A number of country artists were able to combine commercial and critical success in 2012. Nine artists who finished in the Top 20 of Billboard's Top [selling] Country Artists also finished in the Top 20 of our poll's Artist of the Year category: Taylor Swift (No. 1 Billboard/No. 3 poll), Jason Aldean (No. 2/No. 5), Luke Bryan (No. 3/No. 15), Carrie Underwood (No. 5/No. 16), Eric Church (No. 6/No. 1), Zac Brown (No. 7/No. 11), Blake Shelton (No. 8/No. 10), Miranda Lambert (No. 13/No. 2) and Little Big Town (No. 20/No. 9).
Some artists sold a lot of records without impressing the critics. Toby Keith (No. 7 on the Billboard list), Rascal Flatts (No. 14), Lee Brice (No. 16), Hunter Hayes (No. 17), Scott McCreery (No. 18) and Brantley Gilbert (No. 19) did not receive a single vote between them for the poll's Artist of the Year.
On the other hand, some artists impressed the critics without selling many records. Nine of the Top 20 finishers in the poll's Artist of the Year category failed to show up in Billboard's Top 50: Jamey Johnson (No. 5 in the poll), Iris DeMent (No. 6), The Carolina Chocolate Drops (No. 7), Dwight Yoakam (No. 9), Don Williams (No. 12), Corb Lund (No. 13), Marty Stuart (No. 14), Willie Nelson (No. 18, tie) and Old Crow Medicine Show (No. 18, tie).
Taylor Swift was voted the No. 5 Best Female Vocalist and the No. 8 Best Songwriter, which was curious inasmuch as her uncertain pitch is often redeemed by her smart lyrics, much as Bob Dylan's, Leonard Cohen's and Joni Mitchell's have long been.
The New York Times, explicitly excluding Swift from the country category, cited Lee Brice's Hard 2 Love as the country album of the year, but the 93 critics voting in this poll disagreed, naming it the 38th best country album of the year.
Top reissues by living artists: The Flatlanders' Odessa Tapes (No. 2 overall), Connie Smith's Just for What I Am (No. 14), Wanda Jackson's The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles (No. 16). Tompall Glaser's Award Winners/Rings and Things (No. 18) and Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (No. 19).
It was a stellar year for Jay Joyce, who produced the top two singles in the poll: Eric Church's "Springsteen" and Little Big Town's "Pontoon." He also played guitar on Miranda Lambert's Four the Record, which yielded this year's No. 5 and No. 9 singles in the poll.
Neither Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack nor Kris Kristofferson released an album in 2012, but all four contributed lead vocals to Jamey Johnson's No. 1 album, Living for a Song, and to Rodney Crowell's No. 10 album, Kin. In similar fashion, Alison Krauss didn't release an album but contributed duet vocals to Living for a Song and to Don Williams' No. 18 album, And So It Goes. Likewise, Merle Haggard contributed duet vocals to Living for a Song and to Willie Nelson's No. 23 album, Heroes.
The poll's top six string-band albums: The Time Jumpers' The Time Jumpers, (No. 13), The Carolina Chocolate Drops' Leaving Eden (No. 14), Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson's Wreck and Ruin (No. 15), The Avett Brothers' The Carpenter (No. 19), Old Crow Medicine Show's Carry Me Back (No. 29) and The Punch Brothers' Who's Feeling Young Now (No. 31).
The top nine albums from artists older than 50: Dwight Yoakam's 3 Pears (No. 2), Iris DeMent's Sing the Delta (No. 3), Marty Stuart's Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down (No. 7), Alan Jackson's Thirty Miles West (No. 8), Rodney Crowell's Kin: Songs by Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell (No. 10), Don Williams' And So It Goes (No. 18), Lionel Richie's Tuskegee (No. 20), Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale's Buddy and Jim (No. 22) and Willie Nelson's Heroes (No. 23).
For the first time ever there were two albums by African-American artists in the poll's top 20: The Carolina Chocolate Drops' Leaving Eden (No. 14) and Lionel Richie's Tuskegee (No. 20).
Ninety-three music journalists voted in the 13th annual Country Music Critics' Poll. They wrote for big coastal newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times as well as smaller heartland dailies such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Green Bay Press-Gazette and Lincoln Journal Star. They wrote for big magazines like Rolling Stone and Playboy and for music websites such as Engine145.com, Pitchfork.com, CountryUniverse.net and PopMatters.com.
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