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HOT DISH: Who Says They're the Hottest CDs?
Commercial Country Rarely Mentioned on Year-End Lists
(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

While history-making Nancy Pelosi looks hot in Armani as she hits the U.S. Capitol building as the first-ever female speaker of the House, I sit on my wide backside wearing my nightgown until noon while trying to rectify my misdeeds of ignorance.

See, I compare every country song by my personal choice of greatness -- that being George Jones' 1980 hit, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." A couple have come close: Kenny Chesney's "The Good Stuff" and Brooks & Dunn's "Believe" come to mind.

Using this measuring stick with albums, I began to chastise myself -- but others mostly -- when some of my favorite albums failed to make it to the year-end "best of" lists compiled by the so-called experts. I was literally scalding until my editor at CMT.com pointed out that two of the albums I had praised -- Brad Paisley's Time Well Wasted and Brooks & Dunn's Hillbilly Deluxe were actually released in 2005 and did not qualify for anyone's 2006 list.

Reviewers are only human, but a lot of them have a know-it-all attitude and tend to enjoy bragging on what they prefer -- and not what the fans necessarily like. Sometimes, reviewers can make or break an act. And then sometimes, they don't.

Rascal Flatts' Me and My Gang is the top-selling CD of all music acts for 2006, and I don't recall one outstanding review of the project. Me and My Gang sold 3.4 million copies, but I didn't see this act on a single "best of" list. That's my beef. As far as Rascal Flatts goes, young people have adopted this pop-country trio, and they're showing up at all the right places, like Dick Clark's New Year's Eve extravaganza on ABC with a zillion eyeballs glued to the tube no matter how glazed those eyes may have been. And Rascal Flatts' CDs are selling like hotcakes in spite of being omitted from the "best of" lists.

The experts' Top 10 list is more likely to be topped by Joe Such-and-Such from Austin, Texas, or Mary Who's-It from Phoenix. Who are these people? Who listened to their albums? Hey, it's gotten so ridiculous, I think if I saw Kenny Chesney's album on a "best of" list written by a Music City reviewer, I'd probably faint.

I keep thinking about Keith Urban's current album, Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing, and the room spins. When Keith checked into rehab just before the debut of his highly anticipated CD, it seemed all the high hopes and quadruple-platinum dreams dimmed as reality whooshed upon us without mercy. Lord knows, Keith worked his butt off and recorded a genuine killer record. Who, pray tell, is writing what a great record Keith made? Put the CD in your player and on your dadgum "best of list," friends! It's great music.

Locals have been fairly kind to Josh Turner's two platinum CDs. Josh has been lucky, and one can't help but wonder if the comparisons to Johnny Cash has upped his status. But surely we realize God created only one Johnny Cash, so there is no comparison.

Nobody has hurt themselves bragging on Rodney Atkins' If You're Going Through Hell. With 10 hard hillbilly years on his Music Row-ometer, most would have tucked tail and been long gone and forgotten. But not Rodney. A sickly, adopted child who was brought back to the orphanage before the third couple said they'd keep him, Rodney does not have the word "quit" in his vocabulary. Rodney has made it. Just think: A year ago, Rodney was selling wood to Alan Jackson for his fireplace -- and this year, he's opening shows for Big Alan.

Unlike the radio industry, journalists are too poor to ever be considered important enough for payola. So our gig is mostly writing about what we like or, in my case, writing about what the fans like. I'll admit it ticks me off royally when I think about the fact that we can't turn on the radio in January 2007 and hear the music of four of the greatest songwriters who ever picked up a pen. I speak of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.

Others can go ahead and write about Joe Such-and-Such from Austin, and Mary Who's-It from Phoenix, but it's like a poot in a whirlwind: It's here, and it's gone. Nobody cares, and that's because it didn't bring a smile or a tear to fans like Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain and others have.

It reminds me of Shania Twain's Come on Over, which remains the all-time top-selling CD since Nielsen Soundscan started keeping tabs of sales in 1991. Shania's CD has sold a whopping 15.4 million copies, but despite the ringing cash registers, but I don't think the album was on many "best of" after it was released in 1997.

That, friends, is one reason I wrote this piece. Those of us who make a living writing about country music should remember the artists who make the money that keeps the lights on in all of those offices on Music Row.

Hot This Week.

My North Carolina kids are showing off -- singing and signing. Raleigh's Eric Church is making waves on Capitol Nashville while American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler from Albemarle is looking good on BNA Records. And now, Bucky Covington, the pride of Rockingham, has signed with Lyric Street. His first single, "A Different World," is set for Jan. 16 release.

Remembering Del Reeves

Del Reeves would walk up to the Grand Ole Opry microphone and sing, "Doodle ooh doo doo," and the crowd would go bonkers because they knew the man from Sparta, N.C. was about to treat them to a heaping helping of his No. 1 hit, "Girl On the Billboard." In addition to his own hits, his imitations included Walter Brennan's recitation of "Old Rivers" and Roy Acuff's heart-wrenching "Great Speckled Bird" before he'd roll his guitar around on his back to perfectly mimic Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues."

From the cut of his tailored suits and his hair, Franklin Delano Reeves was an entertainer -- and a hillbilly to the core -- who knew how to please audiences. The 73-year old Del died on Jan. 1 at his home in Centerville, Tenn., from emphysema and other complications. He is survived by his wife Ellen and three daughters, Anne, Kari and Bethany. He was an actor who hosted his own music show on television and was an Opry member for 40 years, but most of all, Del Reeves was a master showman.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Broccoli Cheese Soup.
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