As 2006 nears its end, no one can argue that the world of country music isn't, at this moment, the most adventurous in the mainstream pop music industry and that Nash Vegas is taking more chances on its acts as the rest of the biz relies more on narrowing things into smaller and smaller niches that can easily be hyped and digested. Sure, as always, artist's images and many recordings are calculated to score big as in any pop industry. The difference is in approach. The country-listening audience/demographic has widened ...
As 2006 nears its end, no one can argue that the world of country music isn't, at this moment, the most adventurous in the mainstream pop music industry and that Nash Vegas is taking more chances on its acts as the rest of the biz relies more on narrowing things into smaller and smaller niches that can easily be hyped and digested. Sure, as always, artist's images and many recordings are calculated to score big as in any pop industry. The difference is in approach. The country-listening audience/demographic has widened considerably; therefore, there is a need -- as well as an opportunity -- for experimentation to see what sticks. This is the most exciting the music's been since Willie and Waylon hit the charts in the '70s, or perhaps to be a bit more fair, when Garth Brooks turned them upside down in the early '90s. Country music's fan base is growing because it still relies largely on radio, and video channels like CMT and GAC, both of which are very supportive of directors and artists taking artistic chances in the way they choose to dramatize, animate, and portray songs -- check the work of the brilliant director Trey Fanjoy just for starters. Country's latest audience grew up on rock & roll, MTV (when it still played videos), soul, blues, funk, early rap, and in some cases even punk. And while the marketing approach is still singles-driven, country music artists and producers, as well as the labels that house them, are still concerned with the "album" either as a whole, or as a completely crafted collection of varying singles (in this case meaning "good songs"). What's more, these folks still buy CDs (titles are readily available at the local in mega-marts and department stores) and don't rely on the internet as much as pop and rock fans do for information. Given the long run of the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way at number one on the country and Billboard charts, one can't simply dismiss the music as being the religious right's stronghold or pop culture front for "traditional family values" anymore, either, though admittedly there's plenty of that around. In the 21st century it's country music and hip hop -- not rock -- that have been taking on the topics of race, class, basic human dignity and diversity, more than any other popular (chart measured) American musics. This current mindset in both the Nash Vegas offices and in the fan base is what makes Vince Gill's These Days, a 43-song, four-disc set, possible. Gill had been planning on making a standard single-disc record in 2006. He wanted it to be musically diverse. Given his long career as songwriter, picker, producer, singer, recording and performing artist, he had a right to expect his label MCA Nashville to go along with his choices. What he didn't count on was recording 31 songs with various groups of musicians and not knowing what to do with them. He approached Luke Lewis, the label's president, with an idea he got from the Beatles multi-release-per-year tactic (the same one everybody used in the '60s), which was to issue three albums approximately three months apart in a single calendar year. Lewis, visionary that he is, went one better. He encouraged Gill to go back into the studio and cut enough quality material for a fourth disc and release them all as a box set. Unlike most boxes on the shelf, this one retails for a fairly modest $29.98 -- less than eight dollars a disc -- an attractive package in time for the holidays.However, adventurous Nashville music industry or not, it all eventually comes down to the quality of the music after all, right? Yes. These four discs are thematically arranged: there's an acoustic bluegrass-flavored record called "Little Brother" (disc four), a rock record called "Workin' on a Big Chill" (disc one), a trad country & western album called "Some Things Never Get Old" (disc three), and a modern soul and jazz-inflected disc of ballads and more gentle pieces called "The Reason Why" (disc two). What's more, though Gill wrote or...
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