The results of the 7th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll have been released by Nashville Scene, and just like they did on the Country Universe Top Singles and Top Albums lists for 2006, the Dixie Chicks rule the roost.
In a poll of over 80 country music critics across the continent – the most comprehensive survey of its kind – the Chicks were voted Best Overall Act and Best Group or Duo, Taking the Long Way was voted Best Album and “Not Ready to Make Nice” was voted the top single of 2006. The Chicks came in #2 on the list of Best Live Acts, Natalie Maines finished fourth among Female Vocalists, and Emily Robison ranked #10 among Best Instrumentalists.
Alan Jackson was another big winner, finishing as the #2 Overall Act. He was voted Best Male Vocalist, “Like Red On a Rose” was ranked #2 among Singles, and he placed twice on the Best Albums list: Like Red on a Rose (#4) and Precious Memories (#15).
Vince Gill finished third overall. He was voted Best Songwriter, and finished #2 among Male Vocalists, Instrumentalists, and Albums for These Days. He was also ranked #6 among Live Acts.
Rosanne Cash was the #4 overall artist. She was named Best Female Vocalist, the #2 Songwriter and the #10 Live Act. Her album Black Cadillac finished #3 and it apparently had a single, as “House on the Lake” was ranked #6 on that list.
Other list toppers were Kenny Chesney (Best Live Act), The Wreckers (Best New Act) and Jerry Douglas (Best Instrumentalist.)
This year’s poll is dominated not by alternative-country outsiders who have never even sniffed the country charts, nor by Music Row insiders who control the charts today. Instead the poll belongs to insiders-turned-outsiders—the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash—five acts who once ruled the charts but who haven’t had a Top 20 country single between them since 2002. The voters preferred those artists who demonstrated an ability to connect with a broad country audience but who are also determined to challenge that audience rather than pander to it.
Three generations of country music are represented here. Johnny Cash and his three bandmates in the Highwaymen—Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, who all did well in the poll—flourished in the ’70s. Cash’s daughter Rosanne and her studio collaborators such as Gill, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris prospered in the ’80s, as the Chicks did in the ’90s. Running through country-music history is a current of such musicians—they have No. 1 hits, push the limits of the genre, feud with the industry, get exiled from country radio and create some of their best art afterward. In other words, the Dixie Chicks aren’t an isolated incident—they’re heirs to a tradition.