October featured new music from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and even a Willie Nelson duet, but for new music, it seemed like the month was a little lacking in quality releases. To be fair, though, we did have good albums from Lee Ann Womack and Joey + Rory, and Rodney Hayden slipped in somehow with a digital release of his album, 12 Ounce World. A few new names adorn the list with decent cuts, but the coveted number one spot goes to the aforementioned duet. Read on for the best songs of October 2008.
“Ballad of Cape Henry” – Todd Snider
Snider was waiting for the right album to include this song on after writing it in ’96 or ’97 and it would have earned a spot on this list, but I’m not sure it actually lives up to its billing. The song was promoted as a “Civil War sea shanty” and regurgitated as such in coverage of Peace Queer, but the song opens with “Well I served as a sailor/It was back in ’81,” and as everyone knows the Civil War ended in 1865. The Battle of Cape Henry was actually fought between British and French squadrons on March 16, 1781 during the American Revolution, which means the song probably deserves a little more scrutiny for historical accuracy.
20. “Lost You Anyway” – Toby Keith
It’s become popular to say Toby Keith is at his best singing ballads, but it’s the truth and his vocal is the one thing that helps this song stand out. Keith takes solace in a failed relationship knowing that he could have done more and the outcome wouldn’t have changed. Sucks for him, don’t it? Maybe he’s describing his relationship with the CMA Awards and that’s why he doesn’t put more effort into his music.
19. “Train Leaving Dallas” – Crystal Sands
Crystal Sands released her debut album in October, featuring a mix of traditional covers and originals of varying quality. Utilizing recoloration typically yields fairly lame results, which “Train Leaving Dallas” isn’t totally capable of overcoming, but the hook will have you singing along before the song ends. And I’m not sure any other songs relying on the technique feature a cheating wife, runaway kids, and a man faced with the monotony of life.
18. “Damn Your Eyes” – Brandon Jenkins
Brandon Jenkins has been banging around for awhile, but his profile hasn’t ever really lived up to his talent. “Damn Your Eyes” leans rock and isn’t your typical country song structure, but Jenkins has twang to spare. Besides, the beat, melody, and hook just sound too cool to pass up.
17. “Little Sadie” – Tangleweed
Poor little Sadie never stood a chance against that .44 in this oft-covered folk standard. Tangleweed is a Chicago-based acoustic band that has some pretty good stuff on their latest album, Most Folk Heroes Started Out As Criminals. They bring an undercurrent of anger to their performance here that some of the other disaffected versions lack, but they mostly sound like a less talented Old Crow Medicine Show.
16. “Lonesome On’ry and Mean” – Waylon Jennings
I was hesitant to include anything from the Waylon Forever project as most of it sounded like Shooter and his band playing around in the mix without much else to offer. This one actually sounds pretty cool, which is mostly a credit to the clarity and distinctiveness of Waylon’s voice. A little judicious editing to cut out the last minute or so would have served the song better, though.
15. “Rodeo” – Joey + Rory
The conflict between a rodeo man’s two loves has been written about in various ways, but never has it sounded this beautiful, nor can I recall any from the woman’s perspective.
14. “Solitary Thinkin’” – Lee Ann Womack
The bass is a little heavy and there’s a distracting squawk throughout, but otherwise, it’s a fine song. I’d like to hear it with a little less glam and a little more honky tonk.
13. “Darling I’m Falling For You” – Rodney Hayden
Hayden’s simple and plaintive expression of love makes some contemporary love songs sound melodramatic by comparison, and indeed, it’s tough to find any mainstream songs that realistically deal with the beginnings of a relationship.
12. “Missing Me Some You” – Toby Keith
“Missing Me Some You” is more about the delivery than the lyric, but when the delivery sounds this good, it’s worth it. It’s a bluesy number that actually humanizes soldiers by not trumpeting their selflessness and heroism, instead focusing on a soldier’s loneliness while away from his woman.
11. “Got To Be” – Brandon Jenkins
The characters in “Got To Be” have been pushed to the point where the only thing they have to hang on to is the hope that here has got to be a better life for them, but it leaves you wondering how long they’ll hang on to that hope.
10. “Fortunate Son” – Todd Snider
Snider slows down his take on “Fortunate Son,” giving it a feeling of resignation instead of defiance and seemingly speaking for the poor instead of a dissenting protester. Patty Griffin’s vocal only adds to the appeal.
9. “Ruth’s Prayer” – Patty Griffin
“Ruth’s Prayer” is based on a poem written by Ruth Bell Graham, the late wife of Billy Graham, so it’s not your typical structure, but it’s beautifully written and sung just as beautifully by Griffin to a melody written by Alan Jackson.
8. “Either Way” – Lee Ann Womack
The crescendoing choruses prevent this song from being better than it is, but it’s a testament to Womack’s artistry that she refrains from over-singing as she tells her husband in no uncertain terms, “Baby you can go or you can stay/I won’t love you either way.” Ouch! Besides, a guy as talented a Chris Stapleton certainly deserves a higher profile.
7. “Send A Little Love” – Melonie Cannon
“Send A Little Love” was written by Ronnie Bowman and John Scott Sherrill on a day when Bowman almost didn’t write because, as Cannon says in her liner notes, he found out his sister was very sick. What came from that grief was this beautiful prayer that Cannon says the whole world should be praying. I tend to agree.
6. “Sweet Emmylou” – Joey + Rory
This song, about a jilted lover who finds solace in Emmylou Harris’ music, was written by Rory Feek and Catherine Britt and demoed by Jamey Johnson, but it’s hard to imagine anyone putting a more pleasing spin on it than Joey Martin–with help from Rory of course.
5. “Lonesome, Heartbroke and Blue” – Rodney Hayden
The title pretty much says it all, but if you want to hear a haunting melody and a steel guitar cry, it’s difficult to top “Lonesome, Heartbroke and Blue.” This is good stuff.
4. “Last Call” – Lee Ann Womack
Although the lyric doesn’t accentuate the emotional conflict, Womack’s vocal drips with indecision as she delivers a splendid performance; she understands that her goal is to tell a story through the song and convey emotion that may or may not be present in the lyric rather than to just sing at us.
3. “Heart of the Wood” – Joey + Rory
Stripped to it’s bare essentials, “Heart of the Wood” was recorded with nothing but Joey & Rory’s voices and a guitar in a single take, and then allowed to shine without the adornment of studio tricks or loud instrumentation.
2. “Huntsville” – Rodney Hayden
Back in 1956, Johnny Cash played his first prison in Huntsville, TX and that very place that serves as the permanent residence of the narrator in Hayden’s “Huntsville,” in which he sounds resigned to his self-determined fate behind the prison’s walls. This is the kind of story song that country music has forgotten.
1. “Back to Earth” – Melonie Cannon with Willie Nelson
Written by Willie, “Back To Earth” was originally included on a couple of his previous albums, which would normally preclude it from making the cut, but Cannon and Nelson may have just recorded the definitive version. It was impossible to leave this song off the list after listening to Willie and his guitar. Like all of his other classics, this one deserves to stand the test of time.