But before we get too down, let's at least look at a few bright spots. Alan Jackson. He has been true to his traditional country roots and isn't veering from it either. The guy had a great song in the wake of 9/11 and fortunately the public responded as well last year and this. When it came time to doling out the awards, Jackson got a lot of exercise getting out of his seat. It's great to see an artist with integrity stick to his guns even in the face of changing trends.
Ditto for the Dixie Chicks. They fought their record company into renegotiating a contract which they deemed far more favorable. And the result was "Home," not exactly the cookie cutter, commercial sounding album one might expect these days. Far from it. Not when they play their own banjos and instruments and go for more of a tender, bluegrass-oriented sound. Now, that's taking a huge chance.
And the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" tours were big successes and also helped continuing to increase attention for that brand of bluegrass/country music.
There were a few other folks who raised the level of the playing field - Kasey Chambers, Pinmonkey among relative newcomers. A few old codgers, like Willie, Johnny and Ray, still knew how to put out quality music.
But it's hard to get too excited beyond that. Record sales, of course, were down, way down. This isn't particular to country music. Some of the reason lies with the Napsters of the world.
Another factor is the quality of the music just isn't so exciting. Faith Hill can say she's doing country all she wants on "Cry," but she is merely part of the list of country folks - particularly women artists - who opt more and more for a pop sound. Obviously they have the right to do so, but at what point does the definition of country change so much that the term is meaningless?
Most of these folks can sing just fine, like Shania, and the music itself isn't bad. It's just not your father's country or much of anyone else's for that matter.
Kenny Chesney may have had a big year. He sings fine and has some catchy songs, but he isn't what you would call cutting edge either.
After a long period of doldrums, let's hope that 2003 shines far more brightly on country music than the last few years.