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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Country music sales climb in US
Julie Roberts
Julie Roberts is one of the new raft of country stars
Country music sales in the US have risen by more than 10% in the last year, thanks to a wave of new artists, industry sources have said.

The rise of 11.2% has led to a "sense of optimism", according to Luke Lewis of Universal Music Group Nashville.

"The really good news is that new artists are contributing in a big way," said Mr Lewis.

The new wave of artists includes Josh Gracin and Gretchen Wilson, who topped the country charts for several weeks.

"The pick-up in sales is not attributable to a couple of big superstars. The sales are spread out among a lot of different artists," said Mr Lewis.

Country upsurge

Six of the artists in the Top 25 of the Billboard album chart on July 10 were new country acts: Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Josh Gracin, Julie Roberts, Dierks Bentley and Josh Turner.

Four other acts - relative newcomers Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts and the more established Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith - are also in the upper reaches of the album charts.

Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks caused a storm with anti-war comments last year

Last year, The Dixie Chicks, one of the biggest country acts in the US, sparked controversy when singer Natalie Maines criticised US president George W Bush at a concert in London, shortly before the Iraq war.

Some radio stations refused to play their tracks, and Bush supporters burned their CDs in protest.

Maines subsequently apologised for the phrasing of her remark, but maintained that she had the right to criticise the president and his policies.

Strong debut

Gretchen Wilson's debut album Here for the Party has sold almost two million copies after only eight weeks in the charts.

"That was a big surprise, and it represents a couple of million units that nobody thought was going to be there," said John Grady, president of Sony Music Nashville, Wilson's record label.

"One of the things I like about country music as a genre is that it is so small that a couple of records can make a big difference," added Mr Grady.

In the first six months of this year, more than 31.3m country music CDs were sold, compared to 28.1m sold in the first six months of 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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