Who Will Dominate Country Music’s Packed Year-End?
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The fourth quarter is looking robust, with big releases ranging from Kanye West to Barry Manilow, but its secret weapon is an unusually strong slate from the country sector. “It’s the busiest in the five years I have been down here in Nashville,” says Warner Nashville president John Esposito. The genre came into the quarter powered by a booming September: Kenny Chesney (who has nine albums that have scanned more than 1 million units) had first-week sales of 130,000 with The Big Revival, according to Nielsen SoundScan; George Strait (19 million-sellers) scanned 51,000 in the first week of The Cowboy Rides Away Live; 10-time million-seller Tim McGraw moved 71,000 copies of Sundown Heaven Town in its first week; Lady Antebellum (three million-sellers) released 747 on Sept. 30, which is projected to move 100,000 to 125,000 in its first week; and Bringing Back the Sunshine, also out Sept. 30, from two-time million-seller Blake Shelton, has projected first-week sales of about 200,000. And there’s more in store for Nashville’s action-packed fall -- not including now-I’m-a-pop-artist Taylor Swift, whose 1989 is predicted to sell 750,000 in its first week.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of Billboard.