NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Giving Musical Thanks Is a Little Harder This Year

But Alan Jackson Still Delivers the Groceries

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

Thanksgiving 2010. Another year for which to give thanks. Nashville has had a very hard year after the big flood and the massive damage to the city and to its entire music fabric. Both are, thankfully, coming back, although it’s a struggle.

The year may have also come up short for music in more than a few areas — but I’m not one to overly complain.

Still, music holds on in a lasting way, although it’s doing so in technologically-altered ways. CDs are finally uttering their death rattles, even in country music, which has been the last music market to succumb. Even the CMA Awards , usually a welcome sales boost every year, failed to deliver big CD sales results bumps this year. Even so, Taylor Swift has singlehandedly dominated the record chart in a way that’s breathtaking. She can still sell CDs in huge numbers — and, incredibly, to young generations that generally don’t buy CDs. She also sells downloads and concert tickets as few can. Since ascending to superstar status, I don’t think she’s ever not had a sold-out concert.

Taylor’s massive sales numbers have saved country music’s jewels again this year. Lady Antebellum kicked in considerable figures, too.

Cyclically, country’s biggest sellers come along providentially every few years — and they manage to salvage and rescue the franchise. Beginning in the 1920s with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and continuing on with Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette and George Jones and Johnny Cash, and on to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, and to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and on to George Strait, Garth Brooks and Randy Travis and Clint Black and Shania Twain and Alan Jackson and Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban and Brad Paisley and Taylor and Miranda Lambert. And everyone else I’ve missed.

Perhaps God sends one of his angels along every few years to rescue and resuscitate his chosen music. I don’t know of any other logical explanation for this phenomenon.

The reasoning for Taylor’s continuing massive sales of CDs is curious. Although I must say, I have several young female relatives who do have all of her CDs. But, as a friend and I were discussing the other day, CDs are no longer ideal or even suitable gifts for young people. Not so long ago, CDs were perfect for birthday or Christmas gifts. Now, nobody has a CD player. Everybody wants gadgets for Christmas, whether it’s an iPad, the latest phone, a MacBook Air, a GPS, a flat-screen TV, a game. But it has to do something. CDs don’t do anything. They just sit there.

And DVDs, too, will soon go the way of the CD as streaming becomes more and more ubiquitous.

Laugh at me if you will — and I may join you in the merriment — I actually went out last week to try to buy a new portable CD player and discovered you can’t find one! Or that it’s just about impossible to locate one. I wasn’t seeking a boom box. I just wanted a new personal disc player for mainly taking things to the beach to preview, especially advance, watermarked CDs that I don’t have downloads on. I had no luck. At least not right away, not at the retail stores I hit. Little CD players used to be ubiquitous. Now? Nada.

Welcome to the future.

I like streaming and I like my iPod, but I also still like CDs when they have unique material, especially in the form of boxed sets. I also still very much like vinyl records.

What are you listening to music on? I’d be curious to hear. If you are listening to music at all, that is.

What am I listening to right now? Thank you for asking. Alan Jackson’s 34 Number Ones is a like a nice pair of comfortable old boots that fit you just right. It’s basically the span of his whole, long career laid out there for you in one span, like a big Atlas road map.

The songs just unreel seamlessly, and there’re actually 37 songs here, from his new single (a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”) all the way down through his long string of memorable hits. “Here in the Real World.” “Wanted.” “Midnight in Montgomery.” “Livin’ on Love.” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) and his current collaboration with the Zac Brown Band on “As She’s Walking Away.” And many more. It’s a very solid body of music from a remarkable career.

What ultimately disappoints me is that here we have the high points of his entire musical career, presented in a less-than-elegant two-CD so-called jewel case, listing for $11.98 and now being discounted below $10. Look at the package. Every expense was spared in its skimpy production and presentation.

For an artist of Alan’s stature, this should have been presented as a well-thought-out boxed set, with thorough text and numerous photographs, a discography and many musical outtakes, for the serious A.J. fan. A serious career tribute, in other words.

But I’m just a perfectionist. Happy Thanksgiving.