News: Nashville Scene Honors Year’s Best Country Music

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January 14, 2009

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http://www.nashvillescene.com/2009-01-15/news/the-ninth-annual-nashville-scene-country-music-critics-poll-jamey-johnson-captured-the-critics-taylor-swift-topped-the-charts-and-sugarland-conquered-them-both/”>Nashville Scene Country Music Critics’ Poll was released today, and the cover belonged to critical darling, Jamey Johnson. (The Scene wisely withheld the word “darling” from their description of the Artist of the Year.) This year’s 74 voters, including Kevin J. Coyne from Country Universe, named Johnson as Artist, Male Vocalist and Songwriter of the Year, and he claimed Album of the Year (That Lonesome Song) and Single (“In Color”) as well. Scene writer Geoffrey Himes applauds Johnson:

“He has a biker’s willingness to offend the tender sensibilities of preachers and radio programmers by singing about smoking pot in a Baptist church parking lot and about mowing down his ex-wife’s rose garden. But he also has a philosopher’s willingness to admit that daily intoxication and impulsive vengeance come with a price that’s often steeper than advertised.”

“…Johnson has pulled off the elusive trick of making the sound and intent of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson connect with a broad country audience in 2008.”

Other big winners included Lee Ann Womack (#3 album, #2 single, #1 female), Patty Loveless (#5 album, #2 female), Taylor Swift (#6 album, #6 female), Sugarland (#4 album, #1 group) and Hayes Carll (#2 album, #2 songwriter, #4 single).

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  1. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    It looks like the link on the Nashville Scene page that leads to the results leads to the voter comments instead. So here are the results for anyone who wants to see ‘em.

  2. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Taylor Swift as #6 female VOCALIST? Whatever y’all were smokin’ Kevin you need to share! :-o

    I like Jamey Johnson alright. I like him enough to buy his CD but I don’t get the whole Second Coming Savior Of Country Music thing.

    “…Johnson has pulled off the elusive trick of making the sound and intent of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson connect with a broad country audience in 2008.”

    Seriously? Jimmie Rodgers? Sorry but I totally disagree with that. Johnson isn’t even close. Same can be said for Hank. Willie? Maybe. I could probably agree with that as they are similar but I’d probably compare him more to Waylon. Like I said, I don’t get the whole Prodigal Son thing. I’d take a Blake Shelton, Randy Travis, or Mark Chesnutt over this guy any day. When he can walk on water drop me a note and I’ll bend a knee. Until then he’s got some provin’ to do before I’ll even come close to putting his name next to Jimmie’s or Hank’s!

    Incoming! ;-)

  3. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, I’m not so impressed with the assertions in one or two critics’ comments. I bet Kevin would have put those fools to shame (although well done Jim and Jonathan!).

  4. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, I don’t hear any similarities to Hank or Jimmy either. I like him, but he’s not even as good as Waylon yet. I think he’s got a lot of potential, but I think some critics may have been reaching a bit with their assertions.

    Go Kevin!

  5. bobbyNo Gravatar says:

    Reagarding Jamey Johnson…I think he oculd be a savior compared to current mainstream country, but when they trhough in Willie, Jimmy and Hank that’s a whole different comparison that isn’t really fair.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Interestingly, while again I like Jamey, I wouldn’t want him to be a savior of country music, because his style isn’t what I ultimately prefer.

    I don’t think that when people get excited about the few and far inbetween traditional artists these days, that they consider them to be saviors of country music. I believe they are simply feeling excited about hearing the sounds of actual country music on the radio. It kind of drives me crazy when people who get excited about younger artists that lean traditional are accused of dubbing the artists as saviors. As for myself, when I’m excited about someone like Ashton Shepherd or Jamey Johnson, I have no unrealistic hope that they will save country music; it only feels refreshing to hear their music when so much of it is popped up these days. Nothing more than that for me.

  7. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Naw, I never thought of this site’s take on Johnson as the example. The 9513 now? Oh yeah, a large majority get orgasmic and begin shouting from The Mountain. Right Brady? Heh!

    I’ve seriously seen so many comparisons of Jamey to so many true legends that my alarms are going off at a high decibel. The guy has cut one album. Compared to Jimmie? Hank? Uh, no. I understand what you’re saying Leeann, I actually feel the same way when I hear a traditional artist on mainstream radio. Probably why I rarely listen to mainstream any longer. I rarely miss an Opry night though and I have no fear for the sanctity of traditonal country as most diehard traditionalists do. Personally I believe Country is alive and well. Still livin’ in Nashville and hasn’t made a mass exodus to Texas regardless of what the pissant Texicans say.

    For those that don’t know me, I’m a Cajun and I don’t particular care for cowboy hats that aren’t used for work or much to do with Texas in general! Louisiana gave them the fiddle and they’ve thought they have been God’s Gift ever since! :-o

    My State Of Country Music is just fine thank-you-ever-so-much. I like a lot of variety and it pleases me to see so many young women challenging the Old Boys domination. Traditional Country has always swung on a pendulum. I see all the blasting from the traditionalists against someone like Carrie and I just smile. Most of them are too young to even remember the crap so many early women of Country had to endure. Same stuff different generation. Along with the men of Country as well. Anyone remember how vilified Johnny Cash was back when? Or Glen Campbell? Waylon? Willie? Jesse? Kristofferson? Shoot, one of the best Country albums around was made by Dylan. It all goes in a cycle and traditionalists have always been the Chicken Littles of the genre.

    You can’t even use the economy as an indicator either. We’ve always hard times and cycles of affluence. The biggest difference in Country today is the technology that drives it. Marketing has changed and it’s been a tough row to figure out just how to adapt. With disposable income drying up it’ll change a lot of the tween and teen driven radio play I’m guessin’. Aw what the hey do I know? I’m just some old guy with an opinion. And we all know about opinions! ;-)

    Pay no attention the the man behind the curtain!

  8. Jim MalecNo Gravatar says:

    Of the various things that lead me to “get orgasmic,” none are in ANY way related to Jamey Johnson. I just wanted to make sure everyone is clear on that.

  9. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Glad you cleared that up Jim. :-o

  10. BradyNo Gravatar says:

    Now how did I get dragged into this? Just to clear a few things up, I didn’t give Jamey Johnson’s album a perfect rating and he only made it to number 5 on my list of 2007′s best albums. The only other time I remember saying much about him is in the review of “In Color,” so other than that, I dunno why I was called out. Dale Watson, on the other hand…

    Oh, and Johnson released an album independently in 2002 and had one released by Sony in 2005, so it’s not his first. I wouldn’t call either of those masterpieces and I think the comparisons to guys like Hank and Jimmie are ridiculous as well, but comparisons to Outlaw singers are inevitable. I also don’t think I’ve seen any credible proclamations that he is or will be the savior of country music, so I guess that’s just an exaggeration of the hype in order concoct a point to disagree with. Carrie Underwood, on the other hand… ;)

  11. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, tryin’ to bait me again with my girl Carrie in a reference eh Brady? Ha! Speaking of which, you now have to throw Jamey under the bus. He was seen hangin’ out with Carrie at Keith Anderson’s birthday party last weekend. Randy Houser too. Bunch of sellouts! :-o

    “just an exaggeration of the hype in order concoct a point to disagree with”

    Man you can turn a phrase! I missed you guys in my latest sojourn. I’ll have to get back over there and see who I can annoy. You gotta’ admit, I managed to offend Texicans, The 9513, and Traditionalists all in one post. Not one of my better efforts but I’m working back into shape. When I can get that back up to 5 per post I’ll be ready to head back over! ;-)

    Seriously though, the hype with comments like the Jimmie, Hank, and Willie references in the post are not all that unusual. I’m seeing them everywhere. I’m glad you agree with me on the comparisons. I’m all for giving the guy his shot as I do really like his music. He just has quite a way to go yet to be comparable to all he’s being compared with. Heady stuff!

  12. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    I agree to a point that Jamey Johnson is the beneficiary of a lot of hype. But I think most of it is well deserved.

    But the way I read it, when folks compare him to Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, as well as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson, they are not saying he is their equal in stature or accomplishment, but rather that he is of like kind, he is their spiritual, musical and lyrical progeny. I guess it would be more accurate for a critic to say something along the lines that he reminds them of a young Merle Haggard or a young Johnny Cash etc. But give him time, if Mr. Johnson continues on this very promising trajectory, I have no doubt that someday no one will question his inclusion with the likes of the Grand Masters whom he has been compared to.

    I think it is entirely appropriate that Jamey Johnson has been nominated for a Grammy, but if he WINS, then I will agree that the hype and the level of acclaim has been a bit excessive. I am always wary of the Country music establishment, (or the Grammys, for that matter, ) when they jump on the “next big thing” bandwagon, and they hoist their heir apparent onto the throne, and sing the praises “long live the King (or Queen) of Country Music” while reigning Royalty still live, breathe, and sing. There are real Kings and Queens in exile out there, and they are making some of the best music of their careers. And these Masters deserve not to be eclipsed by usurpers, no matter how talented they may be!

  13. JonathanNo Gravatar says:

    I fully expected that Johnson would run the table this year much in the same way that Miranda Lambert did last year as the rare act to balance widespread critical acclaim with mainstream commercial success, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see his name at the top of most of the categories on the poll. But I definitely did a double-take when I read the introductory essay: Willie Nelson? Okay, there’s the Outlaw movement connection, I guess. Hank Williams? Eh, that’s a stretch. Jimmie Rodgers? Say what now?

    I like Johnson plenty (full disclosure: I placed him at #1 for both the Songwriter and overall Artist categories, #3 for Single and Male Vocalist, and #5 for Album on my own ballot), but the comparison to the sound of Rodgers, Williams, and Nelson simply doesn’t hold. I can get on board with a standing on the shoulders of giants angle… when the correct giants have been named. I found the various hagiographies of Taylor Swift just as puzzling, but apparently I’m in the distinct minority among the voters this year.

    As for the poll itself, I wish Mr. Himes would go full-on with the Pazz & Jop: Country Edition conceit and post the actual point totals for the lists and individual ballots– as a die-hard list-nerd, I always find it interesting to see how support for different acts is distributed. And as Jim Malec commented over at The9513, I’d be curious to know who in the hell voted for Darius Rucker’s album.

  14. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    So, I voted in the poll, obviously.

    But since I didn’t vote for Jamey Johnson, Taylor Swift or Darius Rucker, I don’t have much to add to this conversation!

    I can’t find the full list online for some reason, so I can’t take credit or blame for pushing the numbers in any direction as of yet.

    I agree with Jonathan about posting the vote totals. I think they used to do that back in the day. (Meaning, back when I was reading the print copy b/c I still lived in Nashville.) It would give a clearer picture on what people voted for.

  15. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Steve from Boston said, “But the way I read it, when folks compare him to Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, as well as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson, they are not saying he is their equal in stature or accomplishment, but rather that he is of like kind, he is their spiritual, musical and lyrical progeny. I guess it would be more accurate for a critic to say something along the lines that he reminds them of a young Merle Haggard or a young Johnny Cash etc. But give him time, if Mr. Johnson continues on this very promising trajectory, I have no doubt that someday no one will question his inclusion with the likes of the Grand Masters whom he has been compared to.”

    This is a very, very solid assessment. Although the comparison is a bit of a reach, I believe Himes is simply tracing the lineage of the genre, and that path follows (at least this year) to the bard with a beard, Jamey Johnson. While Johnson compares little with the sound of Williams or Rodgers, he’s embracing the same basic values of country singing and storytelling that made them such pioneers. I honestly would’ve voted Johnson #1 in every category. This is a tribute to his obvious talents, but also a reflection on the relative lack of terrific releases this year. While Swift would not have featured so highly if I had voted, I’m a little surprised about her absence on the Singles list.

  16. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    “…Johnson has pulled off the elusive trick of making the sound and intent of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson connect with a broad country audience in 2008.”

    Read that again Steve. Show me where there is any form of “influence” to the listed greats. No, that statement just flat out says Jamey “is as good as” Rodgers, Hank, and Willie. Words have meaning. Re: “making the sound and intent”.

    Now on your assertion that Jamey has that type of vibe I’ll go along with that. He channels a lot of the great storytellers. If that’s what they mean they need to say so. Period. And this is but one example of many.

    I believe I mentioned I’m giving Johnson time. Actually I’m pullin’ for him. I do so like the country soul in his voice and the stories he tells. I wanna’ hear him on his 5th album. Then we’ll talk. Until then? He’s a good country singer aspiring to the same greatness they all aspire to. Whether he can mature and maintain is yet to be seen.

    Oh well, at least no one has compared him to Woody Guthrie yet. But I bet it’s comin’! ;-)

  17. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Blake, thank you for the compliment and the generous (but accurate :) ) assessment of my assessment! And I like your “Bard with a beard” description of Jamey Johnson.

    JHD,.I actually agree with some of your main points, but I think you are really reading into the quote you cited, and splitting hairs. Yeah, words do have meaning, and sometimes words and phrases have multiple meanings and connotations. And statments can be ambiguous in their implications.

    “making the sound and intent….connect…” Could be interpreted it the way you describe, but I think that’s a stretch, and I don’t believe it was the intention of the author to declare that Jamey Johnson was equal in stature or accomplishment to Hank Williams and the others mentioned. He certainly does not explicitly state that JJ” is as good as” Hank and the others, as you seem to be asserting.

    I think, (just my opinion) the more likely meaning is that Jamey Johnson writes and sings in the TRADITION of Hank and the others, and conveys (and even channels), their essence and intent to a modern audience. And in that sense, Jamey Johnson is the reincarnation of Hank WIlliams, (now don’t take me too literally there, using a bit of hyperbole, I admit…) And you asked for evidence of influence? Hank Williams has been called the “Shakespeare of the common man” …I think that title does apply to Jamey Johnson as well, (some critics I believe, have also used it for JJ) in that he sings about real life, unvarnished and gritty, not pretty, and turns hard facts of everyday existence into accessible poetry with his lyrics, just like Hank did. But again, I think most of us agree that JJ has a long way to go before he reaches Hank Sr.’s stature, and he may never reach it entirely, since by definition pioneers like Hank are originals. But sometimes the student is greater than the teacher, and the protege turns out to be greater than the mentor, so who knows..Many times artists take elements from their inspirations, and combine and synthesize them into something that also turns out to be very fresh and original.

    I could be wrong, but I am willing to bet that Jamey Johnson grew up on the works of Hank WIlliams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson…I dont know as much about Jimmy Rodgers, so I couldn’t say for sure in his case. And Willie? Who knows… Jamey Johnson, like the others, is also a troubled troubadour with a tortured soul.

    But I think we agree that the hype so far may have been excessive, (although that never seemed to bother you before regarding a certain Okie, lol, ..sorry I couldn’t resist) I do think that much of it is deserved, but I think it all the early acclaim for JJ could easily turn into a “bandwagon” mentality, resulting in acclaim outrunning his artistry. (We have seen this happen before, with other artists).

    I realize that you are pulling for him, and waiting to see what he can do. I never stated that you said otherwise. Anyway, it’s good to see you posting again, JHD, welcome back!

  18. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, welcome back, JHD. Until Shania’s new album arrives in stores, your return will be the most welcome in the country blogging world in 2009.

  19. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Wow Blake! Talk about making me humble! I hope I can live up to that. No pressure eh? :-o

    I’m not allowed to get “excited” so I thought I’d stay low key like on this post. ;-)

    Heaven help us all if I ever learn to embed photos! Heh!

    What the Hey though. What does Shania have that I ain’t got anyhoo? Well, ‘sides those massive….. uh….. massively beautiful eyes?

    Is it truly deserved Steve? I dunno’. I like Blake’s call with “Bard with a beard” as well. I think it’s pretty fitting but Shakespeare had a pretty long career of confusing the heck outa’ me! Ha!

    I don’t remember Hank, Sr being labeled with the “Shakespeare of the common man” tag. I’m sure he has been as you wouldn’t have stated it if he hasn’t been. You know they say the memory is the 2nd thing to go! I just don’t want Jamey to get rushed right out of becoming a masterful artist. It worries me that he’ll have to go into a sophomore album with these kind of expectations. Any more hype and it’ll be almost impossible to match those expectations. I haven’t seen enough interviews of the guy to get a feel as to how well he can handle himself, how well he can stay within himself, nor how well he can stay true to himself. The proof is in the puddin’ and I wish him well!

    Geez, somebody else tryin’ to bait me about my girl Carrie! Let’s face it, Jamey Johnson doesn’t have the legs Carrie Underwood has so there’s no comparison on hype! :-)

  20. BradyNo Gravatar says:

    Jamey Johnson’s next album won’t be his sophomore album, it’ll technically be his fourth album, and third major label release. His independent debut showed promise as did his sophomore album, The Dollar, but it contained a little too much throwaway material. His divorce and being dropped by Sony seemed to be the catalyst behind That Lonesome Song. He’s indicated that he doesn’t want to play the commercial game and signed with Mercury because they agreed to give him creative control, but I think we need to take a wait and see approach to find out if he continues to build on his previous efforts.

    As for the tie-ins with the other artists, I think it’s just a case of unfortunate wording, but the point is that he’s the only one of the three artists discussed whose music is influenced by country’s roots and enjoying a certain amount of commercial success. As I said before, the Outlaw comparisons are inevitable; he did cover two Waylon songs on That Lonesome Song and namechecked him twice more. The Hank tie-in is due to them both being Alabama boys. Oh, and I believe Hank was labeled the Hillbilly Shakespeare.

  21. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Brady, “Hillbilly Shakespeare”, and “Shakespeare of the common man”, now I’ve heard it both ways. All I know, is when I listened to Hank’s Unreleased Recordings this evening, I heard some real good Hillbilly Harmonies!

    Do we have Jamey Johnson to blame for writing “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”? (funny how spellchecker doesn’t recognize that word) I like his current work SO much better, hard to believe it’s the same person. Are any of JJ’s pevious albums anywhere near as good as “that lonesome song”?

    JHD, , LOL, now I’m just tryin’ to help you steer clear of those treacherous double standards is all, they can be real hazards to rhetorical navigation! Yeah, you took the bait, but parried it well, my friend, well played! Yep, no denying Carrie does have better legs than Jamey Johnson, at least from our perspective!

  22. JHDNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Brady, I keep forgetting that Jamey was on Sony. I know I listened to one of those albums but I really don’t remember it. Even a little. Yet I bought That Lonesome Song. What was his first release on the indie? Time to do some searchin’. I swear, I don’t remember The Dollar either. Man gettin’ old really bites. In my defense though those albums obviously didn’t register which in a totally roundabout way reemphasizes my point!

    Did you do a review on The Dollar? For the life of me I think I remember one. Somebody wrote one either here or there and I try to always read the album reviews. I’m sitting here trying to come up with the one I listened to and got nuthin’. *sigh* A mind is a terrible thing to have wasted! ;-)

    “Hillbilly Shakespeare” is the one I remember Steve. I had heard Woody Guthrie called the “Shakespeare of the Common Man”. May be a geographical thing though.

    What double standards? The hype for Miss Carrie came from the buildup of an entire season of Idol in front of 30 million+ viewers week in and week out and then a first release that sold 10 million. People are invested in her success from pulling and voting for her for quite a few months. It’s almost a feeling of “ownership” in a way. Definitely one of family. Jamey’s hype comes from a single album release. Brady has pointed out again, and I think I finally get it, that this is actually Jamey’s third album. The only thing similar to me in regard to hype are the comparisons to the greats that went before. Totally different roads taken but they both have some provin’ to do albeit Miss Carrie has established herself very well and proven in four short years that she’s worthy. Jamey still has to climb that mountain. Only time will tell.

    I caught the references to Waylon on That Lonesome Song” Brady. Why I mentioned him in the opening. From Jamey’s appearnace and sound I kinda’ vibe a young David Allen Coe comparison but then that’s just me. His music brings back memories and smells of honky tonks and sawdust. And cheap beer. And heartache. And family. And the way things were before. Just good ol’ fashioned country songs and I like ‘em. Just don’t agree with the fauning.

    Yet!

  23. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    I hear what you’re saying JHD, and agree somewhat. though I have thoughts on the hype that surrounds American Idol itself, and the advantage it gives the winners. We’ve had this discussion before, but I will say this; the hype that surrounds the show is usually inherited by the winners as well. But Carrie has an amazing voice, and has accomplished much. Whether her accomplishments are equal to her acclaim, I guess time will tell there as well, right?

    I know the AI contestants work very hard, but I still believe that those who came up the traditional way have worked even harder, for the most part, to get where they are.

    As for my preference, I’d take Jamey Johnson’s “that lonesome song” over any, all (or both?) of Carrie’s albums any day of the week. I know it’s not an either/ or kind of thing, but I guess I’m just trying to say that from my point of view, JJ is more deserving of the hype..

  24. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Quoted from JHD: “Jamey’s hype comes from a single album release”

    Yeah, mostly, but the difference is that Jamey Johnson wrote and probably lived, most if not all of the songs on that single album release. Either way, “that lonesome song” rings with authenticity.

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