November ’08 Album Review Wrap-Up

Staff | December 9th, 2008

Trace Adkins - X Trace Adkins – X (Ten)
Whereas Adkins’ previous albums have touched on redemption and reflection in passing, X puts those issues front and center. In fact, a majority of the album is comprised of truly outstanding material, which includes the sincere “All I Ask For Anymore,” and the fantastic Larry Cordle (of “Murder on Music Row” fame) co-written stone country ballad “Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink.” […] With X, Adkins soars above our expectations and shatters our notions of what he’s capable of. X is a wonderful country record. — Jim Malec

4 Stars

Rodney Hayden - 12 Ounce World Rodney Hayden – 12 Ounce World
A brilliantly mixed album that is underlined throughout by the standout guitar work of bandmate Matt Slusher, Hayden’s latest is one of a rare breed, so good at certain points that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to the songs of a regionally successful Texas act and not a country music legend. — Jim Malec

4 Stars

Randy Houser - Anything Goes Randy Houser – Anything Goes
The themes on Anything Goes are atypical to contemporary country music, which would be a refreshing change of pace, but too often the songs settle for being different instead of superior. Randy Houser shows flashes of brilliance, but as demonstrated by his debut album, he lacks focus and needs to quit occupying the same territory as acts like Dunn and Toby Keith at their worst. — Brady Vercher

2.5 Stars

Randy Owen - One on One Randy Owen – One on One
Although Owen says Alabama isn’t finished recording as a group, he felt he needed his own new direction. Do such goals lead to quality music, and is he chasing radio success in order to remain in the public conscious? The answer is that the quality on One On One varies, but nothing really stands out as exceptional, mostly fading into filler status. […] Owen had a hand in writing seven of the eleven tracks, but he says he never stopped writing during [Alabama’s] hiatus, which makes this collection of songs rather disappointing considering the amount of time he’s had to put material together. — Brady Vercher

3 Stars

Brad Paisley - Play Brad Paisley – Play (The Guitar Album)
Only in a strange world where[…]Brad Paisley’s tinny tone and pre-fab vocal interpretation would qualify him as country music’s finest male vocalist, and where Kenny Chesney’s pseudo-philosophic tropical-themed “Jimmy Buffet for soccer moms” music (and beach ball stadium tours) makes him the genre’s greatest entertainer, only in that absurd world would Brad Paisley’s Play be considered anything other than a complete disaster. — Ben Cisneros

1 Stars

Blake Shelton - Startin Fires Blake Shelton – Startin’ Fires
The album’s production is marked by similar consistency, with most of the songs occupying the same mid-tempo, countrypolitan-meets-new-traditional sonic territory. This is a space where Shelton sounds good and clearly feels at home, but producer Scott Hendricks would have done well to mix things up a bit in the interest of giving fans a more dynamic listening experience. The sonic and thematic consistency (verging on repetitiveness) of the whole means that songs and performances that might be excellent in themselves become hard to differentiate or, even worse, occasionally even forgettable in context. — CM Wilcox

3.5 Stars

Taylor Swift - Fearless Taylor Swift – Fearless
Taylor Swift’s much anticipated sophomore album finds her at a point of transition, on the brink of two very different and conflicting musical directions—one of which builds on the foundation of her enormously successful self-titled debut, while the other dismisses that foundation entirely. Fearless is a slightly bipolar album that dips its feet into both pools, Swift seemingly caught between the girl she was and the woman she’s becoming, unsure of which path to embrace musically. — Jim Malec

3.5 Stars

Mark Wills - Familiar Stranger Mark Wills – Familiar Stranger
Since “19 Somethin’”, Mark Wills has been tossing out singles to country radio with very little success, which makes his latest album release, Familiar Stranger, feel like a forced effort. Despite the efforts of an A-list group of songwriters like Jeffrey Steele, Brett James, and Aimee Mayo, there’s no stand-out material. The record lacks any traces of fluidity and originality, which is a shame because Wills continues to be a solid country vocalist. — Pierce Greenberg

2 Stars

Zac Brown Band - The Foundation Zac Brown Band – The Foundation
The Zac Brown Band could easily be described as country music’s feel-good story of 2008. A typically hard-working, long-touring regional band that has worked its way up to a major label record deal, the Atlanta based five-piece has already scored a top five hit on country radio with lead single “Chicken Fried.” Despite the band’s early success, however, its Atlantic debut, The Foundation, which features everything from Latino-infused flare to reggae breakdowns to radio-friendly country, sometimes blurs the line between diversity and inconsistency. — Pierce Greenberg

3.5 Stars

Other Albums Released In November

Beth Stevens – Strong Enough
Music That Matters: “Strong Enough…takes the traditional bluegrass of [Steven’s] youth in the Stevens Family band and marries it to the more contemporary acoustic country/bluegrass of the album she did with her sister.”

The Boxmasters – Christmas Cheer
All Music Guide: “Clocking in at just under 33 minutes, this is a mercifully short set. Along with standards such as “Silver Bells” (where Thornton does his best Buck Owens and doesn’t hold a candle to the master)…[there] are some novel inclusions such as a cover of John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison,” which is done in Bakersfield style but fails to match the humorous irony of the original. There’s also a closing honky tonk read of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over),” where Thornton sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan with a cold and his character in the film Bad Santa.”

The Churchmen – I’ll Be Long Gone
Country Standard Time: “…Their message is clearly the gospel delivered in a bluegrass format –the songs are of hope, inspiration and faith.”

Ian Tyson – Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories
Toranto Star: “…This is Tyson, apparently unrestrained by age–he turned 75 in September–and the astonishing effects of irreparable vocal cord damage caused a year ago. The voice may be unrecognizable–it seems higher, more conversational in tone, though as pitch-true as ever–but it’s well suited to these folk-derived melodies and lusty tales of rough riding and heartache.”

Ryan Adams – Cardinology
Slant: “Smooth and mostly sunny, Cardinology hums along on the fumes of better Ryan Adams material, infrequently surprising us with something glittering in its own tepid milieu”

Western Fifth – Stand Like a Thief
HowWasTheShow: “Open up the liner notes and view the album artwork by Jeremiah Talamantes and you see a lonely gray house on a dark prairie. A despondent gentlemen stands in the foreground in a top hat looking down at the ground. The cover art couldn’t be a better match for the music inside.”

  1. Chris D.
    December 9, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    It’s strange that Swift’s album actually was one of the better rated albums this month! Never thought I would see that here, not that I disagree at all.

  2. David S
    December 9, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Her album had some pretty artistically credible pieces on it, surprisingly enough.

  3. Peter
    December 9, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    That Ian Tyson disc is superb. Canadians who read this blog will recognize the song about Don Cherry and his late wife Rose

  4. Davey
    December 9, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Taylor’s surprised me. Really like Trace’s so far. good month for rock albums too. good month in general.
    Does anyone remember that Ryan Adams does not consider himself country? I believe a said he hates it. with all the complaints about the lack of “true” country music, why are country sites intentionally throwing artists who they themselves say they are NOT country into the mix?

  5. Davey
    December 9, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    sorry, that was full of typo’s. you get the idea…

  6. Clemson Brad
    December 9, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Even if Ryan Adam’s is not country music, I still consider him a “part” of country music. He is a guy I don’t really believe falls in any genre. Hell, his “Gold” album I would consider more country then any other genre.

  7. Drew
    December 9, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    “glittering in its own tepid milieu” ??

    Seriously? What a terribly written article.

  8. Dan Milliken
    December 9, 2008 at 7:31 pm


    I wouldn’t begin trying to divine Ryan Adams’ real feelings on country music, or really on anything. Verbally, he has both disparaged and exonerated the genre many times. Musically, he frequently combines elements of it with elements from other genres, then denies that that’s what what he was doing. But then he’ll talk about how great Gram Parsons is or cover Hank Williams. You can’t really nail it down. I will say that Cardinology is not a country album by any stretch of the imagination (though it is a pretty great one, in my opinion), so I do find its listing here a bit curious myself.

  9. Bill Hutchison
    December 10, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Many thanks for your honest album reviews over the month of November (and other months too of course). I love that you are never afraid to call a spade a spade, and stay true to what you believe, regardless of what is popular on country music radio.

    Keep up the good work. I (almost) always agree with your reviews and appreciate your honesty with it all.

  10. Sam G.
    December 10, 2008 at 8:07 am

    It’s best not to take into account anything Ryan Adams says, or else you’ll start hating him for being a pretentious jackhole. As for Cardinology, I’ll start buying his CDs again when he stops releasing five a year and instead puts all the good stuff on a single album.

  11. Davey
    December 10, 2008 at 9:32 am

    You should buy this one then. Its great.
    Maybe the deal with Ryan and country is that he respects it as an art, but doesn’t like the way it sounds overall. he is confusing. Wonder if that’s the whole point; confuse people.
    maybe his definition of country would help. oh well. at least he’s interesting to follow, not just spewing the same fluff every time someone talks to him.

  12. Rick
    December 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Nothing here I’d spend full retail money on. I did get a free copy of Randy Houser’s debut and I’m glad I didn’t pay for that one either. I like hearing Trace Adkins singles (well most of them) on the radio but I’ve never been motivated to actually purchase an album of his. Top of my list if I can find a used one cheap at some point is Zac Brown, but its not a high priority quest.

  13. TAYERS
    December 10, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Rick, if you want to enjoy Zac Brown for free, just spend some time on youtube whenever you get the urge to listen. You’ll get a lot more than just the dozen or so songs on The Foundation, including a hyper-speed rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

  14. Brady Vercher
    December 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I’d say the Rodney Hayden release is easily my favorite album on the list, followed by Trace Adkins. Other than that, only a few songs here and there caught my attention, although I couldn’t find an affordable copy of the Ian Tyson album. I really want to check that one out. Zac Brown Band was good, but it’s not something I have much interest in revisiting.

  15. Rick
    December 10, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Brady, a Texas artist at the top of your list! I’m shocked! (lol)

    TAyers, thanks for the tip. Zac Brown is performing in a small club in LA tonight but I didn’t get a ticket as the place gets packed liked a sardine can in such situations. He could have easily booked a larger venue.

  16. Tom
    December 30, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I agree with the Ian Tyson reviews. I recently found the album at WalMart (very affordable Brady)
    and was blown away. Every song is a masterpiece. Tyson has crafted a gem of an album at 75. The song about Canadian Hockey broadcaster Don Cherry and his late wife Rose is a real heartbreaker.
    The other song Love Never Comes At All is also an incredible tune. Definately worth the purchase for any country-folk fan!

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