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Producing the CMAs

August 19, 2009 Guest Contributor 12

This is a guest contribution by regular commenter, Michael Hawkins, who posts as Highwayman3.

CMAThe movies have the Oscars, the world of music has the Grammys, and that world subdivided into the country genre has the CM’s—the annual extravaganza that we fans look forward to every year. We see our favorites perform, win awards and lose with smiling gracious faces, or not [insert the inevitable Faith Hill reference here]. Everyone picks their favorites in each category as to who they’d like to win. But what about the show itself, the backdrop for which these prestigious awards are presented?

Recently, there have been posts at both The 9513 and on this site where people have been weighing in on their favorite moments from these awards. It occurred to me that none of those moments have happened in the last few years. The awards have slid into mediocrity, which is a fitting representation of the current state of country music. I understand producing these awards must be tough because you have to be everything to everyone, and acknowledge the traditional country, the Disney country, the old and new alike, and bring in people who don’t belong for the sake of ratings.

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Brooks & Dunn Starter Kit

August 10, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 20

Brooks & DunnWhen news broke of Brooks & Dunn’s impending breakup, we decided to move up our planned Starter Kit feature on this quintessential nineties act.

It’s hard to imagine a time when Brooks & Dunn winning an industry award was a breath of fresh air, but when they surfaced in 1991, they quickly ended the long reign of The Judds at the industry award shows. Brooks & Dunn would then make The Judds dominance seem like child’s play. They’d go on to win 19 CMA awards, including 14 in the Vocal Duo category. This shattered the category dominance record held by The Statler Brothers, who won Vocal Group nine times.

They’ve been a core act at radio for eighteen years, and were the first duo or group in the history of country music to sell six million copies of a studio album, a feat they achieved with their debut album Brand New Man. Their cumulative sales are approaching 25 million.

Ten Essential Tracks:

“Brand New Man”
from the 1991 album Brand New Man

The sheer energy of their debut single made them an instant hit at radio. Truth is, this song could come out today and still sound fresh.

“Neon Moon”
from the 1991 album Brand New Man

Ronnie Dunn is one of the genre’s finest male vocalists, especially when he tears into a beer-sipping ballad.

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Brooks & Dunn are Breaking Up

August 10, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 16

brooks-dunnCountry superstars Brooks & Dunn are breaking up. They will release a hits collection this fall, followed by a tour next year. It seems that last year’s Cowboy Town will be their final studio album.

From their official website:

To Our Fans:

After 20 years of making music and riding this trail together, we have agreed as a duo that it’s time call it a day. This ride has been everything and more than we could ever have dreamed …. We owe it all to you, the fans. If you hear rumors, don’t believe them, it’s just time.

We will release our #1s … and Then Some on September 8th and come see you all one more time in 2010, with The Last Rodeo Tour (dates to be announced).

In honor of this classic nineties act, a Starter Kit will follow later tonight. In the meantime, here’s a video clip to help you get ready for “The Long Goodbye”:

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Album of the Year

July 31, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 31

This year’s eligibility period runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. In those twelve months, there have been some solid albums released, and while there isn’t a wealth of treasures to choose from, there are enough good albums to round out this category.

Here are the five albums that I would nominate for Album of the Year:

Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song

The past twenty years have brought several excellent breakthrough albums by groups, especially those by Sugarland, Little Big Town, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, and Big & Rich. This set by Joey + Rory is better than all of them, and is selling quite well despite limited airplay.

Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

It’s been nominated for ACM’s trophy and for the Best Country Album Grammy, but Johnson’s best shot at winning has always been with the traditional-leaning CMA voter membership. If both Sugarland and Taylor Swift secure a nod, he’s a shoo-in.

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Vocal Duo and Vocal Group

July 30, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 34

It’s often argued that Vocal Duo and Vocal Group should be combined into one category, but this is one of those rare years where the two categories have more than five worthy nominees between them.

My picks for Vocal Duo:

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

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2009's Remaining Release Schedule Comes into Focus

July 8, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 41

Thus far, 2009’s releases have done little to fire up the charts, with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.

So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:

New Releases

  • Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
  • George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
  • Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
  • Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
  • Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
  • Brooks & Dunn’s new studio album streets on September 8, preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification.
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Brooks & Dunn, “Indian Summer”

July 5, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 3

The unintended consequences of requited love. Such is the story told by a sympathetic narrator about a young woman who has to leave town after the consummation of her love for the high school football hero. Ronnie Dunn gives a nuanced performance of an interesting story song, revealing toward the end that he isn’t quite the impartial narrator that he appeared.

The arrangement is reminiscent of the Eagles at their Henley-best, with the only thing holding back the track being that Dunn’s sincerity isn’t matched by his enunciation. It’s often difficult to make out the details of the verses, which makes following the storyline more of a task than it should be.

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George Strait Honored As Artist of the Decade

May 28, 2009 Leeann Ward 43

There is really no new way to pontificate about the fascinating longevity of George Strait’s career. Many, including myself, have speculated regarding the many possible reasons behind his staying power, but it is more than likely that many of the factors that we have already considered could be easily applied to other artists with lesser careers to show for it. Therefore, the consensus that can be agreed upon by most everyone is that George Strait is consistent. In the last three decades, without being loud or splashy in any way, Strait has consistently remained a vibrant country music artist, both on the charts and in concert sales. As a result, he is one of the most respected, if not intriguing, artists in the business.

On May 27, the Academy of Country Music honored George Strait as their Artist of the Decade in a two hour CBS special. The show consisted of many of today’s biggest artists paying homage to Strait by singing the songs of the Man of Honor.

Unlike most tribute shows, this show moved along at a reasonably fast clip with few over-dramatic or slick moments to weigh it down, which was highly appropriate considering the man who was being honored that night.

The show opened with a rousing version of Strait’s Cajun flavored “Adalida” ably performed by Sugarland. Jennifer Nettle’s exaggerated drawl, while very different from Strait’s laid back vocals, gave the song energy and seemed to be a wise way to invigorate the crowd. Other energetic performances included a rocked up version of “All My Exes Live in Texas” by Jack Ingram, which was fun but lacked the whimsical charm of Strait’s western swing flavored interpretation. Alan Jackson did a faithful steel laden cover of “The Fireman”, which is always sung at events such as these, though it’s certainly not one of Strait’s most interesting classics.

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ACM Awards: Predicted Winners

April 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 17

As we gear up for the 2009 Academy of Country Music Awards, the writing staff of Country Universe have prepared our predicted winners among this year’s nominees. Check out our Personal Picks as well, and share your own predictions in the comments. As always, we’ll be live-blogging the festivities this Sunday, starting at 8 EST.

ACM 2009: Country Universe Predicts the Winners

Entertainer of the Year

* Kenny Chesney – Dan
* Brad Paisley
* George Strait
* Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Lynn
* Keith Urban

Kevin: For as much as the industry favors male acts, it’s the female acts who really post the big numbers. I think that the fans having a say will put Underwood over the top, though the industry is certainly behind her, too. The depth and breadth of her appeal warrants the win.

Leeann: I know how zealous Carrie Underwood fans are. So, I’d be shocked if she doesn’t win it. I like the way Lynn said it though.

Dan: You know, I really have no idea. It’s not going to be George Strait, and I probably wouldn’t anticipate a win for Keith Urban this year. I’ll say Chesney again, but either Paisley or Underwood could conceivably take him down with the help of the fan voting.

Lynn: If the fans are truly allowed to have their say…Ms. Underwood, please watch your step on the way up to receive your first Entertainer of the Year award.

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ACM Awards: Personal Picks

April 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 6

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.

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.

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