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ACM Awards: Personal Picks

As we gear up for the 2009 Academy of Country Music Awards, the writing staff of Country Universe have prepared our personal picks among this year’s nominees. Check out our Predicted Winners as well, and share your own personal picks in the comments. As always, we’ll be live-blogging the festivities this Sunday, starting at 8 EST.

ACM 2009: Country Universe’s Personal Picks

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann
  • George Strait – Lynn
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Dan
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: I haven’t been as happy with the standard-bearing superstar of country music since the heyday of the Dixie Chicks, so I’m definitely pulling for Carrie Underwood. She strikes the perfect balance of contemporary relevance and reverence for tradition.

Leeann: I’m always pulling for Paisley to win an Entertainer award, but I’d be happy to see a female win it as well, especially since Underwood’s not undeserving at this point.

Dan: None of these artists has impressed me recently from an artistic standpoint, although Strait has been less grating than the rest. But I think I’m going to say Carrie Underwood, simply because it’d be cool to see a woman win, and I think it might give her the freedom to take more artistic risks (if she chooses).

Lynn: I’m pulling for Strait to win this year. The ACMs put out a promo the other day that was essentially a glamour magazine photo shoot with three cute blonde singers. I’ll be honest…I didn’t want to watch the show after seeing that. Maybe I’m the odd one out, but I’d be more interested in watching the show if the promo had Strait sitting in a chair singing one of his classic tunes. I’m tired of the promotion of style over substance. Paisley, Underwood and Urban aren’t necessarily guilty of this, but I hope Strait wins just to remind everyone to keep it real.

Top Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann
  • George Strait – Dan, Lynn, Kevin
  • Keith Urban

Leeann: This is a tough one.  I have not been impressed with any of these artists in the last year.  So, I’m going to have to choose by voice alone, which gives Paisley the slight edge over the others as far as my taste runs.

Dan: The big-hitters have had a lame year. Strait was the only one who didn’t let me down too bad, although I can’t say I’m a big fan of “River of Love”, either.

Lynn: I noted in a discussion the other day that Strait’s album is no longer on my iPod. But…it at least made it to my iPod. Which is more than I can say for Urban, Paisley, Keith and Chesney’s most recent outings.

Kevin: There’s a cyclical process I go through that includes taking George Strait for granted and then suddenly realizing just how good he is again. I’m in the latter part of the cycle again.

Top Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert – Dan, Lynn, Leeann
  • Heidi Newfield
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack – Kevin

Dan: Miranda Lambert released arguably the two riskiest singles of the past year (“Gunpowder & Lead” and “More Like Her”), and she somehow got radio to play them both. There isn’t a more inspiring mainstream artist out there right now, at least for my money.

Lynn: M I R A N D A   L A M B E R T ! ! (Was that subtle enough? :P )

Kevin: I’d be happy to see Underwood or Lambert win, but since Womack has never won before, she’s my personal pick this year.

Leeann: I hate to be so predictable, but Miranda Lambert is my clear pick.  I choose her with Lynn’s exuberance and Dan’s reasoning.

Top Vocal Group

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – Lynn, Dan
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Randy Rogers Band- Kevin, Leeann
  • The Lost Trailers

Lynn: If those are my only choices, I’m pulling for Little Big Town. It’s too bad we can’t write-in nominations…

Kevin:
I’m with Leeann on this one.

Leeann: My personal vote goes to the Randy Rogers Band.  I love Rogers’ voice and dig their music in general.

Dan: I love me some Randy Rogers Band and am thrilled to see them nominated, but I like Little Big Town’s current album better than theirs, so I’ll side with LBT.

Top Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory – Leeann, Lynn
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Dan


Kevin:
I don’t understand why Sugarland isn’t all over this ballot. They’re one of the best acts in country music today.

Leeann: Out of all of the nominations in all of the categories for the ACMs, I’m rooting for Joey + Rory most enthusiastically this year.

Dan: Sugarland is injecting pop-country with some much-needed personality, plus they don’t concern themselves with trivial things like “postmodern Appalachia,” right, Kristian Bush? :) On a side note, it’s great to see Joey + Rory here. They’re a bit too new for me to pick them right now, but I hope they become regular contenders for this award.

Lynn: Joey + Rory are my favorites to win here simply because they stepped into the Nashville limelight with class and character, bringing a certain genuine spirit, candor and down home realness along with good music.

Top New Artist

  • Julianne Hough
  • Jake Owen
  • Zac Brown Band – Leeann, Dan, Lynn, Kevin

Leeann: Zac Brown Band has a cool vibe about them that is hard to ignore.  While I’m not personally sold on them yet, they are clearly the most unique act out of the nominees here.

Dan: I still don’t care for “Chicken Fried,” but Zac Brown Band is one of the freshest acts to break at radio in recent memory. They’ve been playing around forever (it shows), have a number of solid songs on their current album, and seem like genuinely nice guys, too. Mainstream country needs more acts like them.

Lynn: I’m at a loss here. I listened to Zac Brown Band’s album for the first time the other day. It was part hokey and part cool. I truly didn’t know what to make of it, but I am curious to see where they head next, and that has to be worth something.

Kevin: I was going to go with Jake Owen, but then I realized I had him confused with Luke Bryan, who made the “Country Boy” video I like so much. So I’ll go with Zac Brown Band instead.

Album of the Year

  • Back When I Knew It All – Montgomery Gentry
  • Carnival Ride – Carrie Underwood
  • Fearless – Taylor Swift
  • That Lonesome Song – Jamey Johnson  – Dan, Lynn, Leeann
  • Troubadour – George Strait – Kevin
Dan: As it happens, I really like both Johnson’s and Swift’s. Despite their vast differences, both albums are fully-realized artistic expressions that convey a believable sense of who their creators are and how they view the world, even if we as listeners can’t always relate to the particular subject matter (hard drugs, divorce, Joe Jonas, etc.). That said, I think Music Row needs more Johnson than Swift right now. So I’m pulling for That Lonesome Song.
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Lynn: Ditto Dan (although I’m not quite as enamored with Swift’s album).
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Kevin: Underwood’s album has grown on me with time, but the only album of these five that I really enjoy from start to finish is George Strait’s Troubadour.
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Leeann: Jamey Johnson clearly has the most interesting album here, though I’ll give Swift some credit too.  It’s odd that any of us would put Johnson and Swift in the same category, but one thing I can say about their efforts as opposed to the others is that it’s obvious that their albums were labors of love for them while the other albums seemed more thrown together.

Single Record of the Year

  • “Gunpowder & Lead” – Miranda Lambert – Lynn, Kevin, Leeann, Dan
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
  • “Johnny And June” – Heidi Newfield
  • “Waitin’ On A Woman” – Brad Paisley
  • “You’re Gonna Miss This” – Trace Adkins

Lynn: I was impressed with “In Color,” but this is an easy call: “Gunpowder & Lead” kicked arse!

Kevin: I’m splitting my vote between Single and Song, with the edge going to Miranda Lambert here.

Leeann: I just enjoy “Gunpowder And Lead” the most out of these choices.  I like “In Color”, but the appeal really hasn’t stuck with me over time. I still crank “Gunpowder And Lead” when given the chance, however.

Dan: Catch me on another day and I might say “In Color,” but I think “Gunpowder & Lead” is destined to become a classic, even if it’s more southern rock than country.

Song of the Year

  • I Saw God Today
    George Strait
    Composers:  Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell, Wade Kirby
  • In Color – Leeann, Dan, Lynn
    Jamey Johnson
    Composers:  Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller, James Otto
  • Johnny And June
    Heidi Newfield
    Composers:  Deanna Bryant, Heidi Newfield, Stephony Smith
  • Waitin’ On A Woman – Kevin
    Brad Paisley
    Composers:  Don Sampson, Wynn Varble
  • You’re Gonna Miss This
    Trace Adkins
    Composers:  Ashley Gorley and Lee Thomas Miller

Kevin: The final verse of “Waitin’ on a Woman” gets me every time. It’s easily my favorite Paisley song since “Whiskey Lullaby.”

Leeann:
“In Color” is the best and most intricately written song out of the bunch.

Dan: “In Color” is the only one of the bunch that really engrossed me the first time I heard it, which is kind of my litmus test for song quality.

Lynn: “In Color” is the most interesting song of the group (with “Johnny and June” actually being one of my least favorite big singles in recent years).

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John Rich, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”

john-richAs one half of Big & Rich, John Rich has certainly demonstrated that he knows how to throw a big, ostentatious party. However, in “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Rich’s recent solo release, the Nashville Star judge and Gone Country host takes to task those with the audacity to be ostentatious in these tough economic times.

Rich pulls no punches (and rightly so) in lambasting the fat cats on Wall Street who are giving out bonuses and throwing lavish parties with Government bailout money. However, the song falls short of inspiring righteous anger and garnering sympathy. Instead of striking the right emotional chord, the song comes off as vaguely preachy as Rich draws an arbitrary line between those who live in the “real world” and those who don’t.

The failure to truly resonate is primarily the result of a lyrical approach prevalent in country music of late: the lyrics attempt to push a sentiment onto the listener, rather than painting a picture and allowing the listener to relate in his/her own way.  Such an approach shortchanges the emotional power of a song. Only when Rich breaks away from this conceit in the second verse, does the song shine: Well that old man’s been working in that plant most all his life / Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die.” Now, this is a story I’d be interesting in hearing. A sequel perhaps?

Written by John Rich

Grade: B-

Listen: “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”

Buy:

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Pat Green, “Country Star”

pat-greenWhat can I say? Pat Green’s “Country Star” is gimmicky, bland and altogether misses the mark. It shamelessly namechecks artists such as Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and alludes to a Toby Keith song with not even so much as a gesture toward originality. Along with its vapid lyrics, the production is unbearably stale.

The progressive decay of Pat Green’s once quality and fresh-sounding material is overtly purposeful, so it is impossible to feel sorry for him. It, nevertheless, is depressing to witness all the same.

To completely sell out, as Green has no doubt done, is a sad price to pay, all for the sake of being a “country star.”

Grade: D

Listen: “Country Star”

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44th Annual ACM Awards Nominations Announcement

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The Academy of Country Music announced nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony this morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Julianne Hough, Kellie Pickler, Leann Rimes and Jessica Simpson were on hand to present this year’s nominees. More analysis to follow.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

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44th Annual ACM Awards Projections

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On Wednesday, February 11, the Academy of Country Music will unveil the nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony. Last year, the usual suspects prevailed. Brad and Carrie repeated in the Vocalist categories, Brooks & Dunn claimed their 14th Vocal Duo prize and Kenny Chesney earned his fourth consecutive Entertainer of the Year award. As a prelude to the nominations announcement, here’s my projected slate for this year’s ceremony. (Favorites are in bold.)

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Sugarland
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

Prognosis: The “no girls allowed” edict will likely be lifted.  Underwood is the genre’s most prominent ambassador, and Sugarland’s rise to the high ranks has both commercial and critical support.

Note of interest: “The winner shall be determined by a combination of votes from the membership of the ACM and viewer voting.”

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Country Universe Staff: 2008 CMA Predictions

This afternoon, the Country Universe staff is following up last night’s personal picks with our actual predictions about who will win tonight. Check back tonight at show time to join the live blog and mock us for our defective divinations. Less

than four hours until showtime!

Entertainer
  • Kenny Chesney- Kevin, Leeann, Blake
  • Brad Paisley – Dan
  • George Strait
  • Sugarland
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: BMG has to throw their weight behind either Chesney or Paisley. My hunch is they’ll back Chesney for Entertainer and Paisley for Male Vocalist.
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Leeann:
It’s been Chesney all this time and not much has changed to make me think it won’t be Kenny again this year.
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Blake:
Chesney remained steady on the concert trail and earned three #1 singles in the past year. This would be his fourth win, tying Garth Brooks for the most ever in the Entertainer lineup.
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Dan:
It seems somewhat foolish to bet against a Chesney repeat, but I just have a nagging feeling that the favor will be thrown in Paisley’s direction this year by voters looking to honor someone new.
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Country Universe Staff: 2008 CMA Personal Picks

As we gear up for tomorrow night’s CMA Awards Show, the staff of Country Universe share our personal picks in all categories.   Check back tomorrow for our predictions in each category.  Our third annual Live Blog will commence at the beginning of the show.

Entertainer

  • Kenny Chesney- Blake
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Lynn
  • George Strait
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Dan
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: The only act in the running this year who has shown artistic, commercial and live performance growth is Sugarland, and they’ve grown by leaps and bounds.  In a race with four other acts who have long since settled into their styles, they’re the only ones who are still charting new territory.

Leeann: While Paisley may not use explosions or other fancy tricks to entertain his crowds, much like Vince Gill, he keeps them mesmerized with his comedy, graphic creations, incredible guitar prowess and a catalog of engaging songs – in other words, natural talent.

Blake: Kenny Chesney is the most significant touring act in country music and a genre-crossing ambassador for both fans and fly-by-night followers.

Dan: They can’t claim Chesney’s utter domination of the road, but Sugarland have been consistent sellers in a time where the very idea of selling well feels antiquated. They’re probably the best mainstream ambassadors for the genre right now, too, with musical output that challenges commercial conventions (see “Stay”), at least sort of acknowledges country music’s traditions (again, see “Stay”), and draws creatively from other genres (see the Beyoncé duet, the high-profile covers of Dream Academy and Matt Nathanson, the mish-mashy new album).

Lynn: With natural talent, charm, good humor, humility, skills and grace, Paisley is my pick for Entertainer of the Year.  He’s an asset to the genre, and manages to keep one foot in traditional country even as he branches out.  Although he’s not as big of a touring act as Chesney, he’s still a huge draw, and despite all the gimmicks and gadgets in his concert, true to the genre, he keeps the music at the heart of his show.

Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson – Leeann
  • Brad Paisley – Blake
  • George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Lynn
  • Keith Urban
Leeann: With Paisley as my close second choice, Jackson has the clear, smooth voice that ultimately gets my vote.  Like the man, his voice is simple but it is able to expertly capture each emotion that is needed for each song that he sings.  Moreover, every note that he sings comes with incredible ease.

Blake:
His attempts at humor miss the mark occasionally, and his vocal range compares little to the great voices of the genre, but Paisley, with his tremendous guitar playing and stellar songwriting executes well enough to win a second consecutive Male Vocalist honor.

Dan:
They all kind of put me to sleep this year, but George did it with the strongest set of songs. Paisley will probably repeat, but I say “Strait ’08.”
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Lynn: This is a tough category for me this year. I’m a fan of Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and George Strait, but none of them really impressed me with their musical output. I’m going with Strait for keeping it country.
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Kevin: All of these men have been repeatedly honored by the CMA.  Collectively, they have 54 awards and 240 nominations to date.  It’s been a decade since Strait took this one home, and he’s put out better music this year than both Jackson and Urban, the only other vocalists here that are in his league.
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Female Vocalist

  • Alison Krauss
  • Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann, Blake (tie), Dan, Lynn
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Blake (tie)
Blake: Underwood’s powerful pipes and positive contribution to the image of the genre deserve props.  Likewise to Lambert’s intelligent songwriting, fearless stage attitude and feisty vocal firepower.

Dan:
We’re all pretty big fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend here, so…yeah.

Lynn:
Except for Swift, vocally this category is a toss-up, and could be decided solely on personal preference. However, if one considers the strength of material as well, this award goes to Miranda Lambert, hands down.

Kevin:
Alison Krauss and Carrie Underwood are both worthy of the honor, but Miranda Lambert deserves it the most. She made the best music.
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Leeann: Miranda has proven that she can sing a rocker with the necessary grit and energy to appropriate drive her up-tempo songs, but she has also demonstrated a lesser known ability to be able to sing with vulnerability and sensitivity when called upon to do so.  Out of the female singers on this list, Lambert has the most interesting voice.
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CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Neimann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band

Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible.  This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination.  With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race.
2009

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

Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.

lady-antebellum2008

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.

2007

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.

2006

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.

2005

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.

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Discussion: Vote for Your CMA Picks

Seems appropriate for Election Day.  Vote for your favorites and share your thoughts in the comments.  Be sure to click “more” so you can see all of the categories.

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Big & Rich, “Loud”

Talk about your accurate titles. This is the ultimate distillation of that in-your-face element of Big &a

mp; Rich’s music. If you enjoy that element, you’ll love this record. If you’re like me, and you appreciate Big & Rich for their flashes of brilliant songwriting or cheeky humor, this one will leave you completely cold. Personally, I’d rather see them send “You Shook Me (All Night Long)” out there. It would certainly sell them a lot more records than this and country radio might actually play it.

Grade: C

Listen: Loud

Buy: Loud

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