Nashville Scene: 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

The 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll has just been published by Nashville Scene. It covers the 2010 year of country music. The participants of the poll consists of country music critics who spend their time listening to and analyzing stacks of music throughout the year in order to knowledgeably write about it for the purpose of either promoting excellent music or warning against the not so good stuff. Kevin, Dan and Tara are among these prestigious critics.

Each year, invited critics submit their ballots with their favorite music and artists in the appropriate categories. The poll includes the best albums, singles, male and female artists, reissues, live acts, duos and groups, songwriters, new acts, and the over all artists of the year. While the results include the usual suspects, they are mixed with some surprises or names that aren’t commonly associated with mainstream country.

Some of my favorite results include Raul Malo tied at #8 with Gary Allan for top males and Elizabeth Cook at #2 for top females, not to mention Sunny Sweeney’s “From A Table Away” landing at the #3 spot for singles. The most amusing result, however, is Jamey Johnson and Taylor Swift in the top two spots for songwriters.

What’s most fascinating about this process is that the critics have the opportunity to include comments with their ballots. These comments serve to clarify choices and pontificate on the state of country music and its various aspects. There are some insightful comments from both Dan and Tara, along with other critics that you might recognize from our blog roll.

Here are some of the cream of the crop comments that display a satisfyingly diverse array of perspectives:

“Lost amidst the rush to proclaim Jamey Johnson as the man to reclaim country music from pop acts like Taylor Swift is the fact that Johnson and Swift are cut from the precisely same cloth. Johnson is most often championed for the supposed authenticity of his songwriting, but is it really any more believable that he’s been “takin’ dee-pression pills in the Hollywood hills” than it is that Swift regrets not calling an ex when his birthday passed? Both Johnson and Swift have developed public personae and voices as songwriters that trade in the same suspension of disbelief. Swift’s music may not scan as “country” to the extent that Johnson’s does, but that isn’t because she’s any less authentic than Johnson. They both act like they’re “Playing the Part,” and they both do so awfully well.” —Jonathan Keefe, Slant Magazine

“Thank goodness the Internet and satellite radio are around to pick up FM’s slack, because brilliant would-be singles continue popping up on independent releases that Clear Channel won’t touch. My favorite two this year were Elizabeth Cook’s “El Camino” and Chely Wright’s “Notes to the Coroner.” The former: a hilarious country-rap about a creepy, mulleted lothario. The latter: a frank diary introduction from a recently deceased woman. Both: utterly unique and unshakably catchy.” —Dan Milliken, Country Universe

“In 2010, Grandpa told us about the good old days again. The most conspicuous presence on country radio in recent years has been this kindly old gentleman, lugging his aching bones out of bed to share some worldly wisdom. After years of hard labor and heartache, he’s now embarked on a second career as life coach for his hillbilly kin on recent singles from Lee Brice, Billy Currington, Craig Morgan and Alan Jackson (the matured mentor on Zac Brown’s “As She’s Walking Away”). Of course, country radio won’t fool with women over 40 except for Reba, so you never really get to hear Grandma’s side of things.” —Blake Boldt, The 9513

“Despite their two weak singles this year, “Our Kind of Love” and “Hello World,” I remain in Lady Antebellum’s corner. What hooks me is the way they’re able to inject gritty, tangible emotion into the glossiest of production and the vaguest of lyrics. That’s what elevates “Need You Now” to an aching confession, and that’s how, on a song that compares innocence to a condiment, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance alone manages to tell an evocative story.” —Tara Seetharam, Country Universe

“So if country music is doing so well artistically, why is it that whenever I turned on the radio in 2010, I heard mostly pop or rock songs with a token steel guitar thrown into the mix? I’ve long since given up hope of Americana artists ever getting picked up by mainstream radio, and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that Jamey Johnson won’t be getting many (if any) hit songs no matter how good they are. But would it kill them to play some non-hyphenated country music a little more? I know that country-pop and country-rock are the flavors of the month, but where does that leave more traditional artists? I know I’d be more willing to tolerate Jason Aldean rapping or Jennifer Nettles singing with her stupid fake Jamaican accent if “Draw Me a Map” or “Will I Always Be This Way” was next on the playlist.” —Sam Gazdziak, The 9513

“In an August interview with Spinner, Ryan Bingham rejected the notion that he makes country music. Two weeks later, Bingham was named the Americana Music Association’s “Artist of the Year,” thanks in large part to his Academy Award-winning song “The Weary Kind,” a song he wrote for a movie about a country singer. In September, when asked about the state of country music today, rising star Justin Townes Earle told The Wall Street Journal that he’s embarrassed to be from Nashville because of the “shit songwriting, shit records and shit singers who are making a million dollars.” Even mainstream country stalwart Zac Brown distanced himself from the genre, telling American Songwriter in September, “The songs that I write are Southern, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them country.” It’s a shame — and an enormous loss for the genre — that the term “country music” has come to describe something so narrow that bright young artists like these choose not to identify themselves as country. Thank God for Jamey Johnson, who wears the mantle proudly.” —Jim Malec, American Twang


  1. Firstly, kudos to Tara who is clearly excited about being invited to contribute to this year’s panel (her enthusiasm is pretty clear on her own blog post about this!).

    I found the commentary about Taylor Swift resonating more with the alt crowd than mainstream voters particularly interesting and recommend you take the time to at least read that portion of the main article. It affirmed what I’ve felt about Swift from Day One: that what makes her stand out in the crowd isn’t that she’s young and flashy, but that she displays a songwriting authenticity that rings true.

    Ultimately, the biggest thing about this poll for me is that it’s a reminder that I just haven’t gotten into Jamey Johnson. I know I should dig him, but whenever I mention loving Waylon and Willie, someone invariably insists that Jamey Johnson is today’s version and I should automatically flock to the guy. It’s as though there must be a knee-jerk transference of artistic appreciation from my outlaw heroes to Johnson. It’s not his fault, of course, but I find it all very alienating nonetheless. Still, I suppose it’s encouraging that the guy’s out there and finding success with music that has more to offer than generic redneck cliches.

    One of the Nashville Scene critics made a point to praise satellite radio and the Internet for “picking up FM’s slack” and playing singles that “Clear Channel wouldn’t touch.” I know it’s hard for industry stalwarts to accept, but the relationship between label and radio has got to change if either is to survive. Executive favorites and panel research can only carry an industry so far, and it seems painfully clear to me that we’re past that point. There are plenty of talented artists, newcomers and veterans alike, that have a lot to offer audiences and the only thing between artist and consumer is FM radio. Maybe this year we’ll see some changes made by the Los Angeles corporate offices and the airwaves will again introduce listeners to something more than generic anthems boasting of willfully remaining backward.

  2. Well done guys.

    Although I don’t know whether to blame you or thank you for the large amount of money I spent on music in 2010… :|

  3. I’ll squeeze in on that group hug too if y’all don’t mind. These were some great comments. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Keefe’s comment with regard to Swift and Johnson. It turns out those two have more in common than I thought!

    I can definitely relate to Blake comment as well. I don’t hate pop-country or country-rock, but I would like it more if it could co-exist with traditional country instead of virtually replacing it.

  4. wow, they were not too nice to the Chicks/CYH, lol. “You should blame [Natalie Maines] for bringing Fleetwood Mac mania to Nashville.”

    And I think the next CYH album will be better than the first. They’ve sang a few of the new songs “Like Fools” among others, and it sounds promising. Will it do better on the charts? Probably not…no radio play, unknown fledgling band except to a few….will still be iffy.

    And I am a fan of Sugarland/Lady Antebellum. LA esp is more pop-country, but their songs are still catchy. I wouldn’t say “timeless”, but few artists are nowadays.

  5. You shouldn’t have, Leeann.

    Astute comments all around on that Scene poll. Bloggers seemed especially well-represented this year, which was very cool to see.

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