Last night, the CMA stamped its approval on the leading contemporary country stars of today. Congratulations to Kevin for commandeering the most popular live blog in Country Universe history. Here is a series of highlights (according to me) from an otherwise staid ceremony:
Best performance: “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert; “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood. With understated brilliance, Lambert shifted gears by offering her Texas twang on the stripped-down ballad, while Underwood hit all the glory notes on her dramatic tearjerker with style and grace. Often pitted as rivals and polar opposites, the two proved that country music holds plenty of room for these two prodigious talents. Although Underwood ended Lambert’s faint hopes of claiming the Female Vocalist prize, bet on Lambert winning her fair share of CMAs in the near future.
Sound off: Repeatedly an issue, the Sommet Center’s sound system had problems again this year. Also, Nashville is a town of songwriters, but L.A. is a town of scriptwriters, and some intelligent, humorous ones would be welcome at next year’s ceremony.
Nashville’s full of musicians, too: Let’s tip our hats to first-time CMA award winner, Musician of the Year, Mac McAnally.
Something shiny in the goody bag: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood won their respective vocalist trophies, and with a little more training and better comedic timing, would make suitable hosts for many awards shows to come. Underwood, of course, sang the living daylights out of “Just a Dream,” and Paisley honorably noted the passing of Jerry Reed with a sweet guitar solo. He later followed with a wonderful rendition of “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
Stars & stripes: The three-hour show featured God (George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” was named Single of the Year, patriotism (Rodney Atkins’ performance of “It’s America”) and football (Billy Ray Cyrus boasted Tennessee Titans pride, while Kid Rock wore a Titans jersey). No election talk, though.
Britain really is that great: Led Zeppelin has never won in a competitive Grammy category, but frontman Robert Plant (who was absent last night) now owns a CMA award for his collaboration with Alison Krauss on the rockabilly number “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Sugarland’s performance provided a dramatic reading of the Bono-esque “Love.” Now, if only Def Leppard had joined Taylor Swift in a sequel of their Crossroads special. On that note…
Frozen, not fearless: For all her boundless youthful enthusiasm, Swift seemed stiff and wooden during the renaissance reenactment of her #1 smash, “Love Story.”
Oh, brother, where are thou? Where was Toby Keith? Oh, never mind. Speaking of conspicuous “absences,” the two most popular polarizing figures in the current pop-country market, Swift and Rascal Flatts, were simply guest stars in this show. The Flatts did take the Vocal Group trophy for a record-setting sixth time.
Oh, sister, where art thou?: Like Plant, Alison Krauss was not on hand to accept the Musical Event award. Expect the pair to make an appearance at the Grammys in February. No Trisha Yearwood, either, but the CMA’s senseless omission of her in the Female Vocalist category likely doesn’t inspire attendance.
Best appearance by a mother: Brad Paisley, who had been standing backstage, descended the stairs to kiss wife Kimberly and her pregnant tummy when he was announced as Male Vocalist of the Year.
Worst appearance by a father: Every time Billy Ray Cyrus presents an award, he shares his happiness at returning to the great state of Tennessee. In between filming the upcoming Hannah Montana movie, residing in his Music City home or shouting out lame proclamations at country awards shows, when is he ever not in Nashville?
Who messed with the guest list?: Presenters included Lee Ann Womack, Josh Turner and Vince Gill. Performers included Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler and the Wailers. Darius Rucker deserved his place at the party, though.
Winner at a discount game: The outlandish jacket worn by Rascal Flatt Jay Demarcus appeared to be made of a half-price curtain purchased at JcPenney. Thankfully, his outfit wasn’t procured at Harley Davidson (See: “P” for Pickler).
Love is a battlefield, but no worries: The country version of Pat Benatar, four-time Female Vocalist winner Martina McBride, arrived right on time. She ensured us that faith will overcome all obstacles, life is a roller coaster ride and we should hold on tight to what we feel inside. It was hard not getting a little queasy after her cliche-ridden anthem.
Least effective proverb: In introducing legendary rockers Eagles, Brad Paisley trumpeted their importance by saying, “When you drink from a well, try to remember who dug the well.” Yet, the CMA failed to follow this phrase when approaching the Hall of Fame inductions again this year. Instead, Vince Gill was sent on stage to give brief, very brief, remarks about these pioneers. Before he announced the honored class (Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, Ernest “Pop” Stoneman and the Statler Brothers), he made the offhand comment, “I don’t know if any of them are here this evening.” Not likely, Vince, not likely.
When you drink from a well…: Reese Witherspoon appeared to be very happy to present the Male Vocalist of the Year honor.
Put a girl in it: Reba McEntire joined Brooks & Dunn on their performance of “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” but her bit part seemed to be a poor use for the redhead’s immense talents.
Groundhog Day: Chesney (Entertainer), Paisley (Male), Underwood (Female), Flatts (Group), Sugarland (Duo) and Strait (Album) all repeated in their respective categories.
Worst rumored surprise: Internet message boards and Nashville gossip mills reported that the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, would be making a guest appearance on the show. Given that Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill have all recorded his material, I’d bet that he could make a killing as a “real” country songwriter. More appropriate would’ve been for Jimmy Buffett to climb off the boat and join in the fun. With all the Caribbean themes and musical schemes of late, Nashville’s turning into Margaritaville. That may explain Reese Witherspoon’s joy and jubilation.
Bruce and Buffett would’ve provided a nice boost in musical expertise, but ‘Lil Wayne was a worthy replacement.
Best “surprise”: Although rumors had swirled for days regarding the return of Shania Twain, her presence on stage when presenting the Entertainer of the Year award was still a welcome sight. The crowd even honored her with a standing ovation, a warmer reception than she ever received during her salad days as a country-pop supergoddess. Here’s to hearing more music from a great beauty, a classy ambassador and a musical powerhouse.