Tag Archives: Randy Travis

My Grammy Wish List: 2010 Edition

Since this was a solo blog, doing a Grammy Wish List has been an annual tradition.  I’m not too excited about this year’s Grammys, to be honest. 2009 was a weak year in my opinion, and the shortened 11-month eligibility period didn’t help matters.  But a tradition is a tradition, so here are my picks in the eleven categories that I care about this year:

* denotes my personal wish:

Record of the Year

  • Beyoncé, “Halo”  *
  • The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
  • Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”
  • Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

It’s always nice to see a country radio hit in there, but I honestly can’t stand “You Belong With Me.”  I dig the Kings of Leon song, but the record that I enjoy the most here is “Halo.”  Some pundits have suggested that Beyoncé threw her chances at this trophy by submitting “Halo” instead of “Single Ladies”, but I like that song even less than “You Belong With Me.” Love “Halo”, though.

Song of the Year

  • Lady Gaga & RedOne, “Poker Face”
  • Hod David & Musze, “Pretty Wings”
  • Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash & Christopher Stewart, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
  • Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, “Use Somebody”  *
  • Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

Great to see Liz Rose in there, too, but I still can’t stand the song.  I think “Use Somebody” is a great composition that could easily be a hit in other formats if the right artist covered it. Are you listening, Sugarland?

Best New Artist

  • Zac Brown Band *
  • Keri Hilson
  • MGMT
  • Silversun Pickups
  • The Ting Tings

Zac Brown Band don’t quite live up to the hype, but they come a lot closer than last year’s nominee, Lady Antebellum.

Best Country Album

  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation
  • George Strait, Twang *
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
  • Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy

There isn’t an album here that is built for more than cherry-picking. Strait’s set has the most cherries.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance

  • Miranda Lambert, “Dead Flowers”
  • Martina McBride, “I Just Call You Mine”
  • Taylor Swift, “White Horse”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” *
  • Lee Ann Womack, “Solitary Thinkin’”

The only women who brought their A-game to this category are Swift and Underwood.  “White Horse” might be the better song, but Underwood’s is the better vocal performance by a country mile.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance

  • Trace Adkins, “All I Ask For Anymore”
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • Jamey Johnson, “High Cost of Living”
  • George Strait, “Living For the Night” *
  • Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing”

I love the Strait song, so it’s my pick, but this is one of the only strong categories this year and I wouldn’t mind seeing any of these five win.

Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals

  • Brooks & Dunn, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried”
  • Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”
  • Rascal Flatts, “Here Comes Goodbye”
  • Sugarland, “It Happens” *

No A-game here, but Sugarland’s B-game is better than the rest.

Best Country Vocal Collaboration

  • Dierks Bentley & Patty Griffin, “Beautiful World”
  • Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally, “Down the Road”
  • Brad Paisley & Keith Urban, “Start a Band”
  • Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis, “I Told You So” *
  • Lee Ann Womack & George Strait, “Everything But Quits”

Some amazing pairings here, but Underwood and Travis are the only ones with the material to match the talent.

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance

  • Adele, “Hometown Glory”
  • Beyoncé, “Halo”
  • Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold”
  • Pink, “Sober” *
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

Pink is an awesome songwriter, and easily the most substantial female pop star to come along in the last decade.  “Sober” is one of her best.

Best Pop Vocal Album

  • The Black Eyed Peas, The End
  • Colbie Caillat, The Breakthrough
  • Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted
  • The Fray, The Fray
  • Pink, Funhouse *

It’s not quite as good as I’m Not Dead, but it comes close.

Best Dance Recording

  • The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
  • David Guetta and Kelly Rowland, “When Love Takes Over”
  • Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
  • Madonna, “Celebration” *
  • Britney Spears, “Womanizer”

Even her throwaway singles are built to last.

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Best Country Singles of 2009, Part 2: #20-#1

We proceed.

#20

Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”

Teen-pop perfection, bursting with personality and unshakable hooks. – Dan Milliken

#19

Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”

There’s nothing quite as lonely as a carnival that has shut down, except for being alone at a carnival, surrounded by everyone but the love who has left you behind. – Kevin Coyne

#18

Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”

Sheer passion and pulsing energy from start to finish. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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Favorite Albums: Christmas

Last year, I counted down my twenty-five favorite Christmas songs. This year, it’s time to do the same with my favorite country Christmas albums. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comment section.

Merry Christmas!

#25
SHeDaisy, Brand New Year

This is not a typical, conservative country Christmas album. SHeDaisy spices things up by not only including originals, but rearranges the classics to make an unpredictable, unique Christmas album that stands out from the pack.

#24
Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas

This is an incredibly cheesy Christmas album. As only Dolly can do, however, it’s at least delightfully cheesy.

#23
Charlie Daniels & Friends, Joy To the World: A Bluegrass Christmas

This album flew under the radar this year, but it’s a wonderful bluegrass album with a few famous friends. Daniels even steps aside to allow his guests to sing while only accompanying them. Jewel steps up with an impressively country vocal on “Blue Christmas” and Kathy Mattea offers a rollicking version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”

#22
John Denver and the Muppets, Christmas Together

I grew up with this album. On the strength of nostalgia, I’d put it at the top of this list, but for the sake of being reasonable, I’ll settle for this ranking. Who doesn’t love the Muppets, anyway?

#21
John Cowan, Comfort and Joy

John Cowan’s Comfort and Joy is a new release, but its acoustic production and Cowan’s clear voice is instantly appealing. He interprets some classics, but also includes some worthy originals and lesser-known songs. The sprightly “Christmas Everyday”, the thoughtful “Little Match Girl” and the gospel “Good News” provide welcome depth to this Christmas project.

#20
Mindy Smith, My Holiday

Mindy Smith adeptly covers well-known standards on her Christmas album, but her original inclusions are what really stand out here, particularly “Follow the Shepherd Home” and “I Know the Reason.” With guest appearances from Alison Krauss, Thad Cockrell and Emmylou Harris (not to mention Smith’s own beautiful voice), My Holiday is one of the most outstanding mixes of originality and tradition on this list.

#19
Loretta Lynn, Best of Christmas…Twentieth Century Masters

This is a collection of Loretta Lynn Christmas songs. It’s my favorite traditional country Christmas album.

#18
Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable

If you enjoy Harris’ bluegrass album, Roses in the Snow, and her Live At the Ryman, you’ll likely enjoy this acoustic-based Christmas album as well. It has a live, relaxed feel to it. While it doesn’t necessarily sound big-budget, it is still a well-crafted Christmas album.

#17
The Tractors, Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas

The Tractors are infamous for their cringe-worthy novelty song, “Baby Likes To Rock It”, but they made an excellent Christmas album nonetheless. Their blend of swing and shuffle makes for a crisp album that I love to hear every year. I enjoy the entire album with the exception of their Christmas twist on “Baby Likes to Rock It.”

#16
Lee Ann Womack, A Season for Romance

Lee Ann Womack is successful in conveying a romantic vibe on this album that suggests just that. With her easy southern drawl, Womack knows her way around a gorgeous Christmas melody. Her fun side should not be ignored, however, as her version of “the Man with the Bag” is easily the superior track on the album.

#15
Travis Tritt, A Travis Tritt Christmas: Loving Time of the Year

Tritt rocks on songs like “Winter Wonderland”, adds a bluesy twist to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, waxes nostalgic on “Christmas in My Hometown” and reverently sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Nevertheless, he keeps Christmas in perspective as he philosophizes on the title track and, possibly naively, proclaims it to be the “most loving time of the year.”: “I wish I could bottle up this feeling/Pass out a little everyday/’Cause all the scars of pain have started healing/And troubles of this world just fade away…”

#14
Dwight Yoakam, Come on Christmas

Dwight’s signature quirky vocal style does not disappoint on this Christmas album. He does some standards and a few originals. His bluesy version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just may be the only version of that song that I like. Among the originals, the dysfunctional “Santa Can’t Stay” and the album’s sensual title track are the highlights of the project.

#13
Gene Autry, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Classics

Like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry’s name is simply synonymous with Christmas music.

#12
John Prine, A John Prine Christmas

Prine’s rough, unpolished voice does not try to navigate beloved classics that conjure up feelings of warmth and frivolity. Instead, he does what works best for him, which means writing songs that reveal insightful observations of real life. As a result, A John Prine Christmas is darker than a typical Christmas album.

#11
Alan Jackson, Let It Be Christmas

While Alan Jackson’s first Honky Tonk Christmas album is great, this one was recorded to appease his mother who requested a more traditional-sounding record. This one is especially good when hosting guests with mixed music tastes. Backed by a big band and orchestra, Jackson’s smooth voice navigates these traditional tunes with ease. Jackson’s original composition, the title track, is superb enough to stand with the revered classics.

#10
Martina McBride, White Christmas

Martina McBride made a safe Christmas album with all familiar songs, but she still managed to deliver an album that’s engaging and among the best of its kind. And as one might expect from McBride, she knocks “O Holy Night” out of the park.

#9
Toby Keith, A Classic Christmas

Toby Keith shows his generosity at Christmas time by making two Christmas albums (one of religious classics and the other of secular classics) and packaging them together for one low price. As a skillful interpreter, he treats these classics with both reference and fun as appropriate, with “Little Drummer Boy” receiving the coolest laid back production that I’ve ever heard on it.

#8
Lorrie Morgan, Merry Christmas from London

With the London Orchestra, Morgan is in fine voice and keeps up with the power accompaniment quite well. This is a beautiful, straightforward album that includes many classics and a sweeping version of “My Favorite Things.”

#7
Randy Travis, An Old Time Christmas

This Christmas album is exactly what one would expect from Randy Travis. If you like Randy Travis music and you like Christmas music, this one doesn’t disappoint. Highlights include his version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Meet Me Under The mistletoe” and “Old Time Christmas.”

#6
Kathy Mattea, Joy for Christmas Day

Kathy’s warm, soothing voice is meant for Christmas songs. She sings some standards along with some awesome originals. The stand out tracks are the gorgeous “Straw Against The Chill” and the infectious “Unto Us A Child Is Born.”

#5
Garth Brooks, Beyond the Season

Garth’s first and best Christmas album sounds a lot like Garth Brooks music of the early nineties. Even the classics get the Brooks treatment, including a soulful version of “Go Tell It On A Mountain.” The highlights include but aren’t limited to “The Friendly Beasts” (in which he enlists the help of some of his songwriting friends), “Unto You This Night” and Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy.”

#4
George Strait, A Classic Christmas

Strait has as many Christmas albums as he has decades in the country music business. This album is far superior to the other two, however. While all of the songs are classics, he has recorded them with rootsy productions to match his warm vocals. Highlights include “Jingle Bells”, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Oh Christmas Tree.”

#3
Clint Black, Christmas With You

This album consists of all original songs composed by Clint Black himself. Most of it contains Christmas through the eyes of children, including “Slow As Christmas”, “Milk and Cookies” and “The Coolest Pair.” It’s fresh, fun and joyous, just as Christmas should be.

#2
Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow: A Mountain Christmas

As a follow up to Mountain Soul, Patty Loveless delivers a soulful bluegrass Christmas album that radiates Christmas warmth while injecting moments of festive frivolity as well. Appearances by Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rebecca Lynn Howard and Jon Randall are not necessary to strengthen this already masterful Christmas album, but they certainly help the celebration in a special way.  (For more on this album, read a review by guest contributor Stephen Fales.)

#1
Pam Tillis, Just in Time for Christmas

Most of the time, I want to hear warmth on a Christmas album. As is the case with many of my favorites, I like to be able to imagine listening to Christmas music by a cozy fire (though I don’t have a fireplace) and a nice mug of hot chocolate. With Tillis’ album, my imagination does not have to stretch very far, because it commands such images with its tasteful, jazzy production and Tillis’ naturally pleasant voice. This is clearly a country Christmas album, but it also manages to blend country elements with other traditional components that result in a perfect hybrid of torch and twang.

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Conclusion: #20-#1

#20
“Not Ready to Make Nice”
Dixie Chicks
2006
Peak: #36

It’s easy to label this as a transitory response of a song, whose quality is stamped by context and time, but to do so is to undermine its carefully crafted layers of universal emotion. Anger is only the outer coating of the song – beneath it lies a tender-to-the-touch complex of feelings:  pain and disgust, confusion and resolve, stubbornness and defeat. “Not Ready to Make Nice” may always recall a certain unfortunate episode in country music history, but its theme – that sometimes there’s a price to pay for standing up for what you believe – is timeless. – Tara Seetharam

#19
“Probably Wouldn’t Be this Way”
LeAnn Rimes
2005
Peak: #3

A striking portrait of grief that alternates between phases of desolation, disillusionment and gratitude. Rimes’ interpretation of the lyrics is chillingly precise. – TS Continue reading

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61


#80

“When Somebody Loves You”
Alan Jackson
2001
Peak: #5

A treasure of a love song. Contrasted stunningly with modest accompaniment and vocals, the song’s message is that of love’s sublime ability to transform one’s life and bring light to dark. – Tara Seetharam


#79
“Separate Ways”
Rick Trevino
2007
Peak: #59

“Separate Ways” is an instructive narrative of a couple who did everything together, but “the last thing they did together was go their separate ways.” Fortunately, the song’s narrator learns from his parents’ divorce and wisely applies its valuable lesson to his own relationship. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8: #30-#21

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 8

30 Trisha

#30
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love

The latest album from Trisha Yearwood  was one of her best yet, with a surprisingly loose sound and quite a few more uptempo tracks than is the norm for this queen of the ballads.  The best moments came from the pens of female songwriters, most notably the poignant “Dreaming Fields” penned by Matraca Berg. – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “This Is Me You’re Talking To”, “Dreaming Fields”, “Sing You Back to Me”

29 Pam

#29
Pam Tillis,  Rhinestoned

On Rhinestoned, Pam Tillis demonstrates that she need not limit herself to covering her father’s songs in order to make a stellar traditional leaning album in her own right. The album, co-produced by Tillis, is consistent with accessible melodies, gentle, classic arrangements and impressively nuanced performances. While this is Tillis’ best album of the decade, it’s also possibly the best of her substantive career. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Something Burning Out”, Band in the Window”, “Life Has Sure Changed Us Around” (with John Anderson)

28 Patty

#28
Patty Loveless, Dreamin’ My Dreams

The reigning Miss Country Covers has proven almost ad nauseam that she can re-render a standard with the best of them. But the might of Patty Loveless’ talent emerges more fully in her musically diverse contemporary albums, which allow her powerful voice to flex its complete range of colors and nuances. Those sets also exercise more of her taste, giving opportunity for song selections which, at their sharpest, present an inspiring vision of how country music can evolve without losing its core identity. Dreamin’ My Dreams is an achievement on both fronts, arguably one of the brightest moments in a very distinguished career. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Keep Your Distance”, “When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough”, “Nobody Here By That Name”

27 Peter

#27
Peter Cooper, Mission Door

Peter Cooper’s Mission Door is an album built around the most country of instrumentation, centered around Lloyd Green on steel guitar. Full of insightful glimpses of troubled lives, it might be considered a throwback, but on the strength of its writing and sound it never seems to try to exist in the past. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “All the Way to Heaven”, “715 (For Hank Aaron)”, “Sheboygan”

26 Robert Alison

#26
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin’s front man, Robert Plant, are surely an unlikely duo. It turns out, however, that they managed to make one of the most intriguing duets projects of the decade. With vocal styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they find a way to meld together to create an easy harmony that causes the listener to forget their vocal dissimilarities. Moreover, T Bone Burnett’s slow burning productions perfectly compliment this diverse set of songs to make it a legitimately cohesive record. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”, “Please Read the Letter”, “Through the Morning, Through the Night”

25 Todd

#25
Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline

One of music’s most poetic songwriters lays bare his fears, demons and revelations, throwing in the requisite dry wit and some loosey-goosey social commentary for good measure. Snider has rarely sounded countrier, and he’s never sounded better. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Alcohol And Pills”, “The Ballad Of the Kingsmen”, “Sunshine”

24 Randy

#24
Randy Travis, Worship & Faith

Randy Travis has dedicated most of this decade to his spiritual side. Of all of his gospel albums, this collection is the most traditional both in arrangements and content, which covers several beloved hymns, gospel and praise and worship songs. Travis sings these meaningful compositions with a depth of sincerity that truly makes partaking of this rootsy project a spiritual experience. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “He’s My Rock, My Sword, My Shield”, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” (with John Anderson), “Sweet By and By”

23 Sugarland

#23
Sugarland, Love On the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)

More so than any act since the Dixie Chicks, Sugarland can fuse mainstream country with roots instrumentation in such imaginative ways that even pop audiences will lap it up.  This is the best commercial country album from the tail end of the decade, powered by the Nettles/Bush songwriting chops and the awe-inspiring vocals of Miss Nettles. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “We Run”, “Keep You”, “Very Last Country Song”

22 Keith

#22
Keith Urban, Be Here

Urban is an exceptional vocalist, songwriter and guitar player, but what separates him from his contemporaries is the raw, explosive emotion he throws into his performances. Be Here finds him channeling this passion more vigorously than ever and in new, more revealing ways – like the wrenching confession, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” Urban bypasses the role of interpreter on this album and simply inhabits the material; he’s as complex a person to be able to sing realistically, yet poignantly, of both life’s highest mountaintops and deepest valleys. Even further, Be Here is as accessible as it is personal, a quality that is perhaps what has made Urban one of the most accomplished recording artists in mainstream country music. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Days Go By”, “Tonight I Wanna Cry”, “Live To Love Another Day”

21 Neko

#21
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby

Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby is familiar with its use of reverb and Case’s overflowing voice. What may not be familiar for some is how much Case, who has moved more towards alternative influences with recent albums, draws from country influences on her sophomore album. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “Set Out Running”, “Porchlight”, “South Tacoma Way”

- – -

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Album Review: Carrie Underwood, Play On

Play OnCarrie Underwood
Play On

stars-312

It’s getting easy to take Carrie Underwood for granted. Her vocal talent so far exceeds all of her contemporaries that she can outsing them all from the corner of her mouth.  On her newest album, Play On, she  continues to find new ways to stretch that voice, using a variety of approaches ranging from full-on power to subtle nuances.

It helps that she’s as comfortable singing a shameless pop hook as she is a pure country melody. This should come as no surprise. Any artist of Underwood’s generation has been weaned on both Randy Travis and Def Leppard, on both Reba McEntire and Madonna, on both the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain.  Play On makes the case that all of these influences can be mixed together, sometimes even on the same song.

The pop moments on this album are relentlessly catchy, with “Undo It” reaching “Umbrella” levels of auditory cortex embedment. Many have noted that she sounded far more convincing on the hit “Last Name” when she sang it live, but she’s finally captured her fiery stage presence on record with “Songs Like This.” Her phrasing is so effective that it’s easy to picture her sneering in irritated dismissal of her former beau.

The album’s softer moments have a sweetness that mostly avoid saccharine sentimentality. “Mama’s Song” is simply gorgeous, with Underwood’s vocal beautifully conveying maternal love and gratitude.  “Someday When I Stop Loving You” is in the tradition of the very best country heartbreak songs: simple, sad, and sincere.

A big part of Underwood’s music is inspirational in nature, but her songs in this vein are tempered by realism. “Play On” makes no promises that try, try again will eventually end in success, but makes the case that life’s purpose is found in the effort, not the result. “Temporary Home” has the classic three-act structure that’s been around since at least “The Three Bells”, but further reveals Underwood’s sympathy for the invisible members of society like foster children and teenage mothers without a home.

Underwood remains a work in progress, which is to be expected given her age and the stage of her career. There are songs that aren’t fully formed lyrically, and as on her earlier albums, the production drowns her out on a handful of tracks, though this is less common this time around.

But the few mistakes here are outweighed by what she’s gotten right this time around. By drawing on a diversity of musical styles and further honing her songwriting craft, Underwood has created her strongest album to date, a consistently entertaining collection that showcases the impressive range of her numerous talents.

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CMA Awards: Predictions and Personal Picks

The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.

brad-paisleyEntertainer of the Year

Should Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan
  • Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Dan
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: Much like the field finally cleared for him in the Male Vocalist race two years ago, I expect that this is Paisley’s year to win with his sixth nomination. I think Taylor Swift deserves to win, though. There’s no getting around the fact that she’s the biggest thing out there right now.

Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.

Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.

Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.

brad-paisleyMale Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait – Dan
  • Keith Urban – Kevin
Will Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Leeann: I have no doubt that Paisley will win again, as he  has had a strong year and the CMAs tend to prefer him for this award.  While I think Urban is technically a very worthy opponent, the combination of Paisley’s warm voice and stronger album makes me continue to root for him.  I’d also be just as happy if Strait won, however, and feel that his and Paisley’s albums were the strongest of the year.

Dan: Looks like an easy Paisley win, but I’ll give Strait the nod for all-around strength this past year.

Tara: I don’t anticipate that Paisley’s winning streak will be broken. I’m pulling for him on the strength of his material, but wouldn’t mind one bit if Urban took the award. Just please, CMAs, don’t give it to Rucker!

Kevin: Paisley’s poised to pick up his third trophy, with his only real competition being five-time winner George Strait. I’d give a fourth trophy to previous winner Keith Urban over the rest of the field. He really sang rings around the rest of ‘em when comparing their latest albums.

Carrie Underwood 09Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Miranda Lambert - Leeann
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I tend to find Underwood boring, but I do think she released some of her better singles this past year. Swift just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to merit this prize, and I’d rather see Lambert win in a year where she has more momentum going, which could well be next year.

Tara: It will no doubt spark controversy when Underwood takes her fourth trophy and joins the ranks of Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, and that’s another discussion all together – but looking at the nominees for this year, it’s clear she deserves to win. In terms of sheer vocal talent, few artists in the genre come close to her. I’d love to see Lambert take this award (and Underwood would too!), but like Dan, I don’t think it’s her time just yet.

Kevin: I won’t believe a different winner in this race until I see it. I was underwhelmed by the latest albums from Lambert, McBride, McEntire, and Swift, and quite frankly, Underwood is the only lady of the five to put out more than one single this year that I actually really liked (“Just a Dream”, “I Told You So.”) I remain in her corner.

Leeann: Carrie will deserve to win this award when she wins it this year.  I, however, still prefer Lambert’s voice and feel that her output (album) is the most interesting of the nominees.

Sugarland JoeyVocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Tara: Sugarland continues to excite me, and I think they deserve this award again.

Kevin: I love Joey + Rory, but Sugarland have really been blowing me away lately.  I’d pick them for Entertainer if they’d been nominated.

Leeann: I’d technically love for Joey + Rory to win, but I know full well that Sugarland is the duo that truly deserves to win based upon their impact this year.

Dan: Sugarland. But I want to talk to whoever is picking their singles.

lady-antebellum-and-a-chairVocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum – Tara
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Dan

Will Win:

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: I find Zac Brown Band more interesting, and I think they have a real shot at winning this. I suspect Lady Antebellum has a bit more industry support, though, so I’ll give them the edge.

Leeann: Lady A will win because they’ve got more industry support and popularity with radio, but the Zac Brown Band has certainly put out more interesting music and have a refreshingly unique sound that deserves to be rewarded.

Dan: Pretty much what Kevin and Leeann said. “Chicken Fried” notwithstanding.

Tara: It’s definitely a race between Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, and I can understand why my co-bloggers are rooting for the former. But even if Lady Antebellum’s talent needs a little cultivating, their music strikes a very personal chord with me, and I’ll be thrilled when they take this award. Can you believe Rascal Flatts might actually walk away from an awards show empty-handed?

zac-bbNew Artist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Tara

Will Win:

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Kevin
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker – Dan, Leeann, Tara
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: A weak lineup that speaks volumes about why country music is where it is today. I think Zac Brown Band should win. They’ve really been the real breakthrough act of the five. But I suspect in this battle of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” co-writers, Jamey Johnson will emerge victorious.

Leeann: While I’m tempted to root for Jamey Johnson, I think Zac Brown Band has a chance of keeping me intrigued over the next few years (even if they fall out of the mainstream), though I don’t think they’ve reached their potential  just yet.  I predict that Darius Rucker will actually win, however, as he’s been the most successful in the last year.

Dan: Time will tell whether Johnson is able to remain a strong artistic force, but I’d say he has as good a chance as any of these five if he can keep from getting self-important. Rucker is the biggest star on the ballot, though, and I suspect he’ll squeak the win over Johnson and Zac Brown Band.

Tara: Johnson and Zac Brown Band are both deserving recipients of this award, but I personally prefer the band’s music. With the commercial success Rucker’s seen in the past year, though, I think it’s his award to lose. Not too sure how I feel about that.  

thatlonesomesongAlbum of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Leeann, Dan
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday NightTara
  • Sugarland, Love on the InsideKevin
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
Will Win:
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless – Leeann
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Leeann: While Johnson’s album hasn’t really stuck with me over the past year or so, I still think it’s the best album out of the bunch.  I think Swift will win, however, due to the volume of sales and hit singles.

Dan: All of these albums have strengths, but That Lonesome Song is the only one that makes me optimistic about country music’s future. I expect it to triumph, though Swift’s has a great shot, too.

Tara: Paisley’s album, to me, strikes that sweet balance of traditional and contemporary. I think it’s a strong, interesting and relevant album that epitomizes why Paisley is so deservingly successful. But Johnson will deserve this award when he takes it, and I recognize and appreciate his positive influence on mainstream country music.

Kevin: I expected more nods overall for Jamey Johnson. I think that the eligibility period hurt him, with the project less fresh in voters’ minds. But the CMA values traditional country more than any other awards organization, so I expect him to win this. I enjoy the Sugarland album far more than any of the other four, so I’m rooting for that one.

Jamey smile 2Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington – Dan
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Dan: I’ve just got a bad feeling about that Currington single. “I Run To You” does have some smokin’ production, but “In Color” is the only one of the five I can still stand.

Tara: Ouch. I’m pleased that “I Run to You” is nominated as it’s a personal favorite, but I don’t think any song other than “In Color” is deserving of this award. Again…ouch.

Kevin: This is the weakest lineup in the history of this category.

Leeann: Johnson’s song feels old to me now, but it’s the best song in this underwhelming category, though I’m sure David Letterman disagrees.  While I like the production on “People Are Crazy” the best in this line-up, the hook (not to mention the frustratingly weak story development) is just lame.

randy-travisSong of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Leeann
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley

Tara: I would absolutely love to see Travis take this award; Underwood’s success with the song proves that the best-written country songs are timeless. I think “In Color” has more pull, though.

Kevin: I think Johnson will win, but kudos to Carrie Underwood for recognizing the value of the Randy Travis-penned gem and making it a hit all over again.

Leeann: This is not one of my favorite Randy Travis songs, but for nostalgia’s sake, I’m rooting for him to win this one. I even think it has a chance of winning, since it was a hit song for one of today’s country music’s most popular artists. I think the Paisley composition is, by far, the weakest though.

Dan: I like probable-winner “In Color” marginally more than “I Told You So.” Any of the other three winning would hurt me way down deep.

randy-travis-and-carrie-underwoodMusical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe – Leeann, Dan
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban – Leeann

Kevin: Will the CMA really pass up the chance to give a trophy to Randy Travis for the first time in 21 years? I hope not.

Leeann: Paisley’s and Urban’s collaboration was originally accidentally left off the ballot, but the superstar pairing is the most likely to win.  Conversely, I suspect that the inclusion of the collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe was likely an accident, but I’d still love to see this dark horse nomination win. It’s certainly the most interesting song of the category.  I might have gone for the Underwood/Travis pairing if Travis’ inclusion didn’t seem so random.  I liked Underwood’s original version better, as Vince Gill’s harmony seemed more natural.

Dan: It’s totally between “I Told You So” and “Start A Band”, but I’m pulling for the underdog Raconteurs record, too. I like my collaborations a little spontaneous like that, and it’s always great to see outsiders included in the CMA fold.

Tara: While I have a particular soft spot for “Down the Road,” which I thought was one of the best singles of 2008, it should come as no surprise that I’m pulling for the beautiful, rough-and-pure “I Told You So.” I think it will easily win.

george_straitMusic Video of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Dan: I enjoy the Strait video most, but Swift’s is the flashiest, and that tends to win out.

Tara: Strait’s video is poignant and tastefully done. I never understood the appeal of Swift’s Shakespearean video, but apparently a whole generation of country music fans does. My money’s on Swift.

Kevin: I think the Swift fairytale will get the most votes, but the Strait clip hypnotizes me every time it’s on. Who knew a simple slide show could be so powerful and such a perfect fit for a song?

paul-franklinMusician of the Year
Should Win:
  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar)

Will Win:

  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar)
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I should really start paying more attention to this kind of thing. But I know Paul Franklin’s been doing steel for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Rascal Flatts in the past year. Respek!

Tara:
Franklin’s the one I’m most familiar with, and I agree with Kevin and Dan that he deserves it. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to gauge who’ll win this year, but I suppose I’d go with McAnally again.

Kevin: I guess that McAnally will repeat his victory from last year. The other previous winners won quite a bit of time ago – Dann Huff in 2001 and 2004, Brent Mason in 1997 and 1998.  My sympathy goes to Eddie Bayers, who is nominated for the tenth time and has yet to win. I have no choice but to pull for Paul Frankin, though, who has lost this award sixteen times.  Here’s hoping that seventeen’s a charm!

Leeann: Please don’t let it be Dann Huff! That’s all I ask.  Of course, I’m partial to the steel guitar, not to mention that it’s a shame that a steel guitar player has to work so hard to win a country music award.

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Discussion: Non-Hit Singles of the Decade

BillboardPop on those thinking caps; we’ve encountered a dilemma that Wikipedia alone cannot remedy!

See, like any warm-blooded entertainment blog, CU totally gets off on ranking stuff. So naturally, we’ve been hard at work piecing together our opinions on the decade’s finest albums and singles. The former category has proven easy enough to probe; the latter, however, presents a significant challenge, since singles that aren’t mainstream hits are often swept under the public carpet as the years go by.

I think it would be a shame to overlook some of the Aughts’ best work just because of our limited recall and research abilities, though, and I know our readers are diverse and knowledgeable enough to help us fill in the gaps. So I’m inviting everyone to name a bunch of their lesser-known favorites to help us broaden our selection pool (and have a little fun while we’re at it).

For example, my personal list would include:

  • Nickel Creek, “When You Come Back Down”
  • Dolly Parton, “Shine”
  • Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”
  • Alison Krauss & James Taylor, “How’s The World Treating You”
  • Loretta Lynn with Jack White, “Portland, Oregon”
  • Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”
  • Ryan Adams, “Let It Ride”
  • Pinmonkey, “That Train Don’t Run”
  • Randy Rogers Band, “Somebody Take Me Home”
  • Ashley Monroe, “Satisfied”
  • Bruce Robison, “All Over But the Cryin’”
  • Randy Travis, “Dig Two Graves”

And those are just some of the easy ones. But I’ll let y’all take over: What are some of your favorite non-hit singles from the past decade? Feel free to include anything from any classification of country – mainstream, Alt-Country/Americana, bluegrass, Texas, independent – and definitely include as many as you like, especially if you have a few that haven’t been mentioned yet. If it didn’t go Top 20 and was shipped to radio, it’s fair game!

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CMA Noms ’09

cma_awardIt’s that time of year again! For each major category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:

Entertainer

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

Who’s In: Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Sugarland

Snap Judgment: With Carrie Underwood and Sugarland a little out of the spotlight recently, it’s no shock to see the regular foursome of Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban prevail. Swift was a logical inclusion given her across-the-board dominance, but I gotta say that I’m surprised to see her acknowledged for it by the historically traditional-leaning CMA.

Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Darius Rucker

Who’s Out: Alan Jackson

Snap Judgment: Pretty predicable. Rucker has shown he can get serious spins at radio, which is probably what won him this slot over Jamey Johnson.

Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Reba McEntire

Who’s Out: Alison Krauss

Snap Judgment: Again, no big surprises. Martina always hangs in there somehow, doesn’t she?

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

Who’s In: Joey + Rory

Who’s Out: The Wreckers (finally!), oddly not Big & Rich

Snap Judgment: I guess there has to be at least one defunct act in this category every year, huh?

Vocal Group

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Zac Brown Band

Who’s Out: Emerson Drive

Snap Judgment: I’m baffled to see the Eagles still here. I expect there will be a lot more shake-up in this category next year, with Love and Theft, Eli Young Band and The Lost Trailers all experiencing a rise in profile recently.

New Artist

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Completely new line-up!

Snap Judgment: A strong group. Johnson, Rucker and Zac Brown Band are selling better than many of the veteran acts, so they’re the serious contenders this year, but all five nominees show great artistic potential.

Album

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Sugarland, Love On The Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Snap Judgment: Probably as good a line-up as you could’ve hoped for. Never thought I’d live to see a CMA category where I thought Keith Urban had the weakest offering!

Single

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run To You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Snap Judgment: Sigh.

Song

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley

Snap Judgment: I mean, it’s not like Randy Travis ever had his own hit with “I Told You So” or anything.

Musical Event

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down The Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban

Snap Judgment: How in the world did that Raconteurs record sneak in there? Props, CMA!

Music Video

  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Snap Judgment: Not bad. Houser’s doesn’t have much, but the only one I outright dislike is Currington’s. It’s just another excuse for him to sit around looking scruffy on a beach.

Musician

  • Eddie Bayers
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally

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