"American Girl," Taylor Swift - A Rhapsody exclusive, '09 was Swift's year. I heard a lot of her music hanging out with my cousin, I followed Swift on Twitter and her cover of this Tom Petty song reflects a growing maturity to her voice and phrasing sensibilities.
"Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down," Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers - Yeah, Johnny Cash tribute songs are now a dime a dozen, but this one hails from a longtime touring partner and friend of the Man in Black's. It's set to the tune of Cash's "Big River," and its message is as simple as it is humble: "there'll never be another Johnny Cash."
"Who Will Comfort Me," Melody Gardot - Gardot continues to record sultry, forlorn jazz that simply smolders with sensuality. Every time I hear her voice, time slows down.
"The Touch - Sam's Theme," Stan Bush - A radical remake of Bush's iconic '80s recording, this time as an uncredited collaboration with Linkin Park. It was intended for inclusion in this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but was passed over by director Michael Bay. At first I hated the new arrangement, and the newly added Linkin Park hip-hop segments still haven't quite grown on me, but I've come to appreciate this new take on an old favorite.
"I Told You So," Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis - Speaking of new versions of old favorites, I was thrilled when I learned that Underwood had covered this gem of Travis's on her sophomore album. Retroactively adding his vocals was icing on the cake, and it's interesting to hear a song I'd always thought of as the interior monologue of one person presented as a dual monologue between two former lovers.
"Easy as You Go," George Strait - A young couple get hot and heavy, and then have an unintended pregnancy complete with family drama. Sounds pretty rote, except it's in the hands of George Strait, whose discography to date has generally shied away from any social controversies. In the song, the characters don't get an abortion, but they don't have an easy time of it, either. Strait's narration refrains from passing judgment or holding up the couple as martyrs; he simply relates their tale, while somehow making it feel reassuring.
"I'm Movin' On," Rosanne Cash - From Cash's The List album, a collection of old school covers. This old Hank Snow song has been covered countless times, but it has never been sexy until now. Cash's vocals are mesmerizing, and it's easy to forget this was once a trucker song.
"Cousin Randy," Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears - From the Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears EP, this is one of the most unique cuts I've heard in a long while. It tells the story of Black Joe's cousin, Randy, whom he believes to be possessed by the devil. It's got all the feel of an early blues parable, but it's thoroughly modern...and funny as hell.
"Wild One," Those Darlins - This was including in one of the numerous free samplers I downloaded from iTunes this year, and when I heard it I couldn't believe it was a new recording. It oozes early 70's country, which isn't typically a sound I even like--and yet there's such a charming enthusiasm from Those Darlins that makes this one of the most infectious songs I've heard in a long while.
"Take My Drunk Ass Home (demo)," Luke Bryan - From Bryan's Spring Break with All My Friends digital EP, this is one of those songs that is easy to relate to, fun to hear and even more fun to sing along with. I miss my drinkin' days every now and again, and it's fun to relive them vicariously through the safety of a three-minute long song.
"The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert - This is one of those songs that is so simple in its concept that it doesn't seem right that it is also so profound. Lambert returns to her childhood home, now owned by people she's never met, and takes a tour, narrating the physical artifacts left behind--and more importantly, those left within her. This is my favorite song on an excellent album, and may be my favorite of the entire year.
"Lullaby," Honeyhoney - Yes, Brahms's "Lullaby" performed by the indie rockers that gave us "Little Toy Gun" and "Black Crows." Suzanne Santo's vocals are full of twang and range, and yet somehow fit the soothing melody perfectly.
"Married Life," Michael Giacchino - From Pixar's Up, this is the music played throughout the emotional montage that opens the film. Not since John Williams's "Journey to the Island" in Jurassic Park have I been so impacted by the perfect marriage of music and image in a film, and that was just cool--this was heart-wrenching, and Giacchino's score expertly navigates the delicate nuances without becoming schmaltzy or bombastic.