Jewly Hight

In the 167 years since the Stephen Foster-penned sheet music for "Hard Times Come Again No More" went on the market, the parlor song has been done, and done, and done again, by performers of numerous generations and styles, long ago passing into the desensitizing familiarity of the American folk songbook. Still, the rendition that Miko Marks recorded for her third overall album, and first in more than a dozen years, Our Country, stands out, even from her own past studio performances.

The only true constants in the music industry during the tumultuous pandemic era have been fantastically sobering ones: lost livelihoods; interrupted career momentum; belated recognition of the brokenness of a system built on the exploitation of Black innovation and labor.

Country music's longstanding race problem suddenly became a hot topic in early February after the white, twenty-something, good ol' party boy and newly minted country chart-topper Morgan Wallen was caught on tape drunkenly shouting a racist slur.

To be a respected citizen of the bluegrass world, no matter how far newgrass, jamgrass, folk-rock, pop, indie and classical offshoots push its boundaries, requires being able to play in a traditional style with real command and grit. The band Sister Sadie has certainly lived up to that musical ideal over the past eight years through various festival and club dates and two album releases.

Founding singer-guitarist Dale Ann Bradley describes, with conviction and an evocative gardening tool metaphor, how her band mates attack their instruments:

In 1966, Charley Pride's debut country single, "The Snakes Crawl at Night," was deliberately mailed out to radio stations without a photo of him. That way, his label strategized, his voice alone would inform the industry's first impression before Pride's African American identity was widely known. On the one hand, this oft-repeated tale underscores the blatant racism of the 1960s country music business and, on the other, the belief that his singing could nonetheless sell itself.

Nashville's Namir Blade seemed to emerge out of nowhere with the fully formed vision of Aphelion's Traveling Circus, a concept album with an elaborate sci-fi narrative, witty, theatrical skits and prismatic musicality released on the respected indie hip-hop label Mello Music Group in late September.

A.B. Eastwood traveled to the star-studded Miami studio scene to learn the fundamentals of production. He returned with a vision for elevating his hometown.

How Tim Gent and Bryant Taylorr, a rapper and singer respectively, began cultivating their talents and strategizing how to open the door to the insular world of professional songwriting.

Entrepreneurial Mychael Carney helped his poet-rapper sibling, The BlackSon conceive of music as a business. Their BlackCity collective has grown into a model of community-minded and empowered economic self-sufficiency.

Daisha McBride, The Rap Girl, has channeled her performing abilities, affably clever personality and college-level industry studies into her own version of artistic and professional equilibrium in Music City.