Overlooked Albums of 2008

Brady Vercher | January 6th, 2009

There were a number of albums that were deserving of more attention than they received in 2008. I could claim Hal Ketchum’s Father Time didn’t garner the praise it was due or that Randy Rogers Band was overlooked despite placing an album in the top ten. Amber Digby could certainly qualify for this list, but Passion, Pride and What Might Have Been appeared in the top ten on three of The 9513’s writer’s lists for the best country albums of 2008, which ought to be enough of an incentive to check it out. So, instead, I’ll focus on the albums that, for whatever reason, flew under the radar and are worth going back and giving a listen if you didn’t check them out when they were released. So before we move on with the new year, here’s one last look back.

  • Hacienda Brothers - Arizona Motel10. Arizona Motel, Hacienda Brothers
    After five years and three albums, the Hacienda Brothers’ fourth album is their last. A month after finishing recording for the album, lead singer/accordion player/guitarist Chris Gaffney was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away a month later. Dave Gonzales, Gaffney’s musical “brother,” released the album in June. You’ll find the Hacienda brothers blending country, rockabilly, blues, and soul on Arizona Motel, an album that should have had a larger impact than it did.

    Recommended: “Used To the Pain,” “Ordinary Fool,” “Break Free”

  • Miss Leslie - Between the Whiskey and the Wine9. Between the Whiskey and the Wine, Miss Leslie
    There is steel guitar and fiddle aplenty on Between the Whiskey and the Wine–the fiddle provided by Miss Leslie herself and the steel by Ricky Davis who has spent time in bands fronted by Gary P. Nunn and Dale Watson. If you haven’t guessed by now, Miss Leslie’s music leans a little traditional…ok, maybe it’s hardcore traditional. And while she’s garnered local accolades and built a loyal fan base, she’s still largely unknown. That should change, so if you haven’t heard her music, she’s currently got an offer to send anyone in the US a free autographed CD.

    Recommended: “Honky Tonk Hangover,” “Between the Whiskey and the Wine”

  • Kelleigh Bannen - Radio Skies8. Radio Skies, Kelleigh Bannen
    Kelleigh Bannen is a Nashville native, but she doesn’t exactly fit the young blonde archetype served up on an assembly line that’s coming out of the major labels these days. She had a hand in writing every song on her debut album and wrote most of them herself, she owns her masters and publishing, she’s not on a major label, and she’s not exactly blonde. Her music fits somewhere between the commercial sensibilities of the Nashville product and something more organic, but it balances the two extremes well without sounding conflicted.

    Recommended: “Say It In A County Song,” “Whisky Rain,” “Done”

  • Tim O'Brien - Chameleon7. Chameleon, Tim O’Brien
    Tim O’Brien is a highly regarded musician that made appearances on many of the year’s releases, including Kathy Mattea’s Coal. O’Brien’s own record from 2008, Chameleon, is a collection of songs that features himself is just about every capacity, from vocals to songwriting to playing every audible instrument on the album. It’s a veritable melting pot of sixteen songs ranging from silly to poignant to slightly political, all of them well crafted. They draw from a myriad of musical styles that make it hard to peg the album to one genre, so folksy acoustic country is as good as any.

    Recommended: “The Garden,” “Chameleon,” “The Only Way To Never Hurt,” “Where’s Love Come From”

  • Heybale - The Last Country Album6. The Last Country Album, Heybale
    Consisting of Earle Poole Ball, Gary Claxton, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith, and Redd Volkaert, Heybale released their first studio album last year. They are an accomplished group of musicians by any standard who have toured with the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Connie Smith, Buck Owens, and Dale Watson. They throw in covers of “Mr. Record Man” and “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” but mostly offer up comparable originals. As Brody said when I asked him how he’d describe Heybale, they’re just “badass country music.”

    Recommended: “California Wine,” “Guess Where I’ll Be This Morning,” “That’s How I Got To Memphis”

  • The Dixie Bee-Liners - Ripe5. Ripe, The Dixie Bee-Liners
    Unless you follow bluegrass closely, The Dixie Bee-Liners might not be a familiar name, but they’re a group worth checking out. Mostly fronted by Brandi Hart, the group plays what sounds like fairly straightforward music, but they add bits of polish and character to various songs on Ripe to give them their own unique spin. They also place a little more focus on the lyrics than the average contemporary bluegrass group, which, combined with Hart’s vocal, creates a pleasing listen. Be sure to check out “Dixie Grey to Black,” a song about a mother who lost her only son in the Civil War.

    Recommended: “Dixie Grey to Black,” “Down On the Crooked Road”

  • Steve Azar - Indianola4. Indianola, Steve Azar
    Indianola wasn’t high on my list of favorite albums, but in retrospect, it’s a better than average record, especially by mainstream standards, and was certainly deserving of much more attention than it garnered in 2008. Azar left Midas in 2006 after the lead single, “You Don’t Know A Thing,” failed to reach the Top 40, then self-released the album last year to little fanfare. The first single, a co-write with Walt Wilkins titled “I Won’t Let You Lead Me Down,” on his own label didn’t chart.

    Recommended: “I Won’t Let You Lead Me Down,” “The River’s Workin’,” “Prelude”

  • Trent Wagler & Jay Lapp - Adrienna Valentine3. Adrienna Valentine, Trent Wagler & Jay Lapp
    Ben Cisneros gave these guys a brief mention in March, saying “In a world of good singers, good musicians, and good songs, Trent Wagler is an exceptional singer, Jay Lapp is an exceptional musician/producer, and Adrienna Valentine is an exceptional album.” And despite all that, there isn’t really any arguing that these guys were overlooked in 2008. Wagler and Lapp play an old timey country/roots based flavor of music and there are some great songs here that rank amongst the best of the year. Give them a listen if you liked the albums by Old Crow Medicine Show and Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson.

    Recommended: “Corrine,” “Strongest Wind Blows,” “Adrienna Valentine,” “Whistle Blows”

  • Twilight Hotel - Highway Prayer2. Highway Prayer, Twilight Hotel
    It might be hard to claim that any album or group that got The Malec Treatment was overlooked in 2008, but if anyone qualifies, it’d have to be this Candian roots duo. Highway Prayer isn’t strictly a country record, but at times, it has more in touch with country’s roots than anything being released to radio. For instance, the music of the poor and downtrodden has forgotten it’s audience, instead, focusing on teenage girls and suburbanites, but take a song like “The Ballad of Salvador and Isabelle,” an epic story song following the lives of immigrants who “headed north in the night for America/Left his town and his kin for a life in the shadow of a lie,” and you get back to the heart of what country music used to be.

    Recommended: “Impatient Love,” “Ballad of Salvador and Isabelle”

  • The Dixons - Still Your Fool1. Still Your Fool, The Dixons
    We often get the pitch that a country band from New York would make for a good story, but despite perceptions, it’s not that unique, and often times, it’s not that good. The Dixons, however, have released an extremely pleasing record that manages to replicate the Bakersfield/honky tonk sound without sounding trite or dated. Aside from three covers, including a slowed down redition of “Thanks A Lot,” everything else was written by Jeff Mowery, who serves as lead singer and co-producer as well. The album doesn’t push any boundaries, but it’s simplicity, both musically and lyrically, and universal themes of heartache makes for great music. Good stuff.

    Recommended: “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” “Talk of the Town,” “Please Baby Don’t Go”

1 Ping

  1. [...] On January 2nd, Kelleigh Bannen (MySpace) began a personal mission of playing 90 gigs in 90 days to raise awareness for addiction and recovery. The concept for the tour was inspired by her brother Grant, who she lost to substance abuse nearly a year ago. Visit her website to find out how you can help and revisit Jim Malec’s “20 Questions With Kelleigh Bannen” feature from June ‘08. Kelleigh also made an appearance on Brady Vercher’s year-end list of overlooked albums. [...]
  1. Davey
    January 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    hold the champagne! More of 2008 yet to come!
    I actually have 2 of those! I feel informed.

  2. Andrew
    January 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Glad to see Steve Azar get some love. Indianola isn’t exactly an outstanding album, but it’s pretty good and an enjoyable listen.

  3. Chris N.
    January 6, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    The Azar album was woefully overlooked. That’s one that really stuck with me all year.

  4. Rick
    January 6, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Still no mention of Jypsi’s nor Carter’s Chords self-titled debuts. Guess its time to throw in the towel on those albums ever getting any love here at The 9513….

    The second half of Kimberly Murray’s “Once Upon A Time in a Honky Tonk” contained some kick ass traditional country songs, but the ones she co-wrote in the first half weren’t very strong. Sigh.

  5. Jason
    January 6, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I’m glad you guys gave Indianola some credit. Same for me, it wasn’t high on my list of the best albums of 2008, but it deserved a lot more credit than it got.

  6. Cindy2
    January 6, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I agree with those that are giving Indianola some love. Is it Jamey Johnson? No. But its definitely good, especially the more personal songs like Empty Spaces and the blazing guitar Flatlands. A little schizophrenic for commercial success, but far more rewarding.

  7. Leeann Ward
    January 6, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I really like that Bannen record, actually.

  8. Chris D.
    January 6, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I put in my “order” for Miss Leslie’s album the other day, I can’t wait for it!

    I may have to check out the Chameleon album, mostly because I love chameleons. xD

  9. Drew
    January 6, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    The only one I’ve heard is Steve Azar’s, and I was thoroughly impressed, so I’ll be sure to try and listen to some of the others, thanks.

  10. Brody Vercher
    January 7, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I haven’t listened to most of these very closely, but I’m a big fan of the discs from Trent Waggler & Jay Lapp, Hacienda Brothers, and Heybale.

  11. Lynn
    January 7, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I’ve been looking for some new music recently and a few of those artists are new to me. Thanks for the list!

  12. Brady Vercher
    January 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Leeann, I really liked “Say It In A Country Song” and “Whisky Rain” from the Kelleigh Bannen album. Here’s an interesting note about the whisky vs. whiskey.

    Lynn, glad the list helped you out. I don’t know who all you’re familiar with or what you’re looking for, but Axton Kincaid, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Danielle Talamini, and the Tejas Brothers were all in the running if you’re interested in other names to look up.

  13. Dan Milliken
    January 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I cannot get enough of Adrienna Valentine. I discovered it right before I had to put together my top ten list for the year, so it had no time to live with me, but I’m almost certain it would have made my list had I found it earlier.

  14. Hollerin' Ben
    January 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    “Axton Kincaid, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Danielle Talamini, and the Tejas Brothers were all in the running if you’re interested in other names to look up.”

    man oh man, I haven’t listened to the Danielle, but the those three records getting nudged out by Steve Azar! bold move Brady.

    (note: I haven’t listened to the Azar record, also, I don’t believe any of you that it’s good. Not that I don’t trust you guys in general, but it’s Steve Azar. What’s next, an overlooked, super awesome Steve Holy record?)

  15. Leeann Ward
    January 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Yeah, I found her story to be rather interesting when I read it in some promotional material that was sent to me last summer.
    I’m both curious and skeptical about the Azar record being good. I’m curious because I trust your recommendations, Brady (you don’t seem to throw them around lightly), but skeptical because like Ben says, it’s Steve Azar. I think his stuff is kinda fun, but not especially more than that.

  16. Brady Vercher
    January 7, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I figured the Azar album would be polarizing when I decided to include it. I didn’t exactly praise it in the write-up, but it was one that I think was significantly overlooked.

  17. Jim Malec
    January 7, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    He’s an artist who is a little bit underrated. I think he’s a guy that could have made better music if he hadn’t got so caught up in the label machine. At times his stuff is surprisingly edgy.

  18. Chris N.
    January 7, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    ‘Indianola’ is very different from Azar’s major-label stuff. It’s a lot less Nashville and a lot more Mississippi.

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