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2007 Closes as Good Year for 'Roots' Music, While Retail Music Sales Fall Overall   


Although the final numbers won't be in for several weeks, the retail music industry is bracing for bad news. Even though 14 million albums were sold during the week after the Thanksgiving holiday, traditionally the biggest retail week of the year, the record companies are facing their steepest annual losses to date. But, as VOA's Katherine Cole explains, not all the news is bad.

For example, it's been a very good year for Patty Griffin.

Patty Griffin released Children Running Through, her sixth solo album, to glorious reviews in February. But that wasn't her only achievement in 2007. In May, an off-Broadway musical based on her songs opened, and quickly sold out its limited run. September brought the news that she'd be touring Australia in 2008, and October saw the release of a concert DVD. In November, Patty Griffin was named Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards, with Children Running Through taking the Album of the Year trophy. But that's not all. December brought word that the CD was nominated for a Grammy. It's one of the five nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk/Americana award.

Patty's facing some tough competition in the form of Mary Chapin Carpenter's The Calling; My Name Is Buddy by Ry Cooder; Tom Waits' Orphans; and Washington Square Serenade from Steve Earle. That's where you'll hear Earle singing "Days Aren't Long Enough" with his wife, Alison Moorer.

"Days Aren't Long Enough" is one of the five nominees for the Contemporary Folk/Americana Grammy.

But singer-songwriters weren't the only ones releasing notable Americana music in 2007. Guitar Player magazines proclaimed "Titan of the Telecaster," guitar master Bill Kirchen came out with Hammer of the Honkytonk Gods, a collection that showcases both his considerable songwriting and guitar playing skills.

The Derailers and Dwight Yoakum each released CDs spotlighting the songs of Buck Owens, the duo of Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs joined forces for a rootsy collaboration that delighted fans of many musical styles. In March, The Greencards released Viridian, their third CD. It features "Mucky the Duck," which has been nominated for the Best Country Instrumental Grammy award.

While it's been a good year for these out-of-the-mainstream artists, all of whom record for independent record labels, things have not been as rosy for the major labels, which have seen executives leaving at a record clip, and artists dropped more quickly than one would hope.

For the eighth year in a row, record sales have fallen. Going in to the month of December, only 415 mllion albums had been sold, down about 14 percent from the first 11 months of 2006.

This was also the year when superstars began leaving major labels. In October, Madonna announced her departure from the Warner Music Group, her home for the past quarter-century, to sign on with concert giant LiveNation. The move means LiveNation, not a traditional record label, will market all of Madonna's music and related business for the next 10 years.

A few months earlier, Paul McCartney turned heads when he left his longtime home of EMI for a new label started by the Starbucks Coffee chain. It turned out to be a wise move on Paul's part. His album, Memory Almost Full, was released in June, and available both in traditional record stores, and the more than 6,000 Starbucks Coffee locations in the U.S. It sold more than 160,000 copies the first week. That's a significant sales figure when you realize that just a few months earlier on January 14, the Dreamgirls soundtrack topped the Billboard albums chart with sales of just over 60,000 cies in one week.

Interestingly, while sales are down for traditional music sellers, non-traditional sales, which include iTunes, Internet sales, and retailers like Starbucks, are up 30 percent this year. That figure, however, translates to fewer than 14 mllion CDs, nowhere near the number needed to offset the losses seen by traditional retailers and the mainstream musicmakers.

That brings us back to Americana music. While analysts blame lack of "superstar titles" for the slump in mainstream music sales this year, there was no such dearth of strong CDs by Americana artists, many of whom are refugees from the major labels, cast away in recent years for being "too old." 2007 saw excellent new releases from established stars Lyle Lovett, John Fogerty, Levon Helm, and Emmylou Harris being sold, and reviewed, alongside newer acts like The Avett Brothers, The Duhks, and Uncle Earl.

In the end, it was starpower that caused the most excitement. The most-anticipated CD of the year, was also one of the last Americana albums to be released in 2007.

Raising Sand is the collaboration between bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss and the legendary Robert Plant. The odd pairing of the Grammy-winning fiddler and vocalist, and the former lead singer for Led Zeppelin has won over many critics. The pair's vocals compliment each other brilliantly. Those voices, combined with stellar songs and impeccable musicianship, result in something even greater than the sum of those two impressive parts, as you hear in the song, "Killing the Blues."