NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part I)

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Thus far this year, women in country music continue to make enormous strides artistically and at the box office, if not on country radio. The Dixie Chicks, despite their repeated attempts to shoot themselves in the foot, made one of the best albums in recent years with 2002′s Home and conducted a big-bucks, barn-burning tour this year. Shania Twain’s current tour is a critical and commercial blockbuster — I don’t recall seeing such consistently glowing reviews of a tour’s concerts as I’m reading now about Twain’s shows. Of course, you have to wonder if country artists really appreciate such well-meaning but clichéd compliments as this one from the New York Post: “What Twain’s Garden gig best illustrated was how she’s one of the few country acts — along with Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Brooks & Dunn — who’ve mastered playing the big halls without losing the aw-shucks attitude or shaking the hay out of their hair.” Hay-in-the-hair could be the next big thing, you think? Better than hay in the belly button, I suppose. Just so they know it’s country.

On CD, women have turned in some stellar recordings this year. Patty Loveless’ On Your Way Home, the Dolly Parton tribute album, (Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton) and Martina McBride’s Martina are three of the finest CDs in any genre this year. Rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson released a stunning new album, Heart Trouble, that should attract a whole new generation to the joys of jump-and-thump music. The final work by June Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower, is a bittersweet and lovely tribute to a rich life and career.

What may be the best album of the year is a tribute honoring two brothers who last recorded together in 1962. Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers attracted artists ranging from James Taylor, Glen Campbell and Dolly Parton to Alison Krauss and others who pay loving tribute to perhaps the finest harmony duo ever.

The CMA continues to provide rich fodder for debate, outrage, rumination and jokes, especially with its latest trial balloon about possibly moving the CMA Awards Show to New York City for a year. New York City?

The major record labels continue to amaze with their simultaneous stupidity and greed. Continued clumsy attempts at merging or mutual takeovers continue to amuse and baffle the ordinary onlooker. Meanwhile, employees and artists suffer in lost jobs and lost opportunities and the consumer suffers in lost music. Most amazing recent development: Time Warner music division chairman Roger Ames was in talks with BMG about a merger of the two companies. Then, Ames suddenly discovered that his own bosses at TW were secretly plotting to sell the TW music division to EMI — which would effectively put Ames out of a job. Ames is one of the few music executives left who has a genuine ear for music. He has also campaigned against blanket lawsuits targeting music consumers caught downloading and sharing music files. Ames also aided Apple in its campaign to launch and build its iTunes downloading service.

Apple’s iTunes is finally debuting its PC availability (to complement its existing Mac service) and that may have a profound effect on the whole music downloading issue.

There have been no country hits written by Diane Warren thus far this year.

The word “snarky” has not caught on in Nashville.

The biggest brouhaha in Nashville is over the nude statues at the top of Music Row. Conservative radio show hosts express outrage over “anatomically correct” figures situated in the center of the roundabout at the top of Music Row. The roundabout — where seemingly 10 or 20 streets merge into each other around a central circle — had to have police officers directing traffic for a while to prevent the gawkers from turning the place into a demolition derby. Meanwhile, the statue of Music Row pioneer Owen Bradley continues to survey the scene peacefully from his statue, where he’s seated at his piano, scarce feet away from all the action. And everyone has forgotten that only a couple of miles away, at Nashville’s life-size replica of the Parthenon, there’s a regular orgy of nekkid Greeks cavorting on the building’s friezes. That’s country, brothers and sisters.