It only happens once a year: I had the honor of contributing, along with many other names you’ll recognize, to the 13th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll in the Nashville Scene. With 93 writers casting votes, the resulting list represents both nobody in particular and the sum total of everyone involved. The rankings, editorial by Geoffrey Himes, and collection of voter commentary make for fascinating reading.
Understandably, with so many folks talking all at once, much of the commentary provided to the Scene doesn’t end up making the final roundup. While I did manage to sneak in one bit on Carrie Underwood, here’s some B-roll footage of my other attempts at year-in-review type commentary.
With George Strait announcing his retirement from touring, Shania and Tim & Faith settling into Vegas residencies, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan completing their ascent to superstardom, and new artists breaking out left and right, this was a big ‘changing of the guard’ year for mainstream country music. In fact, when all was said and done, only one of Billboard’s top 10 country albums of 2012 belonged to an artist over the age of 36. And that album was by Lionel Richie. Who could have predicted that?
In yet another anemic year for country radio, some of the very best country music seemed to come out of nowhere: Iris DeMent reappeared with her first new material in 16 years. Don Williams un-retired, reuniting with Garth Fundis for one of his finest albums in decades. With little name recognition and only a decade-old debut to her credit, Appalachian hellraiser Chelle Rose hit the studio with Ray Wylie Hubbard and ended up praised alongside Carrie Underwood in the New York Times. Shoot, we even heard new music from Waylon Jennings. Most surprising of all might have been Kellie Pickler managing to eke out an honest, emotionally resonant album of traditional country music on a major label (before, inevitably, getting canned). Thank goodness for small miracles – and, these days, any instance of great music actually getting created and released certainly qualifies.
There’s been a quiet but definite move toward mainstreaming the roots scene in the second half of 2012. Viacom has thrown its considerable organizational heft behind CMT Edge, a sincere-seeming attempt to help readers discover off-the-beaten-path artists like Lindi Ortega and the Gibson Brothers. Meanwhile, with the “Nashville” soundtrack and single releases, Scott Borchetta is now in the business of promoting songs by left-of-center artists like John Paul White, Trent Dabbs, and Elvis Costello. The seeds have only recently been sown, so it will be interesting to see what comes of this in the months and years ahead.
While “Nashville” the television soap put songs by Ray Price, Rodney Crowell, and Gillian Welch in primetime, Nashville the town rolled out the red carpet for Lionel Richie and Florida Georgia Line. What a weird, wild world we live in.