Category Archives: CMA Awards

CMA Noms ’09

cma_awardIt’s that time of year again! For each major category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:

Entertainer

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Sugarland

Snap Judgment: With Carrie Underwood and Sugarland a little out of the spotlight recently, it’s no shock to see the regular foursome of Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban prevail. Swift was a logical inclusion given her across-the-board dominance, but I gotta say that I’m surprised to see her acknowledged for it by the historically traditional-leaning CMA.

Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Darius Rucker

Who’s Out: Alan Jackson

Snap Judgment: Pretty predicable. Rucker has shown he can get serious spins at radio, which is probably what won him this slot over Jamey Johnson.

Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Reba McEntire

Who’s Out: Alison Krauss

Snap Judgment: Again, no big surprises. Martina always hangs in there somehow, doesn’t she?

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

Who’s In: Joey + Rory

Who’s Out: The Wreckers (finally!), oddly not Big & Rich

Snap Judgment: I guess there has to be at least one defunct act in this category every year, huh?

Vocal Group

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Zac Brown Band

Who’s Out: Emerson Drive

Snap Judgment: I’m baffled to see the Eagles still here. I expect there will be a lot more shake-up in this category next year, with Love and Theft, Eli Young Band and The Lost Trailers all experiencing a rise in profile recently.

New Artist

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Completely new line-up!

Snap Judgment: A strong group. Johnson, Rucker and Zac Brown Band are selling better than many of the veteran acts, so they’re the serious contenders this year, but all five nominees show great artistic potential.

Album

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Sugarland, Love On The Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Snap Judgment: Probably as good a line-up as you could’ve hoped for. Never thought I’d live to see a CMA category where I thought Keith Urban had the weakest offering!

Single

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run To You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Snap Judgment: Sigh.

Song

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley

Snap Judgment: I mean, it’s not like Randy Travis ever had his own hit with “I Told You So” or anything.

Musical Event

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down The Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban

Snap Judgment: How in the world did that Raconteurs record sneak in there? Props, CMA!

Music Video

  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Snap Judgment: Not bad. Houser’s doesn’t have much, but the only one I outright dislike is Currington’s. It’s just another excuse for him to sit around looking scruffy on a beach.

Musician

  • Eddie Bayers
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally

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Producing the CMAs

This is a guest contribution by regular commenter, Michael Hawkins, who posts as Highwayman3.

CMAThe movies have the Oscars, the world of music has the Grammys, and that world subdivided into the country genre has the CM’s—the annual extravaganza that we fans look forward to every year. We see our favorites perform, win awards and lose with smiling gracious faces, or not [insert the inevitable Faith Hill reference here]. Everyone picks their favorites in each category as to who they’d like to win. But what about the show itself, the backdrop for which these prestigious awards are presented?

Recently, there have been posts at both The 9513 and on this site where people have been weighing in on their favorite moments from these awards. It occurred to me that none of those moments have happened in the last few years. The awards have slid into mediocrity, which is a fitting representation of the current state of country music. I understand producing these awards must be tough because you have to be everything to everyone, and acknowledge the traditional country, the Disney country, the old and new alike, and bring in people who don’t belong for the sake of ratings.

What’s wrong with the show?

The awards themselves seem like an after thought, filler in between all the endless performances. The main suspense isn’t who wins, but rather, how many performances the producers can fit in 3 hours. Also, it’s become an award show that is ashamed of its roots, barely mentioning who is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Any artist with the slightest sign of a wrinkle, regardless of their legend status is shunned and hidden in the audience next to seat fillers and radio contest winners. It’s an award show with self esteem issues, not cool enough to stand on its own. You can bet the main attraction used to promote this year’s show will be a non-country performer like Kid Rock, The Eagles of last year, and Jamie Foxx of two years ago.

What can be done?

Well, the first order of business would be for the Sommet Center to take out a one day restraining order from Miley Cyrus on November 11, 2009, or better yet, the whole Cyrus family, Billy Ray, Noah, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Yes, she’ll bring in ratings, but we’ve gotten along fine without her for 40 plus years.

The CMA’s need to take a cue from  the Grammy awards, or even the American Idol finale. There are so many surprises, legends, moving moments, coming at you, left right and center, you don’t know what’s coming next, all you know is you’re in for the ride, you’re loving every second and you’re talking about it the next day. Last year, the biggest surprise was Shania Twain presenting Entertainer of the Year, which she has done at least 3 times before, and to those who keep up on country news, it was hardly a surprise at all.

What can possibly be done to make the night more entertaining?

How about taking a cue from this yearis Academy Awards and only announce a handful of performers, leaving the rest a mystery? Don’t tell us who and what everyone’s performing, which leaves more room for surprises. Also, like the Oscars, don’t announce who is presenting, and before each award have a mini-montage of past winners. Then at the end, the curtain opens and a surprise past winner comes out and shares insights on their winning experience. Instead of the otherwise cheesy dialogue or weird presenter pairings, it would make more sense if they just brought out Trisha Yearwood for Female Vocalist, Vince for Male, The Judds for Duo, Alabama forGroup, and hand it off to the winner like an Olympic torch or rite of passage. This way of thinking would work out great for the Entertainer of the Year category, in bringing out past winners, Roy Clark, and Barbara Mandrell, who also happen to be this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would prefer it if it went back to how it used to be with a taped bio and artists performing a medley of hits. But even that is too much to ask. If they are going to cut it out entirely, the least they could do is show 3 separate 30-60 second bios of each of the inductees at different times as they are going to commercial and have them wave from the audience. Or, from the paragraph above, show a taped piece just before Barbara and Roy present Entertainer.

The most boring parts of the show are seeing full performances from all the mundane hits of the past year. Was it necessary for Darius Rucker to perform “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” last year when he wasn’t nominated? Yes, it’s necessary for the biggest hits to be performed, but does every top 5 hit of the past year have to be sung? Instead, encourage them to sing unique songs, like Alan Jackson in 2005 performing, “Wonderful Tonight”, songs you’ll actually remember more than 5 minutes after they are performed. Another idea, which the Grammys have down pat, is pairing people up. Think of the Al Green, Keith Urban, Justin Timberlake and Boys 2 Men grouping of earlier this year. For the CMA’s, this would be a perfect year to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the hat act boom of 89. Why not bring out Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Travis Tritt for a small medley?

Instead of each of the new artist nominees performing their full songs – do we really want to see Julianne Hough performing a full version of her song this year? -  it would be great if they stole from the ACM’s all-star opener this year, and did the same thing with the 5 nominees. Lady Antebellum can be the ring leader like Brooks & Dunn were at the ACMs, and they all can perform a small portion of their hits. To wrap it up, Lady Antebellum can present the award. This will allow more time for the Collaboration and Video of the year awards to be back on the telecast.

If you ran the CMAs, thinking creatively but realistically, which special moments would you create that could go down in history and make country’s biggest night more fun to watch? How would you make George Strait’s performance less predictable? And how would you measure that Miley restraining order? In inches, feet, yards, or miles?

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Music Video of the Year

Ah, Music Video of the Year. The awkward stepchild of the CMA Awards. Aside from provoking fewer blog wars than the bigger races, it’s also the category that apparently takes the least effort for voters to fill up, since predicting the nominees is o

ften as easy as asking yourself, “well, which songs are probably going to be nominated for Song and Single?”

Nevertheless, music videos remain an important aspect of an artist’s public image, and sometimes even rise to the level of legitimate art. Keeping in mind the eligibility period (July 1st, 2008 – June 30th, 2009), below are the five videos I would most like to see recognized as such by CMA voters. Interestingly, four of them were breakthrough videos for their artists:

Randy Houser, “Anything Goes”

A little melodramatic, but a lot captivating. I can’t get over the way he plays the chorus of the song to his ex, like he can’t even have a moment of self-pity to himself.

Joey + Rory, “Cheater Cheater”

The CU J+R lovefest continues! Come on, how can you resist their spousey charms atop this hot bluegrass beat? Truth be told, I’m an equally big fan of the sharp “Play The Song” treatment, but since this is the one that actually stands a chance, I’ll give it the nod.

Jamey Johnson, “In Color”

I found it really tacky when they tried to recreate this clip in his ACM performance, but the thing itself is an understated beaut, carefully capturing the song’s mood and imagery without ever getting in the way.

Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

Haters to the left. This video is a four-minute distillation of everything likable about its maker, and it manages to pull through its various cliches thanks to its sheer pluck. Since “Love Story” swept the CMT’s, I expect this one to remain relegated to VMA territory, but this is the stronger work.

Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried”

I still don’t care for the song, but the video more than makes up for it. The visuals are gorgeous, the vibe is warm and personal, and it even provides a context to the seemingly random military shout-out in the song’s bridge.

Which five videos would you like to see nab a nomination this year?

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Album of the Year

This year’s eligibility period runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. In those twelve months, there have been some solid albums released, and while there isn’t a wealth of treasures to choose from, there are enough good albums to round out this category.

Here are the five albums that I would nominate for Album of the Year:

Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song

The past twenty years have brought several excellent breakthrough albums by groups, especially those by Sugarland, Little Big Town, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, and Big & Rich. This set by Joey + Rory is better than all of them, and is selling quite well despite limited airplay.

Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

It’s been nominated for ACM’s trophy and for the Best Country Album Grammy, but Johnson’s best shot at winning has always been with the traditional-leaning CMA voter membership. If both Sugarland and Taylor Swift secure a nod, he’s a shoo-in.

Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights

We’re knee-deep in cover albums by veteran artists, but this is one of the best. Voters may be more likely to cite Lee Ann Womack’s latest, if they’re planning on nominating a traditional female at all, but this is the better album.

Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

If Paisley were to win this, it would be deserved, as it’s possibly the best album of his career. His penchant for releasing albums in June might work against him, but hopefully voters will have a chance to live with this album before they fill out their ballots.

Sugarland, Love on the Inside

One of the best mainstream country albums of the decade, in my humble opinion.  It’s certainly the first album since Home that I can listen to from start to finish and is wholeheartedly embraced by country radio. Okay, maybe since Live Like You Were Dying or Fireflies.  But gosh, have there been few albums this decade that fit both descriptions.

What five albums do you think should be nominated this year?

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Vocal Duo and Vocal Group

It’s often argued that Vocal Duo and Vocal Group should be combined into one category, but this is one of those rare years where the two categories have more than five worthy nominees between them.

My picks for Vocal Duo:

The only real filler in this category is Big & Rich, who have been largely dormant this past year.

As for Vocal Group, all five of my picks have been very active these past twelve months:

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

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It’s often argued that Vocal Duo and Vocal Group should be combined into one category, but this is one of those rare years where the two categories have more than five worthy nominees between them.
My picks for Vocal Duo:
Big & Rich
Brooks & Dunn
Joey + Rory
Montgomery Gentry
Sugarland
The only real filler in this category is Big & Rich, who have been largely dormant this past year.
As for Vocal Group, all five of my picks have been very active these past twelve months:
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Rascal Flatts
Zac Brown Band
What are your picks for Vocal Duo and Vocal Group?
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Picking the CMA Nominees: Female Vocalist

As I work my way through these categories, it’s becoming apparent to me that this was a very weak year for country music. I’m struggling to come up with a list of five women who actually made a musical impact over the twelve months that make up the eligibility period.

Only two women have made any serious commercial impact this year, so I’m filling up the category with the women who put out solid music that also did reasonably well:

Patty Loveless

If the Grammys can acknowledge her, I don’t see why the CMA should overlook her. She made an excellent covers album that has sold as well as several major label efforts.  She was a surprise nominee in 2003 on the strength of Mountain Soul, and it would be nice to see the CMA show such good judgment again.

Dolly Parton

Also a surprise nominee in 2003, and very worthy of returning to the lineup this year. Not only did she sell out venues across Europe, she also earned a Tony nomination for Best Score.

Oh, and that independent album she released on her own label last year? It’s sold twice as much as the latest albums from Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack, and outsold the albums of such radio staples as Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, and Blake Shelton.

Taylor Swift

Let’s just say it now so we can be spared it being said over and over again in the comments:

Taylor Swift shouldn’t win a vocalist award because she can’t sing!

I understand this argument. After all, the same is true for Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain, who won Entertainer of the Year but not their respective vocalist awards. But they were still nominated, and rightfully so. You can’t tell the story of women in country music in 2009 without including Taylor Swift.

Carrie Underwood

Does she deserve to join the illustrious ranks of four-time winners in this category? You betcha. Given that Underwood’s a happy medium between Reba McEntire’s country-pop and Martina McBride’s power balladeering, she seems to fit in perfectly.

Oh, and if it seems too soon for Underwood to be in the same league as McEntire, remember that Reba wasn’t a superstar when she won those four trophies. She didn’t even earn a platinum album until two years after her winning streak ended.

Lee Ann Womack

Why Lee Ann Womack, and not Miranda Lambert? Each had a moody single go top twenty this year, but Lambert’s was off of an album released during the 2007 eligibility period.

Why Lee Ann Womack, and not Martina McBride?  Their albums have sold in similar numbers, but Womack’s was a good deal better.

Why Lee Ann Womack and not Julianne Hough or Kellie Pickler? If you’re asking that question, you must be new to Country Universe.

What five women do you think should be nominated for Female Vocalist this year?

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

The past two decades have only brought eight winners in the CMA Male Vocalist race, with only two of them – Toby Keith and Clint Black – winning only once.  Compare this to the Female Vocalist race, which has brought twelve winners during the same time frame, though even that race has become more streaky of late, with Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood combining for seven victories in the past eleven years.

Is it time for an overhaul in the Male Vocalist race? Yes and no. There’s no denying that some of the multiple nominees/winners over the past nineteen years remain the genre’s strongest male voices. Still, there’s room for some others at the table. The problem is that there are so very few of the genre’s male artists that are genuinely at the top of their game. Even most of the men listed below have had weak singles this year.

Still, if I picked the five nominees for the 2009 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, they would be:

Jamey Johnson

If Johnson earns fewer than five nominations at this year’s CMA Awards, I’ll be shocked. In fact, I think he’ll earn six, with the surprise nomination being in this category. These aren’t predictions, though, so I’ll state that while I’m not particularly a fan of Johnson, his success at retail with a traditional project that has only received airplay for one single is darn impressive. Along with Brad Paisley, he’s one of only two artists I’ve listed that were determined by genuine merit, not process of elimination.

Brad Paisley

The genre’s most consistent radio act and the reigning champion for the past two years. In a stronger year, I would think it’s time to move on from acknowledging him in this category and consider him more for Entertainer of the Year, but he’s still the presumptive favorite in this race. At the very least, he deserves another nomination.

Darius Rucker

Too soon? Possibly.  But replace his name with other candidates  – say, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rodney Atkins, or Blake Shelton – if you think they made better music this year.

George Strait

It’s hard to make the call about which perennial favorite – Alan Jackson or George Strait – deserves a shot this year, especially since neither of them are likely to contend for the win.  “Sissy’s Song” is better than any of Strait’s singles this past year, but all of Strait’s are better than Jackson’s other two – “Country Boy” and “Good Time.” Seeing “I Still Like Bologna” sent to radio puts me firmly in Strait’s corner, whose “River of Love” and “Troubadour” brought me listening pleasure this year.

Keith Urban

I don’t think that there’s a stronger singer in consistent rotation on country radio, even if his material has been slight this year.  A case could be made for Tim McGraw or Toby Keith getting this slot instead, but they’re dealing with the same problem: weaker material than they’ve generally been known for.

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Entertainer of the Year

cma-awards1Just last week, the second ballot for the 2009 CMA Awards was sent to voters. Now, they are charged with the task of picking five nominees for each category.

How about we help them out?  I’ve listed the five artists that I believe are most deserving of an Entertainer of the Year nomination. Share your own top five and your reasoning in the comments.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll do the same with all of the other major categories.

Entertainer of the Year:

The nominees should be:

Brad Paisley

Much like George Strait before him, Paisley has carved out a career that is defined by its consistent success.  He’s an increasingly large draw on the road, and his latest album shows that his creative juices are flowing again.

George Strait

His latest album Troubadour earned him a slew of industry awards, including his first Grammy, and was his 33rd platinum album. While nearly every other artist is experiencing lower sales, his are holding strong. Sure, there are a slew of younger artists that dominate my list, but what are the chances that any of them will still be at the top of their game after three decades?

Sugarland

Since earning a surprise nomination in this category last year, they’ve scored their first #1 album, had three #1 hits, and have now built up a reputation as one of the best live performers working today in any genre.

Taylor Swift

There simply isn’t a bigger star in recorded music right now. Her dominance now extends to Top 40 radio and packed concert arenas, and she shows no signs of slowing down.

Carrie Underwood

The reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year has kept up her hot streak at country radio, with every single she’s released peaking in the top two.  She remains the genre’s finest ambassador.

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Ten Ways to Fix the CMA Awards

Shania Twain presents Entertainer of the Year at the 2008 CMA Awards

The CMA Awards should be the evening every year where country music is shown in the best possible light. However, it’s been many years now since the CMA fully took advantage of the opportunities that prime-time slot presents. Here are ten ways the show can get back on track, and maybe even be better than ever.

1. Expand the Ballot

Limiting the second ballot to only twenty entries per category was a disaster, resulting in some truly lackluster nominees. Take a page from the Grammy playbook and put all eligible submissions on the second ballot, regardless of vote total. Have the CMA voters choose five entries from a wider swath of nominees, and create a more level playing field for all of the labels, major and indie.

2. Limit the Number of Entries per Artist

The CMA can go one step further and improve the Grammy model by eliminating the first ballot entirely, and allowing each artist to submit only one entry, of their choice, for consideration.  This will help avoid embarrassments like we saw this year, where Alan Jackson was represented in the Song of the Year category by “Good Time” instead of “Small Town Southern Man.”

3. Tighten up the Categories

Take the long-clamored for step of combining Vocal Duo & Vocal Group into one category. Limit to one the nominations an artist can get in the “New Artist/Horizon” category. Amend the antiquated Song of the Year loophole that allows a song to be nominated two years in a row.

4. Add Live Performance and Songwriter, Artist-Songwriter Categories

Eliminate the confusion caused by the Entertainer category, which has unfortunately morphed into a “biggest tour” award in the post-Garth era, by adding a Live Performance category. This will help focus voter attention on all dimensions of the Entertainer category. Create two new categories for songwriters -  Songwriter of the Year and Artist-Songwriter of the Year.   With artists and musicians already being honored individually, equivalent recognition for writers is long overdue. Create the separate categories to ensure that high-profile writers like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley or Taylor Swift don’t overwhelm non-artist songwriters in the same category.

5. Move the Show Back to the Opry House

The scale of an arena is a total mismatch for a televised award show.  The CMA Awards always sounded great in the Opry house, and it connects the show back with its own history and that of country music.  If the show must be kept downtown, move it to the Ryman.

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Say What? – Whitney Pastorek (Entertainment Weekly)

Between the live blog and Blake’s excellent post-mortem, there isn’t much left to be said about Wednesday’s CMA Awards.   But Whitney Pastorek from Entertainment Weekly made some points in her CMA Wrap-up that are worthy of discussion, particularly her two different takes on country music’s leading females.

On Carrie Underwood:

Yes, it was cheating to bring out the wife of a deceased soldier to introduce “Just a Dream” and get the waterworks going before she even sang a note. But this was a true showstopper, the emotional equivalent of Sugarland doing “Stay” last year, and official notice that we can now stop looking down on Ms. Underwood because of how she got here. The girl is learning how to use her voice for something other than blowing the doors off the joint every time she steps to the bedazzled mic — and then she went ahead and blew the doors off anyway. I didn’t breathe during this. (Bonus points for the classy way she alluded to Idol during her Best Female Vocalist acceptance speech, the cute shout-out to her mom, and admirably keeping up with Paisley during her hosting duties all night.)

On Taylor Swift:

I will go easy on Taylor Swift because if I went hard on the little dead-eyed darling and her ridiculous ballroom dancing fairy tale fiasco (your move, Twilight), I’d probably never get my rage back under control. So she can’t sing, has exactly zero stage presence, and has now used the same My-Costume-Change-Will-Blow-Your-Mind gag on two straight awards shows. That’s fine. She’s very pretty and sells a lot of records, and makes pre-teen girls happy. Carry on, my wayward waif.

Thoughts?

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