Kellie Pickler’s Parting w/ Sony Could Spell Doom for Trad. Country Albums

“See,” says Sony Records Nashville. “This is why we can’t have good records.”

If you want validation of just how good and traditional Kellie Pickler’s latest album 100 Proof is, check the album’s abysmal sales numbers. Though the 3rd album from the 6th place-finishing 2005 American Idol contestant will probably sell more copies than most traditional country artists will sell in their lifetimes, it was possibly not enough for her label Sony Records Nashville and it was announced today, on Kellie’s 26th birthday, that her and Sony have parted ways.

This spells doom for any hope of a late bloom from 100 Proof, which was released in January. With Pickler’s parting, it is unlikely Sony will put any more promotion behind it, or release any new singles. And though it was a long shot to begin with, without solid label backing, 100 Proof will probably not find any love from the year’s round of award shows. Despite being a critic’s favorite, including here where we asked if it was the best mainstream album in years, 100 Proof quickly dropped off the charts after debuting at #2 in country. The album’s best single “Tough” stalled at #30.

Kellie Pickler knew she was taking a gamble when she made a record drawing inspiration from Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. “It’s a big risk for a record company to take a leap like they did with me,” she told The Boot. Pickler was of the opinion, “…there’s room for all of it, there’s room for the pop country, and the classic country, and the traditional sound.”

Apparently she was wrong.

Despite how some traditional country fans may feel about Pickler and 100 Proof, the album was a big opportunity to restore some balance between pop and traditional country in the mainstream format. Now its failure (at least in the mind of Sony Nashville) could mean an even tougher, if not impossible environment for mainstream country stars to release traditional albums. Sony took a gamble, and lost. So how likely do we think Sony or its other Music Row bunk mates will take the same gamble again?

Meanwhile Kellie Pickler has a big decision to make. Does she become the first American Idol alum to mutiny from the pop world and continue her traditional approach, or does she revitalize her career with a pop resurgence on a different label? Or maybe she has already made that decision, seeing how the Sony split was sold as being a mutual decision. Kellie’s name still is a very well-recognized, franchise-caliber commodity.

Clearly the inspiration from 100 Proof came from somewhere. Clearly Kellie felt caged in the pop country world. And all hope might not be lost for 100 Proof. An album of this caliber could become a forgotten classic, performing a slow burn over years until it finally reaches the sales potential both Pickler and Sony were hoping for.

But at this moment, it is hard to say anything other than that it just got much harder to release a traditional country album in the mainstream country music world, and that Kellie deserves a badge of courage for putting her career on the line to try.