NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Nobody Asked Me, But …

The Good and the Bad About Contemporary Country Music

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

Some things I don’t like about current country music:

• Songwriters, radio people, label executives and artists who prattle on endlessly about how the beauty and unique appeal of country music lies in its ability to tell stories in songs — and then who keep on writing and producing and releasing and hyping an endless array of meaningless greeting card songs. If I want a greeting card, I’ll go to a Hallmark store, thank you very much. I want some country music on my radio stations.

• Country music executives throwing around the new buzzword “monetize.” Monetize, a new code word, as in how to soak the public for more money in ever more innovative ways. How about more ways to improve the music instead?

• Country business people throwing around the term “the next Gretchen Wilson” in hyping the hastily assembled new crop of young female country hopefuls during the recent Country Radio Seminar. Before Gretchen Wilson hit out of nowhere last year, she was not being hyped as the next new anything. She hit because she was making music the audience was starved to hear. Look for that, people in the country music industry, instead of looking for the next new anything.

• Record label people who defend buying No. 1 hits through subsidized airplay at radio — as if artificially pushing a song to No. 1 on the country charts is a good and natural thing.

• Record labels that neglect and ignore their catalog of classic recordings. This is a national heritage that is gradually being lost as masters are misplaced, mislabeled, lost or discarded.

Some things I do like about current country music:

• Satellite radio. More about this later because I just got satellite and am now listening. But I can already see its influence spreading. For one thing, some mainstream country radio stations are broadening and expanding their narrow playlists to go beyond that to include “anything country.” The new “Hank” station lineup, as with WENS in Indianapolis (which is now “97.1 Hank FM”), is a direct result of satellite’s appeal to listeners. And Mojo Nixon makes great sense as an Outlaw country DJ on satellite.

• Friends of country music such as the great soul singer Solomon Burke, who still remind us of how soulful and real country music is capable of being. Listen to Burke delivering the very heartfelt emotion Hank Williams put into his composition “Wealth Won’t Save Your Soul” on Burke’s new CD Make Do With What You Got. You will feel better about everything as a result. Solomon Burke is a greater country singer than a number of charting country singers you and I can name today.

• Taking chances on unproven new young artists such as Blaine Larsen. When he was still in high school, Blaine came by to sing for a bunch of us in the office, and we were very impressed by his potential. I’m glad that Joe Galante at the RCA Label Group believed in him enough to give him a shot.

• Similarly, Tim DuBois and Tony Brown at Universal South believed enough in Shooter Jennings to give him a chance. Good.

• Gamblers like John Grady at Sony Music Nashville, who has seen his risks on unknowns Gretchen Wilson and Miranda Lambert pay off with immediate audience success.

• Indie labels like Rounder, Koch, Dualtone, Sugar Hill, Vanguard and others who are enriching the mix of artists and music available to listeners. As consolidation of the big labels further shrinks the window of opportunity for new artists, the indies remain a shining path for some. Craig Morgan’s No. 1 success for Broken Bow Records proves the commercial viability of such ventures.

• Record labels that honor the heritage of American music and preserve it for generations to come. Sony’s Legacy Recordings series is especially to be commended for consistently issuing a series of intelligently compiled and packaged reissues, often including previously unreleased material. Coming up in future weeks from Legacy are special releases on Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and the largely forgotten Charlie Poole.