Sugarland (Country duo), and other great voices
I have head this woman's voice on the radio now and then, and only recently discovered that she is the singer for Sugarland, a group that's seen some success in the last couple of years. (Her name is Jennifer Nettles.) I have a long-time, listening ear for country music, though it's hard to follow the industry just by casual radio listening, since so much of country music is driven by a popular listening audience, and therefore not of much interest to me. It's not that recent country music is bad per say these days -- it's better than it was in the mid-90s, that's for sure -- but a lot of what gets airplay it is highly generic.
One of the things I listen for in country music singers, and probably in singers generally, is a uniqueness of voice -- one that cannot be duplicated merely by singing the notes on the chart. Anyone who watches shows like American Idol have no doubt observed that many people have excellent singing talent, but they could just as well sing one another's material, and there would be little to notice. (This is not as evident toward the end of Idol's talent contest, since product differentiation -- and the voice being a part of that -- becomes more pronounced.)
I happen to think Jennifer Nettles has a unique voice -- yes, somewhat nasally, but in a most pleasing way. And, really, I'd say about half of the greatest country music voices do have magical, nasally tones. So I am not complaining here; I'm complimenting her, you see. And there's a lot to like about the production of some of Sugarland's videos also. ("Baby Girl", for example.)
Again, one thing to carefully separate is a merely identifiable voice, from a truly unique voice. To use country music as an example, the 80s and early 90s, Garth Brooks, an easy to identify voice, dominated the country airwaves. Some of the record labels were trying to capture some of this market, and a few sound-alikes appeared. Clay Walker, for instance, could be very similar sounding to Garth Brooks. Garth was easy to duplicate, and thus not unique, as I'm using the term. And, true to my argument, I was a fan of neither. Garth had a few good songs, but the songwriter, not the singer, should get credit for that. I think quite a few singers could have made some of G.B.'s songs popular.
Finally, some of my favorite unique voices in country music (along with some video links) are as follows: George Jones, Vestal Goodman, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yokum, Loretta Lynn . Naturally, there are many more, but I lost too many hours of my life just swimming around on YouTube listening to great music videos already.
Okay, just one more: Patsy Cline.