As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
- Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
- Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
- Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
- David Nail, “Red Light”
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
- Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
- Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
- Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.
The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons. First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start. The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves. Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.
Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs. Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek! At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.
A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010. For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.
As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:
- Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
- Miranda Lambert, Revolution
- Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
- Carrie Underwood, Play On
- Zac Brown Band, The Foundation
Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands. Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot. This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.
- Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
- Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
- George Strait, Troubadour
- Taylor Swift, Fearless
- Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride
Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.
Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”
Teen-pop perfection, bursting with personality and unshakable hooks. – Dan Milliken
Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”
There’s nothing quite as lonely as a carnival that has shut down, except for being alone at a carnival, surrounded by everyone but the love who has left you behind. – Kevin Coyne
Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”
Sheer passion and pulsing energy from start to finish. – Tara Seetharam
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #160-#141
Lee Ann Womack
Womack’s second-best Aughts song about late-night temptations is still better than a lot of people’s first-best songs about anything. Even in avoiding her drunken ex’s advances, she sounds positively heartbroken, suggesting she’d gladly make the other decision if she didn’t know better. – Dan Milliken
“She’s Not Just a Pretty Face”
Her motivation for her music has always been escapism, but I love the personal touch she slips into this one. Her late mother is the one who she’s referring to when she sings “at night, she pumps gasoline.” – Kevin Coyne
* 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
“Love, love, love, love…” crazy love? Unfortunately, no. There is a brief moment at the beginning of “Dreaming Love” where you think Kate & Kacey might break into Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” But no, we’re not that fortunate.
Kate & Kacey do have some songwriting chops. In fact, they have a co-write with Jamey Johnson coming out on George Strait’s upcoming album. However, “Dreaming Love” is not a shimmering display of those abilities. Overall, the song is plagued with a pretty but forgettable tune (slightly reminiscent in parts of Heidi Newfield’s “Johnny and June”), decidedly unmemorable vocals and unimaginative lyrics expounding on that n’er-written-about subject, love.
The third single from Heidi Newfield’s solo debut is the strongest track on the album.
Rather than taking the traditional routes of empowered bravado or weak-kneed self-pity, Newfield is simply unsure of herself. “I’m five years into a two-year plan,” she notes, “still standing here with the walls closing in behind this open door. What am I waiting for?”
I love songs with bravado and I love songs dripping with self-pity, but this is one of those rare singles that just feels real. Life unfolds in a series of small moments where little opportunities for change are overlooked. It’s easier to put off that big step for one more day, to keep dipping your toe in the water without ever getting in.
ENTERTAINER: Carrie Underwood
ALBUM: Taylor Swift, Fearless
SINGLE: “You’re Gonna Miss This” – Trace Adkins
FEMALE VOCALIST: Carrie Underwood
MALE VOCALIST: Brad Paisley
VOCAL DUO: Sugarland
TOP NEW ARTIST: Julianne Hough
VOCAL GROUP: Rascal Flatts
SONG: “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
11:00 Wonderful ending to a pretty good night!
10:59 ENTERTAINER: Carrie Underwood!!!
10:57 Matt and Jamie Foxx should co-host next year.
10:56 Matthew M. was the “Walkaway Joe” in Trisha’s video from 1992.
10:54 The show got better as it went on. I’ve really enjoyed most of the later performances.
10:49 This is the best I’ve heard Rascal Flatts in a very long time. I would buy this song arranged and performed like this.
As we gear up for the 2009 Academy of Country Music Awards, the writing staff of Country Universe have prepared our predicted winners among this year’s nominees. Check out our Personal Picks as well, and share your own predictions in the comments. As always, we’ll be live-blogging the festivities this Sunday, starting at 8 EST.
ACM 2009: Country Universe Predicts the Winners
Entertainer of the Year
* Kenny Chesney – Dan
* Brad Paisley
* George Strait
* Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Lynn
* Keith Urban
Kevin: For as much as the industry favors male acts, it’s the female acts who really post the big numbers. I think that the fans having a say will put Underwood over the top, though the industry is certainly behind her, too. The depth and breadth of her appeal warrants the win.
Leeann: I know how zealous Carrie Underwood fans are. So, I’d be shocked if she doesn’t win it. I like the way Lynn said it though.
Dan: You know, I really have no idea. It’s not going to be George Strait, and I probably wouldn’t anticipate a win for Keith Urban this year. I’ll say Chesney again, but either Paisley or Underwood could conceivably take him down with the help of the fan voting.
Lynn: If the fans are truly allowed to have their say…Ms. Underwood, please watch your step on the way up to receive your first Entertainer of the Year award.