The nominations for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards will be announced on Wednesday, February 11, and Country Universe will have a preview next week. As announced yesterday, the blond brigade of Julianne Hough, Leann Rimes, Jessica Simpson and Kellie Pickler will read the nominations from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Academy of Country Music, Dick Clark productions and Great American Country (GAC) announced today that for the first time ever, the three newcomer categories for the Academy of Country Music Awards—Top New Female Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist and Top New Vocal Duo or Group—will be opened up to interactive fan voting through GACTV.com. The 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM live ET/delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.
Fan voting for these three categories will begin at GACTV.com on Friday, February 13, and will close on Thursday, March 5. The winner in each of the three categories will be announced March 9, and will move on to compete in a brand new Academy of Country Music Awards category, Top New Artist. Voting for the Top New Artist category will begin on March 16, and will close on April 5, with the winner being announced live during the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
The official website is cryptic regarding the validity of voting procedures. Under the Best New Artist categories, the Board of Directors state that winners will be determined by a vote of members and/or viewer voting, so the Academy could possibly have a hand in the voting in case inconsistencies arise.
The Academy’s voting criteria was called into question last year when the Entertainer of the Year award was a fan-voted affair, and today’s announcement continues the questionable practice of allowing the general public to voice their opinions for one of the industry’s highest honors. This year, the rules do explicitly state that Entertainer of the Year will be awarded based on both membership vote and fan participation.
Critics’ fave Jamey Johnson also suffers from the academy’s shortsighted criteria. Due to an absolutely archaic rule, Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song (current sales: 270k at 26 weeks) is ineligible for the Album of the Year category.
The Album must have attained minimum sales of 300,000 units and/or maintained an average of 20,000 unit sales per week since release as reflected by SoundScan during the qualification period. Any album commercially released prior to the preceding calendar year, but achieving its highest charted position in any accepted country music industry publication chart and greatest commercial success during the calendar year, is eligible unless it has appeared on a final ACM ballot in this category.
Conceivably, Johnson can be nominated for Album of the Year next year. By that time, That Lonesome Song will have sold over 300,000 copies and could sneak above its current chart peak in 2009 (it debuted at No.6 in August and now rests at No. 7 on the weekly chart). Understood? With record sales dwindling due to the economy and the current technological shift within the music industry, the criteria must be changed. Unless the rule is amended, only ten albums are eligible (the latest releases from Kenny Chesney,Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, George Strait, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band). This is a small pool from which to determine the genre’s best album of the year. The current slate of criteria for the ACM only serves to dilute a meaningful country music milestone and forgo artistic value in favor of commercial prowess and internet savvy.
Fun fact: In its final week of eligibility for last year’s ACM Awards, Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sold 7,894 copies for a total of 304,999 since its May 1, 2007 debut. Lambert’s sophomore set went on to best platinum-selling albums from Kenny Chesney, Rodney Atkins, Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley to claim the ACM award for Album of the Year.As of February 7, 2009, the album has sold 679,391 copies and remains the second-oldest album on the Country Albums chart (Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift).
Roy Clark, Barbara Mandrell and legendary session musician Charlie McCoy are the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, as announced this morning in a press conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
Roy Clark, one of country music’s greatest ambassadors, served as the co-host of the popular syndicated show, Hee Haw and regularly appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show and numerous other television programs. The 1973 CMA Entertainer of the Year and a 1987 Grand Ole Opry inductee, Clark’s hits include “I Never Picked Cotton,” “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young.” In 1983, he opened the first theatre in Branson, Mo., firmly establishing the Midwest town as an entertainment mecca.
Barbara Mandrell also starred on the small screen with her early-80s variety show Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, a showcase for her glitzy, glamorous performing style. A two-time CMA female vocalist of the year, Mandrell was only the third female artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award (1980). Her hits include “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” and “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right.”
A member of Nashville’s “A Team” of studio musicians, Grammy-winning Charlie McCoy is Music City’s most-recorded harmonica player, with credits including Tom T. Hall’s “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” He served as a musical producer on Hee Haw and a studio musician for Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
On Wednesday, February 4, the Country Music Hall of Fame will announce its newest members. The genre’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame is bestowed upon the absolute best of country music. In 1996 the CMHOF developed a set of categories to sort candidates, an effort intended to recognize the great breadth of the genre.
The Hall will admit three new members in 2009, one each from the following categories:
Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980
Performer, career achieved national prominence between WWII and 1975
Performer, career achieved national prominence between 1975-current
Below are six living Country Music Hall of Fame candidates that deserve induction in 2009.
In his iconic 1985 hit, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” George Jones echoed the concerns of many when he wondered (or more honestly, worried) how the next generation of country singers would compare to the likes of Waylon and Willie. “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asked, with the sound of a lonesome whistle serving as his only answer. Soon, the neotrad movement remodeled Music Row, allaying the fears of country’s elders momentarily.
The prevailing narrative in Nashville usually centers around how the new country crop treats the town’s long-held customs. In the grand Southern tradition, the young’uns are expected to be faithful: to their mamas, to their Maker and to the music that laid the legacy for the format.
Dierks Bentley’s debut, then, was cool comfort for traditionalists, who reveled in his back-to-basics approach. Even as he steered towards a more rock-tinged tone and sheered off his beloved curls (a downer for all those smitten dames), the hosannas rang high from all corners. On Feel That Fire, though, Bentley seems to finally buckle under the weight of contemporary expectations. Always at the mercy of his raw materials, he’s saddled himself with a bushel basket of songs that briefly scratch the surface of his talent. (more…)
Songs about the family farm are a dying breed, with wide open spaces now making way for sprawling suburbia. This shift in society is gracefully handled in Trisha Yearwood’s “Dreaming Fields,” (“And the houses they grow like weeds in a flowerbed,” she says.) and a piece of our heritage is slowly slipping away. The listening audience of country music is more multi-dimensional than ever before, and many country music fans have never experienced the rural life that’s described in many of country’s classics.
What’s your favorite country song about the farming life?
He’s gone country, back to his roots.With Changing Horses, Ben Kweller shifts gears into a new groove, adding a touch of twang to his earnest tales of yearning. The Texas-bred bard, whose quirky pop has served as a guide to glory for the heartbroken, is now an Americana mystery in the spirit of Gram Parsons.
The shaggy-haired minstrel loves his Garth, but he sings and plays with a quiet hush that’s more Western wear than arena rock. Equal parts Cali folk and alt-pop, Changing Horses is proof that Nashville slick isn’t the only way to do country. His use of a whispering pedal steel is just the twinge of tradition to ground these hopeful hymns. Whether praising a woman’s virtuous way (“On Her Own”) or pining for romantic revival (“Wantin’ You Again”), Kweller leaves doubt in the dust, pressing on past old regrets towards new frontiers.
Kweller minds his manners, too. In a show of Southern hospitality, he thanks a hooker girlfriend for being such sweet company on the sad ”Gypsy Rose.” Bless his ever-lovin’ heart.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” -William Shakespeare
Love is the most universal of emotions, the soothing salve for old wounds, the cure for all that ails. As Jennifer Nettles affirms on Sugarland’s new single, love, in fact, is the greatest revenge of all.
With a gently-percolating rhythmic section that builds up suspense, “Love” echoes the finest studio work of Brian Eno, whose sonic spirit lifted U2 into superstardom. This is a listening experience, an anthemic power ballad that scrapes the sky with its open-minded submission to the powers (and the pains) of love. A sort of spiritual awakening, “Love” allows the breathtaking vocal talent of Nettles to shine brightly, boldly, with a ferocious wonder.
Nettles settles into this tour-de-force with her finest friend, a high-altitude alto that’s Reba-meets-Bonnie Raitt; she’s willing herself to believe in the beauty of love while braving its consequences. Her gripping, grieving voice simmers in the verse, then, as the stakes rise higher, she’s urgently pleading for heavenly guidance. “Is it having so little, and yet having it all?” she cries.
Her faith slowly, but surely, rises; soon, Nettles accepts her fate: to live and to love, no questions asked. “I say it’s love,” she swears (whatever it happens to be), as if love cannot be defined by any divine force. Her pronounced twang, one which travels through much of Sugarland’s music to date, is conspicuously absent. Instead, Nettles nestles into “Love” like it’s a warm coat on a cold winter’s night; the rising tension in her rapturous call tells all. In the final moments, that primal cry is met with Kristian Bush’s mighty roar, and a crescendo of crashing guitars drives home their hard-won lessons.
Recording a song with such grand scope was a risk, one whose rewards are rare. Many will argue that it’s abstract and absent of “country” traditions. However, “Love” is absolved from (most of) its sins by the grace of a glorious vocal performance, gently reminding that a full heart is sweet revenge on a cold, cruel world. A many-splendored thing indeed.
Written by Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush and Tim Owens
When Randy Travis invited Carrie Underwood into the Grand Ole Opry last spring, the sprightly young maiden had fully arrived as the new torchbearer for the house of twang. Her reign as the genre’s princess arose from her use of God (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”), glory notes (“All-American Girl”) and gratuitous violence (“Before He Cheats”) to advance her image as a blond, beautiful and apple pie-lovin’ songstress, though one with a hint of a sinnin’ streak.
That girl-next-door goodness is a gold mine, one that, thanks to Underwood, is now the niche in Nashville. Carbon copy cuties such as Julianne Hough, Kristy Lee Cook and Whitney Duncan all strut around Music Row with their eyes on stardom. Success awaits some, others will never live out Underwood’s hand-me-down dreams.
The Okie beauty queen has been questioned for her own cookie-cutter deeds. American Idol’s notorious judge and jury, Simon Cowell, once admitted of Underwood, ”I know nothing more about her now than I did when I met her.” That poker-face personality, in real life and on record, is an open invitation to wild interpretation. Harsh critics claim she’s a first-class fembot serving a fat-free set of songs. Hearty fans applaud her seemingly wholesome values and built-to-blow vocal power.
The long-simmering question—Who is Carrie Underwood?—is at the crux of any argument about the value of her music. In absolute top form, Underwood is a fine interpretive singer, albeit one without the gravitas that elevates merely good country singers to greatness. Only a defining artistic stand from the format’s female leader will conjure up that magic.
In a tentative step towards revelation, Underwood has covered Travis’ 1988 No.1 single, “I Told You So.” Usually the rafters of heaven shake with her every alleluia, but now, she subtly graces “I Told You So” with a mature, thoughtful performance. Scaling back her diva-fied wailing, she blesses the poor-me power ballad with an understated elegance. A mildly traditional tune, with steel flourishes wrapped around a moody melody, “I Told You So” strays from the pop-country pap that’s thrilled throngs of suburbanites. Hall of Famer Vince Gill, steps in for a sweetly satisfying harmony vocal that’s gorgeous in its sadness. An Opry-worthy performance from all involved.
A decade into a middle-management career, Montgomery Gentry scored back-to-back No.1 singles last year, “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll with Me,” a testament to their enduring popularity with radio programmers nationwide. However, sales of their current album (Back When I Knew It All) are tepid at best, with only 150,000 copies sold since the disc’s debut last June. The duo has slipped into the trap of many acts who presently dominate the airwaves. Their radio releases serve as the perfect companion on evening commutes, but they don’t boil the blood of the potential recordbuyer.
“One in Every Crowd” (no relation to the flaccid 1975 Eric Clapton album) is another standard-issue story of the party boy who sets the good-timin’ tone every Friday night. The usual ingredients are here—a six-pack, a pissed-off barkeep, a rowdy house band—for a honky-tonk tonic. As a (worn-out) reference to their hillbilly heroes, the boys toss off mentions of “Free Bird” and ”Gimme Three Steps.” (Newcomers to country music would be forgiven for believing that Lynyrd Skynyrd created the heaven and the earth. Let there be light and greasy guitar licks.)
The whole point of this hook is to grab the listeners by their blue collars, but it fails spectacularly in that regard (“There’s one in every crowd, and it’s usually me,” they admit.). The chorus’ coda (a disconcerting growl of “Hey, y’all! Hey, y’all!”) is designed to promote audience participation, but it only sends the melodic structure to its death.
In 2000, Montgomery Gentry was riding the crest of a wave, basking in the glory of their CMA win for Vocal Duo of the Year. Now, with Sugarland shooting towards superstardom and Brooks & Dunn maintaining their prime presence in the genre, Eddie and Troy have lapsed into journeyman status. With redneck recipes like “One in Every Crowd,” they don’t stand out in any crowd.
Written by Ira Dean, Kim Tribble and Eddie Montgomery
Coming from a seemingly endless string of Texas singer-songwriters, Pat Green spent the late ’90s racking up regional hits and filling college-town arenas across the Lone Star state. When “Wave on Wave” became a top five single and earned a Grammy nod in 2003, he’d finally transitioned from roots-country king to nationally-known troubadour. Green continues to plow this middle ground to seduce new fans while suiting his devout followers. Produced by Music Row maven Dan Huff, What I’m For scrapes the bottom of the trough for tired concepts and warmed-over heartland rock.
First single, “Let Me” rips phrases from the Conway Twitty songbook, and the title track rattles off a laundry list of things Green stands for (leaving grudges behind, loving stray dogs and learning the Gettysburg Address, among other random oddities). Meanwhile, the hard-charging “Country Star” namedrops Nashville’s rich-and-famous (Tim and Faith are featured in the surprisingly humorless rocker), but on What I’m For, Pat Green seems leagues away from the career level their talents have afforded them.