Tag Archives: Clint Black

Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

The past two decades have only brought eight winners in the CMA Male Vocalist race, with only two of them – Toby Keith and Clint Black – winning only once.  Compare this to the Female Vocalist race, which has brought twelve winners during the same time frame, though even that race has become more streaky of late, with Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood combining for seven victories in the past eleven years.

Is it time for an overhaul in the Male Vocalist race? Yes and no. There’s no denying that some of the multiple nominees/winners over the past nineteen years remain the genre’s strongest male voices. Still, there’s room for some others at the table. The problem is that there are so very few of the genre’s male artists that are genuinely at the top of their game. Even most of the men listed below have had weak singles this year.

Still, if I picked the five nominees for the 2009 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, they would be:

Jamey Johnson

If Johnson earns fewer than five nominations at this year’s CMA Awards, I’ll be shocked. In fact, I think he’ll earn six, with the surprise nomination being in this category. These aren’t predictions, though, so I’ll state that while I’m not particularly a fan of Johnson, his success at retail with a traditional project that has only received airplay for one single is darn impressive. Along with Brad Paisley, he’s one of only two artists I’ve listed that were determined by genuine merit, not process of elimination.

Brad Paisley

The genre’s most consistent radio act and the reigning champion for the past two years. In a stronger year, I would think it’s time to move on from acknowledging him in this category and consider him more for Entertainer of the Year, but he’s still the presumptive favorite in this race. At the very least, he deserves another nomination.

Darius Rucker

Too soon? Possibly.  But replace his name with other candidates  – say, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Rodney Atkins, or Blake Shelton – if you think they made better music this year.

George Strait

It’s hard to make the call about which perennial favorite – Alan Jackson or George Strait – deserves a shot this year, especially since neither of them are likely to contend for the win.  “Sissy’s Song” is better than any of Strait’s singles this past year, but all of Strait’s are better than Jackson’s other two – “Country Boy” and “Good Time.” Seeing “I Still Like Bologna” sent to radio puts me firmly in Strait’s corner, whose “River of Love” and “Troubadour” brought me listening pleasure this year.

Keith Urban

I don’t think that there’s a stronger singer in consistent rotation on country radio, even if his material has been slight this year.  A case could be made for Tim McGraw or Toby Keith getting this slot instead, but they’re dealing with the same problem: weaker material than they’ve generally been known for.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dan Seals

dan-sealsThe following is a guest contribution by Country Universe reader Tad Baierlein.

When Dan Seals died of lymphoma last Wednesday, a great deal of the press coverage centered on his days as “England Dan” in the soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Seals’ country career, though more successful for a longer period of time, seemed to be treated as an afterthought.

Many of the obituaries mentioned Seals’ biggest country hit, “Bop”; hardly an accurate representation of his years spent in country. Now, it’s perfectly justifiable to glance at a person’s career highlights for a newspaper obituary, but I think that a great deal more attention should’ve been paid to Seals’ death within the country music community. I would like to contribute this little appreciation to one of my favorite country artists.

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“The Banker”
Rebel Heart, 1983

For two years following the split of England Dan and John Ford Coley, nothing seemed to be going right for Seals. First off, he recorded two solo soft rock albums just as that sound was going out of favor. Aside from one single ekeing its way into the Adult Contemporary charts, the albums were considered huge failures. Secondly, Seals had accrued a massive amount of debt to the IRS; almost everything he owned was repossessed to pay it. Seals’ move to Nashville had been planned for quite a while but in 1982 it seemed almost a necessity.

This song that he wrote for Rebel Heart would seem to place his frustrations and hope in the story of a man trying to save his land from an evil, number-crunching banker. Sometimes when it seems like all hope is lost all you can do is work to get yourself out of trouble. Seals could only hope that the oil-rich resolution of “The Banker” came true in his life as well; he wouldn’t have to worry.

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“Fewer Threads Than These”
On the Front Line, 1986

The Seals album On the Front Line was his first as a country superstar. Refreshingly, Seals decided to go in a more self-assuredly country direction. With only a few exceptions (“I Will Be There,” “You Still Move Me”) the album follows a more straightforward country path. The album not only points to the direction Seals would take with his Rage On album, but also to the direction producer Kyle Lehning was already pursuing with his most famous artist, Randy Travis. This song, one of only three on the album not written by Seals, is a lovely traditional-sounding tune about patience in a relationship, featuring great dobro work by Jerry Douglas.

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“Candle in the Rain”
Rebel Heart, 1983

Seals had worked with Kyle Lehning for six years prior to his first country album. Lehning produced the most successful albums for England Dan and John Ford Coley. Much like Seals, Lehning didn’t consider himself part of the rock ’n’ roll community. Not only was he already working in Nashville at the time he started producing England Dan, he was established as a country musician (working with artists
like Waylon Jennings and the Glaser Brothers).

If Seals hadn’t strongly indicated an interest in country music right off the bat, it’s more than likely that he would’ve drifted in that direction anyway with Lehning at the helm. “Candle in the Rain,” an album track from Rebel Heart, features a new wave/country mix that’s pretty revolutionary. Right off the bat there’s a combination of acoustic guitar and synthesizer that hadn’t been heard in country music previous to Lehning’s production. The clear, almost new wave, drum beat in the chorus, the mixture of steel guitar and synthesizer, the airy backing vocals; “Candle in the Rain” really does combine the best elements of country and rock. It was a sound that Lehning and Seals would return to on many occasions.

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“My Baby’s Got Good Timing”
San Antone, 1984

Bob McDill and Dan Seals had a mutually beneficial songwriting relationship during Seals peak years as a country artist. McDill helped Seals find his voice as a country artist and songwriter, and Seals allowed McDill to get back to the more challenging material he had written in the seventies for folks like Don Williams and Bobby Bare. “My Baby’s Got Good Timing” is a tenetive first step for both artists; both are still unsure of Seals viability as a country artist.This is mainly McDill’s patented breezy love song matched with Seals’ best pop vocals. It’s an excellent combination but one that doesn’t point to the brilliant compositions the two would write in the years to come.

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“God Must Be a Cowboy”
Rebel Heart, 1983

To me, Seals’ Bahai faith really colors “God Must Be a Cowboy,” his first top ten hit. From what I understand (and I probably don’t) Bahai is like a buffet table of spirituality (take a little of this from Christianity, a little of that from Hinduism, oh that part of Islam looks good…), with meditation on universal tolerance at its core. “God Must Be a Cowboy” travels on the well-worn path of songs about country beauty vs. city clog, but there’s a meditative quality to the lyrics that separates it from the pack.

Seals takes time to appreciate the friendship of an old guitar, whose sound “sure smooths the wrinkles of my soul.” “An eagle overhead” makes Seals want to fly away before his time. Whatever home means to you, thank God there’s a trail to take you back there. Seals doesn’t chastise the city (“it’s alright for awhile/Sure makes you feel good when you’re there”), but he understands that in order to appreciate it you must first appreciate the quiet moments in the country. As a country artist, Seals tended to share his faith more by recording songs about tolerance rather than preaching. “God Must Be a Cowboy” really embraces his faith to a point that it shouldn’t be ignored.

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“Lullaby” (with Emmylou Harris)
On the Front Line, 1986

In many ways this song could be considered the opposite (or resolution of) Seals‘ huge 1985 duet “Meet Me In Montana.” Marie Osmond’s saccharine vocals are replaced by Emmylou Harris’ relaxed harmonies. A spare acoustic sound (highlighted by Mark O’Connor’s always welcome fiddle) replaces the rather bombastic orchestration of “Meet Me In Montana.” Poignancy and contentedness replaces fear and urgency. While “Meet Me in Montana” practically throttles you to get its attention (in a good way), “Lullaby” glides. The song doesn’t draw attention to itself, and if you notice how beautiful it is at the end of On the Front Line, well, good for you. A lovely song.

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“Bop”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

Undeniably catchy, and a monster crossover hit that rocketed Seals to the top of country play lists, “Bop” is also marred by some of the worst tendencies of eighties production. From the processed saxophone to the drum machine to the squiggly synth prominent in the mix, “Bop” was Public Enemy Number One for folks who wanted country music to get back to its traditional roots. The strange thing is, “Bop”was not only an anomaly as far as Seals’ country career was concerned, but it also doesn’t match anything Kyle Lehning has been known for before or since. “Bop” was a very fun gamble that worked extraordinarily well. The unfortunate side effect was that the song associated Seals with the pre-packaged country the hat acts tried to eradicate in the early nineties.

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“I Will Be There”
On the Front Line, 1986

A bit of a bone thrown at the pop-country crowd that made “Bop” such a massive hit (co-written by Jennifer Kimball, the co-writer of “Bop”). That isn’t to say it’s not an impressive song, but aside from the mandolin that comes and goes in the verses it’s not very country. “I Will Be There” sticks out like a sore thumb on On the Front Line. Even so, the production is definitely more tasteful than “Bop”; it’s almost as if Seals and Lehning looked at what they had done and were like, “we need to step back a little from this for our own good.” Also very prominently featured on this song are Baillie and the Boys, a vocal group who had quite a few hits of their own in the late eighties, as well as providing excellent backup to the likes of Seals, Randy Travis and Clint Black, among others.

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“Saw You in My Dreams”
Make it Home, 2002

After the failure of his last two singles from On Arrival, Seals decided to sign a deal with Warner Bros. The resulting albums, Walking the Wire and the Kyle Lehning-less Fired Up, were flops. After the inevitable drop from Warner Bros. Seals became a touring artist at modest venues. With one exception, Seals’ only albums from 1994 to his death were live recordings of old hits.

His last chance at regaining his country audience was 2002’s Make it Home, a very nice collection of new material (mainly written by Seals or Nashville pro Rand Bishop). There are no amazing moments on Make it Home, but it’s almost uniformly well done. The best song on the album, in my opinion, is this song about a chance encounter/pickup. For a subject that could’ve turned sleazy on a dime (“would you believe I saw you in my dreams” he casually mentions to his crush in the chorus) it’s a sincere and very sweet song. If Make it Home is indeed Seals’ last solo album, it’s a good way to finish things up.

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“Big Wheels in the Moonlight”
Rage On, 1988

Seals’ 1988 album Rage On is probably his definitive moment as an artist. All of a sudden the relaxed production of On the Front Line was matched with uniformly good songs. One of the recurring themes of Rage On is wanderlust, whether it’s from a relationship (“Addicted”) or the boredom of a small town (“They Rage On”).

Wanderlust is name-checked in “Big Wheels in the Moonlight,” and it’s probably the most deceptively downcast song on the album. The protagonist spends two verses talking about his dream of riding the big rigs, but in the third he’s stuck in the same town with “kids and a wife and a regular job.” That dream that drew him in as a kid now haunts him as an adult, but he‘s resigned to not living it. Seriously, without listening to the lyrics, who would guess how sad this song is?

on-the-front-line#15
“You Still Move Me”
On the Front Line, 1986

Country fans who can overlook the mid-eighties production painted a little thick on “You Still Move Me” will find a breathtakingly beautiful ballad. Not only is the melody lovely, but the song contains some of Seals’ greatest vocal moments. Particularly outstanding are his pained vocals in the bridge, and his “God, you move me” at the end. That moment perfectly sums up this song about a man who can’t believe he’s about to wreck a good relationship, but can’t control his emotions any longer.

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“You Plant Your Fields”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

Wendy Waldman’s route to Nashville mirrors Dan Seals in every way except scope. A moderately successful singer/songwriter in the 1970’s, Waldman moved to Nashville in the early eighties. Unlike Seals, Waldman found her niche in songwriting for artists like Crystal Gayle, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Don Johnson (I mean, I’m talking about Wendy Waldman here, how could I ignore the fact that she wrote “Heartbeat” for Don Johnson).

“You Plant Your Fields” is more introspective than most of Waldman’s country material, comparing the seasons of love to tending the farm: “You plant your fields when the spring is tender, when the summer beats down you pray for rain, you hope for the harvest, the long cold winter, then you plant your fields again.”

san-antone#13
“In San Antone”
San Antone, 1984

Broadway vs. home is a hoary old cliché, but it always seems to apply. For every artist who makes it big on the great white way there are at least a thousand who become disillusioned and homesick. The title track to Seals second country album is a story about a singer trying to make it on Broadway but missing the girl he left behind in San Antone. It’s unclear whether he’ll return to her, but it’s a pretty safe bet considering he “can’t take much more of Broadway,” namely his squalid seventh floor apartment. The rocking coda of the song, where he proclaims “She believes in me!,” would probably point the way of departure.

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“Three Time Loser”
On the Front Line, 1986

It doesn’t get much more fun than this little ditty from On the Front Line.  This is one of Seals’ amazing run of nine number one singles, and eleven out of twelve. It’s interesting that Seals often gets mentioned as a pop star first and country star second, because as a kid I considered him to be the quintessential country artist. Every single he released struck some sort of chord, whether it was a lovely ballad about friends, a pure rock song about someone being there, or this country song about trying to figure out girls (surprisingly prescient to a seven year-old).

rage-on#11
“Five Generations of Rock County Wilsons”
Rage On, 1988

A bit like “The Banker” in context but much more successful and realistic as a composition. If the theme for most of Rage On was wanderlust, this song expresses the exact opposite emotion. The protagonist wants to stay put and is outraged that his heritage means nothing to the men driving him off his land. He finally resigns himself to the fact that he will have to make way for the “big diesel cats.” At the end he boards a “big ol’ gray dog” bound for wherever; the song makes him sound like he’s doing it at gunpoint.

on-arrival#10
“Bordertown”
On Arrival, 1990

After eight years of nothing but top ten hits, the streak finally broke with “Bordertown.” It wasn’t like the song hit number 12 either; it barely cracked the top 50. Possibly it was the transition to the early-nineties hat acts, but probably it was the controversial material: “Bordertown” is about illegal immigration, a touchy issue at the time that has only grown touchier since 9/11.

Seals and Bob McDill’s viewpoint, that everyone deserves a chance to become an American, is a stance that not many artists would take a chance on. The writers don’t waffle on “Bordertown”; they have a clear opinion that nobody should stand in the way of somebody who wants a better life. “The law’s the law,” except when the law applies to human decency. “It’s not his job to say what’s right or wrong,” and it’s not anybody’s job to stop people from improving their situation. It’s a shame that this was the single that drove Seals off of the charts, because it’s a song that deserved a wider audience to hear its message.

rebel-heart#9
“Up On the Hill”
Rebel Heart, 1983

Almost like a dry run for “They Rage On,” this song is about star-crossed lovers who find love and escape at night to their little makeout point. But unlike some other songs that share this same story the song takes a very pessimistic turn when the man from the wrong side of the tracks finds out “that money is what it’s all about.” But the man doesn‘t give up; every night he still climbs that hill, waiting. Good luck fella.

Another great example of the soon to be commonplace Kyle Lehning production style, with steel guitars standing side-by-side with electric guitar and a propulsive drum beat. This style almost seems more natural for those of us who grew up with 80’s and 90’s country music. To me, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when it didn’t exist (for better or worse).

rage-on#8
“Addicted”
Rage On, 1988

A brilliant song about a woman trapped in a destructive relationship, “Addicted” remains a very powerful piece of work. There’s a wonderful YouTube performance of “Addicted” from 1991 where Cheryl Wheeler joins Seals on stage to play guitar and sing a verse that wascut out of the single version. It’s interesting to see the writer and the singer’s different takes on the song: Whereas Seals sings the song like a concerned bystander dealing with a situation he has no control over, Wheeler sings her verse as an almost desperate wake-up call to a friend. It took a lot of guts for Seals to release “Addicted” as a single (and not only that, but as the first single from the album Rage On) and it’s a great performance.

wont-be-blue-anymore#7
“Meet Me in Montana” (with Marie Osmond)
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

As Seals and writer Paul Davis’ first country number one and duet partner Marie Osmond’s return to the top after a ten year absence, “Meet Me In Montana” is a bit of a watershed for the soft-rock-to-country transfer of the mid-eighties. Davis was a crony of Seals and Kyle Lehning, as well as being a successful soft rock performer in his own right in the late-seventies. Instead of pursuing country superstardom Davis decided to retire from performing and write songs (occasionally performing, most notably with Paul Overstreet and Tanya Tucker on “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love”). Davis wrote two very important songs for Seals: “Bop” and this brilliant duet. Seals’ clear voice matches perfectly with Osmond’s sunniness. Their voices add some hopefulness to a subject matter that could’ve been a little harsh.

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“My Old Yellow Car”
San Antone, 1984

It’s a shame that Seals didn’t pair up more with Thom Schuyler, who was for a time considered the songwriter’s songwriter in Nashville (partly because he wrote the songwriter’s song, “16th Avenue”). As a country singer, Seals was at his best telling a story or getting inside a character, and Schuyler was one of the best in the early eighties. In “My Old Yellow Car,” the successful protagonist looks back with regret at the old rust-bucket, and the innocence, that he’s lost track of.

on-arrival#5
“Love On Arrival”
On Arrival, 1990

OMG it’s LOA. IMHO the song is LOL clever. I’ll quit that.

Seals’ final two number ones were great old rock ’n’ roll throwbacks: “Love On Arrival” and his cover of Sam Cooke’s “Good Times.” Those singles arrived at a time when country was trying to “get back to its roots;” instead of Sam Cooke and The Beatles (Seals’ idols growing up) the new traditionalists name-checked George Jones and Merle Haggard.

At the time it seemed like the gulf between new artists like Garth Brooks and Clint Black and late-eighties artists like Dan Seals couldn’t have been wider. Brooks and Black weren’t crossing over from pop, and they didn’t seem to have rock ‘n’ roll roots; they seemed authentic. This was before Brooks showed his Billy Joel fetish and Black started writing songs with Jimmy Buffett.

If anything, Garth Brooks can be seen nowadays as inheritor of Dan Seals’ throne: an immensely popular artist not afraid to be country or pop if the need be and not afraid to be controversial if the need be. As for the song itself, “Love On Arrival” is clever, fun and has a great hook: what more could you ask for.

on-the-front-line#4
“Gonna Be Easy Now”
On the Front Line, 1986

A song about the hopelessness and lack-of-control of day-to-day life. I love the question/answer chorus that just gets bleaker and bleaker as it goes: “What’re you gonna do if the well runs dry? I’ll wait for the rain to fall. What’re you gonna do if the crops all die? Well, I won’t have to work at all. What’re you gonna do if the creek gets high? I’m still making up my mind. What’re you gonna do if the sun don’t shine? I’ll lay right down and die, and then everything’ll be alright.”

The protagonist puts on a brave face, a sort of roll-with-the-punches mentality, but inside he knows that “problems ain’t goin’ away, they’re just gonna change their shape” (this pessimistic attitude about rolling-with-the-punches contrasts harshly with the lessons taught in “You Plant Your Fields“). Seals’ final scream, “Everything’s gonna be easy now,” is a real eye-opener.

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“They Rage On”
Rage On, 1988

“They Rage On” is the song that broke Seals’ streak of number one singles, and listening to it it’s easy to see why; this ain’t no drinking song depression, it’s full-blown hopelessness. I wouldn’t place a song this bleak at the top of any chart. “They Rage On” is a song about small-town people who have nothing better to do with their lives, so they sit around holding each other tight, “searching for the answers.”

If it sounds like I’m dismissing “They Rage On” I’m certainly not; I’ve never heard a song encapsulate small town frustration any better. I’m just amazed that it was released as a single. If “They Rage On” doesn’t prove that Seals took more risks than any other country artist of the late-eighties I don’t know what does. Whatever the case, “They Rage On” is a gorgeous, brooding number which deserved its place as Seals’ streak-breaker.

the-best#2
“One Friend”
The Best, 1987

As I said before, from reading the obituaries it would seem that Seals had two signature moments as an artist: one as a member of England Dan and John Ford Coley with Parker McGee’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and the other as a solo crossover artist with “Bop.” Those two songs are all well and good, but to me “One Friend” and “Everything That Glitters” will always be Seals’ signatures.

Amazingly, “One Friend” had to be resurrected and re-recorded for his greatest hits to become a single. Seals recorded a spare two-minute long acoustic version for the end of San Antone. The original version was obviously supposed to be a pleasant little album ender, nothing more. Kyle Lehning thought the song had potential, so he had Seals repeat the bridge and the chorus, then added orchestration. The finished product is a song that is deceptively simple and universal, and one of the greatest songs about commitment I’ve ever heard.

wont-be-blue-anymore#1
“Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

“Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” is a brilliant composition. It’s a song filled with great characters (apparently from stories that Seals‘ grandmother told him): the struggling rodeo rider living in a mobile home, his little girl who’s slowly turning into a woman, the old horse that should be put to pasture except the rider “just can’t bear to let him go” and, of course, the woman who let success go to her head and left the people who loved her behind. The song is basically crying for a movie to be made of it, except no movie could match Seals’ emotions here.

The first verse and chorus is sung with vulnerability and resignation. The anger starts to build in the second verse, culminating at the bridge where he tells her “Someday I’m sure you’re gonna know the cost, cause for everything you win there’s something lost.” Then, after a moment to gather himself, Seals wistfully sings the chorus, then whistles off into the sunset.

Goodbye, Dan.

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Into the Circle: The Country Music Hall of Fame Changes Criteria

halloffamelogoThe Country Music Association, mere weeks after inducting its 2009 class, has announced a change in the Hall of Fame criteria. Per the CMA website:

Three inductees will continue to be announced as new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame annually, each selected from a different category.  Beginning in 2010, the categories will be renamed and defined as follows:

  • Veterans Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry longer than 25 years. It combines the former “Career Achieved National Prominence Between World War II and 1975″ (which was voted on annually) and “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II” (which was voted on every third year in rotation) categories into one.
  • Modern Era – This category will be for professionals that have been in the industry at least 20 years, but no more than 25 years, and takes the place of the former annual “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975-Present” slot.
  • Rotating Categories – The third slot will continue to be a rotating category, with each group in the spotlight every third year. The Recording and/or Touring Musician and Non Performer slots will remain, joined by a new Songwriter category.

The Modern Era category seems far too limiting, especially given the numerous artists and industry insiders that are fully deserving of this honor. The change does present Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson the opportunity to be inducted within the next two to three years, but also leaves legends such as Connie Smith, Jean Shepard and the Oak Ridge Boys to “compete” with newer acts such as Reba McEntire and Hank Williams, Jr. for one solitary spot each year.

Eventually, all of those artists appear to be locks for the Hall of Fame, but, as My Kind of Country alluded to earlier in the week, very few artists in modern-day country music will truly be remembered. Here’s a list of ten contemporary artists who could make the Hall of Fame one day. Although their careers aren’t complete, they have the potential to be lauded for their talent in the coming years. Sound off in the comments with your opinions on who is in, who is out and who could still make a case for induction. Feel free to add any other artists you’d deem worthy. This is not my judgment of who should/should not be included, but a random listing of ten artists who could at least present interesting cases in, say, 2020.  Feedback it up. (For a glance at near-future candidates, see Six Pack: Hall of Fame Inductees. Barbara Mandrell, Roy Clark and Charlie McCoy are the 2009 honorees.)

  • Clint Black
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Faith Hill
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Martina McBride
  • Tim McGraw
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Pam Tillis
  • Shania Twain
  • Dwight Yoakam

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Grammy Flashback: Best Male Country Vocal Performance

Updated for 2009

While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.

In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.

As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’s Best Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!

jamey-johnson-lonesome2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
  • Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
  • George Strait, “Troubadour”

As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.

First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist.  Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.

Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.

But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.

However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already.  We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.

2008

  • Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
  • Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”

The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.

2007

  • Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
  • George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”

Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.

2006

  • George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
  • Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
  • Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”

Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.

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News: Equity Music Group Calls It Quits

clint_blackFrom CMT:

Equity Music, the label co-founded by Clint Black, suspended operations on Tuesday (Dec. 16). In addition to Black, the label’s roster also includes Laura Bryna, Carolina Rain, Kevin Fowler and new artist Blake Wise. “Our investors tried to find a way to keep the doors open at Equity, but with a struggling industry, an overall decline in discretionary spending by consumers and a total freeze on credit markets, the Board of Directors has been forced to make this difficult decision. … We want to wish our wonderful staff and artists all the best in all their future endeavors,” said label president Tim Wipperman, who will remain with the company.

Equity Music Group was founded in 2003 by industry veteran Mike Kraski, and Clint Black served as its flagship artist. In 2005, the label signed Little Big Town, who had endured a cool reception to their lackluster debut album with Sony. They quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed acts operating in mainstream country music, with their platinum-selling set The Road to Here garnering two Grammy nominations and multiple nods from both the ACM and CMA. Their departure in April 2008, along with the resignation of Kraski the previous fall, signaled trouble for the indie startup.

The wretchedly gloomy outlook of the economy played a part in the decision, with CD sales down almost 20% from last year. Little Big Town, along with the rest of Equity’s roster, owned all recorded material in exchange for the label maintaining a “vested interest” in their careers. Management issues also contributed to the downfall; Wipperman replaced Kraski in November 2007 and aligned the company with two outside investors that fall. In November 2008, Black sued his manager/accountant Charles Sussman and his Music Row firm, Gudvi, Sussman & Oppenheim for negligence in handling the artist’s finances.

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CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Neimann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band

Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible.  This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination.  With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race.
2009

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.

lady-antebellum2008

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.

2007

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.

2006

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.

2005

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.

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CMA Flashback: Male Vocalist

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Bentley and Shelton have never won, but they’re up against Strait, who has won five times, and Paisley and Urban, who’ve won three times each.  With the balance of commercial and critical success not significantly different across the category, this race could bring the night’s biggest surprise. But whatever happens, kudos to Paisley for earning his tenth nomination, and Strait for earning his twenty-fifth!

2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Just like in the Entertainer category, 80% of this race for the past three years had been Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban. This year, Darius Rucker took the fifth slot that was occupied by Alan Jackson in 2008 and Josh Turner in 2007.  Brad Paisley went on to win his third Male Vocalist prize.

brad-paisley2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

After so many years on the sidelines, Paisley began to dominate the category, scoring his second consecutive Male Vocalist award. Meanwhile, Kenny Chesney tied Willie Nelson for most nominations without a win, though his seventh loss was accompanied by his fourth win for Entertainer.

2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Josh Turner
  • Keith Urban

This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.

2006

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.

2004

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Urban hadn’t even been nominated for any CMA Awards in 2002 and 2003, after winning Horizon in 2001, but he came back with a bang, taking home Male Vocalist of the Year over the four other superstars in the category. He joined Chesney as the only other man in the running who had never won before; Chesney got the wonderful consolation prizes of Entertainer and Album of the Year the same night.

2003

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Things were getting tight in this category in 2003, with so many worthy contenders that ties resulted in six nominees, instead of the usual five. Still, voters chose to stick with last year’s winner, Alan Jackson, a sure indicator of his enduring popularity among CMA voters.

2002

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

The other four men were merely placeholders, there to create a list around the obvious winner, Alan Jackson. As he swept the awards on the strength of his post-9/11 “Where Were You” and autobiographical “Drive”, the only real shock was that he was winning Male Vocalist for the first time, a result of the ridiculously slow turnover in this category during the 1990’s.

2001

  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Toby Keith has been a vocal critic of the CMA because he feels they’ve overlooked him, but he’s been up against some tough competition, with his popularity peaking at the same time that Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were making a huge impact on the charts and at the CMA’s. Thankfully, he’s at least won in this category, so he won’t go down in history with Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty as one of the best male singers to never win it.

2000

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

On the same evening that his wife was crowned Female Vocalist, McGraw walked away with his second consecutive Male Vocalist award.

1999

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Steve Wariner

Early on in his career, when McGraw was selling tons of records but being excluded from this category, he humbly said that he didn’t think he was a good enough singer to be nominated. His talents grew over the years, and he finally won in 1999.

1998

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait

Strait matched Vince Gill’s record of five wins in this category, defeating Gill and three other nominees who had yet to win in the category.

1997

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

With no turnover in the category from the previous year, Strait won for the fourth time, again defeating his fellow mega-winner Gill, and three other stars who had never won before.

1996

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

Jackson was already long overdue, and Collin Raye and Bryan White broke into the category for the first time. Nobody expected Gill to win for the sixth year in a row, but many were surprised to see former two-time winner George Strait collect a Male Vocalist award for the first time in ten years.

1995

  • John Berry
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • John Michael Montgomery
  • George Strait

Even Gill was expecting to lose, so when his name was called out for the fifth year in a row, he was gamely applauding backstage for the winner, before suddenly realizing it was him and rushing out to the stage.

1994

  • John Anderson
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait
  • Dwight Yoakam

Vince won for the fourth year in a row, even though fellow nominees John Anderson, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam were seen as likely spoilers.

1993

  • John Anderson
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

Vince not only won his third Male Vocalist award this year, he also took home four other awards: Entertainer, Album, Song and Vocal Event.

1992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Joe Diffie
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Travis Tritt

A bunch of hot young stars dominated the ballot this year, with Gill emerging triumphant for the second time. Though they would continue to score hits for many years, Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt received their only nominations to date in this category.

1991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

After Garth swept the ACM’s earlier that year, he was expected to do the same at the CMA’s, and he came close, winning Entertainer, Single and Album. But industry favorite Vince Gill took home Male Vocalist, an award that Garth Brooks would never receive, though he would win Entertainer a record four times.

1990

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait

For the second year in a row, the previous year’s Horizon winner took home Male Vocalist. Clint Black won easily over very distinguished competition.

1989

  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Keith Whitley

After winning Horizon in 1988, platinum-selling Ricky Van Shelton graduated into a Male Vocalist winner only one year later. Keith Whitley received a posthumous nomination; he won Single of the Year that same evening.

1988

  • Vern Gosdin
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

It’s hard not to wince at the knowledge that the peerless Vern Gosdin only received one nomination in this category, but there was no stopping Travis from collecting his second win.

1987

  • George Jones
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

In a lineup that was a traditionalist’s dream, new star Randy Travis took home the trophy.  At the time, he was breaking sales records, enjoying a quadruple-platinum studio album in Always & Forever.

1986

  • George Jones
  • Gary Morris
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Strait won his second consecutive Male Vocalist award on the strength of another huge year at radio and retail.

1985

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

George Strait won the first of a record-matching five Male Vocalist awards, also taking home Album of the Year that same evening.

1984

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Greenwood’s Vegas vocals won him the award for the second time.

1983

  • John Anderson
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Greenwood looks pretty shabby against these other four nominees, taking home Male Vocalist in the same year Janie Fricke won for Female Vocalist. Is there a year in the history of the CMA’s where the winners of those two categories were collectively less impressive?

1982

  • Merle Haggard
  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Pulling off the astonishing feat of winning both Male Vocalist and Horizon award, Emmylou Harris’ former bandmate was hugely rewarded for bringing bluegrass to the masses.

1981

  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s taken for granted that Jones is the greatest living male vocalist in country music; few would dare to argue otherwise. No surprise, then, that he won for the second year in a row.

1980

  • John Conlee
  • George Jones
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Nominated for the first time in his career, George Jones walked away with Male Vocalist of the Year, along with Single of the Year for “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.

1979

  • John Conlee
  • Larry Gatlin
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s hard to believe that the legendary showman never won Entertainer of the Year, but he did take home a much-deserved Male Vocalist award, at least.  Unfortunately, fellow nominee John Conlee would never be recognized at all, losing his first of two shots at this award.

1978

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

One of the most underrated artists in country music history got a well-deserved pat on the back, winning over four larger personalities in 1978.

1977

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Milsap set a record when he won for the third time in this category, which would stand until 1994, when Vince Gill won his fourth trophy.

1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Conway Twitty
  • Don Williams

After losing to Jennings the previous year, Milsap returned to collect his second Male Vocalist trophy in 1976. Conway Twitty lost again in his final appearance in the category.

1975

  • John Denver
  • Freddy Fender
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

There was no love lost between Waylon Jennings and the CMA – he loathed the organization so much, he didn’t even show up at his Hall of Fame induction. This was the first of several CMA wins for Jennings, though the only one in this category that he would receive.

1974

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charlie Rich
  • Cal Smith

Blind singer-songwriter and pianist Ronnie Milsap won for the first time; with Olivia Newton-John winning Female Vocalist the same night, pop was the flavor of the evening.

1973

  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Charlie Rich
  • Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty

The Silver Fox won on the strength of a great year at radio. He’s still considered one of the era’s finest and most under-appreciated vocalists.

1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Johnny Paycheck
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Wallace

Charley Pride became the first artist to repeat in the category, winning for the second year in a row.

1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Ray Price
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The CMA had a wealth of great male vocalists to choose from in the early years of the awards, and they finally got around to acknowledging Pride, who had been nominated four times already.

1970

  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride
  • Marty Robbins
  • Conway Twitty

Merle Haggard dominated the show in 1970, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single and Album of the Year.

1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Charley Pride

Cash was a huge winner in 1969, taking home five awards: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album and Vocal Group (with wife June Carter Cash). He wouldn’t win again until after his death in 2003, when he took home another three awards.

1968

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Crossover star Glen Campbell won in a year that is so impressive, all five nominees are now in the Hall of Fame. He also took home Male Vocalist the same evening.

1967

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Jack Greene
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

Few casual country fans would recognize him today, but Jack Greene will forever go down in history as the first Male Vocalist winner at the CMA’s. He won on the strength of his signature hit “There Goes My Everything”, which also won Single of the Year and was the title track of his Album of the Year winner that same night.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill, George Strait
  • (3) – Ronnie Milsap, Keith Urban
  • (2) – Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Randy Travis

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill (1991-1995)
  • (3) – George Strait (1996-1998), Keith Urban (2004-2006)

Most Nominations:

  • (25) – George Strait
  • (16) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Merle Haggard
  • (10) – Vince Gill
  • (10) – Brad Paisley
  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Ronnie Milsap, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban
  • (6) – Don Williams
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, George Jones, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Conway Twitty

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Willie Nelson
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, Conway Twitty
  • (4) – Hank Williams, Jr.
  • (3) – John Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Gary Morris, Collin Raye
  • (2) – Eddy Arnold, Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Bryan White

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Clint Black (1990), Glen Campbell (1968), Vince Gill (1991), Lee Greenwood (1983), George Jones (1980), Toby Keith (2001), Ronnie Milsap (1974), Charlie Rich (1973), Ricky Skaggs (1982), Randy Travis (1987), Keith Urban (2004)

CMA Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Johnny Cash, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Don Williams

ACM Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Garth Brooks (1990 & 1991), Kenny Chesney (2003), Larry Gatlin (1980), Mickey Gilley (1977), Freddie Hart (1972)

CMA Male Vocalists Who Have Also Won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male:
Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Urban

Winners of the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male Who Have Never Won the CMA Male Vocalist Award:
Garth Brooks, David Houston, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam

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Clint Black, “The Strong One”

Clint Black, “The Strong One”

So this is much better than all those treacly love songs that were Clint’s bread and butter in the mid-nineties. He’s much more effective singing about the perfect woman in the third person rather than the first. I like Craig Morgan’s “Tough” better, which explores a similar theme with a bit more effectiveness, but this is as good a record as I’ve heard from Clint in a while. Let’s hope he keeps it up.

Grade: B

Listen: The Strong One

Buy: The Strong One

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