By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
8. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift (Big Machine): Nashville tried, and failed, to get in on the teen-pop extravaganza of a few years ago. Now that Britney is a divorcee with two kids, it finally succeeds with this 16-year-old wunderkind. Swift neither plays for cuteness, nor poses as jailbait; she simply uses her native intelligence to express clearly to anyone who will listen her hopes for the future, her growing worldliness, and her dawning awareness that boys may be more trouble than they' re worth.
9. Kellie Pickler, Small Town Girl (BNA Nashville): The big-voiced, calamari-hating Pickler finished sixth on the latest season of American Idol, which in Nashville narrowcasting terms is a dream marketing setup. Add the right collaborators (like songwriter Aimee Mayo and producer Blake Chancey), and you wind up with an unvarnished pop-country jewel featuring a surprisingly confident headliner who's not as dumb as you think.
10. Jace Everett, Jace Everett (Sony Music Nashville): Justin Timberlake brought sexy back to pop in 2006 (or at least announced that intention), but country apparently wasn't ready for the same. Everett's slyly insinuating singles "That's the Kind of Love I'm In" and "Bad Things" (as in, things he wants to do to you, sweet thing) barely dented the charts, and his album was quietly dumped into stores. Everett lost his deal in a merger and by July was ranting about "the dumbing down and homogenization of our culture" on his MySpace page. You know what that means: a great screw-the-music-business album is brewing somewhere. Good luck finding a rhyme for "homogenization," but I'm sure someone in Music City can swing it.
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