Australia’s typically-collegiate country music scene is going through a bout of infighting and finger-pointing just weeks out from the genre’s biggest party of the year.
The legendary singer-songwriter John Williamson quit as president of the Country Music Assn. of Australia earlier this week, but not without taking a shot at January’s Country Music Awards -- the “Golden Guitars” -- for becoming too Americanized.
Williamson's enduring brand of Australian folk music has seen him inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2010 and win multiple Golden Guitars. As he left his presidency after a decade in the job, he singled-out Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey's “Great Country Songbook” (Sony Music), which includes covers of American songs and is up for six awards.
In an article published in the Northern Daily Leader, Williamson also questioned Keith Urban’s nomination in the best male artist category, because the Australian artist is a long time resident of the U.S. “'Mainstream is really now American style country rock,” he reportedly said.
The 41st "Golden Guitars" take place Jan. 25 in Tamworth, and is the culmination of the annual Country Music Festival.
Cassar-Daley and Harvey have since withdrawn their award nominations, the latter artist explaining their decision has “been done with the utmost respect to our industry and our peers and the Golden Guitars are far too dear to me to have controversy surround them.”
Today, incoming CMAA president Dobe Newton has tried to draw a line under the controversy. In a statement issued today, Newton says he’s “saddened by the very public debate” launched by Williamson. In his first public action since taking the top job, Newton says, “The CMAA usually welcomes any debate which puts country music in the spotlight, however the recent commentary has included statements which directly impact the reputations of two of our most dedicated and decorated country music artists.
"As a consequence, we - as an organization, have a duty to speak out in support of our members. While Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey's decision to withdraw their album from the 2014 Golden Guitar Awards may be seen as a drastic move, it is perfectly understandable given the unnecessary media attention that's been generated. How disappointing that a wonderfully received and commercially successful product should be 'tarnished' at a time when it should be celebrated.”
To draw Keith Urban into the “debate,” he adds, “just makes it all the more unfortunate.”
Newton, a performer with the band the Bushwackers, concludes, “I trust that the dust will now be allowed to settle so that our industry can focus on the business of promoting the great talent from our diverse country music community and the businesses and fans that support them".
It’s not the first time Cassar-Daley and Harvey's “Great Country Songbook” has been embroiled in controversy. The album had opened at No. 1 on the ARIA albums chart earlier this year. However, in an unusual about-face, the trade body republished the chart after discovering a “small number of sales units were incorrectly classified as chart eligible,” and the set was bumped to No. 2. The beneficiary of the republished chart was Kanye West’s “Yeesus,” which was elevated to the top spot.