Tag Archives: Rascal Flatts

Single Review: Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield, “Easy”

You can go ahead and shoot me if you want to, but I actually kind of like this one.

For once, I don’t mind that the Flatts are overdramatizing things the way they always do (nor the fact that there’s absolutely nothing country-sounding about it), since it seems to be more or less in character with the song.  The lyrics are simple, but effective at telling the story of two ex-lovers who are in denial of the strong feelings they still harbor for one another.  Nathasha Bedingfield’s presence turns out to be a worthwhile addition to the song, giving the story an extra layer.  We find out that, as this brokenhearted man is trying desperately to conceal his true feelings from his former flame, she is likewise trying to conceal similar feelings from him.  The British Adult Contemporary star has a unique voice, and she adds a special touch to the song that makes it more interesting.

As the song nears its end, things really do get over-the-top, right down to the signature overdramatic guitar solo (After all, this is still a Rascal Flatts song).  But it mercifully doesn’t approach the sheer self-indulgent mediocrity of past artistic flops like “Here Comes Goodbye.”

A little restraint could have improved it.  But overall I like this Rascal Flatts power ballad about as much as I could possibly like a Rascal Flatts power ballad.  Anyway… into the guilty pleasure playlist it goes.

Written by Katrina Elam and Mike Mobley

Grade:  B

Listen: Easy

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 18

Today’s category is…

A Song You Love By an Artist You Don’t.

Here are the staff picks:

Dan Milliken: “Ticks” – Brad Paisley

He was one of the first country artists I got into, but I’ve developed a sourness for Paisley over the years. With each successive album, his songwriting voice has tended to sound a little more self-impressed and a little less self-aware. “Ticks” is a nice exception to my ears, though. For once, Paisley seems to get that he’s playing the machismo creep, so a listener can take perverse pleasure in listening to him be creepy rather than balk at the fact that they’re expected to sympathize with him. It helps that it’s one of his cooler-sounding singles, too.

Tara Seetharam: “I Never Told You” – Colbie Caillat

This song is a perfect match for the typically annoying (and off key) vulnerable quality to her voice. And we all know I’m a sucker for a well-executed, wistful love song.

Kevin Coyne: “My Life” – Billy Joel

Maybe it’s because the Garth Brooks songs that annoy me the most are the ones where he tries to sing like Joel, or maybe it’s just that too many of his hits made the family mix tapes that made car rides a living hell.  Either way, the man’s music has not worn well on my ears over the years. I love “My Life,’ though. It’s a philosophy I can really get behind, and it has that perfect balance of emotional detachment and simmering contempt.

Leeann Ward: “What Hurts the Most” – Rascal Flatts

There are exactly five songs that I enjoy by Rascal Flatts. Yes, “God Bless the Broken Road” is one of them, but “What Hurts the Most”, in all its sappy glory, is my favorite of them.

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ACM Live Blog 2011

Hello.

This is going to be a really important show, you guys.

WINNERS

Entertainer of the Year: Taylor Swift

Top Female Vocalist: Miranda Lambert

Top Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley

Album of the Year: Lady Antebellum, Need You Now

Song of the Year: “The House That Built Me”

Single of the Year: “The House That Built Me”

Top Vocal Duo: Sugarland

Top Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum

Top New Artist: The Band Perry

Top Till You Drop:

Vocal Event of the Year: Zac Brown Band & Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away”

Music Video of the Year: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

- – -

10:02 Well, all right, that was fun enough. Kinda. Thanks for playing along, y’all, and have a good night!

9:58 A shocking upset! As shocking as, like, one of those chewy Sweet Tarts.

Entertainer of the Year: Taylor Swift

9:56 Hey, how about next year we get James Taylor to come back and sing with the Dixie Chicks again? Yes or yes?

9:52 They segue into “Sweet Baby James.” At least this pairing makes musical sense.

9:48 Leeann: Zac Brown and James Taylor, Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler, Jennifer Nettles and Rihanna? Is CMT testing for upcoming Crossroads episodes?

9:45 Was having some trouble with the site for a few minutes there. Now we’re up to Zac Brown Band doing a very cool “Colder Weather” with James Taylor.

9:41 Amazing how only a year and a half ago the idea of Miranda winning one of the really competitive awards still seemed like a pipe dream.

Top Female Vocalist: Miranda Lambert

9:36 “Love Gets a Hold of You” or something. It sounds okay – almost in the same you’re-gonna-miss-me-boy! vein as “Turn on the Radio,” though. I think we’re all ready for some more mature Reba now. Take a lesson from Martina.

9:34 Reba’s out to sing something or other. I just saw today that “If I Were a Boy” got yanked as a single; this must be the new one?

9:27 Darius Rucker singing “Music from the Heart” with a choir of various ages and developmental disabilities. Very passionate, touching performance.

9:25 Chris Young’s trying out the hatless thing.

9:25 Oh, for real? At least he acknowledged he has too many now.

Top Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley

9:22 I don’t know how I’m still awake through all this. I shouldn’t be saying such things at 9:23.

9:17 Leeann: Martina is worming her way back into my heart again. I’m a soft touch.

9:17 …Who just tweeted, “Holy crap, I’m singing.” Perfect.

9:14 Awesome. It does. This reminds me of Jeannie C. Riley, the spunky honesty of it. And I like to fantasize that she got some inspiration for that opening “honestly, I think I need a drink” line from Drunken Martina.

9:13 Martina’s coming out with “Teenage Daughters.” I really hope this translates well to stage.

Top Vocal Duo: Sugarland

9:10 Kevin: Naomi Judd: The answer to the age-old question, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

9:09 Leeann: Ronnie Dunn sounds so much like Brooks & Dunn. Go figure.

9:07 He looks and sounds like musical Jesus. I mean that in a complimentary way!

9:03 Ronnie Dunn’s coming up with “Bleed Red.” Excited for that, kinda. I think C.M. Wilcox is right and that it’ll work well as an award show performance even if the single itself is a little sleepy (to some of us).

8:56 Leeann: Good. Have Kristian introduce Nettles/Rihanna to show how secure he is about being put on the sideline all the time. We’re convinced.

8:55 True fact: The banner at the top of this post will light up and spin all through this Rihanna-Jennifer Nettles performance. Watch closely!

8:53 She interjects a bit of some song I should probably recognize but don’t, and then “I’ll Fly Away.” And she sounds real good.

8:53 I bet there are some Christian folks out there from Miranda’s life who are like, “We did not say that!”

8:52 A Miranda performance is usually my favorite part of an awards night. But it’s “Heart Like Mine.”

8:44 Eh. Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about how awesome that live blog over at The 9513 is!

Top Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum

8:41 Or, as our pal Corey Parkman of Farce the Music just put it on Twitter, “I wonder what Sara Evans would sound like if she ever got over that sinus infection.”

8:38 The return of Sara Evans to the ACMs. Last performance I remember from her here was that severely pitch-challenged one of “Coalmine” the night she won Top Female years ago. She sounds better here, but still not up to many of her recorded performances.

8:35 I mean, seriously, y’all. “Need You Now” is the only reason Need You Now has sold like it has, and the album selling like it has is the only reason it’s getting this recognition. “Need You Now” won Song and Single of the Year at last year’s ACMs; couldn’t that have been enough?

8:31 IEIOF432IfffkDdk&*$#vdsadvfdjfpvfs >:(

Album of the Year: Lady Antebellum, Need You Now

8:28 Well, don’t think I was missing much. Such a shame – he truly would be one of the best male vocalists in the game if he had better taste.

8:25 We get a Blake Shelton performance. Don’t recognize the song.

Single of the Year: “The House That Built Me”

8:14 Jason Aldean doing the Colt Ford country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” and it’s every bit as cool you would imagine. (That is, decidedly un-.)

8:09 Apparently their dad’s name is Steve Perry. I snickered harder than I should have.

Best New Artist: The Band Perry

8:07 Kevin: And my favorite of the 57 performances so far is…Taylor Swift. No one can ever accuse me of not having an open mind.

8:05 Kimberly Perry delivers the “well” in “If I Die Young” with way too much spunk. “Well! I’ve had just enough time. So if I do die – y’know, whatever!”

8:03 Whoops, apparently it’s a guitjo/ganjo. Whatever, it’s not like I’m a writer of music-related opinion articles or something!

8:00 Taylor Swift singing “Mean” and strumming the banjo, which is not how I’ve known anyone to play the banjo. Pretty cool scene, though – they’re in front of an old-timey house and the band’s all decked out in their Depression-era best.

7:55 Kevin: Not naming the songwriters for Song of the Year is an absolute disgrace.

[They announced it as “Miranda Lambert, ‘The House That Built Me,'” though she’s not the one who wrote it.]

Song of the Year: “The House That Built Me”

7:53 Finally, we get one: Song of the Year.

7:50 Eric Church doing “Smoke a Little Smoke,” the one single of his I really dig, with verve. BUT THERE STILL HASN’T BEEN A SINGLE AWARD.

7:45 Back from commercial, Keith Urban performing his newest hit, “Without You (Nicole Kidman)(Pt. 3)(Ballad Version).”

7:42 Leeann: Seriously? Still no award yet? What are we watching?

7:38 Dierks Bentley running laps around the arena to “Am I the Only One,” determined to make us like the unlikable.

7:36 Kevin: That’s what I wanted that song to sound like on the album.

7:35 I’ll say this: JNett still has the best stage charisma of any mainstream country star who isn’t Keith Urban.

7:32 Leeann: Half hour in and still no award yet at this…uh…awards show.

7:32 Sugarland’s here, Jennifer apparently with hair extensions, and they’re doing “Tonight.” Figured this would probably be the next single. Like Kevin, I’d like the recorded version if not for the head-cold-ish performance.

7:30 Well, that was fun. Good thing I gave up on the term “country music” meaning anything a few weeks ago!

7:27 Kevin: We’re officially down the rabbit hole.

7:27 They segue into “Walk This Way.”

7:26 Steven Tyler is really good at screaming awesomely and only ok at remembering the words to Carrie Underwood songs.

7:24 Two Soul Surfer ladies come out to introduce Carrie, who’s doing “Undo It.” WITH STEVEN TYLER! OK, I like this now.

7:20 Apparently Dr. Pepper’s current slogan is “There’s nothing like a Dr. Pepper.” Uhhhh.

7:17 Pleasant enough song (“Somewhere Else”), and he’s got that sweet Toby growl going.

7:16 Leeann: It’s nice to like Toby Keith music these days.

7:14 “ARE THEY READY?! DOES ZAC BROWN ENJOY THE FEEL OF HIS ASS IN THE SAND?!” Best Blake line of the night so far.

7:13 The celebrity cheap shots are coming hard and fast, though.

7:10 We are promised no Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan jokes. God? Is that you?!?

7:07 Celine Dion’s here now, and she’s VERY VERY EXCITED! I honestly can’t think of a better Vegas gate-keepeer, though.

7:07 Kevin: Since when did Alabama become a trio? What a poorly cropped picture, lawsuit or not.

7:06 It would be great if, instead of writing songs about how great the classic acts were, today’s artists just figured out how to measure up.

7:04 Leeann: Good. We get this disappointing Paisley  song out of the way now.

7:04 “Old Alabama” now.

7:02 Cute-ish opening skit with Blake Shelton “rehearsing for his wedding night” by serenading a blond-wigged Reba with “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking.”

6:52 Leeann: John Rich is so much more tolerable when he’s with Big Kenny.

6:38 The JaneDear Girls just appeared onscreen. When are they un-appearing, I wonder?

6:33 Wynonna and Naomi Judd chilling with Suzanne Alexander now. Colorically speaking, Wynonna has become a human sunset.

6:31 Chris Young is now talking to Storme which means his voice is audible – yay!

6:26 On some red carpet somewhere, GAC’s Storme Warren just presented to Vocal Event award, inevitably, to “As She’s Walking Away.”

6:15 Dierks Bentley will be playing “Am I the Only One” tonight. Have fun, no one!

6:04 Super-jealous of The 9513’s sweet new live blog layout. Also: the smartness of their live-bloggers. Also: the fact that Brady and Brody Vercher are named thusly.

5:59 Red carpet time, woo!! I bet everybody’s totally wearing clothes this year.

[Dan from here on out, unless otherwise noted.]

5:21 I…….this post……AM BORN

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Crunching the Numbers: January 2011

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

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

Top Selling Current Country Albums

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

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100 Greatest Men: #99. Rascal Flatts

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

In the modern era of country music, you have to move a lot of units to be considered a legitimate superstar.  The first act to do so on a regular basis was Alabama, who had eight consecutive multi-platinum albums in a row in the first half of the eighties.

Since then, there have been a multitude of country artists who’ve accomplished the same feat, but despite the fact that it was a band that broke down the barrier, only one male band since Alabama has achieved similar success: Rascal Flatts.

Family connections helped this power trio get their start.  Lead singer Gary LeVox and his cousin, Jay DeMarcus, each had a desire to be country musicians, but it was DeMarcus who went to Nashville first.  After a stint in Christian band East Meets West, DeMarcus convinced LeVox to join him in Nashville.

DeMarcus joined Chely Wright’s band, which is where he met the final trio member, JoeDon Rooney.  By that time, DeMarcus and LeVox were doing regular gigs at Printer’s Alley in downtown Nashville. One night, their guitarist didn’t show, so DeMarcus invited Rooney to perform with them.   They were an instant hit, and when they couldn’t come up with a band name, an audience member suggested Rascal Flatts.

The band signed with Lyric Street in late 1999.  The fledgling label had launched with projects by Lari White and SHeDaisy, but soon Rascal Flatts would become their flagship act.  Success was immediate, with radio embracing all four singles from their self-titled debut album.  A Nashville disc jockey was responsible for the release of “I’m Movin’ On” as the fourth single, giving it heavy play as a n album cut.  It became their first huge hit, winning Song of the Year honors at the ACM Awards and powering their debut set to double-platinum status.

Over the next few years, they became a core act at country radio, scoring eleven #1 hits and selling nearly twenty million albums.  Signature records released during this time include “Bless the Broken Road” and “What Hurts the Most.”  Interestingly, both of those songs had been recorded by other artists, but adding their distinctive sound and trademark harmonies made these songs huge hits on both the country and pop charts.

As their career peaked in the mid-2000s, they were regularly nominated for Entertainer of the Year, while sweeping the CMA and ACM Vocal Group category for several years on end.  They also became a powerful force on the road, ranking among the top-grossing acts of all genres.

Like many of their contemporaries, the pace of their record sales began to slow down, but even today, they remain a strong presence at both radio and retail. After switching from Lyric Street to Big Machine, the band received plaudits for their newest music, with critics noting a return to the more country arrangements of their earlier work and a move away from the arena pop sound that had become more prevalent.

Essential Singles:

  • I’m Movin’ On, 2001
  • Bless the Broken Road, 2004
  • Fast Cars and Freedom, 2005
  • Life is a Highway, 2006
  • What Hurts the Most, 2006
  • My Wish, 2006

Essential Albums:

  • Feels Like Today, 2004
  • Greatest Hits Volume 1, 2008

Next: #98. Lee Greenwood

Previous: #100. Eck Robertson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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The Best Singles of 2010, Part 1: #40-#31

Greatness comes in twos this year, as ten different artists make dual appearances on this list. Perhaps this demonstrates a greater truth about 2010.  Sure, there was some good music, but greatness was concentrated among a smaller group of artists than usual.

As is the annual tradition, we’ll reveal this year’s forty best singles, ten at a time.  Check back tomorrow for Part 2.

The Best Singles of 2010, Part 1: #40-#31

#40

Why Wait
Rascal Flatts

The Flatts boys return to their roots with this bright, infectious slice of country-pop. Bonus points for keeping both Gary LeVox’s voice and Dann Huff’s production in check. – Tara Seetharam

#39

That’s Important to Me
Joey + Rory

So far, Joey+Rory’s calling card has been their ability to exude authenticity through their songs with a naturalness and warmth as convincingly as a certain mother-daughter duo of the eighties, The Judds. Only, unlike the Judds, this partnership’s perceived connection isn’t marred by real accounts of strife and familial discord. Instead, by all accounts, Joey and Rory’s love is as sweet as their musical harmonies suggest. And this song is a nice encapsulation of what makes them who they are as a duo, both in a personal and professional sense. – Leeann Ward

#38

Where Do I Go From You
Clay Walker

Walker’s voice has matured so much over the past decade. Thankfully, he still has preserved his playful way with a melody, resulting in records like this that elevate radio fodder into something more than just filler.  – Kevin John Coyne

#37

Back to December
Taylor Swift

She ran from love “when fear crept into [her] mind,” but fear has long since given way to sorrowful regret. Swift knows there’s probably no reversing her mistake, but gets the grief off her chest anyway, with a chorus that sounds almost as nervous as you’d imagine the real-life plea to. – Dan Milliken

#36

Little Miss
Sugarland

My disdain for the duo’s label remains strong, as their lack of quality control let a terrible album reach the marketplace. But kudos to the folks who are picking the singles, as The Incredible Machine must sound like a great piece of work to radio listeners who’ve only heard the album’s two singles. It’s not quite “What it Feels Like For a Girl”, but as modern-day post-feminist explorations of gender go, “Little Miss” is very good. – KC

#35

Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer
Billy Currington

He ain’t cut out to sing great ballads. He’s not the type to make deep and introspective albums.  But he’s pretty good – no, pretty great – at laid back songs like this. – KC

#34

Temporary Home
Carrie Underwood

A story of shared humanity, brought to life by Underwood’s spot-on vocal interpretation. This is the first single in her catalog to slice through to the person behind the artist, and the payoff –striking, palpable personal conviction– is rich. – TS

#33

I’m In
Keith Urban

In an unusual accomplishment, Keith Urban manages to allow a drum machine to enhance a song rather than destroy it. What’s more, this lively Radney Foster penned celebration of commitment is both infectious and refreshing. When it comes to a new relationship, we don’t know what to expect, so the best choice is to be all in and present. – LW

#32

Pray For You
Jaron and The Long Road to Love

If we’re going to bring a college-boy mentality to country music – heck, Hootie’s already in the house anyway – let’s have it be as satisfyingly clever as it is juvenile.   – KC

#31

From a Table Away
Sunny Sweeney

Seeing the man she loves visibly enthralled by the wife he claims he’s leaving, the man’s mistress finally realizes how badly she’s being used. Sort of like “Stay” with more reserved narration. This is the kind of country single we don’t hear much anymore, with traditional-leaning vocals and production that work only enough to capture the song’s natural pathos, never overcooking things. – DM

Check out the rest of the list:

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2010 CMA Awards: Staff Picks and Predictions

When the nominees were announced in August for the 44th annual CMA Awards, they sparked a firestorm of headlines –and thoughtful commentary by critics and fans alike– thanks to the CMA voters’ surprisingly bold moves. It’s all about change this year, as the voters revamped the ballot with a slew of fresh faces in almost all of the big categories.

How will it all play out? We’ll know for sure on Wednesday at 8pm Eastern, but before Gwenyth Paltrow throws on her cowboy boots, check out our staff picks and predictions and join the discussion in the comments below. And be sure to drop by Wednesday night for all of the CU live blog madness!

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert – Kevin
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band – Leeann, Dan, Tara

Kevin:  Among the five nominees, Miranda Lambert has best represented the genre this year.

Leeann: I’m torn between Lambert and the Zac Brown Band as most deserving this year. I recently saw Lambert’s show and wasn’t incredibly impressed, however. While I have not yet attended a ZBB show, theirs is one of the few spots that I look forward to at awards shows these days. Moreover, I’m impressed by how much of a following they had even before they made any mainstream records.

Dan: Of these five, Zac Brown Band had the second-most success this year (after Lady A) and made the second-best music (after Lambert), so that’s pretty good standing. And I feel like giving this award to a grassroots act would be a good way for the industry to greet the future.

Tara: I’m consistently impressed by Zac Brown Band’s live performances, and it would be really refreshing to see them win – so I’ll go with them. (But I’m still disappointed that the first year my head and heart align on Carrie Underwood deserving an EOTY award, I can’t support her. I’m holding out for 2012…)

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert – Tara
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Dan
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: I’ve probably learned nothing from last year’s Swift sweep by going with Paisley again, but he’s the only nominee of veteran stature who hasn’t won yet.

Leeann: I can’t imagine that Paisley won’t finally win this one.

Dan: I was going to guess Lady A, since they’re sort of 2010’s “flavor of the year” the way Taylor Swift was 2009’s. But when I think about it, Swift’s ascent was greater and more gradual, and she stood in contrast to the rest of her nominee pool (four male veterans) in a way Lady A don’t with theirs (in which they’re one of three new competitors). So, Paisley.

Tara: I have no rationale. My gut says Lambert.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Dierks Bentley – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: Bentley made the best music this year.

Leeann: Bentley may not have the best technical voice out of these nominees, but he has the most interesting and distinctive of them, which is always something that I gravitate toward. Also, I agree with Kevin that he’s made the best music this year.

Dan: Shelton and Bentley are the only ones in this pool who made significant career strides this year – Shelton at radio, and Bentley creatively. Since I’m backing someone else in the Album category, this is where I’d like to see Bentley recognized for following his muse.

Tara: I guess Up on the Ridge is as good a reason as any to fall off the Brad-for-MVOTY bandwagon. He’s a close second for me, though.

Will Win:

  • Dierks Bentley – Kevin, Dan
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: I can see the roots album giving Bentley an edge. Then again, Paisley could just repeat again, or Shelton may suddenly have deep support among voters. I say, Bentley by a nose.

Leeann: I think that voters will reflexively give this one to Paisley again.

Dan: I’ll ditto Kevin.

Tara: I can’t really see Paisley losing this one, but I think if he does lose to Bentley, it’ll be a telling moment.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann, Dan
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara

Kevin: Underwood and McEntire are the women who made my favorite singles from the eligibility period, but Lambert’s the only one who hasn’t won this award.  She’s not overdue, but she’s due.

Leeann: Kevin’s right that Lambert is due to win this award now, not to mention that she’s my favorite female singer out of the bunch.

Dan: Lambert still isn’t at Underwood’s sales level, much less Swift’s, and I don’t see her catching up before traditional music sales die out altogether. Doesn’t matter, though: her habit of making creative music will sustain her regardless of industry conditions, and will elevate the genre in the long run. It’s time to look ahead.

Tara: I’m 50/50 on Lambert and Underwood. I’m not sure how to balance Lambert’s long overdue mega-year against Underwood’s continuous stream of solid success, ambassadorship and artistic growth. I’ll be happy either way, but personal investment’s got me in Underwood’s camp.

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert - Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood- Leeann

Kevin: I’d be shocked if Lambert lost, and can’t even make a guess as to who she’d lose to, should she somehow lose.

Leeann: It’s between Lambert and Underwood, but I give Underwood the edge, especially since it’s somewhat surprising that she didn’t get an Entertainer nomination. Although Lambert has gained popularity in the past year, Underwood is still one of the two biggest females in the business and I refuse to predict that Swift will win the award.

Dan: Lambert’s had enough mainstream success this year to give tasteful voters an excuse to give her some props.

Tara: The voters love them some Lambert this year, and I think of all her nominations, this is the one she’s got in the bag.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland

Kevin: I’m assuming “Stuck Like Glue” was after the eligibility period, so I think actually making some music over the year is important. Joey + Rory are the only duo I like who have yet to win.

Leeann: I simply like them the most, but I know they don’t have a chance.

Dan: I mean, why not? Nobody on this ballot has done much but tour.

Tara: I’m not very excited about any of these acts right now, to be honest. It would just be heartwarming to see Joey + Rory pick this one up.

Will Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn – Kevin, Dan
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland – Leeann, Tara

Kevin: Sugarland’s year off helped guarantee a B&D victory lap, which would probably have happened anyway.

Leeann: It’s between Brooks & Dunn and Sugarland. I should just pick B&D because of their retirement, but I’m still going with Sugarland because of their popularity.

Dan: Brooks & Dunn, unless voters ignore the eligibility period and stick with Sugarland.

Tara: Isn’t the Brooks & Dunn retirement thing kind of old news by now, or am I just out of touch?

Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

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

Kevin: Let’s start getting some variety in this category, instead of having Lady A own it for five years.

Leeann: They’re the only group that I like right now.

Dan: I’ll probably be rooting for Little Big Town come ACM season, but for now…

Tara: I don’t want Lady A to own this for five years, either, but I do think they deserve to win this year. At least in my opinion, their huge success on the charts and with album sales can be attributed much to their ability to (I know, I know – I’m a broken record) hone in on specific emotion and deliver it in a way that people can really connect with. There’s some meat (and a heck of a lot of potential) behind their success that tends to go unnoticed.

Will Win:

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

Kevin: Lady A and Zac BB are both very popular with voters, but I’m thinking that this is the only race where voters can reward Lady A for dominating at retail this year.

Leeann: Ditto to Kevin.

Dan: New Artist will be ZBB’s consolation prize.

Tara: …And I think the voters will agree with my pick, if not for the same reasons.

New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Niemann
  • Chris Young – Leeann
  • Zac Brown Band - Kevin, Dan, Tara

Kevin: ZBB is in another league, which makes me wish they still called this the Horizon Award.

Leeann: It’s weird to see ZBB here considering their nominations elsewhere, so I think that Chris Young has the most potential of the remaining nominees.

Dan: I’d love to see Young take this, but ZBB can’t be denied.

Tara: This is a great line-up, but there’s no question that ZBB deserves this win.

Will Win:

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Niemann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Kevin: ZBB is nominated for Entertainer of the Year, much like Ricky Skaggs was when he won Horizon in 1982. (Skaggs also won Male Vocalist, which means I may have to rethink my pick for Vocal Group, too.)

Leeann: Kevin’s argument is too compelling not to follow. Also, they are the most popular of the nominees, therefore, probably the most deserving.

Dan: Everyone here but Niemann has had a significant breakthrough. With ZBB in the mix, though, it’s no contest.

Tara: It’s a funky set-up to have ZBB nominated for both the top and bottom (figuratively) prizes, and I think this one will play out exactly the way Kevin explained it.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Dierks Bentley, Up on the RidgeLeeann
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution – Dan, Tara
  • George Strait, Twang
  • Carrie Underwood, Play OnKevin

Kevin: I have all five of these albums, and Underwood’s is the one that I listen to the most, with Strait a not-too-close second. In 2010, of course, “listening to an album” really means “how many songs do I pull off the album and put on a play list,” which has Underwood ahead by three tracks.

Leeann: If I follow Kevin’s test, Bently wins with Lambert as a close second. Bentley’s is, hands down, my favorite album of these choices. I’d love to see something this different from the mainstream win.

Dan: Also employing Kevin’s test, I flip-flop Leeann’s first and second choices. Only about two thirds of Revolution click for me a year later, but those two thirds have helped redefined what I thought modern country could be (still flipping about “Me and Your Cigarettes”), and the stray third at least tried.

Tara: I’m not going to follow Kevin’s test: I don’t play Revolution quite as much as three of the other albums on here, but I feel it’s the most deserving. It’s sharp, smart and an excellent example of an artist taking her potential by the horns.

Will Win:

  • Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Miranda Lambert, RevolutionKevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • George Strait, Twang
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On

Kevin: I really do think Lambert will sweep. I think she should’ve won for her last album, which wasn’t even nominated, but I’m not going to complain about an ambitious album getting the prize.

Leeann: I’m guessing either Lambert or Underwood. Although Lambert has the better album, Underwood has the slight edge because it sold better. I wouldn’t be especially surprised if Lady A takes it though.

Dan: Seems to me like a toss-up between Lady A’s commercial favorite and Lambert’s critical one. Lambert?

Tara: This is Lambert’s to lose, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Lady A (or maybe Bentley?) snatched it.

Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • Easton Corbin, “A Little More Country Than That”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”

Kevin: It’s the big chunk of meat in a category of mashed potatoes and candied apples.

Leeann: Kevin just made me really hungry, therefore, kind of distracted. It’s a good thing that my choice doesn’t need justification then.

Dan: “Need You Now” had the biggest impact, of course, but “The House That Built Me” was no slouch either – four weeks at #1 – and was arguably the riskiest, most rewarding release. Also of note: she sang it real pretty.

Tara: “Need You Now” and “The House That Built Me” are performed equally well, but “House” is the better-written song. I’ll go with “House” on the basis of that, but I do think country music will be represented justly either way. Both songs resonate with pure, compelling sentiment.

Will Win:

  • Easton Corbin, “A Little More Country Than That”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” - Dan, Tara
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” - Kevin, Leeann
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”

Kevin: I think Lady A would have a better shot if they hadn’t won last year for “I Run to You.”

Leeann: It’s simply the clear winner.

Dan: Again, somewhat for diversity’s sake, I’ll guess that many voters have already forgotten about “I Run to You” – I certainly have – and will use this category to recognize the biggest hit, while they use Song to recognize the best one.

Tara: I’m jumping on Dan’s train…

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “A Little More Country Than That” – Rory Lee Feek, Don Poythress & Wynn Varble
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott
  • “The House That Built Me” – Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • “Toes” – Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, John Hopkins & Shawn Mullins
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert

Kevin: Overall, I think that “Need You Now” is a better Single than Song, and that “The House That Built Me” is a better Song than Single, but “House” is better than “Need” on both counts.

Leeann: I’m just being repetative now. It’s the best single and song of the year.

Dan: It’s the deepest-cutting of the five and the most unique.

Tara: “The House That Built Me” is, quite simply, beautifully written.

Will Win:

  • “A Little More Country Than That” – Rory Lee Feek, Don Poythress & Wynn Varble
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott – Kevin
  • “The House That Built Me” – Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin – Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • “Toes” – Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, John Hopkins & Shawn Mullins
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert

Kevin: Here’s where they can honor “Need You Now” without shortchanging Lambert.

Leeann: I just see “House” sweeping in all possible categories.

Dan: They often manage to pick the actual best song of the five, especially when that song is also the most “serious.”

Tara: This just seems way to obvious; I don’t see how the voters could bypass the most clearly deserving song.

Musical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • Dierks Bentley featuring Jamey Johnson & Miranda Lambert, “Bad Angel” – Tara
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Alan Jackson with Lee Ann Womack, “‘Til the End” – Leeann, Dan
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone” – Kevin
  • Zac Brown Band featuring Kid Rock, “Can’t You See”

Kevin: I don’t find any of these five songs particularly compelling, so I’ll go with the two artists who are longest overdue for some CMA love.

Leeann: I’m not big on any of these either, but the Jackson/Womack collaboration is the one I like the most if I have to choose.

Dan: I’d be fine with either “Til the End” or “Bad Angel”. Whatevs.

Tara: The Jackson/Womack song falls squarely within my typical taste, but “Bad Angel” gets under my skin – in a good way. It’s just a really cool record.

Will Win:

  • Dierks Bentley featuring Jamey Johnson & Miranda Lambert, “Bad Angel”
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Alan Jackson with Lee Ann Womack, “‘Til the End”
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”- Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Zac Brown Band featuring Kid Rock, “Can’t You See”

Kevin: Its presence in the Single category makes “Hillbilly Bone” the most likely winner.

Leeann: It’s the most mainstream of all the choices.

Dan: “Bad Angel” could play a welcome spoiler, since all three of the artists behind it command a lot of respect right now. I still see this going to the hit, though.

Tara: I’m predicting the big boys will win this one. It’s a decent song, but it makes me laugh that it gets as much love as it does – I mean, this is the song that has Adkins admitting that he’s “always wanted to sing a bone song”…!

Music Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar” – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley, “Water”
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”

Kevin: Lambert made the two best clips, with the humor of “Liar” outpacing the literalism of “House.”

Dan: The “House” video is beautifully conceived and directed, but somehow the “White Liar” one just sticks out more. Maybe it’s because “White Liar” is a thinner song, so the video has more of a chance to establish its own identity.

Tara: The “White Liar” video is the brightest and most creative of the bunch.

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar” – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley, “Water”
  • Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”

Kevin: I think “White Liar” has won all the video awards this year, so I guess it will win again.

Dan: This is the logical place to reward the other Lambert single the CMA liked this year.

Tara: One of Lambert’s videos will win for sure. My best guess is “White Liar” since it’s won before, like Kevin said.

Musician of the Year

Should Win:

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

Kevin: Paul Franklin is the nominee I’m rooting for the most this year. Give the man, and the steel guitar, some long overdue recognition!

Leeann: It’s the steel guitar for heaven’s sake! It should be a no-brainer, even though it’s clearly not.

Dan: I won’t pretend I know what’s going on. I’m just going to root for the guy who hasn’t won yet until he finally does.

Tara: How can you pass up the steel guitar?

Will Win:

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

Kevin: Mac McAnally won the last two years, so I guess he’s the favorite. Did I mention that Franklin is 0-for-17 going into this year’s ceremony?

Leeann: I suppose its a habit to give it to McAnally at this point. So, why should I be so bold as to predict anyone else?

Dan: No justice!

Tara: Just going off of pattern here.


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The Nineties All Over Again

The new country music stars of the nineties grew up with the pop/rock of the seventies.  It’s no wonder that many of them revisited songs from that era.

Some of these covers became big hits, like Billy Dean’s “We Just Disagree” and  Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria.”   Various album cuts and tribute projects demonstrated Lorrie Morgan’s fondness for Bonnie Tyler (“It’s a Heartache”), Garth Brooks’ love for Kiss (“Hard Luck Woman”), and more than a dozen artists’ affinity for the Eagles.

It’s just a matter of time before today’s country stars start remaking pop and rock hits from the nineties.  Here’s a few that I think would work well:

Rascal Flatts, “One More Try”

This Timmy T. hit topped the charts in 1991.  It would be a perfect fit for the Flatts boys. They could elevate it into something great.

Carrie Underwood, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

You need a powerful set of pipes to pull this one off. Who could do it better than Carrie Underwood?  Okay, yes. Wynonna. But among the artists on the radio dial today, no one could tackle this with better results than Underwood.

SHeDaisy, “You’re in Love”

This band could cover just about any Wilson Phillips track, but this one’s dying to be a hit all over again.

What nineties non-country songs do you think today’s country stars should cover?

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Single Review: Rascal Flatts, “Why Wait”

Maybe it’s a product of their new home, Big Machine Records, or maybe it’s their way of responding to the monster success of Lady Antebellum – but the Flatts boys are back on their game.

For five years and three albums, we’ve heard only a watered-down brand of Rascal Flatts: their signature tight harmonies have been masked by overblown production, and their typically well-crafted melodies have seemed stale. Their music as of late has generally lacked the spark that turned their early 2000s hits into gems.

Not so with “Why Wait,” a tasteful, vintage-Flatts track marked by an infectious rush of joy. By staying true to what it is –a slice of pop-country, nothing more, nothing less– the song gets everything right, from its effective, building melody to its surprisingly balanced arrangement (Dann Huff: is that you?). Gary LeVox does a particularly skillful job of following the emotional groove of the song, a welcome change from his usual tact of using vocal gymnastics to force emotion into a song.

And for all the untamed fervor that comes with convincing someone to elope, there’s some real meat behind the sentiment of “Why Wait”: “Love don’t need a reason/Baby I don’t see how I could love you any more than I do today/So why wait?” That’s not irrational fluff; that’s honesty, and LeVox sells it with exhilarating conviction.

My favorite thing about the Flatts boys has always been their shameless pride in their artistry. They own it. They embrace it. They enjoy it. And when they’re able to pair that kind of genuineness with a quality record, the result is wholly rewarding.

Written by Neil Thrasher, Tom Shapiro & Jimmy Yeary

Grade: B+

Listen: Why Wait

Buy:

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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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