Various Artists

Now That's What I Call Country, Vol. 4

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Contemporary country, at least the commercial wing of it, completely rewrote the genre handbook in the first decade of the 21st century, and with rock increasingly marginalizing itself into stylized genre exercises and urban and hip-hop becoming the cultural mass center of things, commercial country stations are now filling the void that used to be occupied by classic pop and rock songs, and if all of it usually seems closer to the Eagles than Hank Williams most of the time, well, people still call it country -- even with all the blazing Fenders and Strats and big-sounding drums. This fourth installment in the popular Now That’s What I Call Country series just proves the point, really -- it’s the newest volume in a series that has sold over 80 million copies in the past decade. All of the 18 tracks collected here were big radio and download hits in the past year, and 11 of them hit the number one spot. This is country these days, like it or not, even if it might have been called something else 25 years ago. Highlights in this little country time capsule include Taylor Swift's “Back to December,” Darius Rucker's “Come Back Song,” Miranda Lambert's “Only Prettier,” Sugarland's “Stuck Like Glue,” Keith Urban's “Put You in a Song,” Lady Antebellum's “Hello World,” and new/old traditionalist George Strait's “The Breath You Take,” among others. The real value of collections like this is the way they zero in on a very specific few months of time in the world and capture that period in amber, making a little music box of memories for that unique and fleeting moment in time. After all, new songs are constantly breaking out somewhere, already vying for a spot on the fifth volume.

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