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A new breeze blowing in Nashville

Country Standard Time Editorial, July 2003

Is there a new wind blowing in Nashville that could delight those country fans on the traditional end of the spectrum?

During this period of seeming constant upheaval among record companies of all genres, Sony was the label most recently hit. The overall Sony label has not been doing so well financially, which caused changes at the top.

And when there are changes at the top that tends to reverberate throughout a company. In the case of Sony Nashville, that meant that Nashville record label veteran John Grady was appointed to head the country division a few months ago.

Like many label heads before him, Grady took the bull by the horns and lopped off a number of acts from the label. Among those who are off Sony Nashville are honky tonker Mark Chesnutt, Tammy Cochran, funny man Cledus T. Judd, teen Billy Gilman, Brad Martin, Pam Tillis, Little Big Town and Wynn Varble, who had not even released an album, but is best known for having written "Have You Forgotten?" with Darryl Worley.

The decisions made said a lot about where Grady was coming from and perhaps where Sony Nashville is going. Who was left on the label? Well, of course, the cash cow otherwise known as the Dixie Chicks. They're not going anywhere. And Grady also left Marty Stuart, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Montgomery Gentry, Patty Loveless, The Derailers, Charlie Robison, Travis Tritt, Rodney Crowell and Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell on the roster.

What seems to be clear from Grady's actions is that he is going for a more traditional look for the label. Gone are the acts that ventured into the pop country end of the genre.

In this day and age where the bottom line rules, Grady is to be commended for trying to put his pocketbook where his ears are.

And when you're pushing acts like Stuart and Loveless, who went for more of an "Oh Brother" kind of feel on her last disc and looks to do more of the same with her album out in September, it's clear that Grady thinks the wind is blowing that way. Not exactly a surprise given his involvement in DMZ Records, the label started by the Coen Brothers of "Oh Brother" fame, which released a Ralph Stanley disc last year.

Stuart, a staunch advocate of traditional country music, referred to Grady as "the freshest breath of air" in a long time.

What would prove interesting is what kind of new acts Grady brings to Sony. He already brought Crowell back, who once upon a time had been with the label.

Of course, ultimately, the bottom line will be the bottom line for Grady and Sony Nashville. Here's hoping he's able to stick to his guns and put out the kind of country music that tends to be in short supply today.