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Joe Nichols

On his own: Joe Nichols plays solo after opening for Alan Jackson.

Poignancy, it appears, still has a place on the country music charts. Not the jingoistic type that made anthem-spiked heroes out of Toby Keith ("The Angry American") and Alan Jackson ("Where Were You"), but the real poignancy of honoring loved ones, making deeply felt confessions of the Merle Haggard variety. Arkansas-born newcomer Joe Nichols, 26, and the possessor of long black tresses, achieves this with the humble "The Impossible." The song, swollen with understated soul, contains the lyric "In 13 years, I never saw him cry/But the day grandpa died/I realized/Unsinkable ships sink." Nichols sang the song at last month's Country Music Association awards ceremony, an honor aided by the fact that his first album, A Man With a Memory, debuted at the top of Billboard's Heatseekers chart this past summer. He doesn't pick fights with Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, but Nichols undoubtedly still possesses heart.


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