What matters most is the heart and soul of the music. Many country fans from disc jockeys to plain ordinary fans are concerned about the fate of country. It is with artists such as the Many Barnetts, Steve Earles and The Derailers of the world that we can rest assured while country may change - and that is probably given for any type of music evolving over time - it can remain in good hands with those giving a nod to country's underpinnings.
Country music stops with Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and Shania Twain for a chunk of fans.
And while this triumvirate along with other current stars of the scene are to be commended for bringing these people to the dance.
But as we are seeing increasingly in recent months, they are not the sum and total of country music. Of course, there are many types of country available to the public, not just from the stars or purveyors of hot new country.
In fact, a bit of a backlash has resulted against some artists for straying too far from their and/or country's roots. To wit, the performance or lack thereof of Reba's most recent disc, featuring covers of mainly non-country songs.
The problem is hearing and finding out about those making quality country music, which may not necessarily be for the masses. There are a number of artists - both those on mainstream, Nashville-based labels, and those on the edge - who are worthy and commendable, even if not played on radio very often.
One potential shining star is Mandy Barnett, who just released her debut on the Asylum label. Barnett, known for her singing in a Patsy Cline show at the Ryman, stepped out on her own showcasing a voice that gets to the meat of the songs in a spare, graceful way.
Further out on the edge - perhaps due to being on small labels more than anything else - are bands such as the Derailers. The Texas band follows in the footsteps of Buck Owens.
Listeners also should check out most any product from such labels as Hightone (Dale Watson, Buddy Miller), Dead Reckoning, featuring and owned by Kieran Kane, Mike Henderson and Kevin Welch, Bloodshot (the Old 97's and Moonshine Willy),Watermelon (Don Walser) and Dejadisc, both out of Texas. While far better known, Steve Earle hopefully has put his demons behind him in offering an excellent new disc on his own label, a brand new venture.
But try finding these acts on the radio or finding the discs in stores. Unfortunately, due to ever tight playlists, fans need to generally check out college radio stations for a listen. In the Boston area, for example, WZBC of Boston College and Harvard's station (the Hillbilly at Harvard show) both offer new country sounds. About the only commercial radio station we found in New England playing some of the more edgier country is WKLB in Boston and only courtesy of DJ Jeff McKee on Sunday nights. Better than nothing though.
For the on-line computer crowd, there are bulletin boards to engage each other in discussion about country music as well. One prime board, though not always very informative or sophisticated, is the usenet group at rec.music.country.western.
The radio stations need to be pestered to play quality artists who may not be selling millions.
For the uninitiated, expand your horizons.Clearly, we have to thank those who propelled country music along in recent years, but they should not be a red light for delving into country as it's meant to be played.