Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Decade in Country Music (2000-2009)

This Country Music decade started out with Alan Jackson, the Dixie Chicks, and Toby Keith dominating, George Strait still making hits, and promising new male artists Keith Urban and Brad Paisley emerging. The decade ends with Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood dominating, George Strait still making hits, and few promising new artists.

Rather than rate which album or song was the best, here is my brief look at some of the key country artists of this decade.

Taylor Swift – The first country artist to figure out that the ground had shifted beneath the industry. Swift realized country artists are now required to enter into a new kind of relationship with their fans. Her use of social media to communicate directly with her fans helped this gifted songwriter but mediocre singer; evolve into the most powerful force in country music.

Carrie Underwood – Underwood seems to be everything you could hope for in a country artist - a beautiful, young, southern woman with rural values, a strong Christian faith, an amazing singing voice, and knowledge of country music history. All she needs knows is some real good music. When she sings traditional country, she is utterly amazing. When she sings her country pop music, she lacks.

Kenny Chesney – His concerts are great, but his music will likely be the least remembered of any of these top artists. Chesney was never more than a bland, would be rocker wearing a cowboy hat.

Toby Keith – He started a decade trying to be macho. He fought with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, the late ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings, the CMA, his record label president Luke Lewis, and pretty much anyone else. Keith was man’s man, a patriot fighting for America. Sadly all the fighting covered up some great music that he made early in the decade. Even sadder as the decade wore on, Keith became a parody of himself and his music suffered.

Brad Paisley & Keith Urban – I like some music by each of these guys though more their earlier stuff than later, but really they both could have been so much more than they were. Urban can at least point to his rehab stint as an excuse, Paisley has none. I think Urban is a far better live performer, but that is just my opinion.

George Strait – Here are the top 10 artist of the 3 decades. The 80’s (Alabama, Randy Travis, Hank Williams Jr., George Strait, Reba McEntire, the Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton). The 90’s (Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Clint Black). The 00’s (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley).

One name appears on all three – George Strait. That says it all.

Alan Jackson – He started this decade with masterpiece album “Drive” featuring his 9/11 ode “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, and wonderful tribute to his father “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”. As the decade wore on he dared to record an album of old Christian hymns “Precious Memories” that sold over 1.5 million copies. Throw in a artsy album “Like Red on a Rose)” a few massive hits like “Remember When” and “Its Five O’Clock Somewhere”, and a record tying 5 CMA wins in 2002 and Alan Jackson proves he like George Strait is timeless.

Rascal Flatts – The sold plenty of albums and got zero industry respect. They are likely beyond caring, but I think they will never be accepted by critics and the country music industry.

Dixie Chicks – They started the decade the biggest stars in country music, ready to take country back to its roots. Then Natalie Maines said the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ensuing controversy was handled badly by everyone including the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks adoption of an us vs. them approach to things worked fine for a while, however such an approach only works as long as the “them” are still around. Unfortunately for the Chicks the “them” (President Bush, Toby Keith, and country music radio) are either out office, fading, or have moved on to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

Evidently the two of the three Chicks have moved on as well. Martie and Emily have recorded an album of fiddle and banjo music without Natalie. They now call themselves The Courtyard Hounds. Does this mean the end of the Dixie Chicks? I don’t know, but I always like Martie and Emily’s playing, so it should be interesting.

My “Artist of the Decade” is the same as last decade – Alan Jackson. I loved this man’s music, so does my entire family.

My “Favorite New Discovery of the Decade” is Miranda Lambert. She gives me hope that my kind of country music is not dead.