Nashville Scene‘s 16th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll – The Year of Chris Stapleton

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.”

You can see the full results here and critic’s comments here. In the meantime, enjoy some selected comments from our participating staff.

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


  1. 2015 was remarkable year. I saw Cam perform in person at a Friday afternoon free concert in the Boston Common last summer. She was a preliminary act for Kasey Musgraves. Cam’s potential was obvious from that concert. She secured me for life as a fan, and I am thrilled for her that she has been nominated for a Grammy. Her album has some wonderful tracks, Burning House being the most famous now, but others like Mayday that may yet attain the same recognition. Not all of what she sings on the album is really country, yet some tracks are and her talent is unmistakable. Chris Stapelton also is deserving of a Grammy. Oddly, I learned of him not from country radio but from an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR, of all places!

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