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Looking back at 2005

Country Standard Time Editorial, December 2005

Country music in 2005 proved to be a mixed year with uncertainty about the future.

Like the rest of the music industry, it was not a blockbuster year for sales. Overall for the industry, sales were down about 10 percent from the previous year, and this was with the huge increase in digital sales on-line.

There were no new albums from the likes of Tim McGraw, Shania Twain or the Dixie Chicks, which could spur sales.

A few artists had very successful years, which clearly advanced their careers. Dierks Bentley stepped up to the plate with several hits, a top selling album, "Modern Day Drifter," and lots of positive response. He is a multi-dimensional talent, capable of playing country and bluegrass.

Brad Paisley continued his climb as well with yet another fine disc, "Time Well Wasted." He is able to combine great playing, keeping his music firmly planted in country and not forgetting his roots, while also maintaining a sense of humor.

Lee Ann Womack and Martina McBride deserve credit for going against the grain. Womack had one excellent throwback album, "There's More Where That Came From" and garnered a few awards as proof.

McBride's "Timeless' found her covering country chestnuts, a welcome departure from her increasingly pop direction. And McBride now is able to headline bigger venues as well.

Kenny Chesney continued as one of country's superstars by releasing not one, but two albums. Even though he could not be accused of delving into hard core country, he earned respect for going his own way with a laid back album in January, "Be As You Are: Songs From an Old Blue Chair."

A few veterans continued to show they have some gas left in the tank, such as Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver and John Prine.

On the downside, 2005 was not a breakout year for new artists as '04 was for Gretchen Wilson and Big$Rich. A few did well - Miranda Lambert, for example, who went gold with the very fine "Kerosene." She probably enjoyed the most success of the Nashville Star contingent. Buddy Jewell did not do have a good year with his second album and with good reason. This year's star, Erika Jo, hardly made any dent in the marketplace.

Van Zant also had a successful year, if considering them country.

From a business standpoint, there was a lot of change. Sony folded into BMG and physically moved its longstanding offices on Music Row in Nashville up the road to the BMG complex. Whether this will ultimately make any difference in the operations remains to be seen.

DreamWorks Records closed its doors once Toby Keith said he was flying the coop and starting his own label, Show Dog Nashville. While DreamWorks had several worthy artists, such as Tracy Lawrence, Keith was its meal ticket. And once he was gone, Universal, which owns DreamWorks, decided it was time to transfer over a few artists that they wanted and give walking papers to the rest.

Probably by far the biggest success story among record labels was Broken Bow. Not only did the independent label have one artist who did well (Craig Morgan), they were also able to break a brand new artist (Jason Aldean). It is extremely difficult for a new label to make any headway, particularly if going for commercial country radio airplay. Hats off to Broken Bow for breaking through this year.

The ups and downs were evident in 2005 for country music. Here's to a stronger 2006.