Tag Archives: Jason Aldean

2011 CMA Nominations

It’s always interesting to see how music industry awards reflect (or don’t reflect) larger narratives in the industry itself.

If you’re interested in the narratives behind this year’s CMAs, look no further than the two men who’ve made the biggest strides on the ballot: Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. Both show up in Entertainer and Male Vocalist, plus Album and Single, plus assorted other stuff. But the marketing approaches that have gotten them there are vastly different.

Shelton’s is the traditional wisdom: cover all media ground with an inoffensive product until the people buy in. So he’s a core act at radio; he’s on a popular TV show (The Voice); he hosted the ACMs; he was in a ton of magazines for his marriage; he Twitters a lot.

Then there’s the Aldean approach: make a distinct product, generate enough radio support to plant the seeds, then go straight to the fans, tour relentlessly, build up word-of-mouth – let the industry come to you. I think it’s the more effective approach, personally. Look at Eric Church, who has a fraction of Shelton’s ubiquity but beat him in first-week album sales and is still beating him cumulatively – no TV spotlights, no gossip mags, no Twitter.

And look at how many acts on this ballot started on indie labels. Aldean, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Thompson Square, the freaking Civil Wars. Major-label power still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Media saturation still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Music is the only thing that always counts, and even the highly political CMAs are starting to have trouble ignoring it.

Just my thoughts, anyway. What say you to this list?

Entertainer

  • Jason Aldean
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney

Who’s Out: Dierks Bentley, George Strait

Female Vocalist

  • Sara Evans
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Sara Evans

Who’s Out: Reba McEntire

Vocal Duo

  • The Civil Wars
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square

Who’s In: The Civil Wars, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Brooks & Dunn (historical moment!), Joey + Rory

Vocal Group

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Nobody

Who’s Out: Nobody

New Artist

  • The Band Perry
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Thompson Square
  • Chris Young

Who’s In: The Band Perry, Eric Church, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Easton Corbin, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band (won)

Notes: Bryan and Young are both on their second nominations here, but for once there’s no obvious frontrunner. Thompson Square pick up the category-filler nom from Jerrod Niemann. This reminds me: where has Easton Corbin gone?

Album

  • Blake Shelton, All About Tonight
  • Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party
  • Taylor Swift, Speak Now
  • Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music
  • Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give

Notes: Shelton’s is a low-selling EP. Uhhh.

Single

  • Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”
  • Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
  • Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
  • The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”

Song

  • “Colder Weather” – written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles
  • “Dirt Road Anthem” – written by Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford
  • “If I Die Young ” – written by Kimberly Perry
  • “Mean” – written by Taylor Swift
  • “You and Tequila” – written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter

Notes: Nice to see there are still some Matraca Berg fans out there amid the Brantley Gilbert ones. Interestingly, Swift’s first nomination in this category.

Musical Event

  • “As She’s Walking Away” – Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert
  • “Don’t You Wanna Stay” – Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley with Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: I’m troubled by the fact that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is nominated for Single and “As She’s Walking Away” isn’t.

Music Video

  • “Honey Bee” – Blake Shelton
  • “If I Die Young” – The Band Perry
  • “Mean” – Taylor Swift
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley featuring Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: The worst Brad Paisley video ever to be nominated here, I think.

Musician

  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally
  • Randy Scruggs

Who’s In: Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas

Who’s Out: Brent Mason, Randy Scruggs

.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Tattoos On This Town”

Those blessed dirt roads make a return once again on Jason Aldean’s latest single, sans the hick-rap this time around.  “Tattoos On This Town” is a simple small-town nostalgia trip that should fit in nicely with the current trends on country radio, and no doubt supply Aldean with another chart-topping hit.  It comes as a pleasant surprise, however, that this particular offering displays a notable level of creativity while largely managing to steer clear of the clichés.

A common issue that plagues many of the rural small-town songs on country radio is a failure to pinpoint specific features of one’s hometown that make it special or meaningful to the narrator (“Small Town USA” is one notable offender in this regard).  “Tattoos On This Town” is different in that it highlights unique characteristics of the narrator’s hometown that bring back memories of his youth – black marks on a country road, the words “Ali, will you marry me?” painted on an overpass, and a rope burn on an old tree branch are all mentioned.  The narrator notes that, while his youthful exploits have definitely left some physical marks on the town he grew up in – like “Tattoos On This Town” – he also appreciatively reflects on how such experiences have shaped him as an individual.  Such specific lyrical construction supplies color to the song’s story instead of just leaving it as a vague, black and white template.

Of course, some of the typical Aldean criticisms do still apply.  Yes, the production is loud, as it often is.  But as it turns out, “Tattoos” succeeds due to the fact that it rises about the superficial idealization and cliché formulas that have bogged down a great deal of Aldean’s material.  This is one road that Jason Aldean would do well to go down further.

Written by Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley, and Michael Dulaney

Grade:  B

Listen:  Tattoos On This Town

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Summer Single Reviews Round-Up: Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley

We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).

Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”

Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson

Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B

Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”

Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk

Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+


Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”

Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann

Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-

Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”

Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele

Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B

Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”

Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall

If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-

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5 Five-Second Single Reviews: Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, The Dirt Drifters, OCMS, Darius Rucker

Trace Adkins, “Just Fishin'” (Listen)

Written by Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell and Ed Hill

Wish this weren’t quite so heavy-handed about driving home the theme; a subtler approach could have made it a Strait-type classic. Still a nice, fresh idea, though.

Grade: B

Jason Aldean featuring Ludacris, “Dirt Road Anthem (Remix)” (Listen)

Written by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert

The jauntier rapping and production on Ludacris’ verse brings the track to life. They should have let him take over and just given Jason the choruses, a la Nelly/Tim’s “Over and Over.”

Grade: C+


The Dirt Drifters, “Always a Reason” (Listen)

Written by Ryan Fleener, Jeff Middleton and Justin Wilson

Their Springsteen is showing too much, but I still hope it’s a hit. Like “Something Better” before it, solid blue-collar bar rock.

Grade: B+

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”

Written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor

I’m confused. Are they actually releasing this oldie as a single? Wasn’t it already one? This is probably just some random promo thingy. In any case, still one of country music’s all-time great sing-alongs.

Grade: A+


Darius Rucker, “I Got Nothin'”

Written by Darius Rucker and Clay Mills

You got somethin'; you just ain’t usin’ it.

Grade: C

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 2

Today’s category is… A Song You Hate.

Here are the staff picks:

Dan Milliken: Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars, “Billionaire”

I usually don’t hate music if it’s blatantly awful. That usually makes me love it. (I have especially great affection for the universally maligned “We Built This City” thanks to the efforts of Twitter queen Megan Amram.) What grates on me is the technically listenable stuff that is still, slyly, really bland and stupid. Travie McCoy offers some decent verses here atop an aesthetically pleasant track; but it all goes to wash if you try to digest the lyrics of Bruno Mars chorus, which earned extra hate-points for always tricking me into thinking “Santeria” was coming on the radio last year.

Tara Seetharam: Jason Aldean, “She’s Country”

There are certainly more fundamentally offensive songs out there, but this one elicits from me inexplicable anger. From its pounding pseudo-rock arrangement to Aldean’s spitfire delivery (of ridiculousness like “honey-dripping honey from a holler in Kentucky”), everything about the song feels so aggressive. And if you’ve ever been subjected to the rap re-mix without at least a drink in your hand, you have my deepest sympathy.

Kevin Coyne: Brad Paisley, “Little Moments”

It’s the most frustratingly condescending tribute to a wife since “Honey.” At least that Bobby Goldsboro classic was released before the women’s rights movement was in full swing.  Sure, at least he doesn’t kill her off in the end, but is death really a worse fate when compared to your husband living for those little moments when you show what a stupid little woman you are?

Leeann Ward: Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?”

I can digest Toby Keith’s angry anthem much easier than Worley’s patronizing piece of manipulation. Even though I’m just as relieved as anyone to have Bin Laden gone, this song, like few others, still gets my blood boiling.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”

Few songs have come along that serve such a valid sociological purpose as “Dirt Road Anthem.”

With this single, Jason Aldean pulls back the curtain on the mysterious ways of rural southern society.  How fearless of Aldean to allow outsiders this rare glimpse into the social mores and recreational activities of southern youth.

For the first time, we learn that country music legends are so revered that their name need only be mentioned to evoke a deep-rooted value system.  I was shocked to discover that this subculture of American society thrives beyond the paved roads provided by federal and state governments, a stunning statement of independence from the restrictions that we have attempted to construct around such resilient communities.

With voyeuristic intimacy, Aldean allows us to walk in the shoes of small town men and women.  Hopefully, “Dirt Road Anthem” will be only the beginning of songs that tell us about the country lifestyle and what it means to those who live it. I can only imagine how vindicating and empowering it will be for these folks to finally hear a song about them on the radio. 

I don’t usually root for a song to be successful, but it is imperative that this one makes an impact, so other artists are encouraged to tell us, in detail, what it means to be a country person in modern society. I know that country music’s aversion to formulaic songwriting makes such a scenario unlikely, but in this case, it is absolutely necessary. 

What a tragedy it would be for the story of an entire people to be lost in time, leaving future generations in the dark about what it was really like to be a son of the south in the early 21st century.

Written by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert

Grade: D

Listen: Dirt Road Anthem

 

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Single Review: Edens Edge, “Amen”

Add another track, and another new act, to my “Thank God for 2011″ list.

Confident, completely country instrumentation.  A lyrical framework – “Can I get an amen?” – that I can’t believe hasn’t been used before, at least anywhere that I heard it.

And it’s not done in a Hallmark kind of way, either. Finally falling in love, finally walking away from the girl that the guy was too good for. These are the little everyday moments that make us say “Amen.”

The vocals? They get the job done. They complement the music nicely, and don’t get in the way of telling the story.

I wonder how many songs I might like by Lady Antebellum or Jason Aldean if they sounded like this. Not that those artists should change their sounds to meet my tastes, but it’s nice to hear something tailored to my preferences, especially from a new young band.

Good stuff.

Grade: B+

Listen: Amen

 

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Nashville Scene: 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

The 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll has just been published by Nashville Scene. It covers the 2010 year of country music. The participants of the poll consists of country music critics who spend their time listening to and analyzing stacks of music throughout the year in order to knowledgeably write about it for the purpose of either promoting excellent music or warning against the not so good stuff. Kevin, Dan and Tara are among these prestigious critics.

Each year, invited critics submit their ballots with their favorite music and artists in the appropriate categories. The poll includes the best albums, singles, male and female artists, reissues, live acts, duos and groups, songwriters, new acts, and the over all artists of the year. While the results include the usual suspects, they are mixed with some surprises or names that aren’t commonly associated with mainstream country.

Some of my favorite results include Raul Malo tied at #8 with Gary Allan for top males and Elizabeth Cook at #2 for top females, not to mention Sunny Sweeney’s “From A Table Away” landing at the #3 spot for singles. The most amusing result, however, is Jamey Johnson and Taylor Swift in the top two spots for songwriters.

What’s most fascinating about this process is that the critics have the opportunity to include comments with their ballots. These comments serve to clarify choices and pontificate on the state of country music and its various aspects. There are some insightful comments from both Dan and Tara, along with other critics that you might recognize from our blog roll.

Here are some of the cream of the crop comments that display a satisfyingly diverse array of perspectives:

“Lost amidst the rush to proclaim Jamey Johnson as the man to reclaim country music from pop acts like Taylor Swift is the fact that Johnson and Swift are cut from the precisely same cloth. Johnson is most often championed for the supposed authenticity of his songwriting, but is it really any more believable that he’s been “takin’ dee-pression pills in the Hollywood hills” than it is that Swift regrets not calling an ex when his birthday passed? Both Johnson and Swift have developed public personae and voices as songwriters that trade in the same suspension of disbelief. Swift’s music may not scan as “country” to the extent that Johnson’s does, but that isn’t because she’s any less authentic than Johnson. They both act like they’re “Playing the Part,” and they both do so awfully well.” —Jonathan Keefe, Slant Magazine

“Thank goodness the Internet and satellite radio are around to pick up FM’s slack, because brilliant would-be singles continue popping up on independent releases that Clear Channel won’t touch. My favorite two this year were Elizabeth Cook’s “El Camino” and Chely Wright’s “Notes to the Coroner.” The former: a hilarious country-rap about a creepy, mulleted lothario. The latter: a frank diary introduction from a recently deceased woman. Both: utterly unique and unshakably catchy.” —Dan Milliken, Country Universe

“In 2010, Grandpa told us about the good old days again. The most conspicuous presence on country radio in recent years has been this kindly old gentleman, lugging his aching bones out of bed to share some worldly wisdom. After years of hard labor and heartache, he’s now embarked on a second career as life coach for his hillbilly kin on recent singles from Lee Brice, Billy Currington, Craig Morgan and Alan Jackson (the matured mentor on Zac Brown’s “As She’s Walking Away”). Of course, country radio won’t fool with women over 40 except for Reba, so you never really get to hear Grandma’s side of things.” —Blake Boldt, The 9513

“Despite their two weak singles this year, “Our Kind of Love” and “Hello World,” I remain in Lady Antebellum’s corner. What hooks me is the way they’re able to inject gritty, tangible emotion into the glossiest of production and the vaguest of lyrics. That’s what elevates “Need You Now” to an aching confession, and that’s how, on a song that compares innocence to a condiment, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance alone manages to tell an evocative story.” —Tara Seetharam, Country Universe

“So if country music is doing so well artistically, why is it that whenever I turned on the radio in 2010, I heard mostly pop or rock songs with a token steel guitar thrown into the mix? I’ve long since given up hope of Americana artists ever getting picked up by mainstream radio, and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that Jamey Johnson won’t be getting many (if any) hit songs no matter how good they are. But would it kill them to play some non-hyphenated country music a little more? I know that country-pop and country-rock are the flavors of the month, but where does that leave more traditional artists? I know I’d be more willing to tolerate Jason Aldean rapping or Jennifer Nettles singing with her stupid fake Jamaican accent if “Draw Me a Map” or “Will I Always Be This Way” was next on the playlist.” —Sam Gazdziak, The 9513

“In an August interview with Spinner, Ryan Bingham rejected the notion that he makes country music. Two weeks later, Bingham was named the Americana Music Association’s “Artist of the Year,” thanks in large part to his Academy Award-winning song “The Weary Kind,” a song he wrote for a movie about a country singer. In September, when asked about the state of country music today, rising star Justin Townes Earle told The Wall Street Journal that he’s embarrassed to be from Nashville because of the “shit songwriting, shit records and shit singers who are making a million dollars.” Even mainstream country stalwart Zac Brown distanced himself from the genre, telling American Songwriter in September, “The songs that I write are Southern, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them country.” It’s a shame — and an enormous loss for the genre — that the term “country music” has come to describe something so narrow that bright young artists like these choose not to identify themselves as country. Thank God for Jamey Johnson, who wears the mantle proudly.” —Jim Malec, American Twang

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Crunching the Numbers: January 2011

Feel that chill in the air?  It’s not just climate change, friends.  The music industry is suffering through historic lows in record sales, the worst since SoundScan started tallying them in 1991.

How are country artists faring?  Let’s take a look at cumulative sales for current albums. Sales are rounded to the nearest hundred.

Top Selling Current Country Albums

  1. Taylor Swift, Fearless: 6,233,900
  2. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift: 4,955,000
  3. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now: 3,138,700
  4. Taylor Swift, Speak Now: 3,078,600
  5. Zac Brown Band, The Foundation: 2,489,200
  6. Carrie Underwood, Play On: 1,937,041
  7. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum: 1,835,800
  8. Jason Aldean, Wide Open: 1,364,700
  9. Miranda Lambert, Revolution: 1,149,000
  10. Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1: 994,600
  11. Sugarland, The Incredible Machine: 815,200
  12. Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party:  766,300
  13. Tim McGraw, Southern Voice: 749,200
  14. George Strait, Twang: 670,200
  15. Kenny Chesney, Hemingway’s Whiskey: 655,200
  16. Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give: 636,000
  17. Rascal Flatts, Nothing Like This: 585,800
  18. Luke Bryan, Doin’ My Thing: 509,200
  19. Keith Urban, Get Closer: 508,200
  20. Brooks & Dunn, #1’s…and Then Some: 479,700
  21. Toby Keith, American Ride: 432,100
  22. Chris Young, The Man I Want to Be: 408,000
  23. Eric Church, Carolina: 380,600
  24. Darius Rucker, Charleston, SC 1966: 376,700
  25. The Band Perry, The Band Perry: 364,000
  26. Josh Turner, Haywire: 361,800
  27. Justin Moore, Justin Moore: 325,600
  28. Easton Corbin, Easton Corbin: 314,000
  29. Toby Keith, Bullets in the Gun: 279,400
  30. Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song: 256,300
  31. Gary Allan, Get Off on the Pain: 238,000
  32. Reba McEntire, All the Women I Am: 224,800
  33. Jerron Niemann, Judge Jerron & The Hung Jury: 222,700
  34. Billy Currington, Enjoy Yourself: 222,000
  35. Tim McGraw, Number One Hits: 220,500
  36. Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge: 204,900
  37. Zac Brown Band, Pass the Jar: 202,100
  38. Trace Adkins, Cowboy’s Back in Town: 194,200
  39. Johnny Cash, American VI: Ain’t No Grave: 190,100
  40. Brad Paisley, Hits Alive: 189,200
  41. Alan Jackson, 34 Number Ones: 181,000
  42. Blake Shelton, All About Tonight: 160,700
  43. Little Big Town, The Reason Why: 158,300
  44. Blake Shelton, Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton : 142,300
  45. Jaron and the Long Road to Love, Getting Dressed in the Dark: 119,700
  46. Josh Thompson, Way Out Here: 107,000
  47. Joe Nichols, Old Things New: 100,700
  48. Brantley Gilbert, Halfway to Heaven: 81,400
  49. Lee Brice, Love Like Crazy: 81,200
  50. Steel Magnolia, Steel Magnolia: 41,000
  51. Joey + Rory, Album Number Two: 34,100
  52. Randy Houser, They Call Me Cadillac: 30,900

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Single Review: Jason Aldean featuring Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”

I’m no purist, but there should be a lot more distance between what we call country music and this:

Kelly Clarkson’s got some powerful pipes, and she brings this track to life.  Aldean acquits himself nicely. But the sheer volume of noise that invades the track with the first chorus takes us straight into Monster Ballads territory.

This isn’t country music.  It just isn’t.

Written by Andy Gibbons, Paul Jenkins, and Jason Sellers

Grade: C

Listen: Don’t You Wanna Stay

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