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The choice of tradition and the tradition of choice, or how come George, Merle and their friends can't get no respect

Country Standard Time Editorial, November 1999

During the recent Country Music Association awards, perennial host Vince Gill underscored the need to remember the traditions of country music. This comes from a man whose stunning last album, ³The Key,² was probably his best and by far his most traditional sounding country album.

What was so ironic, however, about Gillıs comments was the live performance that immediately followed - Martina McBride singing ³I Love You.² Now McBride has a wonderful voice - powerful and emotive - but this is not a country song by any stretch. Put the hit firmly in the pop category.

Nothing crystallized the problem about the current lack of concern about tradition in country as clearly as that and other incidents at the CMAs.

George Jones, of course, did not perform ³Choices² thanks to the powers that be wanting to limit the length of the song. Merle Haggard sang a non-hit with Jewel in its entirety, and Faith Hill had the power to change the song she was slated to sing for a brand new song. But not George.

The apparent message from the CMA is glitz matters. Jewel gave an added flair some thought to this yearıs CMAs, and Hill, of course, is part of the nouveau crowd.

Guess Jones, whose sales of his new album have been none too shabby, just isnıt powerful enough to warrant his own three minutes on stage singing a great tradition-steeped song.

Kudos are certainly due to Alan Jackson - no fan of pop country - for doing a snippet of ³Choices² in his song and then walking off without a smile or bow, showing exactly where he stood on the issue.

The CMA and their friends at radio can continue sticking it to the traditional side of Gill, Jones and Haggard (he doesnıt get play either) by their actions. And letıs see what kind of reception at radio Alan Jacksonıs covers album receives.

Country certainly is about its traditions and paying homage to the stars that got the genre where it is today.

The nouveau folks arenıt steeped in those traditions, going down the pop path. If thatıs what they or their handlers want, fine, but for us, tradition also counts.