Tag Archives: Darius Rucker

CMA Awards: Predictions and Personal Picks

The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.

brad-paisleyEntertainer of the Year

Should Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan
  • Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Dan
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: Much like the field finally cleared for him in the Male Vocalist race two years ago, I expect that this is Paisley’s year to win with his sixth nomination. I think Taylor Swift deserves to win, though. There’s no getting around the fact that she’s the biggest thing out there right now.

Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.

Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.

Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.

brad-paisleyMale Vocalist of the Year

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

Leeann: I have no doubt that Paisley will win again, as he  has had a strong year and the CMAs tend to prefer him for this award.  While I think Urban is technically a very worthy opponent, the combination of Paisley’s warm voice and stronger album makes me continue to root for him.  I’d also be just as happy if Strait won, however, and feel that his and Paisley’s albums were the strongest of the year.

Dan: Looks like an easy Paisley win, but I’ll give Strait the nod for all-around strength this past year.

Tara: I don’t anticipate that Paisley’s winning streak will be broken. I’m pulling for him on the strength of his material, but wouldn’t mind one bit if Urban took the award. Just please, CMAs, don’t give it to Rucker!

Kevin: Paisley’s poised to pick up his third trophy, with his only real competition being five-time winner George Strait. I’d give a fourth trophy to previous winner Keith Urban over the rest of the field. He really sang rings around the rest of ’em when comparing their latest albums.

Carrie Underwood 09Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Miranda Lambert – Leeann
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I tend to find Underwood boring, but I do think she released some of her better singles this past year. Swift just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to merit this prize, and I’d rather see Lambert win in a year where she has more momentum going, which could well be next year.

Tara: It will no doubt spark controversy when Underwood takes her fourth trophy and joins the ranks of Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, and that’s another discussion all together – but looking at the nominees for this year, it’s clear she deserves to win. In terms of sheer vocal talent, few artists in the genre come close to her. I’d love to see Lambert take this award (and Underwood would too!), but like Dan, I don’t think it’s her time just yet.

Kevin: I won’t believe a different winner in this race until I see it. I was underwhelmed by the latest albums from Lambert, McBride, McEntire, and Swift, and quite frankly, Underwood is the only lady of the five to put out more than one single this year that I actually really liked (“Just a Dream”, “I Told You So.”) I remain in her corner.

Leeann: Carrie will deserve to win this award when she wins it this year.  I, however, still prefer Lambert’s voice and feel that her output (album) is the most interesting of the nominees.

Sugarland JoeyVocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Tara: Sugarland continues to excite me, and I think they deserve this award again.

Kevin: I love Joey + Rory, but Sugarland have really been blowing me away lately.  I’d pick them for Entertainer if they’d been nominated.

Leeann: I’d technically love for Joey + Rory to win, but I know full well that Sugarland is the duo that truly deserves to win based upon their impact this year.

Dan: Sugarland. But I want to talk to whoever is picking their singles.

lady-antebellum-and-a-chairVocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

Kevin: I find Zac Brown Band more interesting, and I think they have a real shot at winning this. I suspect Lady Antebellum has a bit more industry support, though, so I’ll give them the edge.

Leeann: Lady A will win because they’ve got more industry support and popularity with radio, but the Zac Brown Band has certainly put out more interesting music and have a refreshingly unique sound that deserves to be rewarded.

Dan: Pretty much what Kevin and Leeann said. “Chicken Fried” notwithstanding.

Tara: It’s definitely a race between Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, and I can understand why my co-bloggers are rooting for the former. But even if Lady Antebellum’s talent needs a little cultivating, their music strikes a very personal chord with me, and I’ll be thrilled when they take this award. Can you believe Rascal Flatts might actually walk away from an awards show empty-handed?

zac-bbNew Artist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Tara

Will Win:

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Kevin
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker – Dan, Leeann, Tara
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: A weak lineup that speaks volumes about why country music is where it is today. I think Zac Brown Band should win. They’ve really been the real breakthrough act of the five. But I suspect in this battle of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” co-writers, Jamey Johnson will emerge victorious.

Leeann: While I’m tempted to root for Jamey Johnson, I think Zac Brown Band has a chance of keeping me intrigued over the next few years (even if they fall out of the mainstream), though I don’t think they’ve reached their potential  just yet.  I predict that Darius Rucker will actually win, however, as he’s been the most successful in the last year.

Dan: Time will tell whether Johnson is able to remain a strong artistic force, but I’d say he has as good a chance as any of these five if he can keep from getting self-important. Rucker is the biggest star on the ballot, though, and I suspect he’ll squeak the win over Johnson and Zac Brown Band.

Tara: Johnson and Zac Brown Band are both deserving recipients of this award, but I personally prefer the band’s music. With the commercial success Rucker’s seen in the past year, though, I think it’s his award to lose. Not too sure how I feel about that.  

thatlonesomesongAlbum of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Leeann, Dan
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday NightTara
  • Sugarland, Love on the InsideKevin
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
Will Win:
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless – Leeann
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Leeann: While Johnson’s album hasn’t really stuck with me over the past year or so, I still think it’s the best album out of the bunch.  I think Swift will win, however, due to the volume of sales and hit singles.

Dan: All of these albums have strengths, but That Lonesome Song is the only one that makes me optimistic about country music’s future. I expect it to triumph, though Swift’s has a great shot, too.

Tara: Paisley’s album, to me, strikes that sweet balance of traditional and contemporary. I think it’s a strong, interesting and relevant album that epitomizes why Paisley is so deservingly successful. But Johnson will deserve this award when he takes it, and I recognize and appreciate his positive influence on mainstream country music.

Kevin: I expected more nods overall for Jamey Johnson. I think that the eligibility period hurt him, with the project less fresh in voters’ minds. But the CMA values traditional country more than any other awards organization, so I expect him to win this. I enjoy the Sugarland album far more than any of the other four, so I’m rooting for that one.

Jamey smile 2Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington – Dan
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Dan: I’ve just got a bad feeling about that Currington single. “I Run To You” does have some smokin’ production, but “In Color” is the only one of the five I can still stand.

Tara: Ouch. I’m pleased that “I Run to You” is nominated as it’s a personal favorite, but I don’t think any song other than “In Color” is deserving of this award. Again…ouch.

Kevin: This is the weakest lineup in the history of this category.

Leeann: Johnson’s song feels old to me now, but it’s the best song in this underwhelming category, though I’m sure David Letterman disagrees.  While I like the production on “People Are Crazy” the best in this line-up, the hook (not to mention the frustratingly weak story development) is just lame.

randy-travisSong of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Leeann
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley

Tara: I would absolutely love to see Travis take this award; Underwood’s success with the song proves that the best-written country songs are timeless. I think “In Color” has more pull, though.

Kevin: I think Johnson will win, but kudos to Carrie Underwood for recognizing the value of the Randy Travis-penned gem and making it a hit all over again.

Leeann: This is not one of my favorite Randy Travis songs, but for nostalgia’s sake, I’m rooting for him to win this one. I even think it has a chance of winning, since it was a hit song for one of today’s country music’s most popular artists. I think the Paisley composition is, by far, the weakest though.

Dan: I like probable-winner “In Color” marginally more than “I Told You So.” Any of the other three winning would hurt me way down deep.

randy-travis-and-carrie-underwoodMusical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe – Leeann, Dan
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban – Leeann

Kevin: Will the CMA really pass up the chance to give a trophy to Randy Travis for the first time in 21 years? I hope not.

Leeann: Paisley’s and Urban’s collaboration was originally accidentally left off the ballot, but the superstar pairing is the most likely to win.  Conversely, I suspect that the inclusion of the collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe was likely an accident, but I’d still love to see this dark horse nomination win. It’s certainly the most interesting song of the category.  I might have gone for the Underwood/Travis pairing if Travis’ inclusion didn’t seem so random.  I liked Underwood’s original version better, as Vince Gill’s harmony seemed more natural.

Dan: It’s totally between “I Told You So” and “Start A Band”, but I’m pulling for the underdog Raconteurs record, too. I like my collaborations a little spontaneous like that, and it’s always great to see outsiders included in the CMA fold.

Tara: While I have a particular soft spot for “Down the Road,” which I thought was one of the best singles of 2008, it should come as no surprise that I’m pulling for the beautiful, rough-and-pure “I Told You So.” I think it will easily win.

george_straitMusic Video of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Dan: I enjoy the Strait video most, but Swift’s is the flashiest, and that tends to win out.

Tara: Strait’s video is poignant and tastefully done. I never understood the appeal of Swift’s Shakespearean video, but apparently a whole generation of country music fans does. My money’s on Swift.

Kevin: I think the Swift fairytale will get the most votes, but the Strait clip hypnotizes me every time it’s on. Who knew a simple slide show could be so powerful and such a perfect fit for a song?

paul-franklinMusician of the Year
Should Win:
  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar)

Will Win:

  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar)
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I should really start paying more attention to this kind of thing. But I know Paul Franklin’s been doing steel for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Rascal Flatts in the past year. Respek!

Tara:
Franklin’s the one I’m most familiar with, and I agree with Kevin and Dan that he deserves it. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to gauge who’ll win this year, but I suppose I’d go with McAnally again.

Kevin: I guess that McAnally will repeat his victory from last year. The other previous winners won quite a bit of time ago – Dann Huff in 2001 and 2004, Brent Mason in 1997 and 1998.  My sympathy goes to Eddie Bayers, who is nominated for the tenth time and has yet to win. I have no choice but to pull for Paul Frankin, though, who has lost this award sixteen times.  Here’s hoping that seventeen’s a charm!

Leeann: Please don’t let it be Dann Huff! That’s all I ask.  Of course, I’m partial to the steel guitar, not to mention that it’s a shame that a steel guitar player has to work so hard to win a country music award.

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Review: Darius Rucker, “History in the Making”

RuckerI have a weakness for songs that mix in elements of fate, particularly love songs. Like no other genre, the best country music has the ability to make me not only believe in but feel invested in the journey of a man and woman.

But to make this type of song effective, an artist has to deliver a touching if not stirring melody, one that has enough distinction to match the message. On the contrary, while “History in the Making” describes what could be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the melody and production feel a dime a dozen. It’s the kind of character-less, movie soundtrack song you’ve heard before in various forms, in various genres. Even with a line as loaded as “What if this was that moment, that chance worth takin’?”, the booming chorus doesn’t feel powerful so much as it feels forced.

Rucker’s vocal performance is infectious as usual – but in this case, neither his vocals nor the sweet theme is enough to elevate “History in the Making” from lackluster to good.

Written by Clay Mills, Frank Rogers & Darius Rucker

Grade: C+

Listen: History in the Making

Buy:

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CMA Noms ’09

cma_awardIt’s that time of year again! For each major category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:

Entertainer

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Sugarland

Snap Judgment: With Carrie Underwood and Sugarland a little out of the spotlight recently, it’s no shock to see the regular foursome of Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban prevail. Swift was a logical inclusion given her across-the-board dominance, but I gotta say that I’m surprised to see her acknowledged for it by the historically traditional-leaning CMA.

Male Vocalist

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

Who’s In: Darius Rucker

Who’s Out: Alan Jackson

Snap Judgment: Pretty predicable. Rucker has shown he can get serious spins at radio, which is probably what won him this slot over Jamey Johnson.

Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Reba McEntire

Who’s Out: Alison Krauss

Snap Judgment: Again, no big surprises. Martina always hangs in there somehow, doesn’t she?

Vocal Duo

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

Who’s In: Joey + Rory

Who’s Out: The Wreckers (finally!), oddly not Big & Rich

Snap Judgment: I guess there has to be at least one defunct act in this category every year, huh?

Vocal Group

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Zac Brown Band

Who’s Out: Emerson Drive

Snap Judgment: I’m baffled to see the Eagles still here. I expect there will be a lot more shake-up in this category next year, with Love and Theft, Eli Young Band and The Lost Trailers all experiencing a rise in profile recently.

New Artist

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

Who’s In: Completely new line-up!

Snap Judgment: A strong group. Johnson, Rucker and Zac Brown Band are selling better than many of the veteran acts, so they’re the serious contenders this year, but all five nominees show great artistic potential.

Album

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Sugarland, Love On The Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Snap Judgment: Probably as good a line-up as you could’ve hoped for. Never thought I’d live to see a CMA category where I thought Keith Urban had the weakest offering!

Single

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run To You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Snap Judgment: Sigh.

Song

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley

Snap Judgment: I mean, it’s not like Randy Travis ever had his own hit with “I Told You So” or anything.

Musical Event

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down The Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban

Snap Judgment: How in the world did that Raconteurs record sneak in there? Props, CMA!

Music Video

  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Snap Judgment: Not bad. Houser’s doesn’t have much, but the only one I outright dislike is Currington’s. It’s just another excuse for him to sit around looking scruffy on a beach.

Musician

  • Eddie Bayers
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally

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Producing the CMAs

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.

What’s wrong with the show?

The awards themselves seem like an after thought, filler in between all the endless performances. The main suspense isn’t who wins, but rather, how many performances the producers can fit in 3 hours. Also, it’s become an award show that is ashamed of its roots, barely mentioning who is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Any artist with the slightest sign of a wrinkle, regardless of their legend status is shunned and hidden in the audience next to seat fillers and radio contest winners. It’s an award show with self esteem issues, not cool enough to stand on its own. You can bet the main attraction used to promote this year’s show will be a non-country performer like Kid Rock, The Eagles of last year, and Jamie Foxx of two years ago.

What can be done?

Well, the first order of business would be for the Sommet Center to take out a one day restraining order from Miley Cyrus on November 11, 2009, or better yet, the whole Cyrus family, Billy Ray, Noah, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Yes, she’ll bring in ratings, but we’ve gotten along fine without her for 40 plus years.

The CMA’s need to take a cue from  the Grammy awards, or even the American Idol finale. There are so many surprises, legends, moving moments, coming at you, left right and center, you don’t know what’s coming next, all you know is you’re in for the ride, you’re loving every second and you’re talking about it the next day. Last year, the biggest surprise was Shania Twain presenting Entertainer of the Year, which she has done at least 3 times before, and to those who keep up on country news, it was hardly a surprise at all.

What can possibly be done to make the night more entertaining?

How about taking a cue from this yearis Academy Awards and only announce a handful of performers, leaving the rest a mystery? Don’t tell us who and what everyone’s performing, which leaves more room for surprises. Also, like the Oscars, don’t announce who is presenting, and before each award have a mini-montage of past winners. Then at the end, the curtain opens and a surprise past winner comes out and shares insights on their winning experience. Instead of the otherwise cheesy dialogue or weird presenter pairings, it would make more sense if they just brought out Trisha Yearwood for Female Vocalist, Vince for Male, The Judds for Duo, Alabama forGroup, and hand it off to the winner like an Olympic torch or rite of passage. This way of thinking would work out great for the Entertainer of the Year category, in bringing out past winners, Roy Clark, and Barbara Mandrell, who also happen to be this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would prefer it if it went back to how it used to be with a taped bio and artists performing a medley of hits. But even that is too much to ask. If they are going to cut it out entirely, the least they could do is show 3 separate 30-60 second bios of each of the inductees at different times as they are going to commercial and have them wave from the audience. Or, from the paragraph above, show a taped piece just before Barbara and Roy present Entertainer.

The most boring parts of the show are seeing full performances from all the mundane hits of the past year. Was it necessary for Darius Rucker to perform “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” last year when he wasn’t nominated? Yes, it’s necessary for the biggest hits to be performed, but does every top 5 hit of the past year have to be sung? Instead, encourage them to sing unique songs, like Alan Jackson in 2005 performing, “Wonderful Tonight”, songs you’ll actually remember more than 5 minutes after they are performed. Another idea, which the Grammys have down pat, is pairing people up. Think of the Al Green, Keith Urban, Justin Timberlake and Boys 2 Men grouping of earlier this year. For the CMA’s, this would be a perfect year to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the hat act boom of 89. Why not bring out Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Travis Tritt for a small medley?

Instead of each of the new artist nominees performing their full songs – do we really want to see Julianne Hough performing a full version of her song this year? –  it would be great if they stole from the ACM’s all-star opener this year, and did the same thing with the 5 nominees. Lady Antebellum can be the ring leader like Brooks & Dunn were at the ACMs, and they all can perform a small portion of their hits. To wrap it up, Lady Antebellum can present the award. This will allow more time for the Collaboration and Video of the year awards to be back on the telecast.

If you ran the CMAs, thinking creatively but realistically, which special moments would you create that could go down in history and make country’s biggest night more fun to watch? How would you make George Strait’s performance less predictable? And how would you measure that Miley restraining order? In inches, feet, yards, or miles?

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Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean for $5.00

Amazon has posted their August “50 for $5.00″ selection, and they’re offering two top-selling country albums for $5.00.

First up is Darius Rucker’s country album Learn to Live, which is close to spawning three #1 singles.  I didn’t have any of them, so I’m buying it:

Second is Jason Aldean’s debut album, which includes the hits “Hicktown”, “Amarillo Sky” and “Why”:

Clicking through the above links to purchase these albums or anything else at the Amazon store helps support Country Universe. Dan is saving up for a new Bentley, so help him out!

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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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Album Sales Update: July 2009

It’s time for an album sales update, our first since .   Brad Paisley is off to a strong start with American Saturday Night, selling 130k in its first week. That’s about 70k less than his previous two studio albums – Time Well Wasted and 5th Gear – opened with, but not a terrible drop-off, considering the state of the music market.

Meanwhile, the new studio albums by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban are slowing down considerably, now being outpaced on a weekly basis by 2008 releases by Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.

Among younger acts with a new album in 2009, the most impressive sales are coming from Jason Aldean, while 2008 releases from Kellie Pickler, Billy Currington, and Randy Houser are showing new signs of life.

Biggest disappointments? It’s hard not to look in the direction of Martina McBride, who has barely cleared the 100k mark on her new studio set.  Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 set just made it over that mark, too.  Then again, one only needs to have sold 455 copies to make the chart this week, with the anchor position going to Wynonna with that total. Her covers album Sing – Chapter 1 has sold 41k to date.

Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:

2009

  • Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 842,000
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 452,000
  • Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 384,000
  • Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II – 281,000
  • Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 219,000
  • Martina McBride, Shine – 104,000
  • John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 103,000
  • Eric Church, Carolina – 94,000
  • Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 88,000
  • Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 81,000
  • Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 78,000
  • Montgomery Gentry, For Our Heroes – 64,000
  • Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 56,000
  • Steve Earle, Townes – 47,000
  • Colt Ford, Ride Through the Country – 45,000
  • Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 45,000
  • Wynonna, Sing – Chapter 1 – 41,000
  • Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Avenue – 34,000
  • Ryan Bingham, Roadhouse Sun – 15,000
  • Tracy Lawrence, Rock – 11,000
  • Darryl Worley, Sounds Like Life – 8,000
  • Holly Williams, Here With Me – 5,000
  • Charlie Robison, Beautiful Day – 3,000
  • Tanya Tucker, My Turn – 3,000

2008

  • Taylor Swift, Fearless – 3,464,000
  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,683,000
  • George Strait, Troubadour – 914,000
  • Alan Jackson, Good Time – 869,000
  • Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 754,000
  • Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 721,000
  • Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 681,000
  • Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 – 680,000
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 674,000
  • Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 652,000
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 509,000
  • Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 403,000
  • James Otto, Sunset Man – 374,000
  • Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 314,000
  • Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 261,000
  • Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits – 255,000
  • Brad Paisley, Play – 247,000
  • Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie – 208,000
  • Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 206,000
  • Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 191,000
  • Trace Adkins, X – 185,000
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 184,000
  • Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 167,000
  • Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 165,000
  • Eli Young Band, Jet Black and Jealous – 108,000
  • Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 102,000
  • Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 81,000
  • Hank Williams III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 80,000
  • Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 79,000
  • Lost Trailers, Holler Back – 69,000

2006-2007

  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift – 4,129,000
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride – 2,918,000

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2009's Remaining Release Schedule Comes into Focus

2009Thus 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.
  • Rosanne Cash will release The List, a covers album, on October 6.
  • Sarah Darling releases Every Monday Morning on July 28.
  • Mac McAnally’s Show Dog debut – Down By the River – comes out on August 4. McAnally recently scored a big hit teaming up with Kenny Chesney on “Down the Road”, and was the co-writer on several classic Sawyer Brown singles like “All These Years” and “Thank God For You.”
  • Mindy Smith releases Stupid Love on August 11.
  • Radney Foster and The Confessions release Revival on September 1, with guest appearances by Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker.
  • Chris Young releases The Man I Want to Be on September 1.

Reissues and Compilations

  • Brooks & Dunn release the 30-track #1 Hits…and Then Some on September 8. Track listing here. The set is preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification. The new hits compilation is similar in set up to top-selling collections by George Strait, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire in recent years.
  • Wounded Bird just released 2-albums-on-1-CD collections for Kris Kristofferson on July 7. Eight albums are included from his 1972-1981 output
  • A pair of Tommy Cash’s albums from 1970 will combine on one CD on July 21; Tommy is the younger brother of Johnny Cash
  • Hank Snow’s 1958 album When Tragedy Struck is being remastered and reissued on August 11.

I’ll be picking up many of the above releases, but I have to say that I’m most looking forward to picking up all of the remastered Beatles albums and the Madonna anthology this fall.

What releases are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2009?

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CMA Music Festival 2009: Memory Grab Bag

dsc000011I have to start with a disclaimer: I attended my first CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, as a fan –a crazy, passionate, kid-in-a-candy-store fan– and nothing more. So rather than offer you a full review of the festival, which I don’t think I can adequately do, I instead present you with a narrow but meaningful sampling of my favorite memories from the week.

Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley rock rain-soaked stadium until 2 a.m.

After a three-hour rain delay at LP Field Thursday night, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley played well into the morning to make up for the lost time. Despite the delay being somewhat poorly handled by management, an impressively large crowd of dedicated fans,  draped in ponchos and drenched in humidity, waited around until after midnight for the concert to resume.

It was well worth the wait, as Bentley and Paisley delivered outstanding, high-energy performances and reminded me once again that there is legitimate, authentic talent in mainstream country music. In a fitting closing, Bentley joined Paisley on an extended version of his novelty hit “Alcohol,” during which the tourmates played on each other’s good-natured wit and kept the crowd on its feet until the last note.

Carrie Underwood soars on “Stand By Your Man”

In 2006, Carrie Underwood performed Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” on the Grand Ole Opry stage, surprising Idol skeptics with her spot-on rendition. Three years later, she reprised her performance for the first time at her 2009 fan club party, as requested by her fans. She sang it brilliantly, with graceful conviction and emphasis on the natural “cry” in her voice, reminiscent of the female country greats.

The icing on the cake was Underwood’s admission that she’d love to record “Stand By Your Man” on a country classics album one day, along with an earlier admission that she’d been thinking about recording an album of hymns – two items high on most fans’ wish lists. Considering the other songs on her fan club party set list ranged from a rousing, acoustic “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to an impeccable “How Great Thou Art,” I think there are few limits to Underwood’s potential and depth as an artist, and I could not be more thrilled for her future in country music.

Tara falls in love with the Grand Ole Opry

I know, I know; it’s irrelevant to the festival, but the Opry was such an acutely special part of my Nashville experience that I just had to include it. I caught the Tuesday night show, featuring a wonderful mishmash of traditional and contemporary performances by artists such as the Charlie Daniels Band, Trace Adkins, Ricky Skaggs and Little Big Town.

But it was the entirety of the experience that really got to me: I was surprised to find that the Opry House itself, as a venue, is epic and intimate all at once, leaving you feeling like you’re experiencing something very grand that was crafted just for you. That personable quality, along with the Opry’s palpable energy and richly spiritual atmosphere, struck a particular chord inside me. Of all the live music venues I’ve been to, the Opry takes the cake.

The Judds reunion ends with an emotional “Love Can Build a Bridge”

I knew the rare mother-daughter reunion was going to be good when Naomi Judd joined Wynonna Judd on the LP Field stage sporting a hot pink, rhinestone-encrusted dress suit, and Wynonna turned to the audience, smirked and said: “some things never change.” And she was right, as the two masterfully charmed their way through a string of their 80s hits, ending with a poignant performance of “Love Can Build a Bridge.”

It’s a simple and incredibly sappy song, but it has timeless meaning, one that certainly wasn’t lost on the stadium crowd. The high point of the performance was the chilling chorus the entire audience sang a cappella, prompting Naomi to shed a few tears. You know ABC will never show a performance like that –one with social relevance but no 2009 pop culture relevance– on its three-hour special in August, but maybe that’s the kind of moment that isn’t meant to be broadcasted in living rooms across America.

The fans steal the show

Finally, for all its star power and talent, the CMA Music Festival really is fundamentally about the fans – the most passionate, tireless, supportive, ridiculously devoted people I’ve ever encountered, who blew me away with their spirit and unity. I’ve spent most of my life emotionally connecting to music and artists in ways that people around me don’t quite understand, so to be among thousands of fans who shared my exact sentiments was completely, overwhelmingly moving, and without a doubt the highlight of my week.

I met fans from all over the world, from Scotland to Canada to Australia, drawn to Nashville by good music and a chance to hang out with their favorite artists. To the CMA’s credit, the festival does an amazing job of fostering these reciprocal interactions between the fans and artists. I was skeptical about the festival actually feeling like a “thank you” to the fans, rather than a giant marketing effort, but I was quickly proven wrong by the genuine and even organic acts of the artists themselves.

The artists don’t have to participate in the charity events, much less sign autographs at them for hours, and they don’t have to hold fan club parties tailored to their fans’ interests. They don’t have to hug their fans or strike up conversations when they meet them at the convention center. Country artists don’t have to sincerely care about you in order to have successful careers (isn’t that evidenced by much of the entertainment industry?), but it seems most do.

And that’s why country music fans willingly continue to be the heart and soul of the industry. They request songs, buy albums, create street teams, spread positive messages, attend concerts, stream music videos, write to critics, rally around causes, camp out overnight on sidewalks, make T-shirts, support charities, vote for awards, write letters of encouragement…and the list goes on. They deserve respect and gratitude, and that, at its essence, is what the CMA Music Festival offers, in a way no other genre of music does.

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Album Sales Update

Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:

2009

  • Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 669,000
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 349,000
  • Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 241,000
  • Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 189,000
  • Martina McBride, Shine – 89,000
  • John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 89,000
  • Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 72,000
  • Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 70,000
  • Eric Church, Carolina – 66,000
  • Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 59,000
  • Randy Rogers Band, Randy Rogers Band – 57,000
  • Pat Green, What I’m For – 54,000
  • Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 50,000
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, Back to Tennessee – 29,000
  • Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 26,000
  • Dean Brody, Dean Brody – 5,000

2008

  • Taylor Swift, Fearless – 3,220,000
  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,594,000
  • George Strait, Troubadour – 860,000
  • Alan Jackson, Good Time – 803,000
  • Keith Urban, Greatest Hits – 737,000
  • Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 696,000
  • Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 642,000
  • Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 – 642,000
  • Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 630,000
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 572,000
  • Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 511,000
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 438,000
  • Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 384,000
  • James Otto, Sunset Man – 368,000
  • Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 309,000
  • Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits – 244,000
  • Brad Paisley, Play – 238,000
  • Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 226,000
  • Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 216,000
  • Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie – 199,000
  • Heidi Newfield, What am I Waiting For? – 197,000
  • Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 196,000
  • Trace Adkins, X – 174,000
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 173,000
  • Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 152,000
  • Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 152,000
  • Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 133,000
  • Chuck Wicks, Starting Now – 129,000
  • Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 127,000
  • Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 94,000
  • Eli Young Band, Jet Black and Jealous – 92,000
  • Hank Williams III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 76,000
  • Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 73,000
  • Lost Trailers, Holler Back – 65,000
  • Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 58,000

2006-2007

  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift – 4,129,000
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride – 2,852,000
  • Trace Adkins, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 – 627,000

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