Longtime country music fans remember the day when the songs were traditional and the big names were super familiar. It changes with the time. In 1989 there was a new “class” that launched a NEW COUNTRY movement. Names like Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were all breakthrough artists that year. Interestingly it was they year one of our new leaders, Taylor Swift, was born.
Now, almost like the circle of life, country music is ushering in a new class of stars. These days the genre is casting away stars like Alan Jackson and George Strait to make room for these new names.
Lately radio play and country song single sales have been all bout five newbies. Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, Eric Church, Lady Antebellum, and Jason Aldean.
Jason Aldean is on top of the mountain as a male vocalist with new country songs spiking to number one at radio and online with downloads and album sales. His 2012 album “Night Train” surprised critics with another instant jump to number one on the all genres Billboard Top 200. His ascent to the pinnacle was clinched with his signature song “Dirt Road Anthem” that blended a modern rap vibe with real country lyrics. His latest releases promise rabid fans that there’s more to come.
Taylor Swift is a somewhat polarizing leader in the new team. Her country songs are undeniably pop leaning, but over one million albums sold in one week (she’s achieved those sales twice) can not be ignored. She is, in fact, bigger than country music now. Still she carries the torch for the country genre and is almost always introduced as a COUNTRY superstar. Swift hit her pinnacle with her most country sounding song so far. The fan favorite “Mean.” It’s hard to tell just how high her star will rise but there’s now doubt she is a good influence for younger fans.
Lady Antebellum is a trio primarily from Georgia (like Aldean). They launched in 2006 with a self titled album and have not slowed down since. The trio broke through to mainstream audiences with the powerful ballad “Need You Now.” That went on to garner pop and mainstream airplay. Three members Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelly (brother to singer Josh Kelly) came up with the unique name after noting some of their early press photos had a very “antebellum” feel. Fans often shorten the name to just “Lady A.”
The Zac Brown Band is another game changing group. Lead singer Zac Brown (again, from Georgia) set the table for early success by building a strong jam band following in smaller clubs in the South East. Shortly after number one airplay of “Chicken Fried” they were playing arenas, then stadiums and creating their own music festivals. The unconventional and organic approach struck a chord with all music fans winning them a Grammy Award for best new artist and a non stop string of number one songs. The ZBB album “Uncaged” was one of the groups strongest sets to date.
Eric Church is perhaps the freshest face in this line up. After years of struggling to get significant airplay he has seemed to lock into his fan base and his sound. He built his base of followers with dynamic live shows and party songs like “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Watch for mainstream music industry and critics to really start to pay attention to Church as his concert tickets continue to sell out (and bigger rooms keep filling) and his album sales sell more and more. Church’s sound (with help from “Pontoon” producer Jay Joyce) has a gritty experimental vibe to it but his vocal twang is almost as country as Willie Nelson.
A few that almost made the list include Blake Shelton (starting to peak with Network TV exposure), Miranda Lambert, Scotty McCreery (radio has not caught up to his massive record sales and fan base yet) and Hootie front man Darius Rucker. These new voices are leading the way to a new country revolution.