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The Hot New Country era

Mike Sudhalter  |  April 30, 2007

Some people cringe. Others just roll their eyes or cover their ears. I turn it up.

I'm talking about the development of hot new country a.k.a "HNC" that dominated the country airwaves during the 1990's and peaked in the middle portion of the decade.

Most of these artists were 20-somethings who wore cowboy hats, dressed in western shirts and Wrangler jeans. Their songs were primarily love songs and tunes about the honky-tonkin' life. To many, their voices seemed generic and interchangeable. David Kersh, Rhett Akins, James Bonamy, Wade Hayes, Paul Brandt.

So why, you ask, was I a fan of Hot New Country? Well, I began listening to country music for the first time in 1996. Before '96, I'd never paid attention to country and probably didn't know any songs besides "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers.

I was glued to the radio, and every song I heard was another country music lesson. And I liked what I heard from these artists. Two of my favorites were Akins' "Don't Get Me Started" and Hayes' "Old Enough To Know Better".

As country veered more towards pop in the late 1990's, I watched many of these artists fall through the cracks of country radio. Sure, they were not George Strait or Randy Travis, but it sure beat listening to Shania Twain and "Amazed"-era Lonestar.

How will the HNC era be remembered and what impact did it have on country music? It was somewhere in the middle of traditional country and pop. At its best, it pointed towards the potential future of the genre and had a good-timing feel to it. At it's low point, bland, predictable and the reinforcement of country stereotypes.

Many of the artists from that era are looking to make a comeback, but HNC won't be the same with the entertainers (and their audiences) now in their late 30's/early 40's. Country radio has already moved on to new, fresh acts, and the former HNC acts are not ready for Branson.

The HNC period in country music history will probably be likened to the Urban Cowboy era, which I don't remember because I was too young.

In my 11 years as a country listener, we had HNC from 1996-98, almost total pop country from 1999-01, a return to traditional sounds from 2001-03 and now, we're somewhere in the middle of everything.

I still enjoy listening to HNC acts on CDs in my car, and there's probably one good thing that came from this country music era that most would like to forget - cheap CDs from HNC artists online and at used record stores.

:: Posted at 12:06 AM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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