Tag Archives: Brooks & Dunn

Album Review: Randy Houser, They Call Me Cadillac

Randy Houser
They Call Me Cadillac

In a male-dominated industry, it’s often difficult to hear distinction in the plethora of male voices on mainstream country radio. We do not have such a challenge with Randy Houser, however. Instead, Houser has a voice that rivals the soul and strength of Brooks and Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn. Regrettably, his debut album mainly suffered from production that detracted from his distinctive voice by placing heavy emphasis on the trending bombast of the times.

Houser’s promise was not completely absent, however, as demonstrated on strong songs like “Anything Goes”, “Something Real” and “How Many Times”, along with the playful “Lie”. Unfortunately, those moments were overshadowed by the larger raucous tone of the album, which, ultimately, made the disc uneven. So, in one of the small positive twists of 2010, Houser’s new album, They Call Me Cadillac, is a pleasant divergence from his previous effort.

Along with the jaunty title track that, apparently, refers to Houser’s nickname, “Out Here in the Country”, and “I’m All about It” help to fill the uptempo quota that is inarguably needed for a mainstream release. These songs are catchy with a certain level of cheeky charm to keep them enjoyable. Additionally, “A Man Like Me” is a pleasing throwback to a Waylon Jennings sound with a refreshing modern twist to it. On the mellower end of things, the slow burning “Addicted” and the pretty waltz, “If I Could Buy Me Some Time”, help to serve as a good counterbalance.

There are a couple of missteps on the album, however. “Whistlin’ Dixie”, the album’s lead single, is simply an intolerable wall of noise full of insufferable clichés for the express purpose of conjuring up southern imagery. The other notable stumble on the album is sonically pleasing, but lyrically troubling. “Will I Always Be This Way” is a self-indulgent lament of a man who doesn’t know if he can ever settle down. While the sentiment is a continual trope of country songs, it’s expressed especially distastefully  in this one, as Houser asks, “Will I ever be the kind of guy / Who’s running home every night / To the little house / And doing right by the little wife?”

Luckily, the album is rarely interrupted by such inferior material. Instead, it’s largely comprised of solid songs with some standout gems, particularly the bone-chillingly spare “Lead Me Home”, a bluesy gospel song that Houser vocally nails with just the right mix of soul and restraint. Similarly, “Somewhere South of Memphis” is also impressively soulful, as its title rightfully suggests.

Randy Houser is now on the Toby Keith-owned label, Show Dog Universal. Interestingly, it seems that despite Keith’s reputation for in-your-face songs and productions, Houser has still been granted the freedom to dial back the loud that pervaded his freshman album to embrace a less cluttered, more organic sound for his sophomore project. Rather than the screaming guitars and pulsating rhythms that largely drove Anything Goes, this album manages to find a way to retain the energy from the first album while sounding relaxed and allowing Houser to seem more comfortable with his songs. Electric guitars and hooky drum beats are still a part of the equation, but fiddles, acoustic and steel guitars are just as present, which mercifully allows the two styles to positively coexist.

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CMA 2010: Female Trouble

It’s pretty rare that the CMA nominations garner much attention outside of the country music press, but the always excellent Whitney Pastorek at Entertainment Weekly has a lengthy article trying to rationalize the exclusion of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift from the Entertainer category.

It’s amazing that in a year where a record was set for the most nominations by a female artist, there can still be a valid accusation of gender bias among the nominations.  Women have been poorly represented in the Entertainer category for pretty much the entire history of the CMA Awards.  Even when you include duos or groups with female members, there have never been more than two out of five nominees that are women.

Never. Think about that for a minute. If this category’s nominees are to be considered reliable, the CMA is essentially saying that there has never been a time in the past 44 years that more than two of the genre’s top five acts have been female, and in the past decade, there’s never been more than one.

Why is this coming to a head this year, when it’s been a problem all along?  Because there is no rational argument that exists, in this era of decreased record sales and economic downturn, for the exclusion of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift from this category.  Ironically, the inclusion of another female artist – Miranda Lambert – makes the oversight even more obvious.  By any historical standard for this category, Lambert would be jockeying for fourth or fifth place, at best.

With all due respect to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, their success this year would not get them into this category if they were women. Yet two women who have far exceeded them this year by every measurable standard, two women who are more immediately recognizable and widely beloved than Paisley and Urban have ever been, are left off of the list.

There’s a bias here, and it’s hurting the credibility of the CMA. How is it possible that acts long past their prime, like Brooks & Dunn or Vince Gill, were still getting Entertainer nominations regularly, yet superstars like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift only made the cut once?  Has there truly been no woman besides Reba McEntire in the last 25 years who has been one of the five top entertainers more than once?

Even if you strain your reason to justify Swift’s exclusion because she was a little less visible during the last three months of the eligibility period, the Underwood snub is the most blatantly unfair this category has seen since the days of Shania Twain, who somehow only earned one nomination while she was absolutely destroying the competition at an international level that has never been matched.

Perhaps the voting methodology of the CMA awards, which allows voters to pick up to five nominees in each category, has exacerbated the “token female” dilemma.  I don’t know, and I really don’t care. Because in an era where even the ACM Awards are showing better taste than the CMA’s, the flagship organization of country music needs to address its female trouble while it still has a single shred of credibility left.

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #25-#1

And so we come to the end. The top of our list includes a wide range of artists singing a wide range of country music styles.  Thematically, these entries are diverse, but what they all have in common is what has always made for great country music. They are all perfectly-written songs delivered with sincerity by the artists who brought them to life.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #25-#1

#25
Smoke Rings in the Dark
Gary Allan
1999 | Peak: #12

Listen

A dark, atmospheric wonder, as Allan delivers the final eulogy for a love that couldn’t help burning out. – Dan Milliken

#24
Just to See You Smile
Tim McGraw
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

Being deeply enamored of someone can make it easy – even appealing – to forfeit your own well-being. This single’s sunny tone reflects the persistent affection running through its protagonist, but its story demonstrates the heartbreak to which such unmeasured selflessness leads. – DM Continue reading

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The Nineties All Over Again

The new country music stars of the nineties grew up with the pop/rock of the seventies.  It’s no wonder that many of them revisited songs from that era.

Some of these covers became big hits, like Billy Dean’s “We Just Disagree” and  Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria.”   Various album cuts and tribute projects demonstrated Lorrie Morgan’s fondness for Bonnie Tyler (“It’s a Heartache”), Garth Brooks’ love for Kiss (“Hard Luck Woman”), and more than a dozen artists’ affinity for the Eagles.

It’s just a matter of time before today’s country stars start remaking pop and rock hits from the nineties.  Here’s a few that I think would work well:

Rascal Flatts, “One More Try”

This Timmy T. hit topped the charts in 1991.  It would be a perfect fit for the Flatts boys. They could elevate it into something great.

Carrie Underwood, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

You need a powerful set of pipes to pull this one off. Who could do it better than Carrie Underwood?  Okay, yes. Wynonna. But among the artists on the radio dial today, no one could tackle this with better results than Underwood.

SHeDaisy, “You’re in Love”

This band could cover just about any Wilson Phillips track, but this one’s dying to be a hit all over again.

What nineties non-country songs do you think today’s country stars should cover?

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #100-#76

Many a star was launched in the nineties, a few of them right out of the gate. This section includes the debut singles from Toby Keith, Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes, and Doug Stone, along with Grammy-winning hits by Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #100-#76

#100
The Battle Hymn of Love
Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
1990 | Peak: #9

Listen

Wedding songs are typically made of the same fiber, but this one is a little different: it’s energized by burning conviction and fierce pledges. – Tara Seetharam

#99
Blue
LeAnn Rimes
1996 | Peak: #10

Listen

Sure, the novelty of thirteen year-old Rimes’ prodigious Patsy imitation helped things along. But that unshakable yodeled hook would have made “Blue” a classic in any era of country music. – Dan Milliken Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

#250
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60’s or 70’s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken

#249
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2

Listen

My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM

#248
You Ain’t Much Fun
Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2

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Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward

#247
Tender Moment
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2

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Actions speak louder than words. – KC

#246
Go Rest High On That Mountain
Vince Gill
1995 | Peak: #14

Listen

Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS

#245
Nothing
Dwight Yoakam
1995 | Peak: #20

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Living up to its title, the Yoakam’s barren heart and soul are replicated in the arrangement of the song.  If emptiness has a sound, this is it. – Kevin Coyne

#244
(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #4

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Jackson more than earns his neo-traditional street cred thanks to this song. Just soak up that lonesome steel guitar! – LW

#243
It’s Your Love
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS

#242
Grandpa Told Me So
Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23

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Amidst a collection of country life lessons passed down from two generations back is one to live by: “There’ll be times that you want to hold on but you’ve got to let go.” – KC

#241
Thank God For You
Sawyer Brown
1993 | Peak: #1

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This man has a lot to thank God for, including stereotypical parental figures, but he’s most thankful for his girl. – LW

#240
I Never Knew Love
Doug Stone
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS

#239
What She’s Doing Now
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW

#238
Find My Way Back to My Heart
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73

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Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC

#237
I Know
Kim Richey
1997 | Peak: #72

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It takes more than self-awareness to mend a broken heart. – KC

#236
Leave Him Out of This
Steve Wariner
1991 | Peak: #6

Listen

A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS

#235
Just My Luck
Kim Richey
1995 | Peak: #47

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Roba Stanley once sang about the joys of the single life and its simplicities.  Richey is about to leave it behind, and wonders just how lucky that makes her. – KC

#234
What if I Do
Mindy McCready
1997 | Peak: #26

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A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM

#233
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow
Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2

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Stories of would-be stars trying to make it big in Nashville are nothing too novel, but Jackson’s plucky earnestness gives this one an accessibility many of the others lack. – DM

#232
Now That’s All Right With Me
Mandy Barnett
1996 | Peak: #43

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The other great Barnett single of the era, fusing Patsy Cline-style vocal class, Pam Tillis-style production and Gloriana-style youthful exuberance. – DM

#231
With You
Lila McCann
1999 | Peak: #9

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Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS

#230
My Maria
Brooks & Dunn
1996 | Peak: #1

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The rare country cover of a pop song that improves on the original. No offense, B.W. Stephenson. – DM

#229
Boom! It Was Over
Robert Ellis Orrall
1992 | Peak: #19

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How far can an amazing song title carry you? All the way to #229, that’s how far! – DM

#228
Somewhere in My Broken Heart
Billy Dean
1991 | Peak: #3

Listen

So simple and plain in its heartbreak, and so understated and quiet in its delivery.  – KC

#227
I Just Wanted You to Know
Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS

#226
I’m Gonna Be Somebody
Travis Tritt
1990 | Peak: #2

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In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.

Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #350-326

A few should’ve been hits are mixed in with genuine smashes as the countdown continues.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #350-#326

#350
How Do I Live
Trisha Yearwood
1997  |  Peak: #2

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When Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released dueling versions of this song in 1997, it was apparently a wake up call to country listeners: “Hey, wait a minute. Trisha Yearwood is an amazing singer!”  She elevates “How Do I Live” beyond its movie theme nature by adding layers of subtlety and nuance to the typical Diane Warren template. – Kevin Coyne

#349
Boot Scootin’ Boogie
Brooks & Dunn
1992  |  Peak: #1

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I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what it’s like to spend a night at the liveliest of honky-tonks, but I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t make me feel like I do. Because “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” isn’t really about a specific place where people go, and it isn’t even about the boogie itself; it’s about the universal thrill of busting out of the work week, kicking back and dancing your troubles away. From start to finish, Brooks & Dunn’s performance is a twangy blast of exhilaration, and that’s a feeling we can all relate to – outlaws, in-laws, crooks and straights alike. – Tara Seetharam

#348
Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got
Tracy Byrd
1997  |  Peak: #4

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Just a damn catchy trad country sing-a-long. It was good fun when Johnny Paycheck had the original hit with it, and lost none of its steam when Tracy Byrd resurrected it for a new audience twenty-six years later. – Dan Milliken Continue reading

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Single Review: Brad Paisley, “Water”

For Brooks & Dunn, it was “Beer Thirty.”

For George Strait, it was “True.”

For Toby Keith, it was “Whiskey Girl.”

For Shania Twain, it was “Party For Two.”

For every great country artist, there’s a song that screams, “I’m not even trying anymore.”

For Brad Paisley, it’s “Water.”

Written by Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace, and Brad Paisley

Grade: C-

Listen: Water

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ACM 2010: Ladies Night

Female artists dominated this year’s ACM Awards in a way that would have been unimaginable just five years earlier, with nearly all of the major winners of the evening coming from a female solo artist or a band that prominently features a female vocalist.  More significantly, this year’s ACM dissented from the CMA this fall in the marquee categories of Entertainer and Female Vocalist, which makes this fall’s CMA Awards that much more unpredictable.

Here’s my spin on the show’s highlights:

Carrie Underwood wins Entertainer of the Year

Perhaps we should have known not to underestimate the fan base of Ms. Underwood, who helped deliver the singing siren her second consecutive win for Entertainer of the Year. With Taylor Swift dominating the Grammys and CMAs, it was easy to forget that Underwood has continued to do quite well in her own right. Her string of hits at radio – eleven consecutive top two hits, nine of which reached #1  – is unprecedented.  She’s also had ten gold singles, three of which have sold platinum or better. Her third album, Play On, has moved her cumulative album sales past eleven million.

She’s consistently proven herself as a live vocalist and entertainer as well, with her once-awkward stage presence now  a distant memory.  She remains the genre’s most constant and dedicated ambassador, shown again with her heartfelt acceptance speech for the quite silly Triple Crown Award.  So while I’m surprised by her win, I can’t say that I’m disappointed or that there’s another person who deserved it more.

Miranda Lambert wins Female Vocalist, Album, and Video

I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking, since Lambert’s won Album at this show before and the ACM was the first to award Patty Loveless in the Female Vocalist category, proving that the CMA doesn’t always get it right before the ACM does.  “The House That Built Me” is shaping up to be a career record for her, making Lambert the presumptive favorite at this year’s CMA Awards. Much can happen between now and then, but it’s not difficult to imagine her repeating in these categories and adding Single and Song to boot.

Lady Antebellum wins Single, Song, and Vocal Group

Rascal Flatts had quite the run, but it’s clear that Lady Antebellum is now the group to beat. “Need You Now” is arguably more deserving of the hardware it won than its predecessor “I Run to You”, which earned Lady Antebellum a CMA and a Grammy.  This group is a force to be reckoned with, and has the potential to dominate its Vocal category for a long time.

Brooks & Dunn win Vocal Duo

I should’ve seen this coming, as all of my colleagues at CU were able to. The ACM has always loved these guys, giving them two Entertainer wins and sticking with them when the CMA switched over to Montgomery Gentry and Sugarland.  It helped that Sugarland was completely off the radar this year, clearing the way for a sympathy vote.  But as I watched them perform “My Maria”, the cover song picked by fans over two excellent originals, it felt like 1996 all over again.  They’re good at what they do, but it’s hard not to notice that their music never evolved much over the twenty years they spent in the spotlight.

Brad Paisley wins his fourth Male Vocalist trophy

It’s funny that the guy who waited forever to finally win this race has now become so dominant in it that nobody’s been able to take it from him. I can’t picture somebody else getting this in the fall. Can you?

Taylor Swift shut out

Our predictions for Swift varied, with all of us expecting her to win both Entertainer and Video, and some of us expecting similar victories in her other categories.  But the shut-out makes sense. “You Belong With Me” lost to “Need You Now” in the big races, and to belle of the ball Miranda Lambert in Video and Female Vocalist.  Her speed dialers just couldn’t keep up with Underwood’s in the night’s biggest category, resulting in the first Swift-free country awards show since the 2008 CMA Awards, I believe.  It felt rather abrupt after her CMA and Grammy sweeps, but it also felt good not having to wince at her being named a standard-bearer after yet another mediocre performance.

Laura Bell Bundy, Kenny Chesney, and live music

Though at least Swift sang live, and she wasn’t the only one to sound less than great while doing so.  Chesney lip-synched his heart out without moving a step on stage, while Bundy did an amazing song-and-dance number with a live mic that recalled the very best of Reba McEntire’s showstoppers from the nineties. The Broadway background helped her command the stage in the way that our B-listers simply couldn’t, and let’s be honest: the genre is mostly B-listers these days.

There’s certainly more to talk about.  Thoughts?

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2010 ACM Awards: Staff Picks & Predictions

Nashville takes over Vegas this Sunday for the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and it could actually be an interesting night. Eight acts are vying for Entertainer of the Year, one trio is poised to sweep the show, and a certain artist’s performance may solidify her as Music Row’s Lady Gaga. We’ll find out for sure Sunday at 8 pm Eastern, but in the meantime, we’ve picked ‘em and predicted ‘em. Sound off in the comments below.

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley – Tara
  • George Strait – Kevin
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band – Dan, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: While I suspect that this will be the end of her impressive awards show victory lap, Swift should easily win this award. Does she deserve it? Probably. If I was an ACM voter (traditional member or willing to go vote online), I guess that I’d vote for George Strait, though my favorite among those with a real shot at this is Carrie Underwood.

Leeann: I predict Swift, though I don’t know if the backlash against her will thwart my prediction. Then again, the fan voting debacle will likely still work in her favor. I’ll throw my personal vote to Zac Brown Band, since I’ve really dug their live performances that I’ve seen on television. They seem like natural entertainers.

Dan: Fan-voted = Taylor Swift, with a possible Underwood repeat. But Swift hasn’t been as interesting post-Grammys. So I’ll also go with our resident grassroots heroes, ZBB.

Tara: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a five-year Underwood fan has been watching her stage presence gradually become as killer as her vocals, resulting in a powerful combination. I’d love for this to be properly recognized, and rationale seems pointless now that the EOTY race is a glorified internet fan war…but I can’t ignore that Underwood spent most of 2009 off stage. I’m going with Paisley.

Top Male Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Tara, Dan, Leeann
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban – Kevin

Will Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann
  • Darius Rucker – Dan
  • George Strait – Tara
  • Keith Urban

Dan: It feels like Paisley’s winning streak may be just about up, which is a shame, since this year has actually been stronger material-wise for him than the years for which he’s won. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, Jason Aldean had a bigger year than any of these guys.

Tara: Paisley and Strait were the only two who impressed me in 2009, and Paisley’s material feels fresher and more interesting. But I agree with Dan that his winning streak has probably run its course, so I’ll go out on a limb and say Strait will be the one to edge him out.

Kevin: I agree with Dan but suspect that there isn’t another nominee with enough momentum to upset the status quo in this race. If I’m wrong, I hope it’s because Urban or Strait pull it off.

Leeann: I think Paisley just might have another year of winning left in him.

Top Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert – Dan, Leeann
  • Reba McEntire – Kevin
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara
  • Lee Ann Womack

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift – Dan
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara
  • Lee Ann Womack

Tara: It’s really a toss-up between Lambert and Underwood for me, with personal preference and investment swaying me towards the latter artist. I’m eerily optimistic that the ACM voters will stick to the truest sense of the award’s title – as I adamantly believe they should – and sidestep Swift.

Kevin: This is the first time in my twenty years as a country fan that I’m rooting for Reba McEntire to win Female Vocalist, though I wanted her to win Entertainer every year she was nominated in the nineties. Consider me smitten by “Consider Me Gone.” As always, I’d be happy with an Underwood victory and I wouldn’t mind Womack or Lambert, either. I’m guessing that Lambert will actually win, given her widespread appeal among ACM voters and the fact that she’s had a big radio and retail breakthrough during the voting period.

Leeann: The Academy seems to like Lambert pretty well. Since this has been her biggest year to date, it’s hard for me to imagine that she won’t be rewarded for it.

Dan: I’m going to cautiously predict that Swift’s CMA win will carry over to ACM, but Underwood has been reliably successful, and Lambert’s got stronger momentum than ever. The latter is also my favorite mainstream act at the moment, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m rooting for her to take it.

Top Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Leeann: Lady A has the hype and momentum that makes it impossible for me to bet against them. I’d sure love to see ZBB prove me wrong ,though.

Dan: Little Big Town’s new single has me thinking I’ll probably be gunning for them again soon, but for now, I’m with Zac Brown Band.

Tara: I have a feeling the coming year(s) is going to be Lady Antebellum’s year o’ accolades, so I’d like to see the equally deserving Zac Brown Band pick this one up while they still have some momentum.

Kevin: This is becoming a habit. Predict LA, root for ZBB. This was so much easier when the Dixie Chicks were in the running.

Top Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Tara, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn – Dan, Tara, Leeann
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland – Kevin

Kevin: A sympathy vote might give B&D one more trophy, but it seems that both the CMA and ACM see this award as one that is passed down from one duo to the next, and not very often at that. I wonder if they will be calling this “The Sugarland Award” like it was once called “The Judds Award” and “The Brooks & Dunn Award.”

Leeann: I’d love to see Joey + Rory win, but I know it wouldn’t actually be fair if they did. So, I’m not officially picking them here. I’m pretty sure this one will go to Brooks & Dunn as a parting gift, though they’d be totally undeserving at this point. Really, Sugarland is probably the duo that makes most sense. It’s just too bad I’m not more personally invested in them, though I’ve warmed up a bit.

Dan: Sugarland have been off the radar since “Joey” trailed off months ago, and I still remember how ACM stuck with Brooks & Dunn that one year even after CMA had passed the torch. So I see the veteran duo winning again in a shrug. I’m indifferent, personally.

Tara: I keep going back on forth on this one. I want Brooks & Dunn to win, but I can’t rationalize it. I think the ACM voters may feel the same.

Top New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Luke Bryan
  • Joey + Rory – Kevin, Dan, Tara, Leeann
  • Gloriana

Will Win:

  • Luke Bryan – Kevin, Dan
  • Joey + Rory
  • Gloriana – Tara, Leeann

Kevin: It’s categories like this that make me feel out of touch with contemporary country music. I love Joey + Rory, but can’t see them winning. Who’s bigger now, Bryan or Gloriana? I’m taking a guess here.

Leeann: I’m like Kevin. I love Joey + Rory, but don’t imagine they’ll have enough votes to win. So, between Bryan and Gloriana, I’ll flip a coin and predict the latter.

Dan: Given the fan vote, I imagine this award will boil down to whether or not Taylor Swift has been urging her peoples to back Gloriana like she did with the AMAs. She hasn’t tweet-commanded it, and that’s as much research as I’m willing to do on the subject. So I’ll go with Bryan.

Tara: My best guess is that there’s enough fan overlap for Swift’s votes to lift Gloriana to victory.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, RevolutionTara, Dan, Leeann
  • Carrie Underwood, Play OnKevin
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Will Win:

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady AntebellumKevin, Dan, Leeann
  • Miranda Lambert, RevolutionTara
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Kevin: I’m expecting a Lady Antebellum sweep. They’re just ridiculously popular right now. But I could see any one of these five winning. I revisit the Underwood set more than any of the others.

Leeann: I can’t ignore Lady A’s popularity right now, but I’d love to see Lambert be recognized for one of my two favorite albums on this list, Paisley’s album being the other one.

Dan: Revolution doesn’t have the punch or consistency of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it’s got some brains, and I like that. I’m expecting a Lady A sweep too, though.

Tara: If my co-bloggers are right about a Lady A sweep, I’ll be pleased to see the trio’s underrated debut album take this award. But frankly, every album in this line-up is substantial, authentic and layered. I’m backing Revolution because it’s the sharpest of them all, created by the artist who has the firmest grasp on her potential.

Single Record of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” – Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes” – Dan
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” – Tara, Dan, Kevin, Leeann
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Kevin: There’s only one career-changing single in the running here.

Leeann: Ditto to Kevin. But also, it’s my favorite in terms of melody.

Dan: I swear I’m not just being a spoilsport. I know “Need You Now” sounds great, and in many respects it was the single of the year. But I can’t get past how boring Lady A’s lyrics always are. There’s just not a single original phrase in that song, and it puts a damper on my experience listening to it.

Tara: It’s never been my personal favorite, but “Need You Now” finds the trio excelling at what it does best – honing in on specific, raw emotion and expressing it potently and believably. In a category as weak as this one, and with a performance as haunting as Scott’s, “Need You Now” is the clear winner.

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Cowboy Casanova” – Mike Elizondo, Brett James & Carrie Underwood
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott – Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert
  • “You Belong With Me” – Liz Rose & Taylor Swift – Dan

Will Win:

  • “Cowboy Casanova” – Mike Elizondo, Brett James & Carrie Underwood
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott – Dan
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert
  • “You Belong With Me” – Liz Rose & Taylor Swift – Tara, Kevin, Leeann

Kevin: I like the writing of “Need You Now” more than the performance, even if it’s just a college dorm knock-off of “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” I range from indifference to active dislike for the rest of these entries.

Leeann: I think Lady A will sweep these awards, but I doubt that Swift will walk away with nothing. Since she’s most lauded for her songwriting skills, I predict that the Academy will continue the trend in this category.

Dan: “You Belong with Me” combines a memorable melody with telling details. Subject matter notwithstanding, it’s the only one of these songs I take seriously as a composition.

Tara: Unlike Kevin, I think “Need You Now” is better performed than written, but it’s still a great composition. I wouldn’t mind if Swift took this award, though.

Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • Randy Houser, “Boots On”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar” - Kevin
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” – Dan, Tara

Will Win:

  • Randy Houser, “Boots On”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” – Dan, Tara, Kevin

Tara: The “You Belong With Me” video is brilliant in that it embodies everything that makes Swift relevant and appealing. I just really wish Paisley’s video had been better directed, because its message is so compelling.

Dan: That Swift video is mega-charming. But Lambert’s is a close second.

Kevin: I’m rooting for the only video I don’t reflexively skip past while channel surfing.

Vocal Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • Blake Shelton feat. Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”
  • Brooks & Dunn feat. Billy Gibbons, “Honky Tonk Stomp”
  • Carrie Underwood feat. Randy Travis, “I Told You So” – Tara, Kevin, Dan, Leeann
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Jack Ingram with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Will Win:

  • Blake Shelton feat. Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone” – Dan, Tara
  • Brooks & Dunn feat. Billy Gibbons, “Honky Tonk Stomp”
  • Carrie Underwood feat. Randy Travis, “I Told You So” – Kevin, Leeann
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Jack Ingram with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Kevin: Nice to see Griffin on the ballot, but “I Told You So” is among both my favorite Underwood and favorite Travis singles.

Leeann: Frankly, I’m not crazy about any of them, as long as the B&D collaboration doesn’t get the token vote.

Dan: Wish I liked “Seeing Stars” more. I’d actually probably go with presumptive favorite “Hillbilly Bone” if the song itself didn’t feel like such a Music Row toss-off. There’s charm in the idea and performances, but again, limp lyrics.

Tara: Underwood and Travis’ collaboration is the strongest and most exquisite of the bunch, but it feels a little like old news, with the news of the day being the inescapable (but nonetheless solid) “Hillbilly Bone.”

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