(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Nobody asked me, but …
Has anyone else noticed that even though the Iraqi War is supposedly long over, the only weapon of mass destruction that was ever certifiably discovered was Natalie Maines’ mouth?
Divisive as Maines’ remarks were within the country music community, the reactions to them did nothing to diminish the impact of the Chicks’ tour this year — grossing a monumental $61 million or so. The tour demonstrated the Chicks still have a huge base of solid and devoted fans. And the reviews of the concerts have been uniformly glowing: the Chicks are delivering wonderful music in great shows. Of course, it helps to presell your tour tickets — with absolutely no provision for refunds. And, I hear that major record labels have been or are now introducing a clause into artists’ contracts that covers “inappropriate” comments or incidents by artists. This so-called “Chicks clause” would make the artists financially responsible for downward CD sales spikes that might stem from “negative” remarks or acts by the artists. Proving cause and effect might be an iffy proposition, but I have no doubt that the ever-innovative music labels will find a way to make controversy profitable for them.
Now that the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) has moved its headquarters to Nashville (just across the street from the Country Music Association) and has announced its intention to shift its annual awards show to Nashville as well, beginning in 2005, bluegrass is attaining its rightful place as a major piece of the country music structure. Long ignored by the Nashville establishment as fringe music, bluegrass is, I think, primed to occupy a prime place in country music’s future. It’s also, increasingly, filling a niche that’s disappearing in country music with the decline of clubs and theme parks and other venues where new artists can try out. The bluegrass festival is a very democratic proving ground.
And bluegrass provides two new DVDs that are two of the most gorgeous musical documents I’ve seen recently. Alison Krauss + Union Station (Rounder) is simply an ethereal musical statement. In a concert filmed at the Louisville Palace in Louisville, Ky., Krauss and her superstar band demonstrate how it should be done. And the musical giants Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs got together in Winston-Salem, N.C., for an unprecedented picking session. The result is The Three Pickers (Rounder), and it’s simply a musical wonderland. The three pickers are also joined by Krauss on “The Storms Are on the Ocean,” “Down in the Valley to Pray” and “The Banks of the Ohio.” Highly recommended.
The spate of current and recent country tribute albums suggests to me that nobody has too much faith in new artists right now. So far this year or so, we see two tributes to Waylon Jennings, two to Johnny Cash, one to Mel Tillis, one to Hank Williams Jr., one to Buck Owens, one to Dolly Parton, one to Patsy Cline and one to the Louvin Brothers. The musical giants loom very large indeed when you feel you have only tiny pretenders to the thrones. (See note above about few proving grounds for new artists.)
What’s the deal with the big downtown billboard in Nashville that is flogging an “official” cleaning substance of country music? This is an enormous billboard hanging above an ugly, peeling brick wall attached to a parking garage which is a huge part of the urban tableau if you’re attempting to look northward from the Ryman Auditorium. If you’re a tourist, I can only empathize with your aesthetic pain. Country music don’t need no stinkin’ cleaning substance: it’s too squeaky clean already.
That’s all, folks.