Hall Worthy: The Modern Era

A survey of the artists already eligible for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame through the Modern Era category brings the challenges that the Hall is facing into sharp relief.

In previous years, contemporary giants like Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, along with this year’s inductee, Alan Jackson, have brought the Hall into the post-New Traditionalist era of country music, which led to the unprecedented commercial boom of the early nineties. This was a period where even moderately successful artists sold millions of records over the course of a few years, a mere generation after Music Row was still throwing parties for albums that sold 100,000 copies.

Narrowing down this list was not easy, even by limiting it to artists who reached significant success by 1995.  Luminaries that broke through later РKenny Chesney, Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban, for starters Рwould easily make a list of worthy Hall of Famers further down the road! For now, here is who I think deserves induction in the Modern Era category over the next few years.

#10

Diamond Rio

The most distinguished mainstream vocal group to come along in the early nineties, Diamond Rio were consistent hitmakers with several signature songs and impeccable musicianship. The Hall doesn’t induct many groups, but Diamond Rio deserves to stand alongside Alabama, the Statler Brothers, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

#9

Shania Twain

Shania Twain did more than just sell tens of millions of records and achieve unprecedented international success. Her work permanently altered the female point of view in country music, completing the transition from the victim queen archetype to the strong, independent viewpoint that dominates the work of the country women who have come along since Twain flipped the script.

#8

Alison Krauss & Union Station

This is one of two entries on the list where a case could be made for a lead singer induction as easily as for the entire act. Alison Krauss & Union Station mainstreamed bluegrass music more than anyone before or since, and Krauss herself has become synonymous with quality commercial music, achieved mostly without the support of radio. Given that the bulk of her noteworthy work has been with Union Station, as fine a group of musicians as have ever played, I lean toward the inclusion of all of them.

#7

Brooks & Dunn

No duo in country music history has had more commercial success than Brooks & Dunn, and their years of dominance at radio and retail guarantee them a slot in the Hall of Fame. ¬†Ronnie Dunn’s vocal talent can hang with most of the singers that are already in there.

#6

Toby Keith

Toby Keith’s nineties work is so underrated that I think his induction will take a bit longer than his 1993 breakthrough would normally indicate. His superstar decade cemented his legacy and his future in the Hall of Fame, but I can’t think of a more consistent male singer-songwriter to come along after Alan Jackson.

#5

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw parlayed a remarkable song sense into a career that is still going strong 23 years after his first hit. He is perhaps his generation’s best example of the oft-repeated truth about country music: it’s all about the song. That one artist is responsible for everything from “Just to See You Smile” and “Please Remember Me” to “Live Like You Were Dying” and “Humble and Kind” is just awe-inspiring.

#4

The Judds/Wynonna 

Wynonna Judd belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Naomi Judd? Sure, why not. But Wynonna’s sheer vocal talent is the common thread between their solid work as a mother-daughter duo and her bluesy work as a solo artist. I don’t know that The Judds by themselves, or Wynonna’s work by itself, would be quite enough for the Hall of Fame. But put them together, and you’ve got three decades and counting of excellent country music.

#3

Trisha Yearwood

The finest female singer of her generation, Trisha Yearwood is also responsible for a peerless body of work, full of consistency and depth. She’s made more great albums than any country artist of the last thirty years, and rarely dipped below the high standards she set from the beginning. She’s the obvious first choice for the Hall of Fame among all the women who debuted in the nineties.

#2

Patty Loveless

No female artist better embodied traditional country music than Patty Loveless, and she did it in a way that was contemporary in scope, incorporating the best elements of pop and rock into her work while remaining grounded in pure country, bluegrass, and “Mountain Soul.” Her eighties and early nineties work with MCA was solid. Her work with Epic made her a legend.

#1

Dwight Yoakam

His rock sensibility always remained in the background, but Dwight Yoakam’s distillation of the Bakersfield sound into his own modern country music revitalized it for a new era in country music. But that’s a whole lot of complicated words. The reality is he’s the best damn country singer of his time that isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He should lead the Class of 2018.

17 Comments

  1. But who was Clint Black?

    sorry but Black deserves to be on this list. He helped solidify the ‘new’ traditional country sound that dominated the late 80s and all the 90s. Plus he wrote most of his hits and played his own instruments.

  2. A Top Twenty list would include Clint Black, but I just don’t think he delivered enough on his early promise, and by his fourth album, he was a B-lister, regularly receiving airplay but consistently diminishing sales.

    If you’d asked me in 1994, I’d have said Clint Black was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and Tim McGraw was a pipe dream. Maybe Black will still get in, but I just don’t think he’s earned it as much as the top ten.

    As I wrote in the beginning, this is a tough era. A case could be made for another 10-15 acts from this time, once you get past the megastars. Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, Martina McBride, Mark Chesnutt, Ricky Van Shelton, Faith Hill, John Anderson. Just so many to choose from.

    And that’s without going into the next level of artists with strong runs of hits and/or critically acclaimed music. Joe Diffie, Pam Tillis, Tracy Lawrence, Lorrie Morgan, The Mavericks, Sawyer Brown, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Wariner, Collin Raye, Clay Walker.

    Just about all of those acts sold more records and had more overall hits than a few current members of the Hall of Fame. But I think a Hall of Famer excels against the backdrop of their own generation. These ten acts did so in a way that the ones I left off of the list did not.

  3. If they don’t put in Martina McBride, Brooks and Dunn and Tim McGraw, they should just tear down the HOF! Diamond Rio is a solid maybe in my mind, as are The Judds as a duo. I’m just not feeling Dwight or Toby getting in, at least not anytime soon. I also think Brad Paisley should get in, at least someday, which brings me to another category: most of the artists listed in these lists are retired/semi-retired. So what about today’s stars? Its too early to judge many of them (can anyone say Clint Black?) but based on the current state of their careers, here are a few you just might see in the HOF someday: Brad Paisley, LA, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan

  4. And as far as Patty Loveless goes, shes in the same boat as Kathy Mattea: Probably deserves to get in, but her hitmaking career was far too short. and I forgot to include Blake Shelton in my post above.

  5. I’m all for the idea of Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Alison Krauss getting in in the Modern Era category, one, because the womenfolk, as in practically any genre’s HOF, are often grossly under-represented; and two, well, they’re simply great artists, period (flat statement, yes, but there it is).

    And as for Dwight Yoakam–he really ought to be a shoo-in, given that he understands, probably better than practically every “young male hunk” getting airplay out there now that talks about how the genre must “evolve”, how country music can be progressive and traditional at the same time.

  6. I agree with Diamond Rio, Alison Krauss (played her Windy City album again this morning), B&D & Trisha. Never liked Shania or Yoakum. Tim is really hit & miss for me. Liked early Toby but really got turned off with his obsession with drinking songs like the horrible “get drunk and be somebody”, “get my drink on”, etc. Liked early Wynonna but the Judds were big before I really got into listening to country music on a regular basis. I like some Loveless.

    I’d love to see Suzy Bogguss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Hal Ketchum and Collin Raye get in but I do realize that they have no chance.

  7. It is tough to narrow this list down to a top ten. I’d be inclined to include Clint Black, Kathy Mattea, John Anderson and Shenandoah. I am not certain who I would delete from my top ten except Alison Krauss since the case for her is stronger for the Bluegrass Hall of Fame (although a few more albums like WINDY CITY and I’d reconsider)

  8. Dwight Yoakam is at the top of my modern era list too. Even with my personal taste aside, I can’t imagine who is more deserving or obvious than him right now.

  9. I wouldn’t be shocked if Brooks & Dunn go in next, but I’m with you, Leeann. I’m not sure how Yoakam isn’t in already, though if anyone is going to skip him in line, it might as well be Alan Jackson!

    I also think that Randy Travis should’ve gone in before Garth Brooks and Vince Gill, but that’s the stickler for chronology in me.

  10. Scott – How was Loveless’ hitmaking too short? Her first top 10 hit was in 1988, and then she had hits through all of the 90s. In 2001 she released Mountain Soul, which is what most consider to be her best album. “Lovin’ All Night” hit the top 20 for her in 2003. So, that’s a full 15 years of relevance. She then won her first Grammy for solo work in 2009, over 20 years after her first album. You say they should tear down the HOF if Diamond Rio don’t get in, and their relevance wasn’t any longer than Loveless.

  11. I’m in full agreement with the top 3, in that order. Yoakam’s progressive take on Bakersfield country is one of the best examples of how the genre can evolve without losing its identity entirely. Loveless carried the torch for traditionalism as brightly as anyone of her era, give or take Randy Travis, and she recorded the genre’s best and most important album so far this century. And Yearwood is simply the finest vocalist in country music since Connie Smith, and her ear for exceptional material has given her the deepest catalogue of any artist of her era or the following one.

  12. Jason I did not say they should put Diamond Rio in or tear it down…that was about Martina, Tim and B&D. Second, I just don’t think that Patty Loveless had a long enough string of hits to get in: First hit 1988, last big hit, a 1997(?) duet with George Jones. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like To see her get in, I just don’t think it will happen. I’d also like to see Keith Whitley get in, in fact nothing would please me more, but again, it just isn’t going to happen.

  13. Scott – I guess we differ in that I look at more than just top 10s at radio in measuring impact within country music. Even if Loveless hasn’t had a big hit in the past 20 years, she has remained relevant in country music. She had a CMA winning duet with Vince Gill in 1999. She released Strong Heart in 2000 and it produced two top 20 songs. Then in 2001 she released the seminal Mountain Soul, which is probably her career high point in terms of the industry. In 2003 she released On Your Way Home, which had yet another top 20 song in “Lovin’ All Night” and also the Grammy-nominated title track (again showing industry impact). She also won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for her 2009 album Mountain Soul II. In that time she’s also done backing vocals on a lot of notable hits (“Please Remember Me” in 1999 and “Monday Morning Church” in 2004) and album tracks (like “House of Cash” for George Strait in 2008 and “Dear Diamond” for Miranda Lambert in 2011). I think collectively it shows she has remained very respected/relevant post-1998.

  14. My last word on this subject: Trace Adkins should also be in, but I’ll get it if he doesn’t go in at some point.

  15. I look at a lot of these listed (and mentioned in responses) the same way I look at Earl Thomas Conley. Conley is one of my all-time favorite male country singers. He had 18 number one hits – all in the 80s – plus about 8 more top ten hits (two that slipped in during the early 90s). He came and went like a flash of lightning.

    His chart success seems impressive, but I doubt very seriously if he gets inducted into the CMHOF. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard his name mentioned in that conversation. He wasn’t traditional country but he sounded as country as anyone in the 80s. It’s sad that very few even seem to remember him. He didn’t even make the 100 Greatest Men here on this site.

    But boy, did he create some incredible music and dominated the charts during his time. It comes down to far too few people inducted each year and who really has a voice/vote as to who gets in.

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