Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

2008's Top Country Artists

Now that the crystal ball has dropped in Time Square, "Auld Lang Syne" has been sung, and 2008 is just a memory, it's only fitting to tabulate the end-of-year countdowns to see where your favorite country artist ranked among all the others. Billboard Magazine used its weekly Top Country Songs chart, which is based on radio airplay, and its weekly Top Country Albums chart, which is based on sales, to calculate the Top Country Artists list for 2008. Topping the list is none other than nineteen-year-old, recent high school graduate Taylor Swift, who continued to take the music industry by storm, appealing to country fans and Radio Disney fans alike, and taking her number of hits on MySpace to stratospheric levels. Her eponymous debut album, which was released in October 2006, has sold more than 3.7 million copies while her sophomore effort, Fearless, has already sold more than 1.5 million discs since its November 11 release. Swift spent the majority of 2008 as Rascal Flatts' opening act on their "Bob That Head Tour," but fans can expect her to headline her own tour later this year. To add another jewel to her crown, Swift was ranked #5 in Billboard's overall list of Top Artists from all genres of music, following Chris Brown, Lil' Wayne, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys.

Carrie Underwood became a household name when she won the fourth season of American Idol and she quickly became country's newest sweetheart. Capturing the title of Female Artist of the Year by the Country Music Association, the release of her CD Carnival Ride, and touring with Keith Urban helped Underwood land at the #2 spot on Billboard's Top Country Artists list. Trailing Underwood in the third spot are Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, better known as Sugarland, which has exploded onto the country music scene thanks in part to the huge success of Nettles' self-penned "Stay" and the release of their third album, Love on the Inside.

George Strait has been a top contender in the country music world for decades now and he still delivers the goods, landing in the #4 spot for 2008. At November's CMA awards, Strait walked home with the Single of the Year trophy for "I Saw God Today" and the Album of the Year award for Troubadour. Rounding out the list as the #5 country artist of the year is Gary LeVox, Jay Demarcus, and Joe Don Rooney, better known as Rascal Flatts. Their "Bob That Head Tour" was the second most-profitable country tour last year, raking in a whopping $55.8 million.

2008's Top Country Albums

When The Eagles recently decided to try their hand at country music, the result was the critically acclaimed Long Road Out of Eden. With the band's huge appeal across multiple genres of music, fans snatched up an amazing 7 million copies of the disc, ranking it as the top-selling country album of 2008 as tabulated by Billboard magazine. Following behind The Eagles at #2 on the Top Country Albums list is Taylor Swift's debut album. Carrie Underwood's sophomore album, Carnival Ride, landed at #3, thanks in part to songs like "Just a Dream," "Last Name," "So Small," and "All-American Girl." Garth Brooks returned to the country albums chart last year with The Ultimate Hits, which was the fourth top-selling country album of the year. Rounding out the top five country albums was Rascal Flatts' Still Feels Good, which includes the hit title track and "Winner at a Losing Game."

Sugarland is the only artist with multiple entries on the top 10 albums chart. Their latest smash album, Love On the Inside, which includes "All I Want to Do" and "Already Gone," landed at #6 on the yearly countdown. Following in the #7 spot is the band's sophomore album, Enjoy the Ride, which includes the hits "Stay," "Settlin'," and "Everyday America." Rock and bluegrass royalty merged when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss joined for an episode of CMT Crossroads, which resulted in the eighth best-selling country album last year, Raising Sand. Kenny Chesney continues to sell huge numbers of CDs and Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates was no exception last year, as it landed at #9. Last on the top 10 list was Reba McEntire's Reba Duets, which included "Because of You" with the original American Idol Kelly Clarkson and "Every Other Weekend" with Kenny Chesney.

2008's Top Country Tours

Surprisingly, Kenny Chesney was not included on Billboard's 2008 Top Country Artists list, but that's a totally different story when it comes to the top tours of 2008. The recently crowned four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year is in a league of his own when it comes to touring and his "Poets and Pirates Tour" was the top draw in the country music genre last year and the sixth most profitable tour of all genres of music, raking in a stunning $86 million. Chesney's all-day festival concerts, featuring numerous other top country artists, really drove up concert attendance and ticket receipts and this year should not be any different. Chesney's 2009 tour will be called the "Sun City Carnival" and is sure to include a handful of festival shows once again, including Gillette Stadium near Boston on August 15. No word yet on whether the "Sun City Carnival" will hit the Louisville area or not. Keep reading in the upcoming months for more details as the tour itinerary becomes finalized.

The next most profitable country or country-related tours behind Chesney's were The Eagles at $56.6 million and Rascal Flatts' "Bob That Head Tour" at $55.8 million. The ten top-grossing tours of 2008 were: 1) Bon Jovi -- $210.6 million, 2) Bruce Springsteen -- $204.5 million, 3) Madonna -- $162 million, 4) The Police -- $150 million, 5) Celine Dion -- $91 million, 6) Kenny Chesney -- $86 million, 7) Neil Diamond -- $81.2 million, 8) Spice Girls -- $70 million, 9) The Eagles -- $56.6 million, and 10) Rascal Flatts -- $55.8.

Krauss and Plant Top Grammy Nominations

When the Grammy nominations were announced last month, the top contender was the rock/bluegrass duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The pair earned five nominations: Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for "Killing the Blues," Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Rich Woman," Record of the Year (includes all genres of music) for "Please Read the Letter," and Album of the Year (includes all genres of music) and Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album for Raising Sand. To date, at 21 trophies, Krauss has more Grammy wins than any other female, winning her latest last year along with Plant for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)."

"The Cowboy" George Strait has yet to win a Grammy trophy, but he's got four shots this year. His Troubadour CD will vie for Best Country Album and the album's title track is up for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Strait will compete against himself in the Best Country Collaboration with Vocals category as he earned two nominations in the category for "Shiftwork" with Kenny Chesney and "House of Cash" with Patty Loveless.

And the country nominees are: Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Martina McBride's "For These Times," LeAnn Rimes for "What I Cannot Change," Carrie Underwood's "Last Name," Lee Ann Womack's "Last Call," and Trisha Yearwood's "This Is Me You're Talking To"; Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Trace Adkins' "You're Gonna Miss This," Jamey Johnson's "In Color," James Otto's "Just Got Started Lovin' You," Brad Paisley's "Letter to Me," and George Strait's "Troubadour"; and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: Brooks and Dunn's "God Must Be Busy," Lady Antebellum's "Love Don't Live Here," Rascal Flatts' "Every Day," SteelDrivers' "Blue Side of the Mountain," and Sugarland's "Stay."

Best Country Collaboration with Vocals: Kenny Chesney and George Strait's "Shiftwork"; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' "Killing the Blues"; George Strait and Patty Loveless' "House of Cash"; Sugarland, Jake Owen and Little Big Town's "Life in a Northern Town"; and Trisha Yearwood and Keith Urban's "Let the Wind Chase You"; Best Country Song: Ashley Gore and Bob Regan's "Dig Two Graves"; Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby's "I Saw God Today"; Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto's "In Color"; Jennifer Nettles' "Stay"; and Ashley Gorley and Lee Thomas Miller's "You're Gonna Miss This"; Best Country Album: Jamey Johnson's That Lonesome Song; Patty Loveless' Sleepless Nights; George Strait's Troubadour; Randy Travis' Around the Bend; and Trisha Yearwood's Heaven; Heartache and the Power of Love; and Best Country Instrumental Performance: Cherryholmes' "Sumatra"; Jerry Douglas and Lloyd Green's "Two Small Cars in Rome"; Bela Fleck and The Flecktones' "Sleigh Ride"; Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny, Jerry Douglas and Bruce Hornsby's "Is This America? (Katrina 2005)"; and Brad Paisley, James Burton, Vince Gill, John Jorgenson, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner's "Cluster Pluck."

In addition to these country nominations and the previously mentioned nods, Lady Antebellum will compete in the overall Best New Artist category along with Adele, Duffy, the Jonas Brothers, and Jazmine Sullivan. Kathy Mattea's acclaimed Coal CD will compete for the title of Best Traditional Folk Album. The Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album category includes Rodney Crowell's Sex and Gasoline and Emmylou Harris' All I Intended to Be.

Congratulations to all the nominees. Be sure to tune into the live broadcast of the Grammys on February 8 on CBS-Television.

AMA Country Winners

When the 2008 American Music Awards were handed out in Los Angeles on November 23, online voters revealed who their favorite country artists are. Taylor Swift was named Favorite Country Female Artist, Brad Paisley Favorite Country Male Artist, and Rascal Flatts was crowned Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group. "All-American Girl" Carrie Underwood took home the trophy for Favorite Country Album for Carnival Ride.

Congratulations to Taylor, Brad, Gary, Jay, Joe Don, and Carrie!

Mindy McCready Attempts Suicide

Following drug addiction and trouble with the law, thirty-three-year-year-old "Guys Do It All the Time" and "Ten Thousand Angels" singer Mindy McCready seems to have once again hit rock bottom, as she attempted suicide in the early morning hours of December 17. She reportedly returned to her Nashville area home around 3:30 a.m., intoxicated, and phoned her mother, who became worried and called her son Timothy to go check on his sister. When he arrived at his sister's house, McCready was covered in blood in her bedroom, having reportedly slit her wrists after taking some pills. As of press time, McCready remained in a Nashville area hospital. In recent months, she made headlines when she admitted to having an affair with baseball player Roger Clemens, later suffering a nervous breakdown and entering a rehab center.

Country Family Album

Singer/songwriter/producer/musical mentor John Rich, who makes up country duo Big and Rich with Big Kenny Alphin, took the plunge and said, "I do" last month. Rich married longtime girlfriend Joan Bush, a former model who owns a modeling agency in Houston, on December 6. The reception guest list read like a Who's Who list of the country music community with the celebration taking place at Fontanel, the log mansion built by Barbara Mandrell and husband Ken Dudney, now being used in Rich's CMT country talent show Gone Country.

Emerson Drive fiddler David Pichette became a first-time father on November 21 when he and wife Jill welcomed a daughter into the world. Emma Victoria Pichette weighed in at 5 lbs, 14 ozs. The proud papa described the event as "definitely the greatest moment of my life."

Congratulations, John and Joan and David and Jill!

Well, that's it for this month. Here's wishing you and yours the happiest of New Years. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, ‘cause country music is comin' your way."