This week Nashville Scene released the results of its 16th annual country music critics poll. Country Universe is proud to be represented with voter participation from Kevin Coyne, Tara Seetharam, Jonathan Keefe and Sam Gazdziak. The article also includes published commentary from Sam and Tara.
The year 2015 seems to have gone down in history as the Year of Chris Stapleton, and such is reflected in this year’s poll results. Stapleton scores the top album of the year with Traveller while also taking the top spot in the Male Vocalist and Songwriter categories and finishing second only to Cam in New Act. Little Big Town also made a strong showing, taking top spot honors for Duos and Groups, and scoring the year’s top single with “Girl Crush.”
I look at Chris Stapleton winning a New Artist of the Year CMA Award the same way I looked at Ichiro Suzuki winning Rookie of the Year in 2001. He was sort of a rookie, on a technicality, but that overlooks all the work that he did elsewhere, in The SteelDrivers — just like Suzuki in the Japanese Pacific League. —Sam Gazdziak
Eric Church wins the Badass of the Year Award for name-dropping Jeff Tweedy and Ray Wylie Hubbard in a new song at the CMA Awards show. —Sam Gazdziak
2015 was my first year living in the Middle East, and it seems good things happen when you detach yourself from country radio: I became more diligent in my hunt for quality music and more appreciative of the artists who take risks for their craft. And in Rhiannon Giddens, Maddie & Tae, Jason Isbell and Drake White, I found tremendous new music that, delightfully, sounds nothing alike. Country music doesn’t need to be saved; it just needs to be heard. —Tara Seetharam
The most frustrating thing about the country music world — and you’ll find this in every aspect of arts, sports, politics, etc. — is that there are now only two sides to any argument: “I’m right” and “You’re an idiot.” It leads to very polarized arguments with no room for discussion. If Chris Stapleton won a CMA Award over your favorite artist, it doesn’t mean that he’s a singer you should check out. It means Sam Hunt was robbed and the CMAs have lost all credibility. If Zac Brown Band released an album you didn’t like, it doesn’t mean that he made an artistic overreach. It means that he’s a sellout to mainstream country. —Sam Gazdziak