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1999: The good, the bad and the future

Country Standard Time Editorial, January 2000

1999 was a mixed bag for country music.

Listeners were treated to such fine major label albums as "The Pilgrim" by Marty Stuart, "Under the Influence" by Alan Jackson, Asleep at the Wheel's second Bob Wills tribute "Ride With Bob" and "The Cold Hard Line" by George Jones, who of course had his own slew of problems this year. And AJ's and Jones' albums even sold fairly well in a time where traditional country albums are far more a rarity than the norm. Merle Haggard even received some play.

The Dixie Chicks showed that they were not one-album wonders with "Fly" pretty much picking up where "Wide Open Spaces" left off (tho' one wonders if the shtick factor where the emphasis seemed to be on the clothes will get in the way of the music)

Brad Paisley was the lone bright spot among new artists - he was about the only one to steer clear of the pop side of country, even doing it with his own band and handling production chores.

Bluegrass gained new adherents thanks in part to the Del McCoury and Steve Earle disc.

Indy labels, especially HighTone, put out many very fine releases.

Not all was so positive. On the pop side, Faith Hill and Martina McBride were big success stories (the flip side is that the most successful artists on the country charts were more interested in expanding their musical horizons beyond country).

The year saw the ever increasing number of artists and labels bidding adieu in the usual merry-go-round. The list includes Travis Tritt, Billy Ray Cyrus, Neal McCoy and Michael Peterson. And the future of several labels seems suspect with Arista unfortunately rumored to be going out of business soon. The one constant seemed to be the lack of stability.

Enough has been said - none of it good - about the state of country radio.

Country also was hurt most importantly at the cash register with sales down.

In his own category, Garth Brooks seemed to have it every which way from fielding grounders for the San Diego Padres last spring to adopting that Chris Gaines persona for a non-country album, which clearly did not come close to meeting expectations. The album was passable, but no more. But he ended the year with another holiday album topping the charts.

What does the next year hold? With Shania Twain and Brooks on the sidelines for much of 2000, change may be in the air. Labels will try to break new acts. After several years of stagnation - and depending on the music - that may be welcome.