Bringing Back the Sunshine
He’s been coasting on his celebrity status and his brand of aw-shucks humor for years, so it’s encouraging that Blake Shelton’s Bringing Back the Sunshine seems less phoned-in than its predecessors.
Bringing Back the Sunshine
He’s been coasting on his celebrity status and his brand of aw-shucks humor for years, so it’s encouraging that Blake Shelton’s Bringing Back the Sunshine seems less phoned-in than its predecessors.
Despite the Grammys and even the ACM’s demonstrating more consistent taste over the past few years, the CMA’s remain the most significant industry awards that honor country music. This year’s slate of nominees gives the organization an opportunity to build on the credibility of last year’s George Strait victory. His win for Entertainer saved a dismal show in its closing minutes.
Here’s our take on this year’s contenders:
Kevin: I’d settle for a Miranda Lambert victory, as she had an amazing year. But my first choice is George Strait, who deserves a fourth trophy for that record-breaking final concert. The rest of these nominees have either won before or still seem to have their best days ahead of them. There will never be another George Strait again.
Jonathan: The appalling sense of entitlement Jason Aldean has shown in his seemingly endless campaign of adult temper-tantrums disguised as interviews since these nominees were announced makes it all the more satisfying that the voters didn’t exclusively consider commercial and touring stats when voting for this award. I think that will likely continue with the final ballots, giving Strait the win here as a final send-off– a win that, as Kevin said, Strait’s last concert fully justifies based on even Aldean’s logic.
Tara: I have a feeling I’ll be pulling for Lambert next year, but 20 months after seeing it, I’m still high on Strait’s phenomenal farewell show. He deserves this.
Ben: Why not? Miranda will have plenty more shots at it, but this could be our last chance to see George Strait accept a CMA Entertainer of the Year trophy. Let the cowboy ride away in style.
Written by Andrew Dorff, Mark Irwin, and Josh Kear
Brooks & Dunn made an entire career out of honky tonk puns and play on words. “Neon Light” is a throwback to those songs, with Blake Shelton previewing his new album with a song built around there being “a neon light at the end of the tunnel.”
To his credit, Shelton plays it subtle, with the song not having that arena-in-mind noisiness that has come to define today’s country music. But the song never quite gets out of first gear, either. Sure, the song didn’t need power chords and hair band chants. But it certainly would benefit from more aggressive fiddle and steel guitar.
This year’s CMA nominees are the best in years, with multiple nominations for Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Brandy Clark. Country radio may still be shunning women, but their embrace by CMA voters suggests that the industry knows who is really leading the way in the genre these days.
Who’s In: Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban
Who’s Out: Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift
George Strait, a surprise winner last year, is nominated again in a year that includes his record-shattering final concert. Miranda Lambert’s domination of this year’s nominations extends to the big category, where she competes for the first time since 2010.
The thing about Chris Young is that he’s a great traditional country singer. I think that’s his preference, too.
It’s fun to think of our favorite endearing songs about dads. We’ve even done it here at Country Universe a time or two. But let’s face it, dad’s aren’t always right and they’re not always wise. Here are a few songs that show the invincible side of fathers.
While I’m so fond of my dad that I almost feel guilty about writing this Song Talk installment, my guilt is eased by knowing that he would actually be amused by the topic. So, here we go! Feel free to add your selections in the comments.
Lefty Frizzell, “Saginaw, Michigan”
I was listening to this song the other day and it’s what inspired this list. It’s the classic scenario of the dad thinking that his daughter’s suitor isn’t good enough for her, but the twist at the end takes a hilarious turn!
Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Sebastian
Written by Andrew Dorff, Tommy Lee James, and Josh Osborne
Is a play on words really that romantic? I can imagine being asked, “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” getting an icebreaking laugh, for sure.
And they’re back: The 2014 ACM Awards air live on Sunday at 7 p.m. CST, hosted by Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan. They’re sure to be enraging or amusing, depending on your bro-country meter. In the meantime, we’ve picked and predicted the awards below – chime in with your thoughts!
Entertainer of the Year
Ben: No, Strait didn’t have the biggest year, but he’s still the only nominee whom I can truly endorse as the face of country music in 2014. At this point the Carrie Underwood snubs have ceased to surprise me.
Jonathan: If his fans’ votes were enough to give him the surprise win last year, there’s no reason to think Bryan won’t repeat, given that his profile only seems to have grown throughout 2013. All five of the nominees are equally sort-of deserving of a win based on relative metrics of commercial stats and quality of their output, while the most obvious, most deserving winner of this award was yet again left off the ballot.
Tara: Strait’s putting on a heck of a farewell tour, and I appreciate the CMA voters for recognizing that last year. I’m doubtful he’ll have that effect on the ACM voter demographic, though; this one’s Bryan’s to lose … but really, truly, belongs to Underwood.
Kevin: Strait’s victory at last year’s CMA Awards was the highlight of the night. But I agree with the consensus. Fan votes have this thing locked up for Bryan.
Ben: Bryan seems to have had the biggest year, but I’m not personally invested in any of these choices.
Jonathan: I’d be more excited about seeing new blood in this line-up if I were in any way impressed with Brice. Just looking at mainstream stars who had hits during the eligibility period, a superior slate of nominees could be culled from Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Easton Corbin, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, and Chris Young.
Tara: I’ll be damned if Aldean hasn’t grown on me over the past few years. His material is still too uneven for me to get behind, but I’ve come to begrudgingly respect his appeal. My guess is his crown will go to Bryan, though.
Kevin: I like the fact that after the endless streak from Paisley, we’ve gotten different winners in the past two years. The only two who haven’t won yet are Brice and Bryan. The latter is the only one at the level to warrant a win at this time.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Ben: Lambert’s status as one of this year’s leading nominees indicates that voters still have the hots for her. Her reign will end eventually, but I won’t bet on it happening this time around.
Brandy Clark LeAnn Rimes Ashley Monroe Kellie Pickler Julie Roberts Holly Williams No? On the brightside, Crow managed to snag the fifth slot instead of either of Blake Shelton’s overpraised “The Voice” winners, but that’s really where the good news ends. It seems premature for Musgraves to win this award, and I’m honestly still not all that enamored of her beyond “Follow Your Arrow.” I’ve been pulling for Underwood of late, but both she and Swift ended this eligibility period with two of their worst singles, so I’d have reservations about seeing either of them win. Lambert seems poised to repeat based on her haul of nominations; as fun as “Mama’s Broken Heart” is, I’d feel better about this streak of hers had it spanned her far superior Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Revolution eras.
Tara: I’m sticking with Underwood for one more cycle, mostly because Musgraves’ charming “Follow Your Arrow” didn’t really make its (relatively small) impact until after the eligibility period. It’s hard to swallow how many of these awards Lambert is racking up between the ACM’s and the CMA’s, but I suspect the trend will continue.
Kevin: Go big or go home. Musgraves is the ACM’s opportunity to definitively position itself as the more substantive country awards show, a status they’ve been flirting with as the CMA’s have moved in the opposite direction. I think she’ll pull it off, and I’ll be happy to see her do it.
Ben: This category remains lame and pointless as ever, but at least I can give credit for the fact that they finally stopped shoehorning in Sugarland.
Jonathan: Thompson Square is the only one of these five acts who released a single that I didn’t absolutely hate during the past year. While that’s an accomplishment of sorts, it’s hardly one that should keep this category from being combined with the Vocal Group race.
Tara: I don’t mind Thompson Square. That’s the best thing I can say about this line-up.
Kevin: I’m not really a fan of any of these acts, so again, I’ll root for variety. Thompson Square has two wins already. Florida Georgia Line had a great year. Give them their due, and then perhaps we can forget they ever happened.
Jonathan: I couldn’t vote against Little Big Town during a year when they released “Sober,” but Zac Brown Band continues to release solid material and remains overdue for recognition. The Band Perry have a run of huge hit singles– the first two of which were as clever and progressive as anything country radio has touched in a minute– to their credit during the eligibility period. Momentum seems to be on their side at the moment, and I think they’ll score the night’s only real upset.
Tara: The Band Perry are walking a skillful line between commercial and creative, and I think they’ll be rewarded. As for me, I’m clinging to Little Big Town at least until the exquisite “Sober” becomes old news.
Kevin: I think that The Band Perry is best positioned to win, but Zac Brown Band is the most overdue.
Ben: I’m torn between picking The Band Perry for having had such a strong year, and picking Little Big Town for releasing one of my favorite singles of 2013. But despite Little Big Town’s recent hot streak, I expect The Band Perry’s commercial stats will net them their first win in this category.
Jonathan: Of these three, Justin Moore has been building his fanbase for the longest period of time, so it seems logical that he’ll win based on the fan vote.
Tara: I’ve been in Kip Moore’s corner for a few years now, but doubt he’ll take this. True story: Sometimes I think Justin Moore and Brice are the same person.
Album of the Year
Ben: Musgraves is the only one deserving of a nomination, let alone a win.
Jonathan: 2013 was an extraordinary year for country music, and that is in no way reflected in this appalling slate of nominees. Musgraves’ album is the only one that belongs in any conversation about the best of contemporary country. But there seems to be some growing consensus that Shelton is owed something more than his own celebrity status, so he’s the most likely winner.
Tara: A part of me thinks the voters will ride the 2013 Musgraves fan train and use this as an opportunity to show some relevance. But that’s a gamble of a guess, considering the atrocious other nominees.
Kevin: They’ve been more supportive of good art in this category than the CMA’s lately, so I’m thinking Musgraves has this wrapped up, and the ACM will be the tiebreaker between the Grammys and the CMA’s.
Jonathan: A case could be made for any of these five singles actually winning, but I’ll let my pessimism about the overall nominations carry the most weight here and say that “Cruise” will win. “Mama’s Broken Heart” is only Lambert’s fifth-or-sixth-best single, but it’s easily the class of this field.
Tara: “Cruise” is too big for the voters to ignore, and that’s both depressing and funny. I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Rucker or Brice singles won, but Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” is clearly a cut above the rest with its sharp songwriting and spitting, bullet of a performance.
Kevin: Love the Lambert track, but the star power of McGraw/Swift/Urban seems hard to deny.
Song of the Year
Jonathan: “Wagon Wheel” has become as close to a standard as any song in recent memory, and that generally doesn’t happen just by accident. This is one of the few times when Brandy Clark would be my second choice for a winner. The success of “I Drive Your Truck” propelled Brice to a surprising haul of nominations this year, though, and it’s clear that the song has resonated with a sizable bloc of voters.
Tara: This isn’t an awful line-up. I personally get the most kicks out of “Mama’s Broken Heart,” but I could make a case for all five songs, even the somewhat underrated “Mine Would Be You.” I have a gut feeling “I Drive Your Truck” will win on emotional heft, though.
Kevin: Perhaps it’s overly wishful thinking, but with “Merry Go Round” not in the running, voters have a clear path to rewarding both Musgraves and Clark, along with sending some more hardware Lambert’s way.
Jonathan: The video for “Blowin’ Smoke” looks like a reel of B-roll footage from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, which was an interesting aesthetic choice but was still nowhere near as fun as the Christine homage in “Two Black Cadillacs.”
Tara: I dig the tongue-in-cheek realism of Musgraves’ video and the whimsy of Lambert’s, but Underwood makes the most unexpected, imaginative choice.
Kevin: They’ve got to give Underwood something, right? I’m not a huge fan of the video, really. The song is awfully suggestive, but doesn’t come right out and say that the two ladies killed the guy. So the video takes that opening and decides, “The car did it!” But at least it’s a video. The others are just YouTube fodder.
Jonathan: Hillary Scott’s shrill attempts at singing harmony are the worst part of Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel,” and hopefully the two hip-hop-circa-2003-inspired singles will split votes. “We Were Us” is the worst sounding track of the five– which is really saying something about how we’ve forever lost the Loudness War– but it seems like Lambert is going to have a big night.
Tara: I’ll go with “Wagon Wheel” by default, though its collaboration does it absolutely no favors, as Jonathan said. Even still, it’s far above these other middling to obnoxious (so loud!) singles.
Kevin: Fair warning. If Florida Georgia Line/Nelly win, I’m out. Done. No live blog for me after that!
The Country Universe staff has picked and predicted the 2014 Grammy Awards below, strange bunch that they are. Chime in with your thoughts, and catch the show on Sunday at 7 p.m. CST.
Kevin: With electronic music so mainstream now, it would be wise and timely for NARAS to acknowledge the excellent comeback of one of its pioneers, especially as the year’s best country albums (Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, etc.) and the year’s best rap album (Kanye West) didn’t score nominations in the top category.
Jonathan: Lamar and Daft Punk would both be worthy winners of an award that rarely seems to go to one. Hip-hop and R&B have notoriously struggled in the general field in recent years, so Daft Punk’s cachet with the rock contingent should give them the edge over Swift, who didn’t score the across-the-board support many were expecting from her this year. If the voters are feeling especially timid, though, watch out for “Brave” yelper Bareilles as a spoiler.
Kevin: “Get Lucky” was retro and modern at the same time, featuring the charismatic Williams. That guy makes everything better. I’m guessing Mars will get it because he’s the most established and arguably is overdue for a big win.
Dan: “Royals” was the most refreshing to me. Winner feels like a real toss-up, though.
Jonathan: Prevailing logic as to why hip-hop tracks have fared so poorly in this category is that NARAS voters are still hell-bent on rewarding live instrumentation, so it’s hard to imagine something as spare as “Royals” winning, even if it’s the most distinctive choice. “Get Lucky” would get my vote, but look for Bruno Mars to head off to his Super Bowl Halftime gig with some new hardware in hand to reward his Police homage.
Tara: Lots of atmospheric tunes here. “Get Lucky” seems like the one that will feel no less groovy in ten years time. I wouldn’t put any money on it, but I could see the voters ignoring controversy and rewarding the biggest hit of the year.
Kevin: P!nk is long overdue for a top tier award, and her co-write with previous winner Nate Reuss was, in my opinion, the best duet in a year chock full of ‘em.
Dan: The Macklemore & Ryan Lewis composition is somehow the most personal of the group even as it makes the biggest, broadest statement. And the climactic third verse still gives me chills.
Jonathan: I don’t care that Kacey Musgraves is a fan of hers: Perry’s nomination is indefensible, with four adults credited on a song that rhymes “zero” with “hero” and that allows pop music’s least-capable vocalist to scream a series of self-help cliches. The broad, even-in-the-flyover-states popularity of “Same Love,” though, gives the voters a safe opportunity to make a political statement and to recognize one of the year’s breakthrough acts.
Tara: It’s a toss-up between “Royals” and “Same Love” for me in terms of substance and purposeful songwriting, but I can’t ignore the chills I also get listening to the latter. I agree with Jonathan that this is a win-win way for the voters to make a statement.
Kevin: Gotta root for the home team. I think Macklemore & Lewis will win, though.
Dan: For once, this category is hot across the board; you could make a great argument for any of these folks. Personally, I find Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to be the most exciting.
Ben: I don’t always gravitate toward the country-affiliated New Artist nominee, but then again it’s rare for me to be so invested in a country newcomer’s artistry as I am with Musgraves. To see her win would make my heart happy.
Jonathan: Lamar is making the most compelling music of this lot, but this category’s history dictates that it’s Musgraves’ award to lose. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis pose a real threat, but being the only woman nominated plays in Musgraves’ favor.
Tara: It’s hard to tell if Musgraves’ profile outside of the country sphere is big enough to nab her this one, but I’d be happy if it did. I hope she keeps the face in check if it doesn’t, though.
Kevin: Don’t see how Taylor doesn’t win, though Musgraves made the best album by a decent margin, regardless of how country any of ‘em are.
Dan: Here’s the most logical place to reward Musgraves, though I guess Red’s nomination in the general Album of the Year field makes it the frontrunner in this category. And that’s fine; whatever. I’ve been hoping for Swift’s albums to be grouped under “Pop” at the Grammys since Fearless. It ain’t gonna happen.
Ben: Should Win – easy choice. Will Win – also an easy choice.
Sam: Just to be contrary, I think Shelton’s built up enough recognition with his “The Voice” gig that he has name recognition from voters who know next to nothing about country music. The fact that it was a terrible, terrible album doesn’t really matter.
Jonathan: No, Red shouldn’t be nominated in the Country field, so I wouldn’t vote for it on principle, even though its best tracks are far and away the strongest material in this line-up. NARAS has no qualms about rewarding pop crossover albums here, so it would be a huge upset were Swift to lose. When we were all prepping our ballots for our year-end countdowns, I had Musgraves’ album at #38. It’s good and I certainly understand why it has as many fans as it does, but I’m just not as bullish on it as others seem to be. Still, it would be my personal choice from this paltry line-up, since Aldean’s, McGraw’s, and Shelton’s albums ranged from pedestrian to downright unlistenable.
Tara: Seems like an easy Swift win, but I get where Sam’s head is at re: Shelton. There’s no question Musgraves made the best music, though, and what a shame she’s not surrounded by her peers who made even better music.
Kevin: Lambert is the only female and the only previous winner. I’d be shocked if she lost.
Ben: To me, Lambert’s performance alone claims the distinction of making an already-great song even better.
Sam: This could be one of those rare occasions where the best nominee actually wins a Grammy. I think Hunter Hayes is a long shot, as most Grammy voters are not teenaged girls.
Jonathan: What Kevin said. Also, he’s a talented instrumentalist, but the Grammy voters’ fascination with Hunter Hayes is baffling.
Tara: Lambert’s is the most distinct and impactful performance here, but I’ll throw in my defense of Hayes’ “I Want Crazy,” a song and vocal that’s as breathlessly exuberant as Keith Urban’s best work.
Kevin: The high octane collaboration of McGraw/Swift/Urban has been unstoppable thus far. Kudos to NARAS for noticing Rogers & Parton’s beautiful work, their best together since “Islands in the Stream.”
Ben: “You Can’t Make Old Friends” is enough to give many a longtime country music lover warm fuzzies, but the commercial clout of “Highway Don’t Care” may be too much to beat.
Sam: If you’re a Grammy voter and have to decide on a zillion categories, do you take the time to sit and listen to each nominee, or do you skim over the names and pick the ones you’re most familiar with? Kenny and Dolly for the win.
Jonathan: One of the strongest sets of nominees anywhere on the Grammy ballot this year. Little Big Town would get my vote so that they have a win for something besides “Pontoon” to their credit, but I think NARAS’ older voters will be swayed by the effortless charm of the Rogers and Parton duet.
Tara: I don’t love any of these except for the Rogers and Parton collaboration, as much as I wanted to embrace “Don’t Rush” (Kelly Clarkson! Vince Gill!). I think the middle-of-the-road McGraw / Swift / Urban song will win out, but here’s to hoping the voters act on warm fuzzies.
Kevin: Gotta root for the Brandy Clark co-write, which is conveniently the best composition anyway. Still, I think voters will use this category to acknowledge Musgraves for writing her own hit instead of Miranda’s.
Ben: I seem to be in the minority here, but I actually consider “Merry Go ‘Round” to be the finer of the two Musgraves co-writes – which is not to say that I don’t adore “Mama’s Broken Heart” or that I wouldn’t be thrilled to see Brandy Clark also gain a mantle decoration. This would seem a comfortable place for voters to acknowledge Musgraves – as well as a likely consolation prize should she lose Best New Artist – and like Kevin, I expect it will be for the hit she performed as well as wrote.
Sam: I’d just like to point out that this is an incredibly strong group of nominees and shows there is some substance to country music once you weed out all the tailgate songs.
Jonathan: Things could play out here in a similar fashion to the CMAs, with vote-splitting among the multiple nominations for Musgraves, McAnally, Alexander, and Harrington. That worked to the latter pair’s advantage at the CMAs, where “I Drive Your Truck” pulled off a surprise win, but Shelton’s powerballad could siphon votes from Brice’s hit this time. As much as I love the idea of Brandy Clark as a Grammy winner, I think the various vote-splits will allow one of Swift’s best-written songs to win.
Tara: As strong as Lambert’s spitfire performance is, I’d argue that the bones of “Mama’s Broken Heart” are even stronger. I’ve never been able to connect with “Merry Go Round” the way others have, but agree this is likely where the voters will single Musgraves out.
Kevin: Can voters resist Steve Martin? If they do, I hope it’s to acknowledge again the unique talents of Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. They are so good together.
Jonathan: Jarosz draws favorable comparisons to Alison Krauss, and, if ever there were a surefire way to appeal to Grammy voters, that would be it. She’d get my vote for the exceptional title track from her third album, though, like Kevin, I’m a big fan of O’Brien’s and Scott’s work together. Martin’s charm and name recognition are likely to give his duet with erstwhile New Bohemian Brickell the edge here.
Kevin: Martin & Brickell might be the most logical choice, but in a category stacked with veterans, Harris & Crowell must be tempting to voters who are long time fans of both.
Sam: The fact that Jason Isbell wasn’t nominated here shows that Americana music has a long way to go before Grammy voters stop using it at the place where all veteran singer/songwriters end up. As for this year, Allen Touissant is older and has past Grammy love, so my money is on him.
Jonathan: The strongest, most vital year for Americana music in a decade is rewarded with a staid slate of nominees. Old Yellow Moon is the obvious standout and could very well win, but I think Martin’s well-received album with Brickell has the edge based on Martin’s celebrity.
Kevin: Haven’t heard these albums enough to have a personal favorite, but I think the Del McCoury Band’s name recognition will power it to a win.
Jonathan: Both the Del McCoury Band and Dailey & Vincent are nominated for some of their very best work, and either would be a richly deserving winner. Della Mae have a fairly vocal fanbase, but it isn’t clear if that fanbase overlaps with the Grammy voter bloc enough to unseat one of the two bigger-name acts.
Kevin: Sentimental favorite who also put out a great album? How can they deny Guy Clark?
Jonathan: I’m tempted to pick the Arhoolie Records without having heard it, simply because it just seems like something the idiosyncratic Grammys would go for. Clark is a safer bet for his beautifully observed album, while the ascendant Jarosz would get my vote for her career-best work.
That’s how predictable Shelton has gotten at this point, which is as much an indictment of Music Row songwriting as a whole as it is of him as an artist. I’ve asked this question already this year, and it’s not even the end of January yet: Why is a superstar capable of demanding great material recording such pedestrian claptrap?
He certainly doesn’t need any career advice, but if Shelton has any interest in being as captivating on record as he is on television, I strongly recommend he ditch the publishing houses and just do an album of Jason Isbell covers. The good stuff is out there. It’s just not where he’s looking.
Written by Wade Kirby and Phil O’Donnell