The Nashville Scene's 12th Annual
Country Music Critics' Poll 2011
Top Ten Country Albums of 2011:
- Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (won 21st place, won eighth place in Female Vocalists category)
- Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig
- Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (won 14th place)
- The Band Perry, The Band Perry (won third place in Duos and Groups category)
- Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
- Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest (won sixth place)
- Decemberists, The King Is Dead
- Alison Krauss & Union Station, Paper Airplane (won 13th place; won third place in Female Vocalists category; won fifth place in Duos and Groups categoty)
- Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
- Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down
Top Ten Country Singles of 2011:
- Martina McBride, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" (won seventh place in Female Vocalists category)
- Emmylou Harris, "Hard Bargain" (won 21st place in Albums category; won eighth place in Female Vocalists category)
- Brad Paisley, "This Is Country Music" (won 12th place; won seventh place in Albums category; won second place in Male Vocalists category; won first place in Live Acts category; tied for ninth place in Songwriters category; won fourth place in Artists of the Year category)
- Joe Nichols, "The Shape I'm In"
- Toby Keith, "Made In America"
- Sara Evans, "A Little Bit Stronger" (tied for 19th place; won ninth place in Female Vocalists category)
- Joe Ely, "Satisfied At Last"
- Teddy Thompson, "Bella"
- David Bromberg, "Blue Is Fallin'" (featuring Tim O'Brien)
- Vince Gill, "Threaten Me With Heaven"
Country Music's Three Best Male Vocalists Of 2011:
- George Strait (won third place; won 11th place in Albums category; won 14th place in Singles category)
- Brad Paisley (won second place; won seventh place in Albums category; won 12th place in Singles category; won first place in Live Acts category; tied for ninth place in Songwriters category; won fourth place in Artists of the Year category)
- Toby Keith (won 25th place in Albums category; won 17th place in Singles category)
Country Music's Three Best Female Vocalists Of 2011:
- Emmylou Harris (won eighth place, won 21st place in Albums category)
- Gillian Welch (won fifth place; won sixth place in Albums category; won tenth place in Live Acts category — performing with Dave Rawlings); won fourth place in Songwriters category
- Alison Krauss (won third place; won 13th place in Albums cetegory; won fifth place in Duos and Groups categoty)
I think differently about Country music than I did 42 years ago, when I drove from New York cross country with a Chicago-based bluegrass banjo-player, and back from San Francisco again. Everywhere we went we hunted Country stations, and frequently Country Gospel stations to while away the miles. It seemed to me at the time that Country was all either 1920s- 30s- 40s-eras nostalgia or saccharine-sweet contemporary tracks with major orchestral strings. I loved listening to Uncle Dave Macon and Charlie Poole and whatever was playing on The Grand Ol' Opry, but hated the pop arrangements favored by the big names whose earlier songs I've loved, and quickly punched up a Gospel station, if that was all I could find to wash the sugary taste from my ears. What I was amazed to discover, though, was that outside New York City, where I listened to alternative rock around the dial, there were more Country or Country-leaning stations than any other kind. For a New Yorker, that was eye-opening.
What I've noticed now, is that a fondness for a certain level of what I would have then described as schlock has crept in to my taste. Sometimes I lean on Country as comfort music, and weep every time I watch George Strait sit down on the apron of a Las Vegas stage to sing "I Cross My Heart" to his sweetheart in "Pure Country." Other times, I breathe a sigh of relief when my interest in alt.country and alt.folk and alt.rock cross-pollinates. I love the Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Teddy Thompson, and Mumford & Sons, but can never forget that I listened with love to The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tracy Nelson, and Emmylou Harris in the 1970s, to Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash in the 1980s, to Top 20 Country in the 1990s, and to all sorts of weepy one-off songs I've heard on Louisiana Country radio stations in the dozen years since the Millennium ("There's A Hole In The Floor of Heaven" is a prime example). Even the bombastic mainstream acts I've barely tolerated over the years have caught my ears, through the moderating medium of nostalgia. I guess what I think now, is that, barring some hip hop and heavy metal acts, it's all Country. Did I mention that Hayseed Dixie is my current favorite band? And may they come out of retirement real soon.
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