2011 CMA Awards: Staff Picks and Predictions

November 7, 2011 // 28 Comments

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

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

Single Review: Kenny Chesney, “Live a Little”

February 16, 2011 // 10 Comments

It starts with a pure pop/rock intro that goes on a little too long, but provides for a pleasantly jarring transition into acoustic country. The first thirty seconds have that contrast which made Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me hits work so well.

But then it quickly disintegrates to generic Chesney: loud but not assertive, cute but not clever, upbeat but not uplifting.

Identity Crisis

January 31, 2011 // 49 Comments

I became a country fan twenty years ago, and have been fully immersed in the genre for about as long. I’ve read up on the history, heard pretty much every significant artist and recording, and can speak knowledgeably about the genres highs and lows over the past few decades.

We’ve never been this low. I think I finally understand why that is.

Nashville Scene: 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

January 27, 2011 // 14 Comments

The 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll has just been published by Nashville Scene. It covers the 2010 year of country music. The participants of the poll consists of country music critics who spend their time listening to and analyzing stacks of music throughout the year in order to knowledgeably write about it for the purpose of either promoting excellent music or warning against the not so good stuff. Kevin, Dan and Tara are among these prestigious critics.

Each year, invited critics submit their ballots with their favorite music and artists in the appropriate categories. The poll includes the best albums, singles, male and female artists, reissues, live acts, duos and groups, songwriters, new acts, and the over all artists of the year. While the results include the usual suspects, they are mixed with some surprises or names that aren’t commonly associated with mainstream country.

Some of my favorite results include Raul Malo tied at #8 with Gary Allan for top males and Elizabeth Cook at #2 for top females, not to mention Sunny Sweeney’s “From A Table Away” landing at the #3 spot for singles. The most amusing result, however, is Jamey Johnson and Taylor Swift in the top two spots for songwriters.

Crunching the Numbers: January 2011

January 27, 2011 // 55 Comments

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

Single Review: Sugarland, “Little Miss”

January 16, 2011 // 15 Comments

“Little Miss’ is one of many socially conscious songs on Sugarland’s The Incredible Machine, but it’s the only one that truly works. It succeeds where the others fail for two main reasons.

One, it describes things as they are now, instead of trying to inspire us with idyllic images of how the world could be if we just, you know, did something. The details used to describe a woman who “is so much more than you like to talk about” captures the dilemma that faces so many women today with little descriptions that add up to a larger picture of all of the compromises that must be made to a woman’s ambition and talent for her to not offend those who might be offended by them.

The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1

December 23, 2010 // 61 Comments

Our look back at the year’s best singles comes to a close, with unprecedented CU consensus at the top of the list. The top two singles of the year were ranked in that order by three of our four writers, and both appeared in the top ten of the fourth writer.

Here’s our ten best of 2010:

The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1


Draw Me a Map
Dierks Bentley

Bentley is getting a lot of deserved attention for sonically diverging from the mainstream to create a bluegrass inspired album. It’s an excellent album, but to his credit “Draw Me A Map” isn’t so far removed from some of the unreleased songs on his first two mainstream projects; It’s just that he gets to shine a finer focus on it for this album, therefore, this seemingly subversive song for radio gets to be released. The inspired blend of Bentley’s ragged voice with Alison Krauss’ angelic voice takes the song to an even sweeter level. – Leeann Ward


Chely Wright

Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that “Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution.” He was talking, in context, about marriage. The truth is that no one enters a relationship completely free of burden, and only by submitting to the complications of that truth can we avoid being ruled by them. Wright, for her part, manages the task with simple, earnest grace, probably strengthening her relationship through mere acknowledgment of its inherent weakness. – Dan Milliken

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

December 20, 2010 // 15 Comments

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


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


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

Friday Afternoon Bewilderment

December 3, 2010 // 23 Comments

Ever had a really long week, and you’re all tired. Then you see something that you simply can’t believe exists, and think your fatigue must be playing tricks on you?

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