The third most prestigious country music industry award nominations – but the most important ones handed out in the spring – have been announced. Here’s a rundown of all the major categories, along with some back-of-the-envelope analysis:
Florida Georgia Line
Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Florida Georgia Line
Who’s Out: Blake Shelton, George Strait, Taylor Swift
Last year’s winner, George Strait, didn’t get a return invitation, but Garth Brooks, who has won this award six times before, returns to the competition. Much like Strait’s farewell tour was a reminder of his extensive popularity, Garth’s ability to sell out several dates per city overshadows the lukewarm reception to his new material at radio and retail. Taylor Swift’s exit is directly tied to her cutting ties with the genre. Jason Aldean’s return makes logical sense, but it’s quite the mystery to see Blake Shelton gone and Florida Georgia Line in.
Hits compilations have become an odd thing in the digital age, as they give both hardcore and casual fans little reason to purchase. The new tracks can be downloaded if you’re interested. The hits that you would’ve wanted, you’ve probably downloaded anyway.
So kudos to Carrie Underwood for putting together a collection that’s worth purchasing in physical form, with beautiful artwork and liner notes, and for putting together a track listing that doesn’t cut corners in any way. Every single hit is included, and she’s had a ton of them so far, all consistently good and quite a few that have been great.
Paisley’s last four albums have established a pattern of something slightly progressive or challenging (American Saturday Night, Wheelhouse) followed by a course-correction back toward baseline (This is Country Music, Moonshine in the Trunk).
Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Dickens, the Grand Ole Opry’s most beloved and diminutive ambassador, died Friday at a Nashville area hospital. He was 94.
Mr. Dickens starred for decades on the “Opry,” where he was a vital part of the scene both onstage and backstage. His dressing room was an essential stop for performers on the show, and it was there that he held court for a variety of artists, some of whom came to the Opry more than a half century after Mr. Dickens’ 1948 debut.
He remained a vital performer throughout his life, last playing the “Opry” on Dec. 20, a day after his 94th birthday and five days before he would be admitted to the hospital after suffering a stroke on Christmas Day. He died of cardiac arrest on Friday.
When the spotlight shone on him, Mr. Dickens would make fun of his size (“I’m Little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson after taxes”), his rhinestone-studded outfits (“There goes Mighty Mouse in his pajamas”) and his old-timer status (He would often introduce his “latest hit,” from 1965).
“The Grand Ole Opry did not have a better friend than Little Jimmy Dickens,” Opry vice president and general manager Pete Fisher said in a statement Friday. “He loved the audience and his Opry family, and all of us loved him back. He was a one-of-kind entertainer and a great soul whose spirit will live on for years to come.”
In the final decades of his career, Mr. Dickens’ kindness, affability and hospitality were his calling cards. Where others would say “goodnight,” Mr. Dickens would shake hands and offer, “We appreciate you.” But some of those who laughed with him and sang along to the songs he regularly performed on the “Opry” were unaware of what a potent, even groundbreaking performer he was in the 1950s.
Ever since the illness and death of Porter Wagoner, Dickens had become the single most visible ambassador for, and the living legacy of, the Grand Ole Opry. Yes, there were all those cameos and appearances with Brad Paisley, which were his primary introduction to more recent country fans. But the Opry was his home and he was the star there, not the sidekick.
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.
Entertainer of the Year
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 Poet of the Common Man. Merle Haggard emerged from the Bakersfield music scene in the mid-sixties, and over the course of time, became the greatest man in the history of country music.
Born during the height of the Great Depression, the son of a honky tonk fiddler and a church-going mother, Haggard’s life was a hard one from early on. When he lost his father at age nine, he rebelled to the point that much of his youth was spent in juvenile detention centers. His only positive outlet was country music, and he listened to and studied obsessively the work of his heroes Bob Willis, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell, all of whom would shape his singing and his songwriting.
Brad Paisley has become a fairly reliable competitor in country radio’s annual summer song rodeo. He offers a 2014 entry that is listenable and likable, if not as memorable as last year’s “Beat This Summer.”
Miranda Lambert’s tempting fate with her titles, calling her upcoming album Platinum and her high-profile collaboration with Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad.”
No word for a while yet on whether the album will sell a million copies, but as far as the single goes, it lives up to the promise of the two singers more than it does to its title.
It does so by trying not to be as ambitious as the caliber of the collaborators would make you expect it to be. This was a trap both ladies fell into when collaborating with other A-listers, making Lambert’s duet with Keith Urban and Underwood’s with Brad Paisley not as successful as they could’ve been.
This is just a plain ol’ good girls on their baddest behavior ditty. Well, not their baddest behavior. Underwood doesn’t key up anyone’s car and Lambert doesn’t kill anybody. But it’s all in good fun, and both ladies can perform the thing solo just fine when the other isn’t around.
And kudos to the production, I feel I should mention. There were a few moments I thought it was gonna go all eighties glam rock, but the record pulls back before it goes over the edge, and we get just the ladies and a rhythm track, which actually supports the lyric better. Somethin’ bad’s gonna happen, but….not yet. Good stuff.
Written by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Priscilla Renea