(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
So Gretchen Wilson just
missed the Holy Grail. Barely. By only 1,200 or so CDs that didn't sell, her debut CD Here for the Party missed landing
at No. 1 on the big chart -- the end-all of charts -- the Billboard 200. (Of course, she nailed the No. 1 slot on country
albums chart but lost the Billboard 200 chart position to Usher.)
But she has made a huge point. Going against
the grain of conventional wisdom of Music Row, Sony Music Nashville and Wilson have demonstrated that people will buy real
and gritty music from a young woman artist who is not a gussied-up diva. With first-week sales of about 227,000 CDs, Wilson
proves that new artists can excite the public.
Not only is her single "Redneck Woman" sitting atop the Billboard
Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, it's at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (right between Jessica Simpson and
the Black Eyed Peas), at No. 20 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and at No. 14 on the Hot Digital Tracks chart reflecting Internet
sales. Here for the Party also debuts at No. 6 on the Billboard Top Internet Albums chart.
has made the same point to a certain extent. With no video releases and no radio play to support the album, she has sold almost
100,000 copies of her new CD Van Lear Rose.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, also with no single and no video, has sold
50,000 copies of her new CD in three weeks. Between Here and Gone is her first release of new material since 2001's
Time*Sex*Love and is her best work in many years. As with Lynn, Carpenter's got nothing to offer but great songs and
a radiant voice. Clear-voiced as ever, Carpenter has never sounded better with this collection of 12 original songs.
who likewise has no current single or video, saw sales of her album What the World Needs Now jump from about 2,000
a week to more than 21,000 after appearing on Oprah Winfrey's show last week.
So, at the least we're seeing evidence
that there is an enduring audience in country for women -- and traditional-sounding women at that. At present, though, it's
a disproportionate amount. When it's been two years since a female artist had a No. 1 country hit, something's out of alignment.
Out of the 75 CDs on the Billboard Country Albums chart this week, 17 are by women. Over at country radio -- which
tailors its programming to women -- only 15 of the 60 titles on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart are
by women artists. There's one encouraging note: Reba McEntire is back on country radio, which means the audience doesn't want
just divas and dolls -- which of course the success of "Redneck Woman" proves.
It's heartening that there still seems
to be room in country for women who are not record-label constructs. In pop, Avril Lavigne was looked at in a number of career
option roles by her creators before she was finally unleashed as the anti-Britney. At one point, they considered trying to
march her down the Shania Twain country path and had songwriters trying all manner of material.
Wilson, on the other
hand, seems as genuine and down-home as they come. Country needs honest, forthright women artists to carry on the tradition
of such strong, unbridled women as Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Tanya Tucker.
Postscript: I'm a little worried
about Julie Roberts' future on the road. Much as I like her music, I'm concerned about her driving. A sharp-eyed viewer tells
me that in the course of her video for "Break Down Here" Roberts traverses the highway between mile markers 203 and 215 in
just over four minutes. That means she was driving about 180 miles an hour. A truly fast chick, that Julie.