Tag Archives: Keith Urban

2011 CMA Awards: Staff Picks and Predictions

It’s that time of year again!  The time when we all dutifully tune in to the CMA Awards show, raise our eyebrows at the “What the heck are they doing here?” award presenters, and afterwards complain about how totally un-country the whole show was.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait.

We’re pleased to share the Country Universe staff picks for this year’s CMA Awards, as well as our predictions of who the winners will be.  This year we have some highly competitive categories in which predicting the winners is quite difficult, leading to some significantly divergent picks among our writing staff.  Agree?  Disagree?  Join in the discussion in the comment thread below, and let us know.

The CMA Awards telecast will air on Wednesday, November 9, 8pm Eastern on ABC-TV.  We will be live blogging the show here at Country Universe, so do be sure to drop by and join in the fun!

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jason Aldean – Kevin
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
  • Keith Urban

Will Win:

  • Jason Aldean
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton - Dan, Leeann, Jonathan
  • Taylor Swift – Ben, Kevin, Tara
  • Keith Urban

Dan: I can imagine anyone but Urban taking it, but I like Jonathan’s logic.

Ben:  It’s hard to bet on the Entertainer award going to a female artist, but it seems Swift has undoubtedly had the biggest year of all the nominees.  Her album sold like hotcakes, and produced a trio of killer radio singles, while she topped that off with her Speak Now tour.  That combination should bag her this year’s top prize.

Leeann: Paisley could take it again, but my money’s on the CMA wanting to give it to fresh blood this year. Taylor Swift is who probably actually deserves it, however.

Jonathan:   Paisley is probably the most logical pick, but he didn’t figure as heavily into the nominations this year as he could have, so I’m wondering if the voters have cooled on him as much as the crew here at CU have of late. Swift’s live show should be a factor in this category, but she has a whole lot of gender bias to overcome, and there seems to be at least something of a backlash against her in the country community post-Fearless. Which leaves the ubiquitous Shelton, who has been something of a new “Everywhere Man” for the genre over the past year.

Kevin:  I think Swift will win because she had the highest profile year.  But I think Aldean defines the genre in 2011, for better or for worse.  Mostly worse.

Tara: As I’ve said before, this is the most appropriate way for the voters to reward Swift’s monster success, and for the first time at the CMAs, I truly feel she deserves this award. I’m particularly impressed with the way she continues to cultivate her relationship with her fans. I just hope the voters don’t pair this award with the FVOTY award.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jason Aldean - Dan, Ben
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Keith Urban - Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara

Will Win:

  • Jason Aldean – Dan, Ben
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton - Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Keith Urban

Dan:  Aldean’s not my thing, but he’s the biggest guy in the field by an unignorable margin. More than anything, I think the indie Broken Bow Records deserves props for building their flagship artist so well.

Ben:  I’m largely indifferent to this particular field of nominees (save possibly Keith Urban), but Aldean’s massive success should most likely nab him his first Male Vocalist trophy.

Leeann: Again, I think it’s Shelton’s night to sweep in order to shake things up this year. He and Urban have the strongest voices in the category anyway.

Jonathan:  Urban’s the only one of the lot who has released even one single I’ve liked in the past year, so he’d get my vote. Aldean has the commercial clout, sure, but quality has to count for something, right? Voters have looked at the word “Vocalist” in the category name and have passed over Chesney for years, and I wonder if they’ll do the same to Aldean here. I’m thinking yes.

Kevin: Urban’s the one who I can stand to listen to. But if Shelton was able to win last year, I don’t see how he loses this year. Not post-Voice and “Honey Bee.”

Tara: It makes me sad that I can’t find a solid reason to support Urban or Paisley, both of whom I used to feel passionately about. And in all honesty, I can’t find a solid reason to support any of these guys, based on their output during the eligibility period. I’m going to blindly back Urban –who, despite being “Urban-lite” these days, is at least consistent– and predict that Shelton’s amped public profile will give him the edge with voters.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Sara Evans – Kevin
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara

Will Win:

  • Sara Evans
  • Miranda Lambert – Dan, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift - Ben
  • Carrie Underwood

Dan:  Come ACM season, I’ll be all for Lambert; Pistol Annies and Four The Record prove she’s using her new commercial powers nobly. But I like Swift’s performances on Speak Now, and that album just applies more to this awards cycle.

Ben:  Swift is the overall strongest contender, but I could see voters seizing the opportunity to recognize Evans, who released a new album and had a number one single during the eligibility period.  I wouldn’t rule Lambert out either, though she didn’t have as strong a year as she did in 2010.  But I doubt this will be Underwood’s year, and McBride’s was essentially a filler nomination, so I’d say it’s down to Swift, Evans, and Lambert. (But, like Dan, I will totally be Team Miranda when the ACMs roll around)

Leeann: I reflexively say Lambert should win, but Swift has had the best year and will likely win as a result. I won’t be heart broken if Lambert takes it though.

Jonathan:  There’s a part of me that would vote for Lambert on principle and out of loyalty, but I can’t argue with a simple mathematical inequality: “Back to December,” “Mean,” and “Sparks Fly” > “Only Prettier,” “Heart Like Mine” and “Baggage Claim.” Had her label been campaigning harder that she’s never won this award, Evans could’ve been a bigger threat here, but Lambert’s ongoing momentum should carry her to a repeat win.

Kevin: Can this power couple nonsense be derailed?  Probably not, so while I’d rather see Swift get it over Lambert, I’m doubtful it would happen. My real fantasy would be for the only non-winner, Sara Evans, to take it.  For prosperity’s sake, and for actually putting out a great single that I failed to realize was great until it was already a hit.

Tara: This is a tough one for me. Lambert’s worked the genre like no other female has this past year and a half, but the singles she’s released in the eligibility period have been so-so. Swift’s put out some solid material, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to support her winning a vocalist award. And then there’s Underwood, who’s been relatively quiet on the radio front, but whose stunning performance of “How Great Thou Art” back in April went viral and serves as a reminder of what I firmly believe is one of the finest voices in the genre. I’m going with my gut and backing Underwood, but I think the voters will reward Lambert again, which is fine with me.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • The Civil Wars – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square

Will Win:

  • The Civil Wars
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Thompson Square

Dan:  Seriously, why not the Civil Wars? They’ve sold about as many albums (200,000-ish) as everyone besides Sugarland without the support of a major label. Not to mention they just made the most interesting music.

Ben:  I’m supporting the Civil Wars on principle, but it’s a no-brainer that Sugarland’s hot streak is not over yet.

Leeann: I love The Civil Wars. The end.

Jonathan:  Yet more evidence that this category should be merged with Vocal Group of the Year to cut the deadweight. Though the Civil Wars getting in instead of the JaneDear Girls is a nice testament to the fact that the CMAs, every so often, can exercise good taste and discretion.

Kevin:  Sugarland’s album was atrocious.  The Civil Wars are in the running for my favorite set of the year.  Easy call for me.

Tara: Can Sugarland hurry up and release a new, redeeming album, please?

Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara

Will Win:

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum – Tara
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin

Dan:  Lady A were between albums. Some variety this year, please.

Ben:  It’ hard to bet against Lady Antebellum, but the Zac Brown band gave us a strong album and two of the year’s most memorable hit singles (“As She’s Walking Away” and “Colder Weather”), and I predict that they will be rewarded justly.

Leeann: Zac Brown Band has a good chance with the best music in the category, but Lady A just might not be out yet.

Jonathan:  Little Big Town’s brilliant “Little White Church” should’ve put them back in the mix for good, but they really botched the single releases from their album and are right back to being also-rans. The Band Perry will settle for the “New Artist” award as a consolation prize this year, which leaves Lady A and Zac Brown Band to duke it out. In terms of the quality of their output, Zac Brown Band has Lady A dead to rights, but is that enough to stop the trio’s awards-show juggernaut? Let’s hope so.

Kevin:  Zac Brown Band is the only option both realistic and palatable.

Tara: This is the first of these categories that I feel strongly about this year. Based on the strength of You Get What You Give, Zac Brown Band deserves to nab this award, hands down. But I’ll go against my co-bloggers here and guess that Lady Antebellum still has the industry wrapped around its finger.

New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • The Band Perry - Ben
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church - Leeann, Jonathan
  • Thompson Square
  • Chris Young – Dan, Kevin, Tara

Will Win:

  • The Band Perry – Ben, Jonathan, Tara
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church – Dan, Leeann, Kevin
  • Thompson Square
  • Chris Young

Dan: Church seems the most likely to have a long, interesting career and probably deserves the win. I just don’t want to encourage “Homeboy,” I guess.

Ben:  Thompson Square and The Band Perry are the only two nominees whom I would still consider “new” artists, and I think The Band Perry beats Thompson Square any day.  Bryan, however, did reach a new level of stardom over the past year, so he stands a good chance at wining nonetheless.

Leeann: While it’s strange that with three albums Church is still in the New Artist category, it’s probably that same reason that he should win the award, not to mention that he had the strongest album of the nominees in the past year.

Jonathan:  Young’s the best singer in the field, but his material is still too inconsistent in quality for me to get on board with him. Church, on the other hand, finally made good on his early promise and his considerable hype with Chief and would be a deserving winner, as would the uneven but still pretty good The Band Perry. As the only nominee with any other nominations, they have to be considered the slight favorites over Crest WhiteStrips.

Kevin:  I think Church’s big breakthrough happened close enough to the voting window to give him a slight edge.  I’d like to see Chris Young get the boost from a win.

Tara: Of all the nominees, I’m the most excited for Chris Young’s future in country music – his vocal talent is tremendous, and even though it falls right outside of the eligibility period, Neon is one of my favorite releases of this year. Based on their other major nominations, though, I think The Band Perry will take this.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

Dan: Here’s a logical place to acknowledge Aldean, though I hope voters think twice about it.

Ben:  In my book, Swift and the Zac Brown Band are the only truly worthy winners (and I’m still scratching my head over why a Blake Shelton “Six Pak” was even nominated in the first place).  To me, the most intriguing thing about Swift is that she really does seem to get a little better and a little deeper with each album.  Speak Now is her crowning achievement to date, and in my opinion, the best album on this ballot.

Leeann: It hurts my heart to think it, but Jason Aldean’s big year will likely earn him the award for best album, even though numbers isn’t how such an award should be selected.

Jonathan:  Speak Now is Swift’s strongest album, but, “Mean” notwithstanding, it’s also her most unabashedly pop album. And song-for-song, I still think You Get What You Give is slightly better. But Aldean has been a steady seller, and he’s big enough that he has to win one of the major awards, and this one’s his best bet.

Kevin:  “All songs composed by Taylor Swift” impressed the heck out of me, not the least of which because the songs were far better than her earlier work.  Zac Brown Band’s a close second for me.

Tara: Speak Now is solid, but You Get What You Give is the better example of how to move this genre forward, with its delicious yet reverent mishmash of influences. But I think this is where the voters will recognize the often overlooked commercial success of Jason Aldean.

Single of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

Dan: It’d be heartening to see The Band Perry’s risky, rootsy release get its due. Plus: the single alone is 3x Platinum, better than any of its competitors can claim.

Ben:  “Colder Weather” and “If I Die Young” are the two strongest competitors, but for me, a cool folksy arrangement puts the latter over the edge.

Leeann: This is tough. I can actually see any of these singles winning, but I have a good feeling about “If I Die Young”, though I’d love to see “Colder Weather” prove me wrong.

Jonathan:  This one’s actually a tough call, since all five of the singles are big radio hits and everyone here has multiple nominations. “If I Die Young” is the best-produced single of the lot, but I’m predicting that Kelly Clarkson’s endless likability gives the edge to her duet with Aldean.

Kevin:  Love the Band Perry record most, followed by Sara Evans.  But this is the CMA awards, and Shelton managed to be both completely vanilla and namedrop Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.

Tara: If I better understood the story in “If I Die Young,” I might be able to get behind it, but I think “Colder Weather” is the more memorable single. It’s my favorite kind of country ballad – killer vocals, gripping melody and palpable emotion. I see the fiery Aldean / Clarkson collaboration taking this one, though. (By the way, dude, “Honey Bee” – really CMA?)

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Colder Weather” – Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey & Coy Bowles
  • “Dirt Road Anthem” – Brantley Gilbert & Colt Ford
  • “If I Die Young” – Kimberly Perry – Dan, Tara
  • “Mean” – Taylor Swift - Jonathan, Kevin
  • “You and Tequila” – Matraca Berg & Deana Carter - Ben, Leeann

Will Win:

  • “Colder Weather” – Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey & Coy Bowles
  • “Dirt Road Anthem” – Brantley Gilbert & Colt Ford
  • “If I Die Young” – Kimberly Perry – Dan, Ben, Jonathan, Tara
  • “Mean” – Taylor Swift - Kevin
  • “You and Tequila” – Matraca Berg & Deana Carter – Leann

Dan:  “If I Die Young” is a flawed composition, but it’s still the most striking and strange one here, and that’s worth something.

Ben:  I never though I’d see a CMA Song of the Year field in which Matraca Berg and Deana Carter would compete against Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert.  I would so love to see Berg and Carter win the award.  I might tend to be slightly biased when it comes to Matraca Berg, but I think “Tequila” is a fine composition on its own merits, and a worthy winner indeed.  Still, my gut predicion is that Perry will grab the trophy instead.

Leeann: “Mean” is probably my favorite song in terms of production and melody, but “You and Tequila” is the best song of the nominees.

Jonathan:  Berg is a treasure and I like Carter well enough, so it’s nice to see their names on the ballot again, but “You and Tequila” isn’t either of their best compositions. Here’s the thing about “Mean”: What doesn’t work about the song has everything to do with the fact that it shows the extent to which Swift still hasn’t fully figured out her artistic persona. But in terms of melody and overall construction as a stand-alone song? It’s the class of the field. As Dan said, “If I Die Young” is flawed, but it also has a lot going for it and will be a fine, worthy winner when it inevitably takes this.

Kevin: I love “You and Tequila”, but it’s an old song.  I’m glad Chesney rediscovered it, but I can’t see it as this year’s Song of the Year.  I think “Mean” is the best of the bunch, with the music as clever as the lyrics.

Tara: I’m with Jonathan and Leann re: “Mean” in that I agree its melody and overall construction are terrific; unfortunately its flaw –the bridge, which undermines the premise of the song– is too big for me to overlook. And as much as I love it, I don’t feel right backing “Colder Weather,” either, as it’s really Brown’s vocal performance that elevates the composition to a memorable song. So I’ll go with the quirky and unique “If I Die Young” and guess the voters will, too.

Musical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • “As She’s Walking Away” – Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson – Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow & 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

Will Win:

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

Dan:  The Single nod for Jason and Kelly suggests they have the edge here. But my heart echoes a resounding “Go on, son.”

Ben:  “As She’s Walking Away” is just so effortlessly charming that it would easily be my first pick, but the cross-genre appeal – and bonus Clarkson star power – of “Don’t You Wanna Stay” make it the most likely winner.  The fact that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is also nominated for Single (which “As She’s Walking Away” sadly isn’t) suggests a likely victory in this category.

Leeann: How can I not pull for the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson when I have a chance? I’m pretty confident that the drama, cross genre appeal, and, yup, the drama again, make “Don’t You Want to Stay” the sure bet though.

Jonathan:  “As She’s Walking Away” is one of the purest and truest duets in years, and it could pull some votes from the more traditionalist voters, but the Aldean and Clarkson single just has too much firepower to lose here.

Kevin:  If this doesn’t go to Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson, then I no longer understand how CMA voters think.

Tara: No question here, “As She’s Walking Away” is head and shoulders above the rest of the collaborations in this category, one of the most quietly charming singles we’ve heard on country radio in quite some time. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that voters will have trouble ignoring the warm fuzzies they get when Jackson starts singing.

Music Video of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

  • Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee” - Ben
  • The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”
  • Taylor Swift, “Mean”
  • Brad Paisley featuring Alabama, “Old Alabama” - Dan, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”

Dan: It’s my least favorite Paisley video ever, though.

Ben:  Swift’s “Mean” is my personal favorite among these nominees, but I’m expecting that voters will show some Shelton love instead.

Jonathan:  Paisley has to win something, right? And this also gives the voters a chance to honor some beloved genre vets.

Kevin: I think the video splicing tricks will give Paisley and Alabama an additional edge.  Of the five clips, “Mean” is the one I like the most.

Tara: I love the whimsical video for “Mean” but think (and actually kind of hope) the voters will use this category to award the show co-host and his buddies.

Musician of the Year

Should Win:

  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) - Dan, Ben, Leeann, Jonathan, Kevin, Tara
  • Dann Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar)
  • Randy Scruggs (guitar)

Will Win:

  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) - Leeann, Jonathan
  • Dann Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar) – Dan, Ben, Kevin, Tara
  • Randy Scruggs (guitar)

Dan: Default underdog support.

Ben:  I would love to see this go to the steel guitar man (and preferably not to Dann Huff), but Mac McAnally tends to be the favorite here.

Leeann: I want the steel guitar to represent this year. So, I’ll will it to happen.

Jonathan:  Franklin’s the only nominee who hasn’t won previously, and being regarded as long overdue eventually helped McAnally score his first win, leading to his current three-year hot streak.

Kevin:  I’ll be rooting for Paul Franklin until he finally wins, but I won’t believe that he’ll win until he finally does.

Tara: What Ben and Kevin said.


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100 Greatest Men: #76. Keith Urban

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Australia’s had its own country music scene for generations. With Keith Urban, they scored their biggest export to date.

Urban began singing and playing guitar from an early age. Though born in New Zealand, he moved to Australia as a small child. By age eight, he’d already won talent contests. As he got older, his exposure throughout the country increased. He appeared on various television programs and soon landed a recording contract.

In 1990, he released the first of four singles in Australia from his self-titled album, Keith Urban. By 1992, he’d moved to Nashville and worked as a session guitarist. As he earned a reputation for his guitar prowess and other musical talents, he began to play in a band called The Ranch. Capitol signed the band in the mid-nineties, but their album didn’t make a big impact.

Urban resurfaced as a solo artist, releasing a second self-titled set. After one single dented the top twenty, he topped the charts with “Your Everything”, starting an uninterrupted string of top ten hits that has yet to be broken. He had his big commercial breakthrough with his second solo set for Capitol, Golden Road, which sold triple platinum and featured the Grammy-winning ballad, “You’ll Think of Me.”

Urban reached his commercial peak with his next set, Be Here. The set sold four million copies, produced several long-running # hits, and led to Urban dominating the awards circuit, including several Male Vocalist trophies and a CMA for Entertainer of the Year. Urban followed with the double platinum Love, Pain, and the Whole Crazy Thing, which earned him another Grammy for the album’s hit single, “Stupid Girl.”

Though his album sales have cooled slightly, he remains one of the genre’s most consistent sellers, pushing past platinum in an era where most artists struggle to sell gold. As he enters his second decade of success, he remains a staple at radio, and his live shows continue to pack arenas.

Essential Singles:

  • Somebody Like You, 2002
  • You’ll Think of Me, 2004
  • Days Go By, 2004
  • Making Memories of Us, 2005
  • I Told You So, 2007

Essential Albums:

  • The Ranch, 1997
  • Golden Road, 2002
  • Be Here, 2004
  • Love, Pain, and the Whole Crazy Thing, 2006
  • Defying Gravity, 2009

Next:  #75. Jim Ed Brown

Previous: #77. John Conlee

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Album Review: Scotty McCreery, Clear as Day


Scotty McCreery

Clear as Day

In listening to American Idol winner Scotty McCreery’s debut album, it becomes all too clear that either McCreery is being carefully reared by the unabashedly commercial-minded execs of 19 Entertainment… or that he simply enjoys playing follow-the-leader.  The former is most likely, but almost every track on Clear as Day sounds like an emulation of the style of one of country radio’s favorite hitmakers.  We get to hear Scotty McCreery play Montgomery Gentry.  We get to hear Scotty McCreery play Kenny Chesney.  But there are precious few moments in which it sounds like Scotty McCreery is being Scotty McCreery.

“Water Tower Town” sounds like something lifted out of the Montgomery Gentry reject pile circa 2002.  “Better Than That” carries a strong thematic resemblance to Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” with nothing about it’s story structure feeling at all urgent or revelatory.  On another note, it comes as no surprise that “Walk In the Country” was co-written by Urban, as the track clearly has Urban written all over it. (Think “Where the Blacktop Ends”)  Such style-mimicking demonstrates the fact that, as a whole, Clear as Day falls into the common trap in which commercialism overshadows an album’s artistic merits.

Somewhat oddly, it’s the two singles released thus far that represent the album at its absolute worst.  “I Love You This Big” scans as a grammatically-awkward piece of schmaltz with an uninspired production and a dull, auto-tuned vocal.  “The Trouble with Girls” merely sounds like a cute little basket of cliches, as if the writers were more concerned with struggling to find words that rhyme than connecting with a listener on more than a surface level.  At the same time, the dramatic orchestral swells in the bridge make the song sound like it’s taking itself way too seriously.  It’s all too obvious that the songs’ sole purpose of existence is to serve as inoffensive distractions between radio commercials.  They are so carefully calculated so as to make no negative impression that they end up making hardly any impression at all.

In most cases, lyrics rarely scratch below surface level.  High school hallways serve as a common stage setting – Little surprise, given McCreery’s age of 18 – with many of the tracks playing like gender-flipped versions of Taylor Swift songs, minus the authenticity and distinct perspective.  The title tracks recalls a few mundane details of an encounter with a romantic flame, only to settle for a clumsy grasp at the heart strings by killing the girl off in the end.  The songs that work are those that emphasize the melodies and Scotty’s performances above the generally mediocre lyrical content.  “Write My Number On My Hand” finds McCreery turning in what is possibly his most engaged performance of the set, with a wink-wink country boy charm that effectively sells the silly lyrics.  But that’s not to say that all of the songs are lyrical duds.  With “Dirty Dishes,” McCreery taps into the universally acceptable country radio theme of faith, and offers a take that is actually interesting.  The song (written by Neil Thrasher, Michael Delaney, and Tony Martin) portrays the narrator’s mother saying “the strangest prayer ever said,” in which she thanks God for dirty dishes, noisy children, slamming doors, et cetera, and then highlighting the positive aspects of common domestic annoyances.  Less effectively, however, “That Old King James” scans as an inferior “Three Wooden Crosses”-wannabe.  It tracks the life journey of a King James Bible as it is passed down through different family members, but it lacks a clear message to serve as a form of listener payoff.

At its best, Clear as Day continues to offer glimpses of the substantial well of talent McCreery possesses.  But at the same time, that talent sounds like it’s a long way from being fully realized.  He’s not Josh Turner.  He’s not George Strait.  He’s not John Michael Montgomery.  But when it comes to portraying who Scotty McCreery is as an artist, Clear paints a picture that is disappointingly murky.

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100 Greatest Men: #78. Brad Paisley

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A musician since receiving his first guitar at age eight, Brad Paisley emerged in the late nineties and became the most consistently successful radio artist in the decade that followed.

Paisley’s career began in earnest when he penned his first song at age twelve, “Born On Christmas Day.”  His junior high principal invited him to perform at a local function. He was spotted by a representative of Jamboree USA, and after one performance, he was invited to join the cast.

Over the next eight years, Paisley performed in West Virginia, opening up for major country acts when they visited the area.  After completing a two year stint at Belmont University in Nashville, he was immediately signed to a publishing deal with EMI.   After penning hits for David Kersh and David Ball, he signed with Arista Records.

His debut album, Who Needs Pictures, featured two top #1 hits.  The first one, “He Didn’t Have to Be”, began a string of award show nominations that continues through this day.   As the 2000s progressed, he reaped awards for his collaborations with Alison Krauss, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, Little Jimmy Dickens, and George Jones.

Paisley was the first male artist since Earl Thomas Conley to score ten consecutive #1 hits on the Billboard charts.  His innovative videos incorporated appearances from Hollywood television stars, often satirizing their own public images to humorous effect.  At the peak of his popularity, Paisley showcased his Grammy-winning instrumental skills. With Play, he became the first mainstream country artist since Steve Wariner to release a largely instrumental album.

Now a touring powerhouse, Paisley collected his first Entertainer trophy from the CMA in 2010, joining shelves full of awards for Male Vocalist, Single, Album, Music Video, and Musical Event from all three major industry organizations.  Most recently, he has scored #1 hits collaborating with Alabama and then Carrie Underwood. The latter collaboration, “Remind Me”, became his fourth platinum-selling digital single, following “Whiskey Lullaby”, “She’s Everything”,  and “Then.”

Essential Singles:

  • He Didn’t Have to Be, 1999
  • I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song), 2002
  • Whiskey Lullaby (with Alison Krauss), 2004
  • When I Get Where I’m Going (with Dolly Parton), 2005
  • Letter to Me, 2007
  • Waitin’ On a Woman, 2008

Essential Albums:

  • Mud On the Tires, 2003
  • Time Well Wasted, 2005
  • 5th Gear, 2007
  • American Saturday Night, 2009

Next: ?

Previous: #79. Hank Locklin

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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100 Greatest Men: #81. Eagles

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

You can count their country hits on one hand, and still have fingers to spare.  But the Eagles did more to shape the sound of country music than any rock band before or since.

It was another country rocker, the legendary Linda Ronstadt, that nudged the band into existence.  Looking for musicians to back her on record and on stage, the founding members – Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner – performed on her 1971 eponymous album.   With her encouragement, they decided to form a band of their own.

From the time they released their debut album in 1972 until they ended their initial run with 1979’s The Long Run, the Eagles produced rock music that was heavily laced with country instrumentation.   The sound was most prevalent in their earlier work, and while they’d only score one top ten hit at country radio, “Lyin’ Eyes”, they still managed to score a Vocal Group nomination at the CMA Awards.

The country connection to their work was forgotten until the nineties, when a tribute album called Common Thread brought together the nineties country superstars who were most influenced by the band’s work.   Anyone who wondered why so many middle-aged rock fans suddenly embraced country music in the early nineties can have their questions answered by that tribute album.  Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, and Vince Gill covered Eagles classics faithfully, and the end result was a collection of performances that reflected just how similar their own work was to that of the Eagles.

The tribute album won the CMA for Album of the Year, and its commercial success inspired the Eagles to reunite for their Hell Freezes Over tour and subsequent album.   When they decided to make their first studio album in almost three decades, they targeted the country market directly. Long Road Out of Eden topped the country albums chart and produced a Grammy-winning country hit with “How Long.”   When they hit the road to support the album, they did so with the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban.

Essential Singles:

  • Take it Easy, 1972
  • Lyin’ Eyes, 1975
  • Take it to the Limit, 1975
  • Hotel California, 1976
  • Heartache Tonight, 1979

Essential Albums:

  • Desperado, 1973
  • One Of These Nights, 1975
  • Hotel California, 1976
  • The Long Run, 1979
  • Long Road Out of Eden, 2007

Next: #80. The Everly Brothers

Previous: #82. Fiddlin’ John Carson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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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: Keith Urban, “Long Hot Summer”

The closest he’s come in two albums to capturing his old uptempo spark. Maybe that’s because he’s found his banjo again, and it pokes some much-needed holes in the thick layer of polish. Or maybe it’s because he dares to be a little lusty – “waiting on the sun to go down,” with his passion rising like (nice touch) a lake in heat.

Either way, it works, if in a disposable way. It could even function as a prequel to the melancholy “‘Til Summer Comes Around.” But Urban’s so revved up here that you hope not.

Written by Keith Urban and Richard Marx

Grade: B

Listen: Long Hot Summer

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rodney Crowell

As most of my favorite artists tend to be, Rodney is talented in multiple ways. Not only does he have a charismatic voice, he’s an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer. He has used these talents for himself, but has also shared them with many other artists. In fact, high-profile artists like Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Chely Wright, among many others, have benefited from his musicianship, compositions and producing abilities.

In this feature, we will focus on some of the best Rodney Crowell songs–whether they were big hits, minor hits or unreleased album tracks—but these twenty-five songs certainly do not do enough justice to this man’s contribution to country music. As a result, look for an accompanying Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters feature on Rodney Crowell to come soon.

#25
“You’ve Been on My Mind”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

The lyrics are a little ambiguous, but it’s clear that this is a lonesome song about love lost. Crowell can do a lonesome song with the best of them and he does just that here.

#24
“Telephone Road”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

With an infectious, driving production, “Telephone Road” depicts Crowell’s childhood with fondness (an ice cream from the ice cream truck was only 5 cents), but without the irresponsible nostalgia that seems to afflict many such songs of today (I’m looking at you Bucky Covington). To be totally shallow, this is one to blast on some good speakers.

#23
“Adam’s Song”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

Anyone who has experienced the passing of a loved one knows the reality that Crowell sings about. As he knowingly observes, “We’ll keep learning how to live with a lifelong broken heart.”

#22
“Many A Long and Lonesome Highway”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

This is the first song I’d ever heard by Rodney Crowell. At the time, I had just gotten into country music and the song was already four or five years old, but I had no idea of his history. I simply thought it was a great, melodic song. I still do.

#21
“Song for the Life”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

To me, this song sounds mature and reflective, from a man who has lived and learned. However, in a 2005 20 Questions interview with CMT, Rodney reveals that he wrote this song when he was a mere twenty-one years old. And, is that Willie Nelson I hear singing background vocals? Yes, it is.

#20
“Fate’s Right Hand”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

The title track of the critically acclaimed Fate’s Right Hand explores changing times and injustices much better than Toby Keith’s “American Ride” does.

#19
“Topsy Turvy”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This song vividly paints the picture of Crowell’s parents’ abusive relationship. It’s from his perspective as the fully aware child who witnesses the turbulence. He doesn’t mince words throughout the song, but especially when he admits, “I cross my heart and tell myself ‘I hope they die’”. He also details the lack of meaningful response from neighbors and police officers.

#18
“Beautiful Despair

from the 2005 album The Outsider

It’s not a feeling that one wants to embrace often, but there are times when leaning into that feeling of despair propels one to action or at least some needed introspection. From this song, it’s likely that despair has played a beautiful function in his life.

#17
“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

Emmylou Harris was one of the first people to record a Rodney Crowell song and what a gem it is. While Harris’ recording of it is the strongest and most exuberant version, Crowell’s version is great too.

#16
“This Too Will Pass”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

What I like about a Rodney Crowell penned inspirational song is that it’s not embarrassing to listen to. It’s inspiring without sounding like a page from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

#15
“My Baby’s Gone” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2003 album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

From the excellent Louvin Brothers tribute album, one of the many shining moments is this duet from Rodney and Emmylou Harris. It just cements the fact that they need to do a duets album. Stat!

#14
“The Rock of My Soul”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

While this song is not strictly autobiographical, it is a chilling representation of Crowell’s tumultuous experiences with his father.

#13
“Dancin’ Circles Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Here’s another example of Rodney Crowell inspiring without sickening.

#12
“After All This Time”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

If you’re not listening carefully, you might think this is a pretty love song. It, however, is a wistful love song to a relationship that no longer exists.

#11
“I Walk the Line Revisited” (With Johnny Cash)

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This is a joyful account of the first time Crowell heard Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” on the radio as a kid. It’s an obvious full circle moment when Cash sings an altered melody of the classic on Crowell’s song about it.

#10
“We Can’t Turn Back”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

In his gentle but no nonsense way, Crowell explores the notion that we can’t change the past, which means that we can only focus on the present and what we can do to make it better.

#9
“Artemis and Orion”

from the 2003 digital release Lost Tracks

Supported by a delightfully simple production and memorable tune, Rodney sings a version of the story of Artemis and Orion from Greek Mythology. I’m not sure of the origins of the song, since it seems to have been randomly recorded by Crowell, but it is fun to listen to.

#8
“’Til I Gain Control Again”

from the 1981 album Rodney Crowell

Crowell has written several songs that have become classics for him and for others. “’Til I Gain Control Again” was first recorded by Emmylou Harris in the mid-seventies, then made famous by Crystal Gayle in the early eighties and subsequently recorded by many artists over the years. Crowell’s own version is beautifully sung with just the right air of forlornness.

#7
“Things that Go Bump in the Day”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

I hardly even know what this song means, but I still love it for its bouncy production, unshakable melody and Crowell’s energy while singing it. I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

#6
“The Outsider”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

The effective use of horns in this bluesy soul infused song is enough to hook me, but the theme of being okay with being different is something to embrace too.

#5
“Things I Wish I Said”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

Much has been written and said about Rodney Crowell’s difficult relationship with his violent father, but the end of that story is that they found a way to heal their relationship and turn it into something healthy and tender. This song is personal to Crowell as it describes the relief that he feels that he has no regrets with the passing of his father. Likewise, it is a universal sentiment that most of us can relate to as well.

#4
“She’s Crazy for Leaving”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

I love this song because both the melody and the song’s vividly painted story are equally funky. The scene that’s created for the song is fodder for a hilarious and ridiculous comedy sketch.

#3
“Riding Out the Storm”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

A not so beautiful picture is underscored by a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics. That’s one of Rodney Crowell’s effortless songwriting talents.

#2
“Making Memories of Us”

from the 2004 album The Notorious Cherry Bombs

Keith Urban is who made this song famous and Crowell a little richer, but Rodney Crowell, backed by Vince Gill, is who makes it a fine treasure. Written for his wife as a last minute Valentine’s Day gift, it’s a tender love song that rivals most modern songs of its ilk. It’s one of those “action” songs that I especially love. He’s not just promising to love her, but also pledging to be an active part of their relationship in order to create meaningful memories.

#1
“Shelter from the Storm” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Again, there’s no reason that Emmylou and Rodney shouldn’t make a duets album together. With sublime vocal chemistry, they turn this Bob Dylan song into something entirely different than what it once was. Instead of having to dig for the gem, they put it out there front and center for us. It’s gorgeous and it’s their interpretation that makes it so.

In “Beautiful Despair”, Crowell acknowledges the depth of Bob Dylan’s songwriting and his feelings of inadequacy when compared to Dylan’s ability. He sings: “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan/ When you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are/ No matter what you’ll never write like him.”

As a Dylan fan, it may be heresy to think it, but methinks Rodney Crowell is being too hard on himself. It is not a knock on Rodney Crowell’s incredible songwriting that I chose a song that he did not write as my top Crowell song, but rather, a testament to his ability to interpret a legendary song well enough to make it his own.

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Single Review: Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”

In some parallel universe where I had actual musical talent and the opportunity to record an album, I suspect I’d forgo the pile of demo tapes sent to unknown artists and just look for awesome album cuts from great songwriters.

Matraca Berg’s catalog of recorded cuts would be a good place to start, an epiphany that serves Kenny Chesney well.  Berg is usually associated with female artists, and indeed, this song was originally recorded by Deana Carter, who also co-wrote the song.   But Berg’s pen has been responsible for some great moments from Keith Urban and Randy Travis, so it’s no surprise that Chesney does well with this one.

Chesney sings it with more personality and general presence than Carter did, and the record also benefits from picking up the pace toward the end, a choice that would have elevated Berg’s own version as well.  The harmony vocal of Grace Potter isn’t essential until the song starts to fade away, but it does ease some of the loneliness embedded in the lyric.

All in all, it’s just nice to hear Chesney singing a great song again.

Written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter

Grade: A-

Listen: You and Tequila

 

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 19

Today’s category is…

A Song You Hate by an Artist You Love.

Here are the staff picks:

Kevin Coyne: “Honk if You Honky Tonk” – George Strait

Not even Trace Adkins would cut this.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course he would.

But it should be beneath the stature of a legend like George Strait.  His talent helped him pull of “Write This Down” and “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You”, but there was no saving this one.

Leeann Ward: “Pretty Little Adriana” – Vince Gill

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time likely knows about my love for Vince Gill’s music and even his character. I don’t, however, love every song that he sings, which is probably why I don’t understand those super fans who love every song that their favorite artists sing. That’s certainly not the case for me.

Vince has some album tracks that I don’t like, but one single in particular that has never sat well with me is “Pretty Little Adriana.” The melody is plodding, but my bigger problem is that Vince has said that it was inspired by a missing child by the name of Adriana, but the lyrics sound like an intimately longing love song. And even if it was only very loosely inspired by a child (as fictional license might allow), I still don’t like “little” to be applied to a woman, as in “the little woman,” or in this case, “Pretty little Adriana.”

Dan Milliken: “Why’s it Feel So Long” – Keith Urban

About him sitting on the couch and calling Nicole a half-hour after she’s left for the airport ‘cause he just loves her sOooOoOoOO much. Jack Johnson would gag.

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