Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 5

There was quite a bit of discussion earlier this week about the scarcity of female artists on the radio these days. Then again, there’s usually quite a bit of discussion about the women in country music on this site anyway. This edition of Crunching the Numbers takes a look at the current studio albums of veteran female artists, all of whom have been established names for more than a decade.

Reba McEntire, Reba Duets
Release: September 18, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,419,600

I’ll completely cop to the fact that I underestimated this project. Reba’s done so many side projects lately, and every duet album carries a faint whiff of desperation. But she proved all the naysayers wrong, scoring her first #1 album on the all-genre chart. Reba Duets is now her highest-selling studio album since 1996’s What if It’s You, and is likely to eclipse that set soon. After a major hit with Kelly Clarkson, she’s now in the top twenty with Kenny Chesney (or Skip Ewing.)

LeAnn Rimes, Family
Release: October 9, 2007
Sales to Date: 359,900

Sales for Rimes’ current set are still little more than half what her previous record, This Woman, scanned, but given that radio support has been far weaker this time out, that’s still a decent number to be at. “What I Cannot Change” has the potential to be a career record, so this set’s best sales season may still be to come.

Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Release: November 13, 2007
Sales to Date: 161,300

Even though it’s her slowest-selling album to date, it’s a record rich with strong material. The question is if Big Machine will continue to mine it for more singles, which MCA failed to do with Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman and Jasper County sets. “Cowboys are My Weakness” and “Dreaming Fields” could be the right cuts to promote.

Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie
Release: February 26, 2008
Sales to Date: 112,100

This hasn’t been the radio comeback that Parton was gunning for, and that Idol guest spot did more to stimulate catalog sales in the end. Even on this week’s chart, there are two Parton hits compilations that outsold her current album. But the title track may be the set’s lingering claim to fame, as it’s featured in the Parton-penned 9 to 5 musical that’s opening on Broadway. Readers know that Parton was #1 on my 100 Greatest Women feature, and that was before she had the composition of an entire Broadway original score under her belt. The woman’s talent is deep as it is relentless.

Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be
Release: June 10, 2008
Sales to Date: 68,400

Who would’ve thought that Montgomery Gentry would release an album on the same day as Emmylou Harris, and despite them having the #1 single at country radio, she’d outsell them each and every week? This year’s Hall of Fame inductee still has a loyal audience, though it’s changed in composition over the years.


  1. I think Reba’s association with Kelly Clarkson is paying dividends. Many Kelly fans have discovered Reba’s through Reba’s duet with Kelly. Reba did a good job of knowing when it was time to do an album like this. It is something she has never done before, so it peaks the interests of her large fan base.

    LeAnn Rimes is an interesting artist. She was wildly popular when she was not making the best albums. Now her albums are better, but she is not as popular. However, because her career started when she was so young, she is still young enough to make a commercial comeback. Perhaps all the greatness predicted for LeAnn is yet ahead for her.

    When the country boom of the early 90’s was in full swing one of the complaints was country radio never played any older artists new material. Well that seems to still be the case. Of the all artists who debuted before 1992 (as Trisha Yearwood did) it seems only George Strait, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, and Brooks & Dunn are getting any kind of radio play for new material.

    It may be that radio has just decided that of all the older artists (yes, these are now the older artists), George, Alan, Reba, Garth, and B & D are the only one who will get new material played a great deal. It may not matter how good her material is or how hard Big Machine pushes her, radio may simply have decided Trisha Yearwood’s time has past.

  2. Wow, Jonathan… I think you sadly pegged it about Trisha. Seems there just comes a time when an artist is off radio’s “A” List whether the material is worthy or not.
    That has always been such a fault with country radio in that they will play an artist ADNAUSEUM as long as they are mega-popular. But once you dip below that bar… yikes.

    While I have been a long time appreciator of George Strait, I don’t see that he warrants the constant, repetitive airplay he gets. It’s as if it’s automatic that whatever he puts out, it’s played… and played. Pretty much the same for Alan and B&D.

    All that to say that for a female to get such guaranteed placement, she has to have a song out that is just off the charts… literally. Reba (w/Kelly), Martina (“Anyway”), Lee Ann Womack (“I hope you dance”), LeAnn Rimes (“How do I live”) all showed that for a female to get played consistently, they basically have to have a crossover hit. Carrie and Taylor as well but with more than a single recent song.
    Country music is definitely still a good ole boys club.

  3. I think radio will play “Dreaming Fields.” Radio may be “airheaded,” but great songs–GREAT songs–have a tendency to succeed even in the face of unfriendly trends. That song is a once in a lifetime masterpiece–we’re not talking good, here. We’re talking great. I think they’d play it.

  4. ^Haha, well I’ll take your word for it. Trust me, I would love that to be a single, but I have heard many Trisha fans even say that radio isn’t that evolved to play it because they are so “air headed”, but I actually want to see it released as a single now just to see if radio can actually prove us wrong.

  5. Jim is correct in his appreciation for “Dreaming Fields”. It’s Trisha’s finest song ever, and that’s quite a statement.

    I also agree that radio, on rare occasions, will break from its own short-minded template. But I’m afraid that the very people who would connect so deeply with this song and push it to great commerical heights have already abandoned country radio due to its current nature.

    Anything to boost Trisha’s commercial profile would be A-OK in my book.

  6. This installment answers the two questions I had about recent sales figures– those for LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood. Both have fallen well below the Billboard 200, which is how I keep tabs on an album’s cumulative total, so I was curious as to exactly how poorly they were selling. Rimes shouldn’t have any trouble reaching a gold certification, particularly if “What I Cannot Change” finds the audience it deserves, but it’s going to be a much harder road for Yearwood, regardless of how her singles fare.

    Which is a shame, really, as Family and Heaven, etc. are easily two of the best mainstream country albums of the last year, Yearwood’s record, in particular. If radio play were actually any gauge of real quality, at least half of the tracks on that album would be top 10 singles. But I have a hard time seeing how even a masterpiece like “The Dreaming Fields” goes any higher than top 25, which seems to be the current ceiling for Yearwood’s airplay. It’s tempting to cite something like Sugarland’s “Stay” as an example of how radio programmers will occasionally make a good decision even when it runs counter to current trends, but Sugarland has been one of radio’s A-list acts for a solid three years now so they already have an “in” that an artist like Yearwood no longer has.

    Unrelatedly: Emmylou Harris’s album was released on June 10, not April 1, unless there was a digital-only pre-release that I wasn’t aware of. And I love that she’s outselling the bearkiller.

  7. I agree that it is sad that Trisha and LeAnn (both great vocalists by the way) Do not get the audience they deserve… and I hope they have continued sucess!

    I am soo glad that Reba is having sucess now with her duets album, I hope that “Every Other Weekend” becomes another Reba smash! Now that she has such a bigger audience I hope her next studio album (hope its released in 2009!) will become an even bigger hit (and i hope Reba makes an album that is as good as or better than “What If It’s You” and “For My Broken Heart”!!!!!

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