Author Archives: Ben Foster

Single Review: Cassadee Pope, “Wasting All These Tears”


While her pop-punk band remains on indefinite hiatus, former Hey Monday frontwoman Cassadee Pope attempts to re-start her career through the reality show strategy, having now been packaged into a country music star with a little help from The Voice.  Her debut country single “Wasting All These Tears” is weighed down by problems that tend to be common among former reality show contestants, foremost among which is a failure to stay out of the way of the song.

In listening to “Wasting All These Tears,” it’s disheartening to note just how irrelevant the actual song feels to the overall project.  Her performance feels extremely disconnected as she hits the notes prettily, but with little personal flair or sense of first-person authenticity.  As a listener, one doesn’t get the sense that she has any real emotional investment in the song.  As she forgoes subtlety and nuance in favor of empty belting, it becomes all too clear that this is all about the singer.

Besides the song itself being treated as a mere accessory, there’s too much clutter in the mix for “Wasting All These Tears” to work on any meaningful level as a vocal showcase.  Screeching electric guitars and murky background vocals place needless barriers between Pope and her listeners, making it difficult to even understand the words she is singing.

Unfortunately, a closer look at the lyrics shows a song riddled with odd unclear metaphors (“My loneliness was a rattle in the windows”) and trite phrases (“I’ll do everything I gotta do to get you off my mind”).  The didactic, heavy-handed treatment all but kills off whatever potency the song might otherwise have carried.

Written by Rollie Gaalswyk and Caitlyn Smith

Grade:  C-


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Single Review: Keith Urban, “Little Bit of Everything”

Little-Bit-of-Everything-Keith-Urban Keith Urban launches his upcoming new album Fuse with a little ditty called “Little Bit of Everything,” written by The Warren Brothers with pop singer-songwriter Kevin Rudolf.

The energetic performance and the singalong-friendly melody contain traces of the organic quality that has marked Urban’s best songs in this vein.  Frustratingly, the effect is dampened by an annoying drum machine and a lack of a strong hook (a deficiency for which the “na na na”s don’t quite compensate).

The bigger problem is a set of sloppy lyrics that mindlessly stumble about with no discernible point.  Between Urban singing about wanting to “hang a disco ball from an old oak tree” one moment and then wanting to “take a whole box of Cuban cigars and smoke ‘em nice and slow like they were good for me,” it’s hard to make sense of what’s coming out of the man’s mouth.  At a time when country music’s respect for women is not at a high point, lines about wanting “a cool chick who’ll cook for me but still dance on the bar in her tan bare feet and do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me” feels distasteful as well as unoriginal.

Is it a love song?  Is it a song about enjoying the simple pleasures of life?  It’s hard to tell where exactly the writers intended to go with it, but it sounds a lot more like “too much nothing” than “a little bit of everything.”

Written by Brad Warren, Brett Warren, and Kevin Rudolf

Grade:  C


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Single Review: Kellie Pickler, “Someone Somewhere Tonight”


A new chapter begins in Kellie Pickler’s career as she prepares to release her first music on her new record label Black River Entertainment.  She kicks things off with a true beauty of a song with the Dave Raines – Walt Wilkins ballad “Someone Somewhere Tonight.”

To call “Someone Somewhere Tonight” a love song feels like an oversimplification of sorts, even though that’s basically what it is.  Far from indulging in empty schmaltz, it’s a song that captures commonality of the human experience, meditating on the endlessly repeating cycles of birth and death while contrasting the different turns life can take based on a person’s choices.

Pickler’s performance doesn’t quite possess the sense of age-earned wisdom that enriched previous versions by Kenny Rogers and Pam Tillis, but her comparatively youthful take on the song is effective in its own right.  The poised, graceful lyrical interpreter who fully blossomed on last year’s 100 Proof makes a return as Pickler imbues the song with the gravitas of one who, lest we forget, has put in some hard living in only 26 years.  The arrangement strikes a balance between the modern and the traditional, while allowing plenty of leeway to let the lyric and performance speak.

It’s a compelling performance of a quality song – something far too rare in the modern country format.  Though richly deserving of a mainstream audience, such an astute, insightful ballad would hardly seem the usual go-to for an artist making her first radio bid on a new label, but this release would seem to confirm that Pickler’s pandering days are indeed over.

Only time will tell if the risk will pay off, and if the Black River promotional muscle will have any success in restoring Pickler to her slot at country radio.  But as Pickler ventures out with a new team behind her, and doubtless some increased notoriety in the wake of her recent Dancing with the Stars victory, there may be a reason to hope that “Someone Somewhere Tonight” just might bring a little substance and sincerity back to mainstream country music.

Written by Dave Raines and Walt Wilkins

Grade:  A-


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Single Review: Justin Moore, "Point at You"


A song about a narrator whose woman completes him is a worthwhile concept, so long as one avoids pouring on the syrup.  But in this case, the execution falls very flat.

“If you wanna see my sweet side, my soft side, my best side, I just point at you,” Moore sings in the chorus.  The hook doesn’t have much heft, and is not particularly clever or interesting, but the bigger eye roll is that the song spends most of the time indulging in the tired backwoods rebel shtick on which too much of Moore’s career has already been wasted.

He’s got “a rough side, a wild side at least a country mile wide,” but so, it seems, does virtually every other twenty or thirty-something male artist on country radio.  The one-dimensional lyrics make Moore seem like a caricature, and when you add a brash, over-the-top country-rock production, the single seems to exemplify all of Moore’s most irritating tendencies as a recording artist.

It’s not as obnoxious as, say, “Bait a Hook,” but it’s also devoid of the earnestness of “‘Til My Last Day.”  “Point at You” is just overly loud and entirely uninteresting.

Written by Rhett Akins, Ross Copperman, and Ben Hayslip

Grade:  C-



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Win a Copy of Randy Rogers Band’s Trouble

Randy Rogers Band TroubleUPDATE:  Contest closed.  Congratulations to winner Brandy!

Texas Country group the Randy Rogers Band has a new album out today called Trouble, and Country Universe has gotten a hold of one copy to give away to a reader.

Trouble is the Randy Rogers Band’s eighth studio album overall, and second release on MCA Nashville.  The album includes their new single “Fuzzy” as well as last year’s Top 40 hit “One More Sad Song.”

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below telling us your favorite song the Randy Rogers Band has recorded.  A winner will be chosen via random number generator, so be sure to include a valid email address.  The contest will close on Saturday, May 4, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern/ 11:00 Central.


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Single Review: Scotty McCreery, “See You Tonight”

See-You-Tonight-scotty-mccreeryScotty McCreery has stated in interviews that his main goal with his upcoming second album is to get a Top 10 radio hit.  First single “See You Tonight” makes that goal a little too obvious.

McCreery makes his songwriting debut on “See You Tonight” – a song which aspires to be nothing more than radio fluff, and doesn’t even work on that level.  A great hook is an important component of enjoyable radio fluff, but the hook of “Girl, I gotta see you tonight” is weak and forgettable.

The single largely abandons the moderate traditionalist bent of McCreery’s debut album, with a polished-to-a-fault contemporary arrangement and pounding guitars taking its place.  Though McCreery is a technically proficient singer, his performance does little to cut through the stink of pandering that hangs over the whole project.

Scotty McCreery may have strong voice, but his artistic potential will not be realized as long as he keeps shamelessly chasing radio.

Written by Ashley Gorley and Scotty McCreery

Grade:  C

Listen:  See You Tonight


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Album Review: The Mavericks, <em>In Time</em>


The Mavericks
In Time


A reminder of the magic that can happen when a strong lyric meets a fresh, engaging production and a vocal performance that cuts right to the bone.

Founded in 1989, The Mavericks enjoyed a successful run on MCA Records in the mid-nineties.  Though radio was generally lukewarm toward their efforts, that didn’t stop The Mavericks from quietly building a formidable fan following, selling gold and platinum at retail, and famously winning the 1996 CMA Vocal Group trophy without ever reaching the Top 10 at radio.  In Time marks the now-reformed band’s first new album in the ten years since their 2003 disbandment, as well as their first release since signing with Scott Borchetta’s Valory label.

Though The Mavericks have long been filed under the “Country” label, In Time, like much of the group's past work, is a melting pot of genre stylings, incorporating, country, classic 1950s pop, and a heavy flavoring of Latin and Tex-mex influence.  The inimitable vocals of Raul Malo

continue to be the group’s most definitive feature, but The Mavericks still maintain their function as a group, with each member’s individual talents given ample spotlight, and with the arrangements incorporating everything from mariachi trumpets to surf guitar to pedal steel, there's hardly a dull moment to be found.  Malo supplies a solid set of self-written material, taking writing credits on every track and collaborating with the likes of Gary Nicholson, Bob DiPiero, James House, and Al Anderson (who co-wrote The Mavericks highest-charting single, 1995's “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”).

There's a sense of restless excitement evident on even the most melancholy of material, and the best tracks practically boil over with energy and urgency.  “Come Unto Me” demands to be heard with a swelling melody, forceful performance on Malo’s part, and an aggressive stop-and-start rhythm, no doubt making it nearly impossible for the narrator’s love interest to resist the titular come-hither call.  The jaunty organ-driven arrangement of opening track and second single “Back In Your Arms Again” almost makes the listener wonder if the narrator is bemoaning his on-again-off-again lover's hold over him, or celebrating it.

Conversely, the band is able to utilize a less-is-more approach with equal efficacy, best  exemplified in the sorrowful ballad “In Another’s Arm,” in which Malo’s evocative delivery fills out every nook of the bare-boned arrangement.  Malo almost sounds like a male Patsy Cline on the regret-filled countrypolitan-tinged “Forgive Me,” while “That's Not My Name” lightly plugs along in a manner that seems to mirror the defeat of its downtrodden narrator.  The penultimate track, “(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven” is over eight minutes long, but the smooth tango groove is so absorbing that one hardly notices, after which the set closes with a rousing Spanish version of “Come Unto Me” (“Ven Hacia Mi”).

“Lies” is slightly less satisfying, as the melody doesn't quite match the punch of the songwriting and performance, but it ultimately pales only in comparison to its glorious counterparts.

It’s anybody’s guess how long The Mavericks will stay together this time, but the longer the better.  In Time is a richly rewarding set that deserves to be mentioned in any discussion of the year's best albums – another fine Mavericks album which we have every reason to believe will age just as gracefully as its predecessors.

Top Tracks:  “Back In Your Arms Again,” “Come Unto Me,” “In Another's Arms”



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Retro Single Reviews: Shania Twain, 2004-2012

After the enormous success of the Up! project, Shania Twain released a top-selling Greatest Hits album in 2004, which spawned three singles.  She then embarked on an extended hiatus before returning in 2011 with a new single and a reality series on The Oprah Winfrey Network.  In this set of retro single reviews, we'll take a look at Twain's six most recent single releases to date.


“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington or Mark McGrath)
Peak:  #7

The first single from Twain's Greatest Hits package was her last Top 10 country hit to date, but only the second Top 10 hit for her then-up-and-coming duet partner Billy Currington.  The premise is shamelessly silly, as are the spoken word intro and the “You'll be sexy in your socks” line, but Twain and Currington sell it with flair.  Twain delivers her verses with a flirty, playful performance, while Currington renders his with the same laid-back smolder that would become his calling card at country radio.

In the tradition of the Up! album, “Party for Two” was released in both a country and pop mix, with Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath appearing as Twain's duet partner on the latter.  Unfortunately, McGrath's performance lacks the character needed to sell a song of this ilk, and the gaudy pop arrangement has aged poorly in comparison to the country mix, demonstrating that Twain was often at her best when keeping a toe in country waters.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade (Currington version):  B+

Listen:  Party for Two (with Billy Currington)

Grade (McGrath version): B-

Listen:  Party for Two (with Mark McMcGrath)


Peak:  #24

The soft, dobro-driven arrangement is the perfect fit for this angst-filled ballad.  Twain performs the song in an emotive almost-whisper of a delivery, while the evocative melody conveys regret and desperation with a tinge of hope.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Don't!


“I Ain't No Quitter”
Peak:  #45

The third and final single from Twain's Greatest Hits fizzled due to lack of promotion.  Quite possibly Twain's countriest single since “No One Needs to Know,” “I Ain't No Quitter” lacks the lyrical cleverness of Twain's best work, but she elevates the song through her fun, laid-back performance.  Likewise, the bouncy, fiddle and steel drenched arrangement is a delight.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  B

Listen:  I Ain't No Quitter


Peak:  #29

A rare instance in which Twain worked with a team of co-writers in addition to her then-husband, “Shoes” was written for inclusion on a Desperate Housewives companion album, but the boot-stomping fiddle-laden arrangement would have not have sounded out of place on The Woman In Me.

The lyric draws on a series of humorous double-entendres comparing men to footwear. (“Some make you feel ten feet tall, some make you feel so small, and some you want to leave out in the hall or make you feel like kickin' the wall”)  The concept is pure novelty, but Twain pulls it off brilliantly with a catchy everywoman-sing-along chorus and an in-on-the-joke vocal performance.

Written by Shania Twain, Robert Johnn “Mutt” Lange, Tammy Hyler, Joie Scott, and Kim Tribble

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Shoes

Shania Twain Today is Your Day

“Today Is Your Day”
Peak:  #36

In the wake of Twain and Lange's divorce, “Today Is Your Day” was the first Twain single since the days of her debut album not to be produced by Lange.  Unfortunately, David Foster's production lacks the freshness and restraint of Lange's work, with a clutter of instruments distracting from Twain's performance instead of spotlighting it.

Twain's vocal exudes sincerity, vulnerability, and age-earned wisdom, but struggles to overcome the fact that the lyrics amount to little more than a string of inspirational clichés.  Add some unnecessary vocal processing on top of that, and Twain's comeback single falls greatly short of the event that it should have been.

Written by Shania Twain

Grade:  C+

Listen:  Today Is Your Day


“Endless Love” (with Lionel Richie)
Peak:  #12 (U.S. Adult Contemporary)

A remake of Richie's classic 1981 hit duet with Diana Ross, from his country duets project Tuskegee.  It starts out on a pleasant note, but gradually devolves into an overwrought shouting match that seems to go on forever as Richie and Twain attempt to force emotion into the song.

Written by Lionel Richie

Grade:  B-

Listen:  Endless Love (with Lionel Richie)

Previous:  It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing


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Country Music Hall of Fame Welcomes Cowboy Jack Clement, Bobby Bare, and Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

This year’s inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame have just been announced from Nashville by Bill Anderson.  The 2013 inductees are Cowboy Jack Clement (Non-Performer), Bobby Bare (Veterans Era), and Kenny Rogers (Modern Era).

Songwriter and producer Jack Clement, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1973, claims writer’s credit for some of country music’s most beloved classics.  He supplied Johnny Cash with multiple hits, including the standard “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” and has also had his songs recorded by the likes of Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, and Ray Charles, among many other legendary artists.

Bobby Bare enjoyed a run of country hits throughout the sixties and seventies, including genre classics such as “Detroit City,” “500 Miles Away from Home,” “Four Strong Winds,” and “Marie Lavaux.”  He hosted the program Bobby Bare and Friends on The Nashville Network from 1983 t0 1988, and in the late nineties, enjoyed a strong second act as a member of the country music supergroup Old Dogs with friends and fellow legends Jerry Reed, Mel Tillis, and Waylon Jennings.

Kenny Rogers is widely known for his beloved 1978 classic “The Gambler” – a Grammy and CMA-winning crossover smash that spawned a TV serial adaptation in which Rogers starred.  His multifaceted career has also included success with his band The First Edition, as well as crossover success lasting on through the 1980s and hit duets with stars such as Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Dottie West, and Dolly Parton.

Congratulations to the 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees from the Country Universe community.  What’s your take on this year’s inductees, and who would you like to see follow them into the Hall in 2014?


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2013 ACM Awards: Staff Picks and Predictions


The stars are converging on Las Vegas this weekend as the industry gears up for this year’s ACM Awards.  We at Country Universe have been busily poring over this year’s list of nominees, picking and predicting the winners while getting ready for all the live-blogging madness Sunday night.

This year Luke Bryan replaces Reba McEntire as Blake Shelton’s co-host, and we have a roster of live performers that includes everyone from Eric Church and Hunter Hayes to Kelly Clarkson and Jewel.  On top of that, Shania Twain will return to present at the ACM Awards for the first time in a decade, and we look forward to a historic collaboration between George Strait and Garth Brooks as the two modern genre legends pay tribute to the late ACM executive producer Dick Clark.

Who would you most like to see emerge victorious at this year’s ACM Awards?  Share your picks and predictions in the comments section below.  Tune in to the live telecast tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern/ 7:00 Central on CBS, and be sure to drop by Country Universe for our live blog.  Meanwhile, our friends at Engine 145 will be hosting a live blog of their own, so feel free to pay them a visit as well.

Entertainer of the Yeartaylor-swift-2012-acm-awards-press-room-01

Should Win:

  • Jason Aldean - Kevin
  • Luke Bryan
  • Miranda Lambert - Tara
  • Blake Shelton - Dan
  • Taylor Swift - Jonathan, Ben, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Jason Aldean - Tara, Kevin
  • Luke Bryan
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton - Leeann
  • Taylor Swift - Jonathan, Ben, Dan

Leeann:  As far as I know, Taylor Swift had the highest tickets sales in 2012, so she remains a force to be reckoned with.  I, however, wouldn’t be surprised to if Blake Shelton won based on his high profile due to The Voice.  Then again, I also wouldn’t be too surprised to see Jason Aldean win based on the fact that he sold out Madison Square Garden in under 10 minutes.  I can’t imagine.

Kevin:  I’m going out on a bit of limb here by picking Aldean as the likely winner, but seeing him sell out Madison Square Garden in ten minutes indicates to me that his fan base is quite motivated.  I really think that Swift is going to suffer among the industry voters for going blatantly pop, and I suspect it will be enough to push them into Aldean’s camp.  Carrie Underwood, of course, is the real Entertainer of the Year. She’s just not nominated.

Jonathan:  It’s impossible, really, to envision Swift, the biggest star in this line-up by several orders of magnitude, losing an award that’s partially fan-voted.  And, even though I don’t think her Red era scans as country as any meaningful way, she’d get my vote, too, as the most compelling entertainer of the lot.  Though it’s worth mentioning that, had she been nominated, Carrie Underwood would’ve been my pick.

Tara:  Let’s try a little positivity – here’s what I still love: “Fly Over States,” the Pistol Annies, and Swift’s drive.  But frankly, I’m not comfortable with any of these artists – based on their current output and presence – representing our industry as EOTY, and that’s quite frustrating.

Ben:  Carrie Underwood would have been my choice without reservation had she been nominated.  But with her out of running, I’d have to shrug it over to either Aldean or Swift, and while neither of them are making music that feels country to me, Swift’s material has generally been more interesting.  Sadly, I still have to second Tara’s closing sentence, as I can’t wholeheartedly endorse any one of these five artists as the face of country music in 2013.

Dan:  So let’s see:  Swift is in full Top 40 mode, Lambert released her three weakest singles back-to-back (pre-“Mama’s Broken Heart”), Aldean and Bryan have totally burrowed into their respective formulae, and Blake Shelton’s best contribution is TV goofery.  I guess I’d be least put off by the goofery being rewarded, but yeah.

Male Vocalist of the YearEric Church

Should Win:

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Dan, Kevin
  • Toby Keith - Leeann
  • Blake Shelton

Will Win:

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Toby Keith
  • Blake Shelton - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin

Jonathan:  Take a Mulligan on this one, ACMs:  Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Chris Young.  There, now was that really so hard?

Leeann:  Toby Keith has the best voice of these men, but I have no doubt that Blake Shelton will win it, since this is his time.

Kevin:  I don’t see a way around a Shelton win, though I think Church would have a shot if he wasn’t also nominated for Album, giving voters an easy way to honor both Church and Shelton on the same ballot.

Ben:  Everyone here has a shot except Toby Keith.  From a critic’s perspective, Eric Church is a shoo-in per usual, but I expect the ACM will continue handing unearned trophies to the musically underachieving Blake Shelton.

Dan:  Church please, but I’d be fine if this category ended up rewarding Aldean or Bryan for their success. Just want to see some mix-up.

Tara:  Same ole.

Female Vocalist of the YearCarrie-Underwood-Blown-Away-Tour

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert - Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan
  • Martina McBride
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood - Jonathan, Kevin

Kevin:  Sheer power of wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  But to ignore Carrie Underwood’s stellar year artistically and commercially would be a sin.

Ben:  If there were ever a year in which Carrie Underwood deserved the Female Vocalist trophy, this would be it.  Unfortunately, Underwood’s lack of nominations

in the Entertainer and Single categories suggest that Miranda Lambert remains the current favorite.

Jonathan:  Even if I’ve been slightly disappointed by Underwood’s choices of singles during the eligibility period, I stand by what I said in our CMA picks and predictions last fall:  Whatever substantial limitations she may still have as an artist, Underwood is currently doing what is far and away her career-best work, and I’d like to see her rewarded for that.

Dan:  Or, to ape Jonathan’s mathematical approach from a few award shows back:  “Blown Away” + “Two Black Cadillacs” > “Over You” + “Fastest Girl in Town.”

Tara:  Based on vision, creativity and voice, this is a no-brainer.  I have a hard time picturing anyone dethroning the Lamberts, though.

Leeann:  I honestly won’t be upset if Miranda Lambert wins, because she’s got my favorite voice of the group, but I think Carrie Underwood actually deserves the award.  I’ve been liking her voice more these days and she’s just about always on target for live performances.

 Vocal Duo of the Yearflorida georgia line

Should Win:

  • Big & Rich
  • Florida Georgia Line - Ben? Dan?
  • Love and Theft
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square - Tara?

Will Win:

  • Big & Rich
  • Florida Georgia Line - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Dan
  • Love and Theft
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square - Leeann, Kevin

Kevin:  Since they won the CMA’s, I’m assuming Thompson Square will follow up with an ACM.  My preference would be completely eliminating the category.

Leeann:  Sugarland hasn’t done anything in the last year and I have absolutely no interest in the others in this category, so my random guess leans toward Thompson Square.

Ben:  Of all these nominees’ recent output, “Cruise” seems to be the hit with the most staying power, so I imagine Florida Georgia Line will be this year’s stand-in while Sugarland remains MIA. Our vocal duos seriously need to step it up.

Jonathan:  I just can’t with this.

Dan:  I love “Cruise,” and even I’m going to be kind of depressed when this happens.

Tara:  Have we ever needed new Sugarland music more?

Vocal Group of the Yearlittle big town tornado

Should Win:

  •  The Band Perry
  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town - Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin
  • Zac Brown Band – Jonathan

Will Win:

  • The Band Perry
  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin
  • Zac Brown Band

Jonathan:  So, how’s about we just reallocate the obviously superfluous Vocal Duo trophy to recognize two of the acts nominated in this category?  I am honestly fine with four of the five possible outcomes, but LBT is on a years-overdue roll that looks to continue here.

Leeann:  I think Little Big Town finally has a chance of winning this.

Ben:  I believe Little Big Town has this one in the bag, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  They already won Vocal Group at last November’s CMAs, and with a top-selling album and a number-one hit falling within the current eligibility period, the case is much stronger for an LBT victory at the ACMs.  I don’t see how they can lose.

Tara:  I’m with Jonathan – there are four possible deserved victories here. But Little Big Town stole my heart with Tornado, and I’m digging their time in the spotlight, even if it’s ridiculously overdue.

Dan:  Being real:  Their CMA victory for “Pontoon” and “Pontoon” alone was a little silly.  This one will be based on “Pontoon” plus another #1 hit plus an almost-Platinum album, and that’s delicious.

Kevin:  Now we’re all just going to predict Little Big Town after being burned for not doing so at the CMAs and the Grammys!

New Artist of the YearBrantley Gilbert

Should Win:

  • Florida Georgia Line - Dan
  • Brantley Gilbert
  • Jana Kramer - Ben, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Brantley Gilbert - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Dan, Kevin
  • Jana Kramer

Kevin:  Brantley Gilbert seems popular.  None of them seem award-worthy. Sorry to cop out again, but if I was a voter, I’d leave this category blank, too.

Leeann:  I have no idea who will win, but Jana Kramer is the only one I can remotely stand.

Ben:  All three nominees had solid successes this past year, but Kramer is the one I see as having the most potential.  But fan-voted categories are not based on potential, so Gilbert’s strong internet fan base will likely power-vote him to victory.

Jonathan:  Kramer is the Death Is Not An Option choice, I guess, but I am not at all invested in any of these three acts.

Dan:  FGL are the only ones here who have done anything I actually enjoy, so I’ll gamble on them despite their unbearable first album.

Tara:  Dude, where’s Kip Moore?

Album of the YearChief

Should Win:

  • Carrie Underwood, Blown Away Tara, Ben, Kevin
  • Eric Church, Chief – Leeann, Dan
  • Taylor Swift, Red
  • Luke Bryan, Tailgates & Tanlines
  • Little Big Town, Tornado - Jonathan

Will Win:

  • Carrie Underwood, Blown Away - Ben
  • Eric Church, Chief - Jonathan, Leeann, Dan, Kevin
  • Taylor Swift, Red
  • Luke Bryan, Tailgates & Tanlines
  • Little Big Town, Tornado - Tara

Leeann:  Eric Church is no longer the underdog and Chief is my favorite nominated album.

Kevin:  With Miranda Lambert not nominated, I’m guessing Eric Church will fill their “honor the cool one in the Album slot” criteria.  Underwood made the best album.

Ben:  Bryan’s album is too uneven, and I don’t feel Swift’s album has any business being nominated at a country awards show.  Any one of the remaining three would make a worthy winner, but I’m hoping and tentatively (read: stubbornly) predicting that voters will recognize Underwood’s recent artistic growth with her second win in this category.

Tara:  I’m going out on a limb with both of these choices.  Blown Away isn’t technically a better album than Chief, but I’d really like to see it get some love, if only to continue to pump creativity and ambition into the Underwood team.  I think there’s a chance that Little Big Town’s heightened profile will give them some legs in this category, though, and I’m cool with that.

Jonathan:  The Church and Little Big Town sets have the best balance between ambition and actual quality of these five albums, and either would be a richly deserving winner.  The bloated Red can be whittled-down to a flat-out brilliant 7-song EP, but even then it’s still a pop record that probably shouldn’t be nominated here on principle.  Church’s CMA win and his overall nomination tally make him the presumptive front-runner, but there isn’t an outcome here that I’d find surprising.

Single Record of the Year

Should Win:LBT pontoon

  • Eli Young Band, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Over You”
  • Little Big Town, “Pontoon” - Kevin
  • Eric Church, “Springsteen” - Tara, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Dan
  • Hunter Hayes, “Wanted”

Will Win:

  • Eli Young Band, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Over You” - Leeann
  • Little Big Town, “Pontoon” - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Kevin
  • Eric Church, “Springsteen”
  • Hunter Hayes, “Wanted” - Dan

Leeann:  The CMAs make me hesitate to bet against the Miranda Lambert single, but I vote for “Springsteen.”

Jonathan:  It’s great that he can play so many instruments and all, but Hayes is being grossly over-recognized during the current awards cycle:  I prefer rewarding actual merit to rewarding the potential for merit at some point in the future.  “Springsteen” is the best-produced track here, though the production is also the best attribute of “Pontoon,” which seems like the more likely winner.

Ben:  Quality lyrics with a cool Jay Joyce production gives “Springsteen” an edge in my opinion, but this award could go to any of the five.  My gut prediction is Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” (which incidentally also boasts a cool Jay Joyce production).

Tara:  I could see a surprise win for “Over You” or even for the better (think about that one for a sec) “Wanted,” but my guess is that “Pontoon” will get one last hoorah.

Dan:  It’s going to come down to “Pontoon” and “Wanted,” and just to be different, I’ll guess that the ACM go for the more recent of the two big hits.

Kevin:  “Pontoon” and “Wanted” are career records.   The former was also a career-reviving record, so I give it the edge.

Song of the Yeareli young band even if it breaks your heart

Should Win:

  • “A Woman Like You” – Phil Barton, Johnny Bulford, & Jon Stone (Performed by Lee Brice)
  • “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” – Will Hoge & Eric Paslay (Performed by Eli Young Band) - Jonathan, Tara, Dan, Kevin
  • “Over You” – Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton (Performed by Miranda Lambert)
  • “Springsteen” – Eric Church, Jeff Hynde, & Ryan Tyndell (Performed by Eric Church) - Ben, Leeann
  • “Wanted” – Hunter Hayes & Troy Vergas (Performed by Hunter Hayes)

Will Win:

  • “A Woman Like You” – Phil Barton, Johnny Bulford, & Jon Stone (Performed by Lee Brice)
  • “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” – Will Hoge & Eric Paslay (Performed by Eli Young Band)
  • “Over You” – Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton (Performed by Miranda Lambert) – Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin
  • “Springsteen” – Eric Church, Jeff Hynde, & Ryan Tyndell (Performed by Eric Church)

Jonathan:  “Springsteen” and “Even if It Breaks Your Heart” have been relegated to the status of also-rans throughout the past year’s worth of country awards.  There’s no reason to expect that to change here even though they are, yet again, the best songs nominated.  Thankfully, this is the last major songwriting award Lambert and Shelton will receive for what is far and away the worst-written song in either of their respective catalogues.

Ben:  “Springsteen” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” are the only two worthy nominees in this field, the former of which has my heart.  But who am I kidding?  “Over You” will win, and I will be bracing myself for one final round of fan-gloating on my review of the song.

Kevin:  My preference is “Even if it Breaks Your Heart,” if only because it works as well as a song as it does as a t-shirt.  “Over You” has the star power, but again, the title sums up my feelings about both stars and their strangely popular song.

Leeann:  Again, I won’t bet against “Over You,” but I think “Springsteen” or “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” are the best of these choices.

Tara:  I hope I’m wrong.

Dan:  :-/

Songwriter of the YearAlready presented off-camera; Dallas Davidson wonDallasDavidson

Should Win:

  • Rodney Clawson
  • Dallas Davidson
  • Josh Kear
  • Luke Laird
  • Shane McAnally - Ben, Leeann, Dan

Will Win:  

  • Rodney Clawson
  • Dallas Davidson - Ben, Leeann, Dan
  • Josh Kear
  • Luke Laird
  • Shane McAnally

Leeann:  Since Dallas Davidson is part of The Peach Pickers machine, I expect him to win, but I like Shane McAnally’s work with Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Lady Antebellum, Chris Young, etc.

Ben:  I’d love to support Josh Kear for having written “Blown Away,” but Shane McAnally’s fantastic work with Kacey Musgraves puts him over the edge.  Still, I’m expecting that the Peach Picker will pull of a repeat victory in this category.

Video of the YearM_LittleBigTownTornadoVid630_103112

Should Win:

  • Eric Church, “Creepin'” - Ben
  • Kacey Musgraves – “Merry Go ‘Round”
  • Little Big Town, “Tornado” - Jonathan, Dan
  • Hunter Hayes, “Wanted”
  • Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” - Kevin
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Wind”

Will Win:

  • Eric Church, “Creepin'”
  • Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round”
  • Little Big Town, “Tornado” - Dan, Kevin
  • Hunter Hayes, “Wanted” - Jonathan
  • Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” - Ben
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Wind”

Kevin:  Little Big Town’s clip seems the most “artsy,” but I do have to say that the Swift clip wins in my book.  It’s almost like she’s conceding how ridiculous the song and her entire public persona are.

Jonathan:  Hayes is being promoted so heavily that he’s going to have to win something, and this award is always the safest place for voters to recognize an artist that they feel obligated to vote for.  As much as I love the idea of Mike Judge winning, the animation and the music from the video for “The Wind” just don’t work together.  The stylish and not overly literal video for “Tornado” would get my vote, though I do like the videos for “Creepin’” and “Merry Go ‘Round” too.

Ben:  Church’s “Creepin’” video has a lot of energy and character to it, much like the song itself, but I’m smelling a Swift victory here.

Dan:  No clue, but isn’t it cool when Kim and Phil flash those death glares at the innocent townspeople?


Vocal Event of the Yearkelly-clarkson-dont-rush-400x400

Should Win:

  • Kelly Clarkson featuring Vince Gill, “Don’t Rush” - Jonathan, Tara, Ben, Leeann, Dan, Kevin
  • Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield, “Easy”
  • Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, “Feel Like a Rock Star”
  • David Nail featuring Sarah Buxton, “Let It Rain”
  • Jason Aldean featuring Luke Bryan and Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know”

Will Win:

  • Kelly Clarkson featuring Vince Gill, “Don’t Rush” - Jonathan, Tara, Ben
  • Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield, “Easy”
  • Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw,” Feel Like a Rock Star” - Leeann, Kevin
  • David Nail featuring Sarah Buxton, “Let It Rain”
  • Jason Aldean featuring Luke Bryan and Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know” – Dan

Dan:  “Easy” was released in June 2011, off an album from November 2010.  Lol.

Jonathan:  So… Kelly Clarkson is about to have more ACM Awards than Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Pam Tillis.  I adore her, but that’s all kinds of wrong.

Kevin:  Because Vince Gill.

Ben:  I rarely support nominees that are not proper duets, but “Don’t Rush” is easily the class of the field.  Plus it’s always nice to see our old friend Vince get a new mantle decoration.

Tara:  Easy choice – just wish it had ended up being a more memorable collaboration.


Filed under ACM Awards