It’s no secret that country music has evolved into a more pop-leaning, less traditional sound thanks to artists like Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, and Taylor Swift. This latest evolution has all but kicked the sounds of traditional country off the radio waves and into extinction. However, with more traditional mainstream artists evolving, can the sounds of old school country make a comeback at radio?
This week, mainstream traditionalist Josh Turner finds himself atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with his hit “Why Don’t We Just Dance.” Josh is one of the finest traditionalists the genre has and he finds himself leading some of the younger artists in a much needed traditional movement. Other artists bringing the sounds of the steel guitar and fiddle back to radio range from newcomers Easton Corbin and Chris Young to veterans like Alan Jackson and George Strait. In fact, Corbin and Young find themselves in the top 20 with their latest traditional-sounding singles.
Along with those male artists, there are a few, not many, female country musicians who are beginning to show their “roots” at radio. Most recently, Miranda Lambert scored her first number 1 with “White Liar” which is no doubt filled with plenty of traditional sounds. Last year, Lee Ann Womack peaked inside the top 20 with her song “Last Call” while Carrie Underwood scored a number 1 with her cover of Randy Travis’ hit “I Told You So.”
Not only has traditional country made a prominent return to radio, but it has also been garnering critical acclaim among albums. In 2008, Jamey Johnson released one of the most critically acclaimed albums in recent years by staying true to his outlaw traditional sounds. Since 2000, 8 traditional leaning albums have taken home the CMA’s Album of the Year award (the last being George Strait’s Troubadour in 2008). Last year also saw the release of mainstream-traditionalist Brad Paisley’s American Saturday Night album which found Paisley leaning away from the novelty songs and more towards the traditional sound that brought Paisley to stardom. This year, we’ll see the debut album of hardcore traditionalist Easton Corbin hit stores in March. I personally think he’s the real deal and could find himself as country’s biggest hope in keeping tradition alive.
It’s hard to predict whether or not traditional country can become a greater force at country radio, but I do know it’s going to take a lot of help from newcomers as well as today’s superstars. I have hope that we will see another traditional movement like the one we saw back in the early 1990’s. However, only time will tell if my prediction will come true.