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.
Easton Corbin was a refreshing arrival at country radio when he first hit airwaves a half-decade ago, toeing the line between what was commercially viable and what was interesting with hits that brought some added warmth and personality to familiar radio tropes. He kicked off his career with an “I’m so country” song and a summer song that were both listenable and likable, even utilizing enough audible fiddle and steel for him to be tagged as a “traditionalist.” Since then he’s scored a string of radio hits with material that has been enjoyable, but not especially challenging or compelling. Is the best yet to come?
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:
Entertainer of the Year
George Strait – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara, Ben
George Strait – Jonathan, Kevin, Tara, Ben
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 Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Carrie Underwood
If anybody’s going to sing a song about the power of the water to cleanse your soul, it should be Carrie Underwood. Her voice and her presence on record are enough to wash country listeners’ ears clean from all the dreck we’re being assaulted with these days.
Underwood previews her upcoming hits collection by revisiting a theme that she’s explored before, but with a wisdom and maturity that can only come from life experience. “Something in the Water” shifts the transformative experience of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” into the first person, a sign, along with her co-writing credit, of how much more personal ownership she now takes over her work. So as great as that first hit was, it’s the new release that throbs with urgency and intensity, moving the spiritual experience from something philosophical into something viscerally real.
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.
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
Dierks Bentley has done a lot of growing up since his young man’s anthem, “What Was I Thinkin'”, launched him to stardom.
“I Hold On” has the energetic groove that Bentley always does so well, but there’s a refreshing lyrical depth that makes this song stand out among its lesser peers on the radio today. His sentimental attachment to his old pickup truck because he worked on it with his departed father is reminiscent of Alan Jackson’s now-classic “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and there’s a nice mix of nostalgia and pride in him hanging on to the beat up guitar that he strapped on during all those rowdy club dates early in his career.
The song is so personal that even the patriotic clinging to the flag seems more genuine than cloying, though it does slow the song down a bit, at least until he pivots to promising to hold on to the love he’s found with his one true flame.
It’s not perfect, but it’s better than most. I’m always on board with country music for grownups.