For the overall music industry, however, in 2004, CD sales were up about 5 percent with digital tracks sales soaring almost 1,000 percent from 2003. And perhaps importantly for labels trying to break current albums, sales of those rose almost three percent.
So, from a financial standpoint, music is picking up.
For country music, 2004 contained several bright spots.
First and foremost was the huge success of new acts and friends Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich. Wilson came off as a ballsy honky tonker, but fortunately there's a lot more to this fine singer than image. Wilson possesses a lot of meaty songs and has a killer voice.
Big & Rich can't be accused of going down the same path as Wilson or anyone else for that matter. They do their own thing, keeping it country, while certainly expanding the boundaries for what they call "music without prejudice," whatever that means. One could see that it will be a lot easier for Wilson to replicate her success the ever more difficult second-time around than her compadrés.
But Big & Rich are to be given credit for doing something that's different.
Another bright spot was the tremendous response to Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose" album out in April. After all, Lynn's career had seen better days. But with a lot of help from producer Jack White of Detroit band White Stripes, Lynn was front and center on a different sounding album that smoked. She may not have gotten the sales and country radio airplay the disc deserved, so the airplay was left with stations - not country for the most part - willing to play music left of center.
Kenny Chesney enjoyed yet another strong year with a highly successful tour. And while it took a long time, 12 years, to get an award from the Country Music Association, Chesney struck pay dirt with the entertainer of the year award.
Toby Keith also fared better in the awards area, for what that is worth. Keith also has been around a long time as well and saw his career hit the stadium circuit this year, indicative of his popularity.
Tim McGraw released perhaps the best album of his career, not going for the tried and true, but digging a bit deeper and a lot darker.
A few acts should bear watching, such as Julie Roberts on the country side, bluegrassers King Wilkie and indie artists Adrienne Young, Maggie Brown and Chris Richards.
It's good to see that 2004 was a marked improvement from the last few years with a few new acts thrown into the mix and a few veterans getting their due.