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The aging of country music

Country Standard Time Editorial, July 2005

Two years ago, Vince Gill released the tongue-in-cheek song "Next Big Thing," sung from the perspective of a veteran star performer having a difficult time on the current musical landscape. Gill sang, "When you finally hit the top, man, you know what that means?/Well, everybody's ready for the next big thing."

One felt for Gill, who said he meant nothing negative, but somehow listeners could get the sense that he had just a tinge of bitterness wondering why his career wasn't quite where it once was despite putting out high quality material.

The good news for Gill and a bunch of others is that while Nashville labels may always be looking to churn out the next superstar, a bunch of artists who have been around the block still are putting out music no matter what the age.

Look no further than the ageless Willie Nelson, who puts out more albums that just about anybody in country.

Perhaps the most surprising album coming down the pike is from Eddie Arnold. Yeah, the same Eddie Arnold who first hit the charts almost exactly 60 years ago with "Each Minute Seems A Million Years" on RCA. Arnold is now 87 and come August, he will put out an album of new music, "After All These Years."

Now chances are that Arnold won't be topping the charts for 21 weeks like he did in 1947 with "I'll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)," but who knows? Maybe he could chart again as he did most recently in Christmas 1999 with his version of "Cattle Call" with LeAnn Rimes. Assuming there's still some gas left in the tank, it will be quite fascinating to hear Arnold once again.

A few other vets, like Porter Wagoner, still put out quality music as well, albeit on smaller labels. And even more recent performers with track records like Gene Watson and Con Hunley released new discs.

And while "middle-aged" musicians career-wise may be in a neither here, nor there situation of not impacting the charts all that much, yet having zero interest in only hitting the golden oldies circuit, they, too, are certainly putting out great music. Check out Dwight Yoakam's "Blame the Vain," which came out in June on the respected New West label. Marty Stuart is back doing his own thing in late August with "Soul's Chapel" on Universal South.

As usual, fans must search and find this music, but in this day and age - especially considering the internet - that's not all that hard to do.

Don't necessarily rely on the television stations like Great American Country or CMT to see what's happening musically - that's only an image being created around the music. Just ask Keith Urban if videos haven't boosted his career just a bit.

So, Eddy Arnold and Porter and Dwight and Marty and others may not be regulars on your television screen, but dig a little deeper than that.

Music fans need not only be concerned about the young, good looking turks, who could be the future of country. There's something still be appreciated in the music coming from singers who helped make country music what it is today.