This is a guest contribution by regular commenter, Michael Hawkins, who posts as Highwayman3.
The 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.
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:
[Amazon music download link]
Second is Jason Aldean’s debut album, which includes the hits “Hicktown”, “Amarillo Sky” and “Why”:
[Amazon music download link #2]
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!
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:
If Johnson earns fewer less 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.
It’s time for an album sales update, our first since May 23. 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:
- 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
Thus far, 2009’s releases have done little to fire up the charts, with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.
So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:
- Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
- George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
- Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
- Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
- Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
- Brooks & Dunn’s new studio album streets on September 8, preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification.
I 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.
* 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
Live and learn. I did a lot of living and learning during my first day (ever) at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, California. First lesson: Don’t rely on MapQuest. I didn’t take the large black freeways on the map to the beautiful but bizarre desert retirement slash resort community that hosts Stagecoach. Or the smaller blue lines, or even the teensy red ones. I took the non-existent purple ones through the backcountry past unusual rock formations and the odd farmhouse. It was just me and the random tanker truck going mach negativo.
Second lesson: Show up early. The tanker truck and purple lines aside, I didn’t plan well. And any plans I did have were shot to h*** as soon as I arrived at the polo fields and, well, circled the fields at a crawl (which is a generous term) for nigh two hours before entering the parking lot. So, as I slowly watched the thermometer inch up towards 100 degrees on my dashboard, I kissed goodbye my plans for The Infamous Stringdusters and Lynn Anderson. I’m sorry, guys.
Third lesson: Don’t presume anything about country music fans. While I was very slowly making my way into the parking lot, I took notice of the cars around me. There was a BMW in front of me, a Porsche on my left and a Mercedes behind me. Hmmm…didn’t they hear that polo was cancelled this weekend? But no, the fancy cars were full of college kids, a large family and an old couple…all dressed in cowboy boots and hats and headed to the festival. I’d say welcome to country music, Southern California style: cowboy boots and Gucci purses, but that would cheapen the genuine spirit of those who attended the festival. While not precisely diverse, I doubt you will find a more overall wholesome group of people anywhere. You can only have organized chaos in a group this large with people like this.