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Something old, something new

Country Standard Time Editorial, June 2004

Loretta Lynn and her great new album, "Van Lear Rose," were the subject matter of our last comments, in effect challenging country radio to play a real meaty album from one of country's leading ladies.

This month, it seems quite appropriate to focus on the new, perhaps up and coming artists instead of the veterans who are so worthy.

It is exceedingly difficult for a newcomer to make a go of it commercially in this day and age. Radio station play lists are very tight, meaning they tend to play the same small batch of songs for weeks or months on end. That, in turn, leaves little room for new songs to crack the play list.

And if a singer or band don't have a song that can make the country charts, then the chances of their album doing "well," at least in the viewpoint of the major labels, is a difficult proposition.

And think how much harder it is for an unknown with no history to gain a foothold. Having hits assures radio programmers at least are going to listen to the record.

It is not the least bit unusual for an album release to be delayed or even scrapped if a single from an artist can't break out. If a song does, that tends to lead to album sales.

Since late April, two worthy artists, one who probably is a household name by now - Gretchen Wilson - and one who isn't, at least not yet, Julie Roberts - have released their debuts.

Wilson, who grew up east of St. Louis in rural Illinois, hit the top right out of the starter's gate with "Redneck Woman" off a very strong album, "Here for the Party." She sings with authority and emphasizes her small town roots in songs that have a realness about them. Wilson seems to know of where she came and isn't afraid of singing about it.

Roberts hasn't broken out, but she has a very fine self-titled album that veers towards a bluesy, soulful country sound. The South Carolina native also sings quite well on a slew of well-penned songs. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she has the requisite good looks either. Ultimately, it's the music that counts though, and like Wilson, Roberts delivers on that count as well time and again.

We're not in the habit of being the great prognosticator when it comes to determining who shall succeed and who shall fail, but both Wilson and Roberts give country fans lots of reasons to think that on a level playing field, why not them, just as Loretta Lynn rose to the fore once upon a time.