Ya gotta love the CMAs. It’s the most politically-motivated award show the genre offers up, but at the same time, factions in its membership can tilt the balance and deliver some surprise nominations and dark horse victories. The bloc voting is an open secret, as is the publishing of voter lists so that members can be lobbied for votes. But here’s the cool thing: there are just enough people in the voting membership that aren’t beholden to the powers that be to make some pretty interesting music sneak in there every once in a while. It’ll never be as “music first” as the Grammys, where only those who actually create the music are allowed to vote, but the CMA’s are also less susceptible to the crass commercialism and radio worship of their glitzy counterparts, the ACM’s.
One of the main differences between the Grammys and the CMAs is that when good stuff breaks through at the CMA Awards, it tends to be very traditional, whereas the Grammys have a tendency to lean towards the alt-country scene. Thankfully, 2007 is one of those years where the traditionalists made their voices heard. More on that will follow as I go through the highlights of this year’s ballot, starting with…
5 Nominations: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album, Musical Event
I had a feeling this year would be good to him, given the warm reception that his latest studio album has received. Last year, the nominees were announced and I thought the big story would be Strait being shut out for the first time in more than a decade…until they announced his induction into the Hall of Fame. I was especially happy to see his nomination for “Wrapped”, instead of “Give it Away”, which won at the ACM’s.
4 Nominations: Female Vocalist, Vocal Group, Musical Event (twice)
I was cautiously optimistic that she’d return to the Female Vocalist race, which received a major shake-up this year. Last year, it was a no-brainer for me to root for Carrie Underwood, who I expect to repeat her 2006 victory this fall. With Krauss and Miranda Lambert now up against her, though, it’s hard for me to pick a personal favorite. I suspect I need only play “Away Down the River”, “Jacob’s Dream” and “Simple Love” to remind me which nominee made the music I’ve loved the most this year.
1 Nomination: Female Vocalist
I suspect that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will be near the top of my list of favorite studio albums this year, and I’m thrilled that the CMA gave her a nomination for Female Vocalist. Lambert’s one of those rare artists who can be simultaneously cool and appealing to the mainstream: her sales numbers are a hell of a lot closer to Martina than they are to Lucinda. Good to see the CMA sees the light, as radio continues to slowly lift its head out of the sand!
5 nominations: Entertainer, Single, Album, Male Vocalist, Music Video
I think that’s three years in a row as the top nominee! He’s scored five this year, after scoring six the previous two. I’ve been predicting a big night for him for a while now, but looking at the ballot, he has more competition than I thought he would. He didn’t get a nomination for Song, which surprised me, since the CMA has always loved his jokey numbers. As of this moment, I’m still thinking he’s this year’s Male Vocalist and possibly Entertainer, but I’d be a lot more comfortable in that prediction if he wasn’t up against Strait’s comeback and Turner’s breakthrough.
1 Nomination: Male Vocalist
I went with my gut feeling and predicted he’d be nominated for this award, and suggested he’d take Alan Jackson’s slot. Why did I think that would happen? Jackson made a pop-leaning album, and Turner continued to carry the traditionalist torch this year. There’s a tremendous amount of support for this kind of country music among CMA voters. That sometimes goes unnoticed because so little music like this is actually released into the mainstream. He’s got a shot at winning this because he’s been very successful with very traditional country music. Hell, I’m not even a purist, and he’s my personal choice this year.
3 Nominations: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Album
A stronger showing than I was expecting this year, though all three nominations are deserved. I went for a very long walk yesterday and decided to listen to a playlist of Keith’s music. I was taken aback by just how good this guy really is. What a relief that his personal challenges didn’t hurt him with CMA voters.
4 Nominations: Female Vocalist, Single, Song, Music Video
I don’t think there’s a more substantial song nominated this year than her big hit “Anyway”. For whatever reasons, CMA voters went light and frivolous in the Single category. There was a push to get Entertainer and Album nods that didn’t quite get there, but at least McBride was given acknowledgment in three major categories, including a songwriting nomination for the first single she’s written.
3 Nominations: Female Vocalist, Single, Music Video
I had predicted she’d get an Entertainer nod, as I thought the support for her had continued to build. Carrie Fever may be wearing off a bit, though. She received the three obvious nominations, but didn’t pull off Entertainer. In addition, her duet with Brad Paisley, “Oh Love”, was on the ballot but didn’t finish in the top five of the Musical Event race, which may indicate that either BMG’s clout, the popularity of Underwood/Paisley, or both, doesn’t run as deep as I had thought.
1 Nomination: Musical Event
Tim’s lack of major nominations has set off a mini-firestorm in the media. I’m most shocked that his nomination in Musical Event is for his Tracy Lawrence guest spot, while the only actual Musical Event that was a hit this past year was his duet with wife Faith Hill, “I Need You.” Jim Malec of The 9513 said in the comments that he believes Tim didn’t get an Album nod because Let It Go is “terrible”, while Chet Flippo over at CMT argues that the album was too serious for CMA voters. I personally think that after consolidation, Curb just doesn’t have enough clout to compete with the major labels anymore. I think the same problem is what’s kept Toby Keith off the ballot for two years running, also. Since he went indy, the nominations have all dried up.
2 Nominations: Album. Musical Event
Vince Gill is not only the youngest living inductee to the Hall of Fame since Johnny Cash, he’s also a nominee in a major category the same night he’s being inducted, something even George Strait couldn’t pull off last year. Don’t be shocked if he wins for his 4-CD opus Three Days, and pay close attention when he’s accepting his accolades this fall; Gill represents country music at its most dignified, and he’s the standard that all artists should aspire to.
1 Nomination: Vocal Group
I’ll end with a quick reflection on the Chicks returning to the CMA ballot for the first time since 2003. Here’s the deal: consumers bought more than 2 million copies of their latest album, making it one of last year’s biggest releases in any genre. The Grammy sweep showed that they have support among the musicians in the industry, and their noms at the CMT Music Awards show that they still have a lot of country music fans. The real mystery is how they were left off this list last year, though it’s not too much of a shock given their label didn’t lobby on their behalf. The reality is that in the Vocal Group race, the competition is thin, but I predicted that some no-name group would still get the nod because of anti-Chick sentiment. Apparently, they have a bit more support than I suspected they did in the rank-and-file of the CMA.