Please stop covering “Like a Prayer.”
It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again: the 2011 Grammy Awards air this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern. Country music has its hand in the Grammy pot via major nominations for Lady Antebellum, performances by Miranda Lambert, Lady A and Martina McBride, and appearances by Keith Urban, Zac Brown, Blake Shelton and Kris Kristofferson. We’ve picked and predicted the awards below – chime in with your own thoughts, and stop by on Sunday night for our live blog!
Kevin: In a field of newer artists, Eminem is the established veteran that is overdue for this award. It helps that he also made the best album of his career, as well as of the five nominees.
Dan: I could actually see Lady A coming out on top, since they’ve moved a lot of units and are the least divisive act here. But Recovery was a big comeback, and NARAS likes to use this award as a lifetime achievement thing. I don’t like that tendency, though; I’d rather we just reward the best set. To me, that was Arcade Fire’s ambitious concept album.
Tara: I really respect The Suburbs and really dig Recovery. Both are deserving, but Eminem probably has the edge with NARAS for the reasons stated above. (PS – I’m still not over it. TEENAGE DREAM?)
Kevin: Perhaps it’s an instinctual reaction as a native New Yorker, but I still get chills every time I hear “Empire State of Mind.” Jay-Z’s casual “Long live the World Trade” in the second verse perfectly captures how our city moved briskly forward after 9/11 like we always do, but we haven’t forgotten it.
No Urban or Hip-Hop record has ever won this award, so it pains me to predict that Lady Antebellum will triumph over four better records. I hope I’m wrong.
Dan: Cee Lo’s viral novelty hit was one of last year’s biggest delights. I could see this award going to any track but “Nothin’ On You,” but suspect voters will probably go with the least edgy track.
Tara: I could make an argument for four of the five songs here, but I can’t peel myself away from Green’s personality-packed throwback hit that practically begs you to love it. And do I. I agree with Dan and Kevin, though, that Lady A will take this.
Kevin: I think the biggest hurdle for “The House That Built Me” was getting the nomination. It really stands out in this field. It used to be rare for the Song victor to not be nominated for Record, but it has happened three times in the last seven years, including last year.
Tara: I’d honestly be happy to see any of these songs win. I’ll back “The House That Built Me” and just take a guess that the voters will, too.
Kevin: I dig Mumford & Sons the most, but Drake seems to be the guy to beat.
Dan: I think Mumford has the most potential going forward. They’re got a dark-horse shot at the win, too, though Drake does seem like the most logical choice. Bieber’s by far the biggest name right now, but NARAS didn’t give it to tween-fave forerunners Hanson or Jonas Brothers, so…
Tara: Ditto. Although I have an unexplainable inkling that the Bieber might nab the award.
Kevin: I think Bentley made the best record, and perhaps the slew of collaborators will help raise its profile with voters. Usually the country album nominated for overall Album wins this award, but I’m thinking that Lambert’s recent awards streak will continue here.
Dan: I pick Johnson by a nose, but genuinely like every album here besides Need You Now. Hoping Kevin’s right about that one.
Leeann: Like Kevin said, Bentley deserves to win and I hope he does, but I think Lambert’s album may win due to accessibility and her reputation for artistic integrity.
Tara: Up on the Ridge and Revolution both hit my sweet spot: they straddle the line between reverent and relevant and make me genuinely excited about country music’s future. Bentley’s album is the better of the two (and the best of the bunch) – but I think Lambert’s will pick up the most votes.
Kevin: This is Lambert’s best shot at a Grammy. Underwood will threaten, as always, but I think the strength of this song makes it tough to beat.
Leeann: Lambert’s signature song is the strongest and likely most long-lasting of the bunch.
Tara: Lambert and Underwood turn in two of the most emotive, powerful performances of their careers, but “The House That Built Me” is undeniably the better song. Since Underwood’s Grammy streak seems to be up for now, I think the voters will side with Lambert.
Kevin: I am not going to complain about Urban winning again for my favorite single from his last two albums. But Toby Keith is way overdue in this category, and he’s nominated for one of his best vocal performances to date.
Dan: Nail’s nuanced performance brought what could have been a very rote song to life. And his career could use the boost.
Leeann: I think the Grammy voters will reflexively give the award to Keith Urban, but Toby Keith’s song is the most poignant of the nominees.
Tara: Urban’s got his hold on this category, but I’m in Young’s corner. His slow-burning hit is as charming as it is sexy, which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. And that voice.
Kevin: I think it’s a race between Lady Antbellum and Zac Brown Band, with LA in the lead. But the SteelDrivers get the annual “song I discovered because it was nominated for a Grammy and fell in love with after hearing it” award from me.
Leeann: The SteelDriver’s song is my favorite with Little Big Town at a close second, but I suspect that Lady A won’t be shut out for such a hugely popular radio hit across the board.
Tara: Dear NARAS: since “Single Ladies” got screwed over for ROTY last year, please show Little Big Town some love for their crazy awesome countrified version. It’s just as good…maybe even better?
Kevin: Best collaboration in a very long time. Love hearing an artist from my youth playing elder statesman so well.
Leeann: It’s difficult for me to imagine that “As She’s Walking Away” won’t be rewarded for both its popularity and the significance of the still active veteran, Alan Jackson, dispensing wisdom to the up-and-coming bright stars of country music in the Zac Brown Band.
Tara: I love the groove of “Bad Angel,” but its collaboration isn’t nearly as dynamic nor as fitting as that of “As She’s Walking Way.” I can’t imagine any “wise man” but Jackson pulling up a stool next to Brown in this song.
Kevin: Punch Brothers are approaching Nickel Creek levels of awesomeness. Possibly exceeding them.
Leeann: Kevin’s right. Even as someone who isn’t typically fond of instrumentals, I dig those of the Punch Brothers.
Kevin: My heart is owned by “If I Die Young”, but I think that “The House That Built Me” is objectively the best song.
Leeann: While The Band Perry’s song sounds the coolest, the writing for “The House That Built Me” is clear frontrunner for the best song of the year. It deserves and likely will be recognized as such, especially since it was both very critically acclaimed and successful as a single.
Tara: No question “The House That Built Me” is the best written song of the group, and I think it’ll be recognized as such.
Kevin: Kudos to Loveless for her nomination, but I like the SteelDrivers set more.
Kevin: So I think Staples is nominated for an awesome gospel album and Nelson for an awesome country album. This category is confusing.
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
There was a lot of good music out there in 2010, provided you knew where to look. Sometimes, you could even find it on the radio. Here are the top ten albums of 2010, according to our staff:
With the charisma of Clay Walker and the chops of George Strait, Easton Corbin sauntered onto the mainstream country music scene with a hit song that –refreshingly– name-checked “country” in all the right ways. He needs no such affirmation, though, as his debut album is a collection of effortlessly neo-traditionalist songs, ripe with sincerity. It’s fair to compare Corbin to his obvious influences, but there’s something about the natural, youthful effervescence he brings to his music that makes it sparkle all on its own. – Tara Seetharam
Like an old, trusted friend, Freight Train is easy to take for granted – and that’s a shame, because it’s as rousing as any of the boundary-pushing albums released this year. Jackson returns to his signature sound on this album, sinking comfortably into the set of twelve songs but never skimping on emotional investment. From the smoking “Freight Train” to the exquisite “Till the End” to the shuffling “I Could Get Used To This Loving Thing,” Jackson reminds us that his formula of bare-bones authenticity and quiet charm is as relevant and rewarding as ever. – TS
Our look back at the year’s best singles comes to a close, with unprecedented CU consensus at the top of the list. The top two singles of the year were ranked in that order by three of our four writers, and both appeared in the top ten of the fourth writer.
Here’s our ten best of 2010:
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1
Draw Me a Map
Bentley is getting a lot of deserved attention for sonically diverging from the mainstream to create a bluegrass-inspired album. It’s an excellent album, but to his credit, “Draw Me A Map” isn’t so far removed from some of the unreleased songs on his first two mainstream projects; It’s just that he gets to shine a finer focus on it for this album, and therefore, this seemingly subversive song for radio gets to be released. The inspired blend of Bentley’s ragged voice with Alison Krauss’ angelic one takes the song to an even sweeter level. – Leeann Ward
Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that “Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution.” He was talking, in context, about marriage. The truth is that no one enters a relationship completely free of burden, and only by submitting to the complications of that truth can we avoid being ruled by them. Wright, for her part, manages the task with simple, earnest grace, probably strengthening her relationship through mere acknowledgment of its weaknesses. – Dan Milliken
Drop On By
Laura Bell Bundy
Unlike the year’s other booze-induced lover’s call, “Drop On By” isn’t rooted in emotional dependency; it’s fueled by Bundy’s earthy physical longing – and what a longing that is. Proving her masterful interpretative skills, Bundy churns out a slow-burning performance that’s both deftly controlled and achingly sensual, with just a tinge of playful warmth woven through. The song’s kicker, though, is the smoky throwback arrangement – a delicious mix of blues, jazz and country – that not only fits Bundy like a glove, but pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a great country record. – Tara Seetharam
Giddy On Up
Laura Bell Bundy
The most interesting and surprising debut single that I can remember. So many creative and unexpected choices are made, but it is Bundy’s forceful personality that pulls it all together into something cohesive. In an era of country music that is little more than dull shades of gray, “Giddy On Up” is a Technicolor marvel. – Kevin Coyne
As She’s Walking Away
Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
A young man just about chickens out of approaching the radiant girl across the bar, panicking that “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” Luckily, Wise Older Man At Bar can see exactly what’s going on and nudges Junior into action. A bit silly, but the single radiates such warmth that you gobble it up. And if there was a more motivational moment in 2010 than Alan Jackson’s spoken “Go on, son,” well, I didn’t hear it. – DM
Smoke a Little Smoke
Church finally puts his music where his mouth is, delivering an unapologetic, roguish (for country radio, anyway) ode to escapism by intoxication. The erratic musical flow evokes the very physical sensations the song celebrates, and Church’s swagger makes bumming sound almost appealing. Turns out that if you stop talking about being a badass for long enough, you may just manage to kinda be one. – DM
If I Die Young
The Band Perry
“If I Die Young” arrives like a gift from an alternate universe, one where the public’s embrace of Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and O Brother was treated as a road map for the genre’s future, not just a passing interest that needn’t be cultivated. – KC
Stuck Like Glue
Every once and awhile, a piece of ear candy comes along that defies the term “ear candy.” That’s what “Stuck Like Glue” is, to be sure: an infectious acoustic-pop morsel, invigorated by Nettles’ insanely joyful performance and a genre-busting breakdown. But there’s something about the song that puts it on another plane. Maybe it’s the organic energy, or maybe it’s the lack of artistic inhibition. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that “Stuck Like Glue” doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. It just is. And as a result, it’s that rare breed of song that taps into your spirit – that demands you to stop thinking, start feeling and have a damn good time. – TS
Little White Church
Little Big Town
It probably owes some theme to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” but Little Big Town’s swampy sleeper hit is the coolest-sounding country single of the year all on its own. From handclaps to snarling electric licks, creepy whispers to gospel-esque call-and-response choruses, “Little White Church” is a potent reminder of all the creativity still bubbling under in Music City. – DM
The House That Built Me
Miranda Lambert’s career defining song is also our song of the year. Not much can be said about this gorgeous ode to childhood memories that hasn’t already been said better by countless writers before me, including our very own Dan Milliken, which helps make the case for what’s inevitably the song of the year on many 2010 countdowns.
Its all-acoustic, understated arrangement underscores the story of a woman who tries to find solace in the memories buried in a structure that was more than a house. Its descriptive lyrics move us as they detail memories from turning blueprints into the family dream home to the heartbreak of losing the family dog.
As it is always is with the best songs, “The House that Built Me” does not hit us over the head with its emotional resonance. It’s strong, it’s palpable, but it’s all done with gentleness, which is the most effective way to tug at the heartstrings. – LW
Check out the rest of the list:
Here are the ten singles that were almost the best of the year:
The Best Singles of 2010, Part 3: #20-#11
Poised, calculated and ferocious all at once, Rimes’ performance captures the exact persona of the scorned “ex-wives and old girlfriends” she sings of. It’s a wiser, cooler revenge anthem than we’ve heard in awhile, and it takes the crown for the year’s most fabulous opening line: “Who’d have guessed that Aqua Net could start a fire with a single cigarette?” – Tara Seetharam
What Do You Want
A contemporary spin on the standard country theme of heartache, “What Do You Want” owes its brilliance to its perfect storm of elements: The raw honesty of Niemann’s plea (“I get so tired of living like this/I don’t have the time/Neither do my friends”). The hollow, pulsing arrangement that mirrors his cycle of pain. The killer vocal performance, soaked in emotional fatigue. Each element draws out the potency of the next, culminating in one of the most captivating releases of the year. – TS
Steal You Away
Randy Rogers Band
If you can say anything about Randy Rogers, it’s that he emotes somberness in every note that he sings. In this song, he is tortured by the knowledge that the object of his affection is not properly appreciated by the man that she’s currently with. More than anything, he’d like to steal her away from her loveless relationship, but moral boundaries stop him from carrying out his desire. – Leeann Ward
Little Big Town
If you love somebody, set them free. Easy to say, maybe even easy to do, but what’s left behind is empty and cold. This powerful song explores that truth with subtlety and sincerity. – Kevin Coyne
I heard Sonia Dada’s Dan Pritzker wrote this goodbye number when his real-life lover forgot to make him a pot of coffee or something. That should give you a good sense of the depth here. But a ditty like “Lover, Lover” is really only about one thing: achieving a compulsive singalong. And it gets that job done ably, even offering equal opportunity for all voice parts with its thick, stacked harmonies. – Dan Milliken
Judging from what I’ve heard people say about this song, I don’t think there’s any middle ground on this one. Either turn the radio off in disgust, or turn it up and sing along. – KC
Memories. The very best ones are stripped of all the reality that existed in the moment. All the irks and irritations and utter banality of every day life fade away in hindsight, and all that’s left is the warm comfort of knowing that in a certain moment of time, you were there and so were they. There isn’t a reference to Christmas in “Still”, but the holidays make it feel that much more real. Achingly real. – KC
Rain is a Good Thing
One of the more charming frat-country hits in recent years, as Bryan celebrates how precipitation in a farm town nourishes both the crops and the spirit. Oh, and helps him get some! Yeah, bro!!! – DM
It’s always a bold move to try to recapture the novelty of an already dubbed novelty song. Instead of recreating what John Anderson had already done with “Swingin’”, LeAnn Rimes wisely reinvents the tune by ramping things up up with a jaunty, high octane production that dares us to try to sit still. The result is one of the most energetic, free spirited songs of the year. – Leeann Ward
High school nostalgia songs are typical these days, but Nail’s soars above most others with a sensitive performance that brings each little detail to life. Annoyingly loud production toward the end keeps the single from home-run territory, but unfortunately that’s pretty typical now, too. – DM
Check out the rest of the list:
When the nominees were announced in August for the 44th annual CMA Awards, they sparked a firestorm of headlines –and thoughtful commentary by critics and fans alike– thanks to the CMA voters’ surprisingly bold moves. It’s all about change this year, as the voters revamped the ballot with a slew of fresh faces in almost all of the big categories.
How will it all play out? We’ll know for sure on Wednesday at 8pm Eastern, but before Gwenyth Paltrow throws on her cowboy boots, check out our staff picks and predictions and join the discussion in the comments below. And be sure to drop by Wednesday night for all of the CU live blog madness!
Kevin: Among the five nominees, Miranda Lambert has best represented the genre this year.
Leeann: I’m torn between Lambert and the Zac Brown Band as most deserving this year. I recently saw Lambert’s show and wasn’t incredibly impressed, however. While I have not yet attended a ZBB show, theirs is one of the few spots that I look forward to at awards shows these days. Moreover, I’m impressed by how much of a following they had even before they made any mainstream records.
Dan: Of these five, Zac Brown Band had the second-most success this year (after Lady A) and made the second-best music (after Lambert), so that’s pretty good standing. And I feel like giving this award to a grassroots act would be a good way for the industry to greet the future.
Tara: I’m consistently impressed by Zac Brown Band’s live performances, and it would be really refreshing to see them win – so I’ll go with them. (But I’m still disappointed that the first year my head and heart align on Carrie Underwood deserving an EOTY award, I can’t support her. I’m holding out for 2012…)
Kevin: I’ve probably learned nothing from last year’s Swift sweep by going with Paisley again, but he’s the only nominee of veteran stature who hasn’t won yet.
Leeann: I can’t imagine that Paisley won’t finally win this one.
Dan: I was going to guess Lady A, since they’re sort of 2010’s “flavor of the year” the way Taylor Swift was 2009’s. But when I think about it, Swift’s ascent was greater and more gradual, and she stood in contrast to the rest of her nominee pool (four male veterans) in a way Lady A don’t with theirs (in which they’re one of three new competitors). So, Paisley.
Tara: I have no rationale. My gut says Lambert.
Kevin: Bentley made the best music this year.
Leeann: Bentley may not have the best technical voice out of these nominees, but he has the most interesting and distinctive of them, which is always something that I gravitate toward. Also, I agree with Kevin that he’s made the best music this year.
Dan: Shelton and Bentley are the only ones in this pool who made significant career strides this year – Shelton at radio, and Bentley creatively. Since I’m backing someone else in the Album category, this is where I’d like to see Bentley recognized for following his muse.
Tara: I guess Up on the Ridge is as good a reason as any to fall off the Brad-for-MVOTY bandwagon. He’s a close second for me, though.
Kevin: I can see the roots album giving Bentley an edge. Then again, Paisley could just repeat again, or Shelton may suddenly have deep support among voters. I say, Bentley by a nose.
Leeann: I think that voters will reflexively give this one to Paisley again.
Dan: I’ll ditto Kevin.
Tara: I can’t really see Paisley losing this one, but I think if he does lose to Bentley, it’ll be a telling moment.
Kevin: Underwood and McEntire are the women who made my favorite singles from the eligibility period, but Lambert’s the only one who hasn’t won this award. She’s not overdue, but she’s due.
Leeann: Kevin’s right that Lambert is due to win this award now, not to mention that she’s my favorite female singer out of the bunch.
Dan: Lambert still isn’t at Underwood’s sales level, much less Swift’s, and I don’t see her catching up before traditional music sales die out altogether. Doesn’t matter, though: her habit of making creative music will sustain her regardless of industry conditions, and will elevate the genre in the long run. It’s time to look ahead.
Tara: I’m 50/50 on Lambert and Underwood. I’m not sure how to balance Lambert’s long overdue mega-year against Underwood’s continuous stream of solid success, ambassadorship and artistic growth. I’ll be happy either way, but personal investment’s got me in Underwood’s camp.
Kevin: I’d be shocked if Lambert lost, and can’t even make a guess as to who she’d lose to, should she somehow lose.
Leeann: It’s between Lambert and Underwood, but I give Underwood the edge, especially since it’s somewhat surprising that she didn’t get an Entertainer nomination. Although Lambert has gained popularity in the past year, Underwood is still one of the two biggest females in the business and I refuse to predict that Swift will win the award.
Dan: Lambert’s had enough mainstream success this year to give tasteful voters an excuse to give her some props.
Tara: The voters love them some Lambert this year, and I think of all her nominations, this is the one she’s got in the bag.
Kevin: I’m assuming “Stuck Like Glue” was after the eligibility period, so I think actually making some music over the year is important. Joey + Rory are the only duo I like who have yet to win.
Leeann: I simply like them the most, but I know they don’t have a chance.
Dan: I mean, why not? Nobody on this ballot has done much but tour.
Tara: I’m not very excited about any of these acts right now, to be honest. It would just be heartwarming to see Joey + Rory pick this one up.
Kevin: Sugarland’s year off helped guarantee a B&D victory lap, which would probably have happened anyway.
Leeann: It’s between Brooks & Dunn and Sugarland. I should just pick B&D because of their retirement, but I’m still going with Sugarland because of their popularity.
Dan: Brooks & Dunn, unless voters ignore the eligibility period and stick with Sugarland.
Tara: Isn’t the Brooks & Dunn retirement thing kind of old news by now, or am I just out of touch?
Kevin: Let’s start getting some variety in this category, instead of having Lady A own it for five years.
Leeann: They’re the only group that I like right now.
Dan: I’ll probably be rooting for Little Big Town come ACM season, but for now…
Tara: I don’t want Lady A to own this for five years, either, but I do think they deserve to win this year. At least in my opinion, their huge success on the charts and with album sales can be attributed much to their ability to (I know, I know – I’m a broken record) hone in on specific emotion and deliver it in a way that people can really connect with. There’s some meat (and a heck of a lot of potential) behind their success that tends to go unnoticed.
Kevin: Lady A and Zac BB are both very popular with voters, but I’m thinking that this is the only race where voters can reward Lady A for dominating at retail this year.
Leeann: Ditto to Kevin.
Dan: New Artist will be ZBB’s consolation prize.
Tara: …And I think the voters will agree with my pick, if not for the same reasons.
Kevin: ZBB is in another league, which makes me wish they still called this the Horizon Award.
Leeann: It’s weird to see ZBB here considering their nominations elsewhere, so I think that Chris Young has the most potential of the remaining nominees.
Dan: I’d love to see Young take this, but ZBB can’t be denied.
Tara: This is a great line-up, but there’s no question that ZBB deserves this win.
Kevin: ZBB is nominated for Entertainer of the Year, much like Ricky Skaggs was when he won Horizon in 1982. (Skaggs also won Male Vocalist, which means I may have to rethink my pick for Vocal Group, too.)
Leeann: Kevin’s argument is too compelling not to follow. Also, they are the most popular of the nominees, therefore, probably the most deserving.
Dan: Everyone here but Niemann has had a significant breakthrough. With ZBB in the mix, though, it’s no contest.
Tara: It’s a funky set-up to have ZBB nominated for both the top and bottom (figuratively) prizes, and I think this one will play out exactly the way Kevin explained it.
Kevin: I have all five of these albums, and Underwood’s is the one that I listen to the most, with Strait a not-too-close second. In 2010, of course, “listening to an album” really means “how many songs do I pull off the album and put on a play list,” which has Underwood ahead by three tracks.
Leeann: If I follow Kevin’s test, Bently wins with Lambert as a close second. Bentley’s is, hands down, my favorite album of these choices. I’d love to see something this different from the mainstream win.
Dan: Also employing Kevin’s test, I flip-flop Leeann’s first and second choices. Only about two thirds of Revolution click for me a year later, but those two thirds have helped redefined what I thought modern country could be (still flipping about “Me and Your Cigarettes”), and the stray third at least tried.
Tara: I’m not going to follow Kevin’s test: I don’t play Revolution quite as much as three of the other albums on here, but I feel it’s the most deserving. It’s sharp, smart and an excellent example of an artist taking her potential by the horns.
Kevin: I really do think Lambert will sweep. I think she should’ve won for her last album, which wasn’t even nominated, but I’m not going to complain about an ambitious album getting the prize.
Leeann: I’m guessing either Lambert or Underwood. Although Lambert has the better album, Underwood has the slight edge because it sold better. I wouldn’t be especially surprised if Lady A takes it though.
Dan: Seems to me like a toss-up between Lady A’s commercial favorite and Lambert’s critical one. Lambert?
Tara: This is Lambert’s to lose, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Lady A (or maybe Bentley?) snatched it.
Kevin: It’s the big chunk of meat in a category of mashed potatoes and candied apples.
Leeann: Kevin just made me really hungry, therefore, kind of distracted. It’s a good thing that my choice doesn’t need justification then.
Dan: “Need You Now” had the biggest impact, of course, but “The House That Built Me” was no slouch either – four weeks at #1 – and was arguably the riskiest, most rewarding release. Also of note: she sang it real pretty.
Tara: “Need You Now” and “The House That Built Me” are performed equally well, but “House” is the better-written song. I’ll go with “House” on the basis of that, but I do think country music will be represented justly either way. Both songs resonate with pure, compelling sentiment.
Kevin: I think Lady A would have a better shot if they hadn’t won last year for “I Run to You.”
Leeann: It’s simply the clear winner.
Dan: Again, somewhat for diversity’s sake, I’ll guess that many voters have already forgotten about “I Run to You” – I certainly have – and will use this category to recognize the biggest hit, while they use Song to recognize the best one.
Tara: I’m jumping on Dan’s train…
Kevin: Overall, I think that “Need You Now” is a better Single than Song, and that “The House That Built Me” is a better Song than Single, but “House” is better than “Need” on both counts.
Leeann: I’m just being repetative now. It’s the best single and song of the year.
Dan: It’s the deepest-cutting of the five and the most unique.
Tara: “The House That Built Me” is, quite simply, beautifully written.
Kevin: Here’s where they can honor “Need You Now” without shortchanging Lambert.
Leeann: I just see “House” sweeping in all possible categories.
Dan: They often manage to pick the actual best song of the five, especially when that song is also the most “serious.”
Tara: This just seems way to obvious; I don’t see how the voters could bypass the most clearly deserving song.
Kevin: I don’t find any of these five songs particularly compelling, so I’ll go with the two artists who are longest overdue for some CMA love.
Leeann: I’m not big on any of these either, but the Jackson/Womack collaboration is the one I like the most if I have to choose.
Dan: I’d be fine with either “Til the End” or “Bad Angel”. Whatevs.
Tara: The Jackson/Womack song falls squarely within my typical taste, but “Bad Angel” gets under my skin – in a good way. It’s just a really cool record.
Kevin: Its presence in the Single category makes “Hillbilly Bone” the most likely winner.
Leeann: It’s the most mainstream of all the choices.
Dan: “Bad Angel” could play a welcome spoiler, since all three of the artists behind it command a lot of respect right now. I still see this going to the hit, though.
Tara: I’m predicting the big boys will win this one. It’s a decent song, but it makes me laugh that it gets as much love as it does – I mean, this is the song that has Adkins admitting that he’s “always wanted to sing a bone song”…!
Kevin: Lambert made the two best clips, with the humor of “Liar” outpacing the literalism of “House.”
Dan: The “House” video is beautifully conceived and directed, but somehow the “White Liar” one just sticks out more. Maybe it’s because “White Liar” is a thinner song, so the video has more of a chance to establish its own identity.
Tara: The “White Liar” video is the brightest and most creative of the bunch.
Kevin: I think “White Liar” has won all the video awards this year, so I guess it will win again.
Dan: This is the logical place to reward the other Lambert single the CMA liked this year.
Tara: One of Lambert’s videos will win for sure. My best guess is “White Liar” since it’s won before, like Kevin said.
Kevin: Paul Franklin is the nominee I’m rooting for the most this year. Give the man, and the steel guitar, some long overdue recognition!
Leeann: It’s the steel guitar for heaven’s sake! It should be a no-brainer, even though it’s clearly not.
Dan: I won’t pretend I know what’s going on. I’m just going to root for the guy who hasn’t won yet until he finally does.
Tara: How can you pass up the steel guitar?
Kevin: Mac McAnally won the last two years, so I guess he’s the favorite. Did I mention that Franklin is 0-for-17 going into this year’s ceremony?
Leeann: I suppose its a habit to give it to McAnally at this point. So, why should I be so bold as to predict anyone else?
Dan: No justice!
Tara: Just going off of pattern here.
Nashville takes over Vegas this Sunday for the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and it could actually be an interesting night. Eight acts are vying for Entertainer of the Year, one trio is poised to sweep the show, and a certain artist’s performance may solidify her as Music Row’s Lady Gaga. We’ll find out for sure Sunday at 8 pm Eastern, but in the meantime, we’ve picked ‘em and predicted ‘em. Sound off in the comments below.
Kevin: While I suspect that this will be the end of her impressive awards show victory lap, Swift should easily win this award. Does she deserve it? Probably. If I was an ACM voter (traditional member or willing to go vote online), I guess that I’d vote for George Strait, though my favorite among those with a real shot at this is Carrie Underwood.
Leeann: I predict Swift, though I don’t know if the backlash against her will thwart my prediction. Then again, the fan voting debacle will likely still work in her favor. I’ll throw my personal vote to Zac Brown Band, since I’ve really dug their live performances that I’ve seen on television. They seem like natural entertainers.
Dan: Fan-voted = Taylor Swift, with a possible Underwood repeat. But Swift hasn’t been as interesting post-Grammys. So I’ll also go with our resident grassroots heroes, ZBB.
Tara: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a five-year Underwood fan has been watching her stage presence gradually become as killer as her vocals, resulting in a powerful combination. I’d love for this to be properly recognized, and rationale seems pointless now that the EOTY race is a glorified internet fan war…but I can’t ignore that Underwood spent most of 2009 off stage. I’m going with Paisley.
Dan: It feels like Paisley’s winning streak may be just about up, which is a shame, since this year has actually been stronger material-wise for him than the years for which he’s won. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, Jason Aldean had a bigger year than any of these guys.
Tara: Paisley and Strait were the only two who impressed me in 2009, and Paisley’s material feels fresher and more interesting. But I agree with Dan that his winning streak has probably run its course, so I’ll go out on a limb and say Strait will be the one to edge him out.
Kevin: I agree with Dan but suspect that there isn’t another nominee with enough momentum to upset the status quo in this race. If I’m wrong, I hope it’s because Urban or Strait pull it off.
Leeann: I think Paisley just might have another year of winning left in him.
Tara: It’s really a toss-up between Lambert and Underwood for me, with personal preference and investment swaying me towards the latter artist. I’m eerily optimistic that the ACM voters will stick to the truest sense of the award’s title – as I adamantly believe they should – and sidestep Swift.
Kevin: This is the first time in my twenty years as a country fan that I’m rooting for Reba McEntire to win Female Vocalist, though I wanted her to win Entertainer every year she was nominated in the nineties. Consider me smitten by “Consider Me Gone.” As always, I’d be happy with an Underwood victory and I wouldn’t mind Womack or Lambert, either. I’m guessing that Lambert will actually win, given her widespread appeal among ACM voters and the fact that she’s had a big radio and retail breakthrough during the voting period.
Leeann: The Academy seems to like Lambert pretty well. Since this has been her biggest year to date, it’s hard for me to imagine that she won’t be rewarded for it.
Dan: I’m going to cautiously predict that Swift’s CMA win will carry over to ACM, but Underwood has been reliably successful, and Lambert’s got stronger momentum than ever. The latter is also my favorite mainstream act at the moment, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m rooting for her to take it.
Leeann: Lady A has the hype and momentum that makes it impossible for me to bet against them. I’d sure love to see ZBB prove me wrong ,though.
Dan: Little Big Town’s new single has me thinking I’ll probably be gunning for them again soon, but for now, I’m with Zac Brown Band.
Tara: I have a feeling the coming year(s) is going to be Lady Antebellum’s year o’ accolades, so I’d like to see the equally deserving Zac Brown Band pick this one up while they still have some momentum.
Kevin: This is becoming a habit. Predict LA, root for ZBB. This was so much easier when the Dixie Chicks were in the running.
Kevin: A sympathy vote might give B&D one more trophy, but it seems that both the CMA and ACM see this award as one that is passed down from one duo to the next, and not very often at that. I wonder if they will be calling this “The Sugarland Award” like it was once called “The Judds Award” and “The Brooks & Dunn Award.”
Leeann: I’d love to see Joey + Rory win, but I know it wouldn’t actually be fair if they did. So, I’m not officially picking them here. I’m pretty sure this one will go to Brooks & Dunn as a parting gift, though they’d be totally undeserving at this point. Really, Sugarland is probably the duo that makes most sense. It’s just too bad I’m not more personally invested in them, though I’ve warmed up a bit.
Dan: Sugarland have been off the radar since “Joey” trailed off months ago, and I still remember how ACM stuck with Brooks & Dunn that one year even after CMA had passed the torch. So I see the veteran duo winning again in a shrug. I’m indifferent, personally.
Tara: I keep going back on forth on this one. I want Brooks & Dunn to win, but I can’t rationalize it. I think the ACM voters may feel the same.
Kevin: It’s categories like this that make me feel out of touch with contemporary country music. I love Joey + Rory, but can’t see them winning. Who’s bigger now, Bryan or Gloriana? I’m taking a guess here.
Leeann: I’m like Kevin. I love Joey + Rory, but don’t imagine they’ll have enough votes to win. So, between Bryan and Gloriana, I’ll flip a coin and predict the latter.
Dan: Given the fan vote, I imagine this award will boil down to whether or not Taylor Swift has been urging her peoples to back Gloriana like she did with the AMAs. She hasn’t tweet-commanded it, and that’s as much research as I’m willing to do on the subject. So I’ll go with Bryan.
Tara: My best guess is that there’s enough fan overlap for Swift’s votes to lift Gloriana to victory.
Kevin: I’m expecting a Lady Antebellum sweep. They’re just ridiculously popular right now. But I could see any one of these five winning. I revisit the Underwood set more than any of the others.
Leeann: I can’t ignore Lady A’s popularity right now, but I’d love to see Lambert be recognized for one of my two favorite albums on this list, Paisley’s album being the other one.
Dan: Revolution doesn’t have the punch or consistency of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it’s got some brains, and I like that. I’m expecting a Lady A sweep too, though.
Tara: If my co-bloggers are right about a Lady A sweep, I’ll be pleased to see the trio’s underrated debut album take this award. But frankly, every album in this line-up is substantial, authentic and layered. I’m backing Revolution because it’s the sharpest of them all, created by the artist who has the firmest grasp on her potential.
Kevin: There’s only one career-changing single in the running here.
Leeann: Ditto to Kevin. But also, it’s my favorite in terms of melody.
Dan: I swear I’m not just being a spoilsport. I know “Need You Now” sounds great, and in many respects it was the single of the year. But I can’t get past how boring Lady A’s lyrics always are. There’s just not a single original phrase in that song, and it puts a damper on my experience listening to it.
Tara: It’s never been my personal favorite, but “Need You Now” finds the trio excelling at what it does best – honing in on specific, raw emotion and expressing it potently and believably. In a category as weak as this one, and with a performance as haunting as Scott’s, “Need You Now” is the clear winner.
Kevin: I like the writing of “Need You Now” more than the performance, even if it’s just a college dorm knock-off of “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” I range from indifference to active dislike for the rest of these entries.
Leeann: I think Lady A will sweep these awards, but I doubt that Swift will walk away with nothing. Since she’s most lauded for her songwriting skills, I predict that the Academy will continue the trend in this category.
Dan: “You Belong with Me” combines a memorable melody with telling details. Subject matter notwithstanding, it’s the only one of these songs I take seriously as a composition.
Tara: Unlike Kevin, I think “Need You Now” is better performed than written, but it’s still a great composition. I wouldn’t mind if Swift took this award, though.
Tara: The “You Belong With Me” video is brilliant in that it embodies everything that makes Swift relevant and appealing. I just really wish Paisley’s video had been better directed, because its message is so compelling.
Dan: That Swift video is mega-charming. But Lambert’s is a close second.
Kevin: I’m rooting for the only video I don’t reflexively skip past while channel surfing.
Kevin: Nice to see Griffin on the ballot, but “I Told You So” is among both my favorite Underwood and favorite Travis singles.
Leeann: Frankly, I’m not crazy about any of them, as long as the B&D collaboration doesn’t get the token vote.
Dan: Wish I liked “Seeing Stars” more. I’d actually probably go with presumptive favorite “Hillbilly Bone” if the song itself didn’t feel like such a Music Row toss-off. There’s charm in the idea and performances, but again, limp lyrics.
Tara: Underwood and Travis’ collaboration is the strongest and most exquisite of the bunch, but it feels a little like old news, with the news of the day being the inescapable (but nonetheless solid) “Hillbilly Bone.”
You know the drill. For each of the categories, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been excused, and then make a totally judgy statement about what it all means.
Entertainer of the Year
Who’s In: Who isn’t?
Who’s Out: No one.
Snap Judgment: My best guess about the surprise expansion of this category is that ACM thinks the Oscars are onto something. They’re not. But while the Oscars risk having a Best Picture nomination lose some of its prestige, I don’t think the same quite holds true for ACM Entertainer, since an artist can already be nominated multiple times throughout a career anyway (and most are). So this could actually work, I guess. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting.
Top Male Vocalist of the Year
Who’s In: Darius Rucker
Who’s Out: Toby Keith
Snap Judgment: No surprises here; it’s the same pool the CMA picked this past fall.
Top Female Vocalist of the Year
Who’s In: Reba McEntire
Who’s Out: Martina McBride
Snap Judgment: Martina shaft! Drama drama!
Top Vocal Group of the Year
Who’s In: Zac Brown Band
Who’s Out: The Lost Trailers
Snap Judgment: I imagine Love And Theft’s and Gloriana’s managers will be spending the morning trying to figure out who the hell Randy Rogers Band is. Seriously, I don’t know how RRB keeps squeezing into this race. Not complaining, though!
Top Vocal Duo of the Year
Who’s In: Steel Magnolia
Who’s Out: Big & Rich
Snap Judgment: What’s this? Five duos who actually did something in the last year? Get outta here.
Top New Solo Vocalist of the Year
Who’s In: Chris Young, Luke Bryan (both re-entries from previous years)
Who’s Out: Jake Owen (won last year), James Otto
Snap Judgment: I’m just pretending this is the Top New Male category, since ACM’s annual changing around of award names and criteria can be kind of silly. This is going to be an interesting race to watch, especially since all three of these guys are nominated their second time here. It’s the last chance any of them will have to win it.
Top New Vocal Duo of the Year
Who’s In: This category was merged with New Vocal Group last year, so none of these duos (being duos) were there.
Snap Judgment: Seriously, doesn’t this whole “actually having semi-active vocal duos” thing kind of weird you out at this point? (P.S. Vote for Joey + Rory!)
Top New Vocal Group of the Year
Who’s In: Gloriana
Who’s Out: Zac Brown Band (won last year)
Snap Judgment: Love And Theft HQ must be a grim, grim place today.
Album of the Year
Snap Judgment: Not a bad lineup, but the ACM’s lenience in the Album category never ceases to amaze. Lady Antebellum came out two full years ago.
Single Record of the Year
Snap Judgment: I’m used to scratching my head in this category. Whatever.
Song of the Year
Snap Judgment: …It’s like, do people even pay attention to lyrics anymore?
Video of the Year
Snap Judgment: Actually not a bad pool. The Lady A video is pretty boring, though.
Vocal Event of the Year
Snap Judgment: Eh.
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What are y’all’s thoughts?
I’ve gotten so used to being bored by mainstream country music that listening to “Little White Church” was a bit of a jolt. Thematically, it’s essentially the country spin on “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”, though it could hardly be called derivative.
I’m having trouble singling out what I like about the song the most. First, it’s refreshing to hear those harmonies again, which quite frankly make Lady Antebellum sound like amateurs in comparison. But the instrumentation is just as fresh as the harmonies. They both zig when you expect them to zag. Hand claps appear out of nowhere but don’t sound out of place. There’s a guitar riff before the final verse that just sounds so frickin’ cool, but before you can fully digest it, the vocals are back and suddenly incorporating a dry whisper. It sounds pretty frickin’ cool, too.
And how about the lyrics? A woman refusing to allow her man to “ride the gravy train”, quipping that “I might be cheap but I ain’t free.” It’s hard to imagine a more audacious rhyme than pairing up “no more chicken and gravy” with “ain’t gonna have your baby,” though I’d be happily entertained by attempts to beat it.
A few more records like Laura Bell Bundy’s and this one, and country radio just might get interesting again.
Listen: Little White Church