The Greatest Greatest Hits of 2008

Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson Offer Career Compilations

Since you can’t tie a ribbon around an MP3 file, why not stuff the stockings with these country compilations? From relative newcomers like Dierks Bentley and Craig Morgan to classic artists such as George Jones and Willie Nelson, here’s one of the Greatest shopping lists you’ll find this year for your favorite country fan.

Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory 2003-2008 (Capitol Nashville)
Bentley prides himself on his relentless live performances and has often found his inspiration on the highway, with hits like “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),” “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” and “Long Trip Alone.” Plus, he has generously tacked on concert versions of crowd favorites like “Come a Little Closer,” “So So Long” and “Wish It Would Break.” A new album is coming in February, and he’s also touring with Brad Paisley in early 2009.

George Jones, The Hits … Then ‘Til Now (Time Life/Universal/Sony BMG)
This impressive three-disc boxed set collects every big hit since 1955, with an extensive biography and photos from Jones’ personal collection inside. If you only know “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” you owe it to yourself to discover “The Door,” “Golden Ring,” “The Grand Tour,” “Take Me,” “Tender Years” and so many others.

Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits (Show Dog Records)
Some folks prefer his early catalog, including understated songs like “Who’s That Man” and “Me Too.” Others like the rowdy guy who tells terrorists to stick a boot in their ass. Either way, this double-disc collection reaches all the way back to 1993′s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” still one of his most popular songs in an extremely lucrative career.

Reba McEntire, 50 Greatest Hits (MCA Nashville)
For 25 years, McEntire was a crown jewel on the MCA roster, and this three-disc set neatly sums up her career there. Should you ever hear somebody dismiss country music from the 1980s, simply play the first disc — “How Blue,” “Somebody Should Leave,” “The Last One to Know,” “I Know How He Feels,” “New Fool at an Old Game,” etc. — and let ‘em weep. “Because of You,” the dramatic duet with Kelly Clarkson, caps the set.

Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (Curb)
McGraw has distanced himself from this collection because he says he had no input in its release. Nevertheless, it’s a suitable companion piece containing “If You’re Reading This,” “Nine Lives” (with Def Leppard) and a live version of “Real Good Man.” Newer fans might appreciate his earlier hits, too, such as “Can’t Be Really Gone” and “Angry All the Time.”

Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits (Broken Bow)
In early 2003, this Nashville-area native finally broke through with “Almost Home,” then scored a huge No. 1 hit a few years later with “That’s What I Love About Sunday.” He’s since moved to the majors, but it’s worth celebrating the independent success of singles like “Redneck Yacht Club,” “International Harvester” and “Little Bit of Life.”

Willie Nelson, One Hell of a Ride (Sony)
At 75, this country icon could fill up a hundred CDs worth of material. (Indeed, he probably already has.) But this four-disc, 100-song boxed set hits the highlights of a magnificent career. The collection is bookended by “When I’ve Sung My Last Hillbilly Song” — with a very early recording (from 1954 or 1955) at the start and a new version from 2007 at the end. In the middle, it’s a gold mine.

Now That’s What I Call Country (UMVD)
You can already sing along with every song on this compilation, with 20 hits from the likes of Trace Adkins, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. But if you’re trying to convert someone to contemporary country, start here. It’s an ideal crash course for Nashville newcomers.

Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 (Lyric Street)
Since their debut single, “Prayin’ for Daylight,” this trio has emerged as one of the most popular bands of the decade in any genre of music. A few early Top 10 hits are missing, but all the monster ballads are here, such as “I’m Movin’ On,” “Bless the Broken Road” and “What Hurts the Most.” A limited edition also includes a bonus Christmas disc.

SHeDAISY, The Best of SHeDAISY (Lyric Street)
Although there are no new tracks, and the artwork looks like an afterthought, you may remember more of these songs than you realized. Starting in 1999, this sister ensemble from Utah racked up several well-received singles like “Little Good-Byes,” “I Will … But,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and “Passenger Seat.” Military families will especially identify with “Come Home Soon,” one of the trio’s most emotional songs.