Tag Archives: Mel Tillis

100 Greatest Men: #17. Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The biggest crossover star that country music has ever known, Kenny Rogers was among the biggest stars of any genre in the seventies and eighties, becoming a worldwide icon and one of the genre’s finest ambassadors.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Rogers started off as a rockabilly artist in the mid-fifties, as part of a band called the Scholars. Though he was not the lead singer of the band, Rogers pursued a solo career when they disbanded.   When that proved unsuccessful, he joined a jazz trio called the Bobby Doyle Three.   They did reasonably well on the concert circuit, but when Rogers again pursued a solo career after they folded, he was not successful.

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CMA Awards: Entertainer of the Year (1967-2013)

Since its inception, the top honor an artist could be given at the Country Music Association awards is this one: Entertainer of the Year.   Originally a revolving door of winners, the winner in early years was often not even nominated the following year.  In 1981, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist to win the award twice.   Alabama succeeded her with a three year run from 1982-1984.   Fourteen years later, Garth Brooks became the first artist two win four times, a feat later matched by Kenny Chesney in 2008.

Here’s a look back at the award from the very beginning, along with some facts and feats about the category and its nominees.

Eddy Arnold1967

  • Bill Anderson
  • Eddy Arnold
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

One year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold was named the very first Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural CMA awards in 1967. Don’t assume it was a sympathy vote. Arnold had three #1 hits in the twelve months leading up to the ceremony, as he was in the middle of his impressive mid-sixties comeback, a period best defined by the 1965 classic, “Make the World Go Away.”  He remains the only member of the Hall of Fame to win this award after being inducted.

Glen Campbell1968

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Glen Campbell was a big awards favorite in 1968, with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Gentle On My Mind” both dominating the Grammy awards earlier that year.   His win in this category foreshadowed bigger things, as he soon became a network variety star, while also scoring major country and pop hits with “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

 johnny-cash1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Johnny Cash’s career was rejuvenated on the strength of two live prison albums, the latter of which produced the massive Shel Silverstein-penned smash, “A Boy Named Sue.”   His victory came in a year that marked the beginning of his network variety show and had him dominating the country singles charts, spending ten combined weeks at #1 with “Sue” and “Daddy Sang Bass.”

Merle Haggard1970

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Merle Haggard was a mainstay in this category from the beginning, nominated in each of the first seven years of the CMA Awards.  His victory in 1970 coincided with his commercial peak, with signature hits “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” helping him secure his only win in this category.

Charley Pride1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The last of four consecutive years where the Male Vocalist winner matched the Entertainer winner, Charley Pride went home with both awards in 1971.   A winner on his fourth nomination, his popularity skyrocketed upon the release of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which was climbing the charts at the time of the awards ceremony.

Loretta Lynn1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed

Instead of attending the awards show, Loretta Lynn’s husband Mooney went hunting.  He didn’t want to watch her lose, but he missed watching history unfold as she became the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year.  Lynn’s victory came on the heels of both solo hits like “One’s on the Way” and her popular duets with Conway Twitty.

Roy Clark1973

  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride

Today he’s best known for Hee Haw, the country music variety show that he co-hosted, and it’s no coincidence that he won while the show was in its prime. Still, Clark is also one of country’s most admired legends, and his legacy goes far beyond the television show that showcased his extensive musical and comedic talents.

Rich_Charlie_002_c_MOA.jpg1974

  • Roy Clark
  • Mac Davis
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Olivia Newton-John
  • Charlie Rich

The massive success of “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Behind Closed Doors” helped Charlie Rich win this award.  It was a long time coming, as Rich toiled in obscurity despite critical acclaim for his work.   He would continue to score big hits on the country and pop charts over the next couple of years, at one point charting hits on different labels at the same time.

John Denver1975

  • John Denver
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

John Denver’s victory in this race led to the most infamous moment in CMA history. Though he claimed it was due to medication later on, presenter Charlie Rich seemed to be making a furious statement against the pop crossover artists dominating country music when he opened the envelope, read it, and then lit a cigarette lighter and burned the envelope. The paper went up in flames as he derisively snarled the winner’s name, “My friend, Mister John Denver.” Poor John, accepting via satellite, was clueless to what was going on at the Opry house, and graciously accepted his award.

Mel Tillis1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Dolly Parton
  • Mel Tillis

This 2007 Hall of Fame inductee won this award just as he was changing labels.  Tillis first gained notoriety for his remarkable songwriting talent, but eventually he was scoring enough hits to earn a place in this category. He would go on to have several more big hits after winning this award, earning another nomination in this category two years later.

Ronnie Milsap1977

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers

Ronnie Milsap dominated the CMA Awards, becoming one of its most frequently honored performers during the formative years of the awards show.  He finally won the big prize on his third try, powered by the success of his classic hit, “It was Almost like a Song.”

Dolly Parton1978

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Mel Tillis

Her famous quote – “I’m not leaving country. I’m taking it with me” – must have held some water with the Nashville establishment, as Parton won this award at the height of her pop crossover success with “Here You Come Again,” the title track of her first platinum album.  The front of her dress popped open before she went up to receive the trophy, prompting her to quip, “That’s what I get for trying to put fifty pounds of mud in a five pound bag.”

Willie Nelson1979

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Statler Brothers

He never won Male Vocalist of the Year, but superstar Willie Nelson was given his due by the CMA in 1979 when they awarded him Entertainer of the Year.   While it wasn’t his biggest year on the charts, residual goodwill from Stardust and his collaborations with Waylon Jennings helped carry him to victory.

Barbara Mandrell 21980

  • Charlie Daniels Band
  • Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers

She had a few big hits in 1980, like “Crackers” and “The Best of Strangers.”  But it was her incredibly popular variety show with sisters Louise and Irlene that truly showcased her versatility as an entertainer, securing the first of two wins in this category.

Barbara Mandrell 11981

  • Alabama
  • George Jones
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Kenny Rogers

Despite sharing the category with four artists who had never won this award, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist in CMA history to win Entertainer of the Year for the second time.  Credit the continued popularity of her television show and the biggest hit of her career, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”,  which featured a guest turn by fellow nominee George Jones.

Alabama 21982

  • Alabama
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Ricky Skaggs

The band that laid the groundwork for all other country bands that followed, Alabama set a new bar for commercial success in the early eighties.   The eligibility period included the release of their biggest-selling studio album, and also two of their signature hits: “Mountain Music” and “Love in the First Degree.”

Alabama 31983

  • Alabama
  • Merle Haggard
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

As their studio albums sold in the millions, every single Alabama released to radio was hitting #1, a stretch that would eventually include 21 consecutive chart-toppers.  They repeated in this category on the strength of hits like “Dixieland Delight” and “The Closer You Get.”

Alabama 11984

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Oak Ridge Boys

A mere three years after Barbara Mandrell made history by being the first artist to win two Entertainer awards, Alabama went her one better and won three. They remain one of only two acts to win this award three years in a row, doing so as their hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)” and “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” dominated the airwaves.

1Ricky Skaggs985

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Few country artists command as much respect as Ricky Skaggs, a consummate singer and musician. Skaggs’ victory in this category signaled the resurgence of traditional country music, as he was the first winner since 1976 to not have achieved crossover hits on pop radio.

Reba McEntire1986

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

One of the most popular new traditionalists of the mid-eighties, McEntire achieved her commercial breakthrough with “Whoever’s in New England”, which was aided in popularity by her first of many high-concept music video clips.  McEntire would eventually become the most nominated woman in history, scoring ten nominations over eleven years.

Hank Williams Jr 11987

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

When Hank Williams, Jr. won the Music Video award the previous year, he reminded voters, “I make audio, too.”  They finally got around to acknowledging his meaningful contributions to the genre,  awarding him the first of two Entertainer trophies in 1987.

Hank Williams Jr 21988

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Hank Jr. may have waited a long time for some CMA love, but once it came, it was in droves. He won Album of the Year the same night he repeated in this category.  His biggest hit of the year, “Young Country”, featured guest appearances by up and comers like Highway 101 and Marty Stuart.

George Strait 11989

  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Three years after his most recent Male Vocalist trophy, megastar George Strait was named Entertainer of the Year. He would go on to have one of his biggest years at radio, with two multi-week #1 singles in the twelve months that followed his victory.

George Strait 21990

  • Clint Black
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis

While Randy Travis dominated the Male Vocalist race, George Strait was given his due again in the Entertainer category.   He wore an Entertainer of the Year cowboy belt on the cover of Livin’ it Up, perhaps giving him good luck toward his second victory.  He remains the most nominated in this category, and is only the second Hall of Famer to receive a nomination after being inducted into the Hall.

Garth Brooks 19911991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait

A mere year after winning the Horizon award, Garth Brooks was the Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards. He was breaking every sales record in the book by that point.  Shortly before the ceremony, he became the first country artist to enter the overall album chart at #1, leading to a media frenzy that gained unprecedented exposure for both Garth and the genre he represented.

Garth Brooks 21992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire
  • Travis Tritt

Given that he was already the biggest-selling country artist the world had ever seen, it was no surprise that Garth Brooks won his second Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1992.  His continued popularity was fueled by sold out live shows that soon led to network specials showcasing his unique brand of arena country.

Vince Gill 11993

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

Vince Gill capped off an amazing night at the 1993 CMA Awards with his first victory in this category. It was his fifth win of the night, as he also took home Male Vocalist, Song, Album and Vocal Event.   As he was also the show’s sole host, the collective exposure pushed him to multi-platinum sales.

Vince Gill 21994

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

The soft-spoken Gill won for a second year, which was no big surprise given his widespread popularity in Music City. He also went home with Album and Male Vocalist the same night, giving him a stunning fourteen trophies in only five years.

Alan Jackson 11995

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

As one of the evening’s top nominees, Alan Jackson brought his parents as his special guests.  After losing in every other category, he expressed relief that he finally won something, as going home empty handed would’ve been embarrassing.   Jackson would eventually become one of the organization’s most awarded artists.

Brooks and Dunn1996

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

They were already winners of five CMA awards, due solely to their domination of the Vocal Duo category. But in 1996,  they finally won another race, and it was a big one. Brooks & Dunn remain the only duo to win this award, with The Judds and Sugarland being the only other duos to receive nominations.

Garth Brooks 31997

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

In a year when all five nominees had won this award before, it was Garth Brooks who returned to the winner’s circle, tying Alabama’s long-standing record of three victories in this category.   Adding to the sense of déjà vu, this was the third year in a row where all five nominees were the same.

Garth Brooks 41998

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

As hard as it is to believe that there were any records left for him to break by 1998, Garth Brooks shattered another one, becoming the first artist in the history of the CMA to win four Entertainer of the Year awards. By this time, Garth had already sold more than 60 million albums, and while he has yet to win this award again, he remains the top-selling solo artist of all time in the United States.

Shania Twain1999

  • Garth Brooks
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Shania Twain

The odds seemed against Shania Twain, as she had never won a CMA award before and the last woman to win was Reba McEntire thirteen years earlier.  Fittingly, McEntire was on hand to present the trophy to Twain, who won on the strength of Come On Over, which eventually became  top-selling country album of all time and the top selling album of the decade from any genre.

Dixie Chicks2000

  • Dixie Chicks
  • Faith Hill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

The Dixie Chicks capped off a stunning three-year run at the CMA Awards with this victory, one of nine that they racked up since 1998.   Within those three years, their first two albums each sold over ten million copies, and the band was widely credited for championing country radio and traditionalism while other top acts were crossing over to pop radio.

Tim McGraw2001

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

After winning two Male Vocalist and two Album of the Year honors in the previous three years, Tim McGraw finally won the CMA’s top award. It was a satisfying acknowledgment of an artist who’d had his talent underestimated in the first few years of his stardom, but built up a reputation for his stellar taste in choosing material.

Alan Jackson 22002

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait

Jackson’s win in 1995 came as he was reaching his commercial peak.  In the years that followed, Jackson remained a successful and well-respected artist that got less attention every year when it came time to hand out awards. Then came the one-two punch of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, both of which were viewed as the very embodiment of all that makes country music unique and essential.   This was one of five awards he was honored with that night.

Alan Jackson 32003

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Although the ACM had chosen Toby Keith as their standard bearer a few months earlier, the CMA stuck with the previous year’s winner Alan Jackson. By 2003, Jackson had evolved into an elder statesman for the genre, but still managed to stay relevant with hits both clever (“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) and poignant (“Remember When.”)

Kenny Chesney2004

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Chesney’s long dry spell at the CMA’s came to a satisfying end as the superstar collected both Entertainer and Album of the Year trophies. He had been charting for eleven years before finally winning his first CMA award.

keith-urban2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

One of the most surprising and endearing wins in the history of this category, a shocked and humbled Urban accepted this award in New York City. He couldn’t have picked a better night to bring his Australian parents to the ceremony.

kenny-chesney2006

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Keith Urban

It’s pretty rare to come back and win this award for a second time, as most multiple wins have been consecutive in this category. But Kenny Chesney joined Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as the only other artists to pull it off when he won in 2006, a club that would later be joined by Taylor Swift.

kenny_chesney2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Chesney entered the elite company of Garth Brooks, Alabama, and Alan Jackson with his third victory in this category. Rascal Flatts, meanwhile, became the first group since the Dixie Chicks to score back-to-back nominations, a feat also accomplished by Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Kenny Chesney2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Sugarland
  • Keith Urban

As Sugarland became only the third duo in history to receive a nomination and George Strait extended his record number of nominations to sixteen, Kenny Chesney tied Garth Brooks for the most wins in this category with his fourth victory.  His popularity at radio and retail was remarkable, but it was Chesney’s highly attended summer stadium tours that earned him these wins.

Taylor Swift CMA2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Taylor Swift both made history and prevented it with her win in this category.  She simultaneously became the youngest artist ever and the first female solo artist in ten years to take home the prize. She also kept Kenny Chesney from becoming the sole all-time champion in this category, as he remains tied with Garth Brooks with four wins to date.

paisley2010

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

2010 shook up the category, with three first-time contenders in the running for the crown for the first time since 1981. Despite all the new blood, sixth time proved to be the charm for Brad Paisley, who finally won this award after five consecutive losses.  Paisley’s persistent popularity helped him earn the nod in a year where the two previous winners weren’t even nominated.

Taylor Swift Fearless Tour 2009 In New York City2011

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

Thirty years after Barbara Mandrell became the first woman to win this award twice, Swift became the second to do so.  She won the award on the strength of her third set, Speak Now, which showcased her growing maturity as a songwriter and her growing appeal beyond her teenage and young adult fan base.

Shelton2012

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift

One of the most surprising wins in CMA history, few saw Blake Shelton’s victory coming.  But it isn’t too surprising when you consider the number of artists who parlayed network television exposure into a win in this category.  Perhaps in this new era of media saturation and minimal album sales, television may once again become a deciding factor when choosing the genre’s top star every year.

question_mark2013

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift

George Strait’s farewell tour helped return him to the category for the first time since 2009, earning him a record-extending  eighteenth career nomination.  Strait joins previous winners Taylor Swift (2009, 2011) and Blake Shelton (2012) in attempting a return to the winner’s circle.   Luke Bryan earns his first nomination, just months after winning the ACM trophy.  Jason Aldean, meanwhile, is hoping to get lucky the third time around.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson
  • (2) –Vince Gill, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Hank Williams, Jr.

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama (1982-1984), Kenny Chesney (2006-2008)
  • (2) – Garth Brooks (1991-1992, 1997-1998), Vince Gill (1993-1994), Barbara Mandrell (1980-1981), George Strait (1989-1990), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987-1988)

Most Nominations:

  • (18) – George Strait
  • (12) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Brooks & Dunn
  • (10) – Reba McEntire
  • (9) –  Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (8) –  Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Brad Paisley
  • (7) – Keith Urban
  • (6) – Barbara Mandrell, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Keith Urban
  • (5) – Alabama, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (5) – Kenny Rogers
  • (4) – Toby Keith, Randy Travis
  • (3) – Jason Aldean, Waylon Jennings, The Judds, Oak Ridge Boys

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Eddy Arnold (1967), Garth Brooks (1991), Glen Campbell (1968), John Denver (1975), Charlie Rich (1974), Taylor Swift (2009), Mel Tillis (1976), Shania Twain (1999), Keith Urban (2004), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987)

CMA Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, John Denver, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charlie Rich, Blake Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Taylor Swift, Mel Tillis, Keith Urban

ACM Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Luke Bryan, Mac Davis, Mickey Gilley, Freddie Hart, Toby Keith, Kenny Rogers, Carrie Underwood

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Album Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan, Dos Divas

Pam-Tillis-Lorrie-Morgan-2013-Cover

Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan
Dos Divas

stars-312

If you have a soft spot for the great country artists of the nineties – particularly the generation of mature, articulate women who ruled the genre for much of the decade – the announcement of a duets album between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan was likely a tremendous cause for excitement.  With both ladies being second-generation country stars, Opry members, touring partners, and great friends, a studio collaboration would seem a natural progression, and the lofty potential is obvious.

There’s a palpable joy in the proceedings as the two gal pals pair up in the studio for the first time, and there’s a sense of good-natured fun evident throughout, with song selections often skewing toward the humorous.  Tillis has a ball with “Old Enough to Be Your Lover” in which her narrator giddily flaunts a romance with a much younger man, a chuckle in her performance as she sings about her young lover not knowing who Richard Nixon was. (I imagine K.T. Oslin would be proud) On the delightfully snarky “Ain’t Enough Roses,” Tillis scoffs that there “ain’t enough roses on God’s green earth” to make her take back her no-good ex.  The line “I hope you saved your sales receipt so you can take ‘em back” is particularly delicious, and Tillis’ sassy delivery milks the song’s humor for all it’s worth.

But the album’s serious moments yield rewards their own.  The writing trio of Shane McAnally, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Country Universe favorite Brandy Clark supplies one of the set’s best-written song’s with “Last Night’s Make Up,” a regretful morning-after ballad in which Morgan’s narrator laments, “If I could wash you off like last night’s make up, looking in the mirror wouldn’t be so hard.”  It’s also one of Morgan’s best vocal turns on the album, demonstrating the level of nuance that she has retained even as her vocal power has noticeably declined.

And while Tillis’ powerhouse vocals have aged with remarkable grace, there are times when the signs of wear and tear on Morgan’s voice prove to be a hindrance.  She stays within her limitations for most of the album, but she occasionally sounds strained when tackling the high notes on the title track, or the rapid-fire verses of honky tonk throwdown “I Know What You Did Last Night.”

In terms of song content, there is a small amount of fat that could have been trimmed.  “That’s So Cool” presents what could have been an interesting account of a middle-aged woman rekindling an old high school romance, but the song is hindered by a lifeless melody and too much time wasted repeating its forgettable title (and if you didn’t like Reba singing about texting and Twitter, you won’t like Lorrie singing about Google and Facebook either).  While one likely wouldn’t doubt the sincerity behind “Another Chance To,” a meditation on the uncertainty of life, it’s unfortunate that the song is clogged up with throwaway lines such as “Every day is a gift” and “I’ve never loved the way I love you.”  Tillis makes the best of a fairly rote love song with “Even the Stars,” but the song still could have been left off with no great loss to the project as a whole.

But there are times when even the lesser songs are elevated by some inspired production choices.   The title track is spiced up with horn-infused Tex-Mex stylings, “That’s So Cool” boasts a delightful banjo line, and a bluesy piano and harmonica-driven arrangement perfectly underscores the quiet vindictiveness of “Ain’t Enough Roses.”  It’s particularly enjoyable to hear Tillis and Morgan sing over a pure traditional country arrangement as they lovingly cover “I’m Tired,” a 1958 Webb Pierce hit co-written by Pam’s legendary dad Mel.  The only glaring production misstep is the audacious, bass-heavy arrangement of “Old Enough to Be Your Love,” weighed down by too much clutter in the mix.

Enjoyable as the album is, it’s hard not to wish that Dos Divas contained a few more full-fledged duets with fewer solos.  The album opens with four duets, and then serves up eight solo tracks with Tillis and Morgan alternating lead vocals before closing with two final duets.  There’s nothing wrong with a duets album including a few solos for variety’s sake, but there’s a point at which it begins to feel like a missed opportunity.  Seeing as we already have plenty of solo material by both ladies, the real treat is hearing them sing together, whether playfully pointing fingers at each other’s rowdy tendencies in “I Know What You Did Last Night” or musing on gossipy small-town Southern culture in “Bless Their Hearts.”  The self-deprecating “What Was I Thinkin'” closes the album on a high note, drawing on Tillis and Morgan’s perspective as women who have done some living, as they look back with amusement on choices large and small that were later regretted.  A tongue-in-cheek conversational tone actively engages the listener while lines of spoken dialogue hint at the song being semi-autobiographical for the two artists.

Ultimately, it all adds up to a very good album, albeit one that could have been even better.  At its best, the album contains moments of pure brilliance, while Tillis and Morgan’s unshakable chemistry is enough to make one hope that this studio collaboration does not turn out to be a one-off.  It’s a fun, entertaining effort by two of country music’s brightest talents of the past twenty years, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that they clearly understand the need to not take themselves too seriously.

Top Tracks:  “Last Night’s Make Up,” “Ain’t Enough Roses,” “What Was I Thinkin'”

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Concert Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan

Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan
Grits & Glamour Tour
Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center
Bowling Green, Kentucky
October 13, 2012

This past Saturday night, I had the immense pleasure of seeing two favorite artists of mine – contemporary country legends Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan – perform live in concert at the newly completed Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  The SKyPAC is a beautifully decorated 1800-seat venue with excellent acoustics, thus providing an ideal atmosphere for Tillis and Morgan’s fantastic Grits & Glamour show.

The Grits & Glamour tour is all about the fans, and all about great music.  No unnecessary gimmicks, bells, or whistles – just Tillis and Morgan singing their hearts out, joined by a small four-piece band.  Both ladies were in fine voice, boasting some absolutely gorgeous harmonies, as they performed together backed by fiddle, bass, guitar, and keyboard.  Such simplicity created a warm, laid-back, almost familial environment as Tillis and Morgan treated the eager crowd to a selection of best-loved tunes, all the while cutting up like one would expect from a couple of longtime girlfriends, and sharing often-humorous personal anecdotes – such as Tillis’ account of being mistaken for Patty Loveless at a Waffle House, by a fan from Knockemstiff, Ohio. (Google it – It’s a real place)

The bulk of the concert set list consisted of

a selection of well-known hits from both artists, finished off with covers of classic songs that are close to their hearts, as well as some more recent cuts.  The two opened the show with a lovely duet version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”  From that point onward, they alternated between performing Morgan’s hits and Tillis’ hits, beginning with Morgan’s “Watch Me” (performed in a fierce fiddle-laden arrangement quite different from the relative slickness of the 1992 hit version) and Tillis’ “Shake the Sugar Tree.”  Obviously, both ladies have had more than enough hits to fill up an entire set list (Tillis has had 13 Top 10 country hits; Morgan has had 14), but Tillis and Morgan did a fine job covering the main highlights of their careers, such that virtually any audience member could enjoy the thrill of hearing something familiar.  Though the hits dominated the set list, Tillis and Morgan also performed standout cuts from each of their most recent albums.  Tillis performed “Train Without a Whistle” from her 2007 career-best effort Rhinestoned, while Morgan gave a heartrending performance of “How Does It Feel” from 2010’s I Walk Alone

A major facet of what makes Grits & Glamour such a broadly enjoyable show is the way its two headliners simply exude genuine love for great country music new and old.  They commented on the increased scarcity of “real” country music in modern times, but Tillis nonetheless assured the audience that “We got it all – fiddles, steel guitar, mandolins – and we ain’t ever lettin’ go of it!”  Both ladies shared a common experience of growing up with the musical heritage of a famous parent – an experience they recollected with fond enthusiasm – being the daughters of singer-songwriter legend Mel Tillis, and of late Opry star George Morgan, respectively.   One of the night’s most memorable moments was a heartfelt tribute to Tillis and Morgan’s famous fathers, as they eased into a medley of George Morgan’s 1949 signature “Candy Kisses” and Mel Tillis’ classic composition “Burning Memories,” a hit first for Ray Price in 1964, and then for Mel Tillis himself in 1977.  In addition, the ladies also lovingly covered classics such as Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

As the show neared its end, Tillis and Morgan were met with the loudest applause of the night as they treated the audience to performances of their respective signature classics – Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis,” and Morgan’s “Something In Red.”  They then rose to their feet for an inspired performance of gospel song “Jesus On the Line.”  After an encore, they returned to the stage to perform brief snippets of Morgan’s 1993 number one “What Part of No” and Tillis’ 1990 debut hit “Don’t Tell Me What to Do.”  Then came one of the biggest highlights of the evening as the two closed out the show by tearing into the rousing up-tempo number “I Know What You Did Last Night” – a new song which is to appear on Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan’s forthcoming Grits & Glamour duets record.  After the show ended, Tillis and Morgan headed out to the atrium to sign autographs for a crowd of enthusiastic concertgoers.

Needless to say, the Grits & Glamour concert experience was more than enough to whet one’s appetite for the ladies’ soon-to-be-completed duet effort.  The unique chemistry shared between the two outstanding talents was on full display throughout the evening.  If you have the opportunity to catch any of Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan’s future shows on the Grits & Glamour tour, you will be in for a real country music treat.

Set list:

“Both Sides Now”
“Watch Me”
“Shake the Sugar Tree”
“Except for Monday”
“Cleopatra, Queen of Denial”
“A Picture of Me (Without You)”
“Train Without a Whistle”
Medley:  “Candy Kisses”/ “Burning Memories”
“The End of the World”
“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)”
“How Does It Feel”
“Spilled Perfume”
“King of the Road”
“I Guess You Had to Be There”
“Maybe It Was Memphis”
“Something In Red”
“Jesus On the Line”

Encore:

“What Part of No”
“Don’t Tell Me What to Do”
“I Know What You Did Last Night”

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100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

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A comedic flair, a speech impediment, and a famous daughter have often overshadowed the fact that Mel Tillis is one of the finest songwriters and performers in the history of country music.

Tillis hailed from Tampa, Florida, and he discovered music at a young age, playing guitar and singing songs at local talent shows.  Though he had a severe stutter from age three, the impediment disappeared when he sang.  Tillis entered the military, and while stationed in Japan, formed a band called the Westerners.  Once back stateside, he moved to Nashville to jump-start his songwriting career, alternating between Tennessee and Florida until the hits started coming in.

From 1957 to the end of the sixties, Tillis would record for major labels and score a handful of hits, but he had a far bigger impact as a songwriter.  He wrote hits that are now standards, recorded by legends like Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never, “No Love Have I”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Ray Price (“Heart Over Mind”, “Burning Memories”) and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”)

However, once the seventies arrived, Tillis became a major presence on country radio, scoring dozens of hits, many of which were his own recordings of his compositions that had been hits for other artists in the sixties.   In 1976, he was named CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Tillis’ comedic talents made him an in-demand performer, and he was a fixture on both network and syndicated television shows during the peak years of his career.   He also appeared in several movies, with Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run being the most successful.

As with many of his contemporaries, the hits slowed down

in the eighties, even though other artists continued to score hits with his material, most notably Ricky Skaggs’ chart-topping  recording of “Honey (Open That Door)” in 1984.   He purchased radio stations that he later sold for a big profit, and he became one of the most popular draws in Branson, Missouri, where his theater was a cornerstone for tourist entertainment.

In recent years, Tillis has frequently collaborated with his daughter Pam Tillis, making appearances on her albums and co-headlining a popular Christmas show at Opryland.   Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2010, he released his first comedy album, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This…, on Show Dog Records.

Essential Singles:

  • Heart Over Mind, 1970
  • I Ain’t Never, 1972
  • Good Woman Blues, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • I Believe in You, 1978
  • Send Me Down to Tuscon, 1979
  • Coca Cola Cowboy, 1979
  • Southern Rains, 1980

Essential Albums:

  • Life’s That Way, 1967
  • Sawmill, 1973
  • M-M-Mel, 1975
  • Love Revival, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • Mr. Entertainer, 1979
  • Your Body is an Outlaw, 1980

Next: #32. ?

Previous: #34. Charlie Rich

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100 Greatest Men: #64. Jerry Reed

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A first class singer, songwriter, and musician, Jerry Reed’s talents ran far deeper than his tongue-in-cheek persona might have indicated.

Born and raised in Georgia, Reed played guitar from an early age. Music brought him comfort and structure during a childhood of instability. By the time he was out of high school, he was already signed to Capitol Records.   Though he released several singles over the next few years, it was his songwriting and guitar playing that first earned him notice.

Throughout the late fifties and the sixties, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, and others.  He also became an in-demand session guitarist, with a career highlight being the sessions he played with Presley, who feel in love with Reed when he heard his 1967 single, “Guitar Man.”

A strong working relationship with Chet Atkins led to a contract with RCA and further raised Reed’s profile.  By the late sixties, Reed was getting critical notice for his own records.   He had his big breakthrough in 1970, when “Amos Moses” became a gold-selling pop and country hit.   In 1971, ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” became his first #1 country single and another big pop hit.

Throughout the seventies, Reed matched popular singles and albums with high profile media exposure.  He was a regular on Glen Campbell’s television show, and he appeared in several films.   His greatest notoriety came as Cledus Snow in the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit film series.   “East Bound and Down” was recorded for the soundtrack of the first film, and became one of his biggest hits.

Reed’s recording career had a second wind when he released the 1982 album The Man with the Golden Thumb.   Often rated as his strongest studio album, it featured the classic hit “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”  Reed quickly followed with the hit album, The Bird.  The title track had him mimicking both George Jones and Willie Nelson, and the album also featured a hit cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Down on the Corner.”

The nineties brought a fun collaboration with Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Waylon Jennings, a live album dubbed Old Dogs.   Reed also starred as the coach in the box office smash, The Waterboy.    Illness sidelined him as he aged, and he passed away in 2008 due to complications caused by emphyzema.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitar Man, 1967
  • Amos Moses, 1970
  • When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, 1971
  • Lord, Mr. Ford, 1973
  • East Bound and Down, 1977
  • She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft), 1982

Essential Albums:

  • The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed, 1967
  • Nashville Underground, 1968
  • Me & Chet (with Chet Atkins), 1972
  • Lord Mr. Ford, 1973
  • The Man with the Golden Thumb, 1982

Next: #63. Clint Black

Previous: #65. Asleep at the Wheel

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Veterans Day Six Pack

If history had played out the way Woodrow Wilson planned, we’d be celebrating the 92nd Armistice Day today.   When first proclaimed a national holiday, Wilson declared the following:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

If the Great War had been the last war, we wouldn’t be celebrating what is now known as Veterans Day.  We also wouldn’t have an incredible legacy of songs about soldiers in the annals of country music.

Here are five classics that celebrate those who have served our country and the ones who love them, along with one tale that has a returned soldier that’s not being loved quite enough.

“Dear Uncle Sam”  by Loretta Lynn
from the 1966 album I Like ‘Em Country

Lynn was on the cusp of superstardom when she released this top five hit.   Penning a letter to Uncle Sam, she pleads for the safe return of her husband.  She sings, “I really love my country, but I also love my man.”  His return is not to be, as the song closes with a heart-wrenching recitation of the telegram informing her that he won’t be coming home.

“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
from the 1969 album Galveston

Campbell’s finest performance is a homesick ode for the lady and hometown that he left behind.  The sweeping strings and stirring vocal evoke the waves of heartache that are crashing up against his heart, much like the waters of Galveston Bay crash along the shores he once walked with her.

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”  by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition
from the 1969 album Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town

Mel Tillis penned this massive hit for Rogers and his band, originally recorded by country artist Johnny Darrell, who took it into the top ten in 1967.   The narrator lays in bed, paralyzed from his stint in “that crazy Asian war.”  He is helpless as Ruby gives in to desire and heads into town looking for the love he can no longer provide, and he’s left there wishing she’d only wait until he died for her to step out on him.

“Soldier’s Last Letter” by Merle Haggard
from the 1971 album Hag

The spiritual predecessor of Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This.”   Mama sits at home, reading a letter from her son overseas.  He’s writing from a trenchmouth, hoping his mother won’t scold him for his sloppy handwriting the way she did when he was a kid, tracking mud into the house because he didn’t wipe his feet.   He promises to finish the letter when he returns from his next battle, but the letter that arrives back home is incomplete.

“Travelin’ Soldier” by Dixie Chicks
from the 2002 album Home

The modern benchmark for soldier songs.  Bruce Robison’s original versions are both worth seeking out, and can be found on his self-titled 1996 album and his 1999 set, Long Way Home from Anywhere.   But the acoustic instrumentation that surrounds Natalie Maines’ plaintive delivery makes the Dixie Chicks version the definitive one.

“Welcome Home” by Dolly Parton
from the 2003 album For God and Country

In a brilliant feat of songwriting, Parton weaves together four stories: a soldier returning home, a soldier dying overseas, Christ’s death and resurrection, and Parton’s own hope and longing for eternal salvation.

 

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100 Greatest Men: #95. David Allan Coe

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He wasn’t part of the landmark Outlaws album, but David Allan Coe has been more the living embodiment of that label than any other artist in the history of country music.

Coe was born in Akron, Ohio in 1939.  He spent his youth in and out of reformatory schools, the beginning of a long history of run-ins with the law.  After spending most of his twenties in prison, he moved to Nashville in the late sixties. His style was jarring, with tattoos, long hair, and piercings, and for a stretch, he lived in a hearse parked right outside the Ryman Auditorium.

Major labels wouldn’t bite early on, but he did sign with Plantation Records in 1968, releasing albums that reflected on his experiences in prison.  After a stint on tour with Grand Funk Railroad, he adapted the Masked Rhinestone Cowboy persona, with a little help from Mel Tillis, who donated  a  rhinestone suit for part of the costume.   He was soon commanding large audiences, but his outlandish persona kept the major labels at bay.

In the end, it was his songwriting that caught the attention of Columbia. The label signed him after he penned the #1 hit “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)”, recorded by Tanya Tucker.   Despite it being his songwriting that landed him the deal, it was a cover of Steve Goodman’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” that first enchanted radio programmers.

While radio play was inconsistent during the seventies and early eighties, Coe amassed a stunning string of albums that rank among the greatest of that time.  Along with his contemporaries Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, Coe embodied the new album-oriented era of country music, a genre that had been dominated by singles up until that point.

Even though Coe would score a pair of top five hits in the early eighties (“The Ride”, “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile”), his biggest success was still as a writer.  When Johnny Paycheck covered “Take This Job and Shove It”, it was a #1 hit in 1977. Besides being a popular catchphrase, it was also the foundation for a movie based on the song’s storyline.

Coe’s career was also limited by his association with underground albums that were in remarkably bad taste.  His reputation was further harmed, albeit unfairly, by the Napster era of illegally downloaded music, which falsely credited racist songs by Johnny Rebel as songs by David Allan Coe.

Coe continues to be a major force on the road, even in his early seventies.  For lovers of Outlaw music, and all serious historians of the genre, his classic Columbia sets remain required listening, and better capture his talent than any of the various compilations released over the years.

Essential Singles:

  • You Never Even Called Me By My Name, 1975
  • Longhaired Redneck, 1975
  • Willie, Waylon, and Me, 1976
  • The Ride, 1983
  • Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile, 1984

Essential Albums:

  • The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy, 1974
  • Once Upon a Rhyme, 1974
  • Longhaired Redneck, 1976
  • Spectrum VII,1979
  • Invictus Means Unconquered, 1981

Next: #94. Ricky Van Shelton

Previous: #96. Gary Allan

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100 Greatest Men: #98. Lee Greenwood

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He was the definitive male vocalist of post-Urban Cowboy country music.  The new traditionalists soon wiped the radio dial of that sound, but thanks to one classic hit, Lee Greenwood will always be around.

He was born and raised in California, growing up with his grandparents on a poultry farm.  As a child, he showed prodigious talent, learning the saxophone at age seven. By age fourteen, he could play all of the instruments in his school orchestra.  As soon as he finished high school, he moved to Nevada, a place he would return to after an opportunity in Puerto Rico ended in disappointment.  He passed on an opportunity to be in a band, which went on to great success as the Young Rascals, holding out hope for a solo career down the road.

He secured a record deal with Paramount, but when that didn’t produce a hit record, he moved on to Las Vegas, where he became a dominant force on the casino circuit.  By 1979, he had been discovered by the bassist for Mel Tillis, who put him in touch with Tillis’ label, MCA.  By 1981, Greenwood was a major label country music artist.

His career took off quickly. His first single, “It Turns Me Inside Out,” cracked the top twenty, but the breakthrough came with “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands.”   It would be the first of a long run of top ten singles, including seven chart-toppers.

Greenwood’s sound was a perfect fit for the earlier half of the eighties. Following the template of Kenny Rogers’ pop-flavored hits, Greenwood’s music was given an added layer of distinction by his trademark vocals, a balance of gravel and power that is instantly recognizable.  This sound kept him on the top of the charts until the big breakthrough of new traditionalism, which had barely co-existed on the radio with Greenwood at his peak, but soon replaced him and his contemporaries when Randy Travis arrived on the scene.

Greenwood had a handful of hits in the later eighties, and returned to the top ten one last time in 1990 with “Holdin’ a Good Hand.”  His vocal chops earned him several major awards along the way, including Male Vocalist awards from the CMA and the ACM. His performance of “I.O.U.” won him a Grammy in 1984, but it was his songwriting pen that would have the biggest lasting impact.

In 1984, he released a patriotic song called “God Bless The U.S.A.”  Though it only reached #7 on the singles chart, it won the CMA award for Song of the Year, and its impact was much larger than any of his other hits.  At the time it was written, “God Bless the U.S.A.” was a vehicle for the revival of American pride, a new wave of patriotism that swept the nation in the mid-eighties. Over time, it not only became a standard, it actually set the standard for patriotic songs, particularly in country music.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, Greenwood’s anthem came back stronger than ever.  The song received such heavy airplay that it re-entered the country charts after seventeen years, peaking at #16. Even more impressively, the song hit the all-genre Hot 100 chart, with heavy airplay at other formats helping it reach #16 on that chart as well.

In 2008, Greenwood was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by President George W. Bush.  He’s still performing actively and when an event  calls for a patriotic song, his is the one that you’re still most likely to hear.

Essential Singles:

  • Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands, 1982
  • I.O.U., 1983
  • God Bless the U.S.A., 1984
  • Dixie Road, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection, 2002

Next: #97.  Collin Raye

Previous: #99. Rascal Flatts

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Entertainer of the Year

As we did last year, it’s time to share our preferences for this year’s CMA Awards.  Last year, Taylor Swift was the belle of the ball, winning four awards.  Some long winning streaks came to an end, as Swift replaced both Kenny Chesney as Entertainer of the Year and Carrie Underwood as Female Vocalist of the Year.  Lady Antebellum ended Rascal Flatts’ long run as top Vocal Group, and were the surprise winners of Single of the Year as well.

Once again.  I’ve selected the five artists that I believe are most deserving of an Entertainer of the Year nomination.  But first, let’s take a look at last year’s race:

Entertainer of the Year (2009)

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Swift was victorious in her first nomination in this category.  She competed against three previous winners:  Kenny Chesney, who has gone 4 for 8 in this category;  Keith Urban, who is 1 for 5; and the incomparable George Strait, who is 2 for 17.  Brad Paisley lost for the fifth year, tying Kenny Rogers for the most nominations without a win.

As the numbers above show, this has been a largely static category for the past ten years.  Only thirteen artists earned nominations from 2000-2009. The CMA noms can be very predictable.

But looking at radio and retail these days, there’s been a big changing of the guard.  I think that this category more than any other should reflect that.  I’m putting my personal tastes aside here, as there are only two artists I list that I actually listen to regularly.

Entertainer of the Year (2010)

The nominees should be:

Lady Antebellum

Their second album has already spent 25 weeks at #1, and “Need You Now” was such a big hit that it’s led to pop airplay for “I Run to You”, the award-winning hit from their debut album.  It would be an early nomination in terms of their career, but Alabama and Dixie Chicks were elevated to this category even faster, so there’s precedent for vocal groups.

Miranda Lambert

She’s always had the critical success, and she’s always sold records.  But she’s selling them a heck of a lot faster these days and radio is suddenly, shockingly, spectacularly on board.  It’s time for the CMA to catch up with the ACM, who have been away ahead in acknowledging this artist.

Taylor Swift

Being nominated the year after winning is not a given, but it’s the norm.  While it was common in the seventies, it’s been very rare in recent years.  Shania Twain (1999) was the last winner to not receive another nomination the following year, with the others being:  Dolly Parton (1978), Mel Tillis (1976), John Denver (1975), and Charlie Rich (1974).

So she’s probably a lock for a nomination, and she deserves one. Though things have been quiet on the Swift front for the past couple of months, she had a massive tour and sold a ton of records during the eligibility period.

Carrie Underwood

She really should be enjoying her third nomination this year, but a (flimsy) case could be made for her not making the ballot in 2008 and 2009. But no nomination this year would be inexcusable. She had a very successful tour, continued to dominate radio, and her third album is quickly approaching double platinum.  At this point, she shouldn’t just get a nomination. She should win.

Zac Brown Band

Their live performances are well-regarded, radio is fully on board, and their first major label album is double platinum.  A case could be made for Brad Paisley getting this spot, but sales of his new album have fallen quite a bit short of previous efforts.  The same goes for other perennial nominees Keith Urban, George Strait, and Kenny Chesney.

So those are my five choices. What are yours?

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