to give the new Cherryholmes album a listen, I’ve liked them more and more as they’ve progressed. Does anybody else think the main singer for Cherryholmes sounds exactly like the lead female singer from Jypsi?

  15. Jim C.
    October 21, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    what no airheads???

    ;-)

  16. Hollerin' Ben
    October 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    “I thought beer was the official country beverage (or whiskey if you’re hardcore).”

    “Wine Me Up”, “Lost Highway”, “I can’t escape from you”, “Two more bottle of wine”, “Yesterday’s Wine”, and many many more say differently.

  17. Chris N.
    October 21, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    That’s wine in the abstract — I’m speaking particularly about red wine in particular. There’s something un-country about even being picky which color your wine is.

  18. Hollerin' Ben
    October 21, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Wine in the abstract? Particularly red wine in particular? no way dude, Wine Me Up is specifically about “warm, red wine”.

    I’d assume most country wine songs are about red, because you have to keep white cold, and when one is ramblin down the lost highway, it’d be tough to refrigerate your jug.

    but there are tons of country songs about wine man, “I kept the wine and threw away the rose” by Hag, “Let it Roll” by Guy Clark, “Who’ll buy the wine”,

    I get where you are coming from, but in this case there is overwhelming precedent for wine drinking, even red wine in particualar (there are only two kinds you know), in country songs.

  19. Hollerin' Ben
    October 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    and lets not forget that Townes, Billy Joe, and Eleven Hundred Springs all have odes to Thunderbird wine!

  20. Chris N.
    October 21, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I take back my marriage proposal.

  21. Hollerin' Ben
    October 21, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    dude, weak.

  22. Nicolas
    October 21, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Kelly: “i have noticed a weird number of “cherry wine” references, most notably (and infamously) in “Holler Back”…”

    Perhaps because there’s alrdy Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine”… so they use cherry instead? 0.o

  23. Brody Vercher
    October 21, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    There goes my idea for a wine playlist.

  24. Brady Vercher
    October 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Y’all are making our wine feature obsolete. A few others are:

    “Warm Red Wine” Ernest Tubb
    “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine” – Tom T. Hall
    “Sangria Wine” and “Backsliders Wine” – Jerry Jeff Walker
    “Wine Women and Song” – Loretta Lynn
    “Two More Bottles of Wine” – Emmylou Harris
    Jason Boland did “Thunderbird Wine” as well.

  25. Chris N.
    October 21, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    OK, OK, OK.

    I’m thinking of it in the context of modern country, in which the settings of popular songs seem more and more to be urban or suburban (this is a general trend, notwithstanding the current onslaught of “I’m So Country” list songs). I believe this is because a.) advertisers want to attract higher-earning city dwellers to country radio and b.) the nation as a whole is becoming more urbanized, including the people who write these songs.

    The song that first put this bee in my bonnet was “Something More” by Sugarland, which starts with the protagonist driving to work on the freeway and ends like:

    I get home 7:30
    The house is dirty, but it can wait
    Yeah, ’cause right now I need some downtime
    To drink some red wine and celebrate

    I got hung up on the “red wine” line — something about the image of an office drone relaxing with red wine seems very divorced from traditional country music tropes, not least thanks to her choice of refreshment.

  26. Brady Vercher
    October 21, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with you, Chris, I just had to pile on, but the relaxing with a glass of wine context isn’t very country. A line that bugged me recently was in Lee Ann Womack’s “I Found It In You” where it says “Some find it in working for the man.”

  27. Hollerin' Ben
    October 21, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Y’all are making our wine feature obsolete. A few others are

    naw, we’re just priming the pump, getting everyone super excited for a full length wine playlist!

  28. Kelly
    October 21, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Chris, the first clue that the red wine reference wasnt country in that specific song was the band’s name on the cd cover!!

  29. leeann Ward
    October 21, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Don’t forget Emmylou’s Bluebird wine.

    I love this feature.

    I’m glad to see some love for the Chambers/Nicholson album. The songs that you chose from Ketchum’s album are my favorites from it.

    I’m a sucker for acoustic as well…can’t call myself a fanboy though.:) I was underwhelmed by the production on Bowen’s album too.

  30. Rick
    October 21, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Drew I agree that Cia Leigh Cherryholmes and Lillie Mae Rische of Jypsi have very similar voices except Lillie’s voice is a bit lower and she doesn’t have the upper range Cia does. When I first heard Jypsi on the Opry I thought it was Cia Leigh singing lead for the group. Also Cia has very precise control over her singing voice while Lillie Mae has a much looser vocal presentation and especially so in live performances, but then again Lillie is only 16 (or maybe 17 by now). I just noticed that Lillie Mae sang with Montgomery Gentry on a song titled “God Knows Who I Am” on their latest album, so good for her. Jypsi’s label really dropped the ball with that band and I think they’ve already been shelved.

    As for wine songs, Miss Leslie Sloan titled her latest album after her song “Between The Whiskey And The Wine”. In the song she refers to red wine and a whiskey brand called something like “Makers”? I don’t consume alcohol so I really don’t know….

  31. KathyP
    October 22, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Brady – very good list, especially recognition of 3 singles from Ketchum’s Father Time. What a gorgeous album. Ketchum has the purest male voice in country music.

    Several years go, Curb released an album of his, One More Midnight, in the UK, but not in the USA. I found it on Amazon.uk. It’s a real gem, too. It’s the album that featured the song, Alamo. On the CD there’s another song that is 15 minutes long – Poor Lila’s Ghost. It’s another period story song. Exquisite. Great twist to the story. Travelin Teardrop Blues is another big winner, IMHO. Of course the album was never released here. What mainstream US country music fan would listen to a 15 minute song. (sarc off) I guess they believe country fans only listen to mainstream radio.

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