2006 proved to be another difficult year for the entire music industry. The same culprits - downloading and at times unexciting music - contributed to a less than stellar bottom line. But despite belt tightening, not all was glum country- wise.
Several acts moved onwards and upwards in 2006. Brad Paisley gained more of the acclaim he richly deserved.
Alan Jackson earned credit for going against the grain once again with musically spare albums ("Like Red on a Rose" and "Precious Memories") that were not the same old same old, even if his "same old" is mighty fine. George Strait's "It Just Comes Natural" was his strongest album in years. Dierks Bentley's "Long Trip Alone" showed he has staying power. Ditto for Josh Turner and his sophomore disc, "Your Man."
A number of smaller indie labels either started up or continued with Broken Bow continuing to do well. Big Machine enjoyed a strong start as well with Jack Ingram having the most success he's ever had, even scoring a number one song. Danielle Peck and Taylor Swift also did well on the charts.
On the small label side, Solomon Burke's "Nashville" disc was a fine blend of soul and country from the long-time veteran. Jessi Colter's return to the silver platter was most welcome, while Dale Watson also put out a solid Texas honky tonk disc.
Rascal Flatts excelled at their brand of pop country, hitting the sheds while racking up huge sales.
Fellow popster Carrie Underwood enjoyed a big year as well, but that would be much to the chagrin of those favoring a more traditional country sound. Point of fact - she isn't very country.
The Dixie Chicks, unfortunately, continued being country pariahs despite releasing one of the best discs of the year, "Taking the Long Way."
A bunch of artists lost their deal when Sony and BMG combined with an overhaul of management.
About the only new act that shows a lot of promise for the future could be The Wreckers, the duo of Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp, who have a pop edge to their country, but a bunch of strong songs with some attitude, and both sing really well.
Otherwise, the year featured no huge break out new acts in Jake Owens, Trent Tomlinson, Eric Church and Jamey Johnson. As of now, none appear headed for the big time. But they may be only one hit away.
RIP Buck Owens, Janette Carter, Cindy Walker, Billy Walker, Tower Records.
Here's to a happy and healthy 2007 filled with great country, bluegrass and roots music.