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Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

July 26, 2009 // 21 Comments

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 less 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.

If I Were In New Hampshire, I’d Go To This

July 25, 2009 // 0 Comments

With the gracious permission of Tom Spurgeon, the creator of this feature at The Comics Reporter, I would like to introduce the Country Universe version of “If I Were In _________, I’d Go To This.” With interesting events around the country it is hard to know about everything, so starting with “If I Were In New Hampshire, I’d Go To This” we will present you with our picks of unique or particularly interesting upcoming shows or events.

The Big Surprise Tour – featuring Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine (w/ Gillian Welch), The Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle – kicks off in Hampton, NH on Tuesday Aug. 4.

Create A Super Group

July 17, 2009 // 22 Comments

In 1985, four country music rebels/icons came together to form a larger-than-life group that people wouldn’t have even dared dream about before their actual union. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson formed the country super group, The Highwaymen. The four highly revered friends recorded three albums worth of material, much to the delight of the astonished public. While all of the members were extremely successful in their own rights, their potential egos were set aside to make music as a cohesive unit. They sounded like a polished group, not just some people thrown together as a marketing gimmick.

Then, in 1988, the rock world hit the jackpot when superstars George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne formed The Traveling Wilburys. Again, these immensely famous, talented and respected people formed a super group that still seems too good to be true to this day. Their unbelievable union created two albums that were repackaged in 2007 with bonus material, which sold surprisingly well for a reissue. Like The Highwaymen, their voices blended amazingly well together as if they were meant to be a group.

Good Artists Gone Bad

July 16, 2009 // 60 Comments

I guess that I must have poor taste.

I came across this feature today: Bad Songs By Good Bands. Reading through the list, I found that not only did I like the songs chosen as “bad”, but many were my favorite songs by that artist. I love the tracks that they singled out by Blondie, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Outkast, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, The Beach Boys, and The Clash.

But as much as I disagree with their choices, I know a good topic of conversation when I see one.

Perhaps some of you will disagree with me as much as I disagree with the good folks at Spinner, but here are some songs that I think are pretty bad, even though the artist is very good:

  • Faith Hill, “Bringing Out the Elvis” – “When I’m with you I never have to feel like a sardine in a little metal can. I’m more like wild shark that travels in a pink limousine. Yeah, together with my fans.”

2009's Remaining Release Schedule Comes into Focus

July 8, 2009 // 41 Comments

Thus far, 2009’s releases have done little to fire up the charts, with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.

So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:

New Releases

  • Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
  • George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
  • Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
  • Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
  • Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
  • Brooks & Dunn’s new studio album streets on September 8, preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification.

Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009 // 23 Comments

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

Celebrating the King of Pop: 1958-2009

June 29, 2009 // 30 Comments

No words, printed or spoken, seem to do justice to the life and career of the late Michael Jackson, the brilliantly talented, irreplaceable entertainer who united the world with his music and spirit. The only fitting way to pay tribute to this musical icon is to celebrate his music – because his is the rare, exquisite kind that transcends the boundaries of genre, color, gender and time, and will continue to impact lives for generations to come.

George Strait Goes Platinum…Again

June 10, 2009 // 18 Comments

George Strait’s Troubadour has been certified platinum, his 33rd album to reach that sales mark.

How rare is this accomplishment? He trails only Elvis Presley (45) and The Beatles (39) among all recording artists.

Strait’s nearest country competitors are Alabama (20), Reba McEntire (19), Kenny Rogers (19) and Garth Brooks (16).

George Strait is one of those artists that I buy every album of. I remember being amazed how many albums he already had released when I became a fan in the nineties. It’s good to see him still going strong.

How many Strait albums do you own? What other artists do you buy every release from?

Playing Catch-Up

June 10, 2009 // 7 Comments

It’s one of those life/blog paradoxes: we dedicate a lot of words to the new – new releases, new issues, new news – and yet, when it comes down to it, our personal, non-internet selves spend just as much time trying to get up to speed on things we’ve missed. History is fat, full of great stuff that happened while you were preoccupied with playing on jungle gyms or raising babies. There’s always something to catch up on if you set your mind to it!

Like right now, for instance, I’m discovering the music of the 90’s. I was under 10 and on a Pacific island for most of those years, and was honestly only marginally aware of the “country” classification for most of them. So I’ve been diving in.

Although the 90’s are regarded by many as a very strong period for mainstream country, my current catch-up squeeze is the alt-country group Old 97’s, and one song in particular: “The Other Shoe”, from their ’96 set Wreck Your Life. It’s a catchy, clunky little tune about a creepy husband who tells his wife he’s leaving for Phoenix (the specific phrasing is an apparent nod to Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – cute), only to hide under their bed and await the appearance of her lover, whom he promptly guns down along with his adulterous wife.

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