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
- 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.
Lynn: Ditto Dan (although I’m not quite as enamored with Swift’s album).
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.
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
Composers: Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell, Wade Kirby
- In Color – Leeann, Dan, Lynn
Composers: Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller, James Otto
- Johnny And June
Composers: Deanna Bryant, Heidi Newfield, Stephony Smith
- Waitin’ On A Woman – Kevin
Composers: Don Sampson, Wynn Varble
- You’re Gonna Miss This
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).