Tag Archives: Tim McGraw

Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.

The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance,  for example.

Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.

As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.

Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!

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  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Randy Travis, Around the Bend
  • Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love

Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”

Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)

While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.

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  • Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Tim McGraw, Let it Go
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural

With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.

2007

  • Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
  • Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
  • Little Big Town, The Road to Here
  • Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
  • Josh Turner, Your Man

The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.

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Single Review: Tim McGraw, “Nothin’ to Die For”

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Country music history is littered with stormy relationships.  Hank and Audrey. George and Tammy. Tim McGraw and Curb Records. With the seventh (!) single from his 2007 album, Let It Go, Curb is milking the platinum set for all its worth with this harsh rebuke of alcoholism, well-sung by McGraw, but also very much in the vein of “Live Like You Were Dying.”

As a friend of the story’s failed hero, McGraw warns the man that swerving in and out of sobriety is a recipe for disaster. When McGraw moves into the chorus with the lines, “You’d give your last breath to your wife, take a bullet for your kids/Lay your life down for your country, for your Jesus, for your friends,” he has, in one fell swoop, struck a nerve with those that value children, soldiers and heaven. Clever country music marketing.

McGraw then tells him that these blessings all trump alcohol in the grand scheme of things, and that he should get right back on track before losing his life. But the heavy drinker doesn’t warrant much sympathy (his workaholic nature is the only given excuse for his depression), and, even with a convincing vocal from one of Nashville’s greatest songpickers, we never reach the real heart of this sad tale.

Ultimately, “Nothin’ to Die For” is carefully constructed to spotlight that first couplet of the chorus, a reminder of life’s little treasures. This master technique, a gelling of familiar themes into a short series of lyrics, is the format’s calling card of late. As Honest Abe said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time….”. The heartwarming message overwhelms the tale of a truly tragic character who’s succumbing slowly to the call of the bottle.

Grade: B-

Written by Lee Thomas Miller and Craig Wiseman

Listen: Nothin’ to Die For

Buy: Nothin’ to Die For

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Discussion: 2009 Wish List

wynonna-singAnybody looking forward to particular releases next year?  Country Music Central is my go-to place for upcoming releases, and it looks like things are typically slow for the first quarter.

I’m looking forward to the  new Dierks Bentley and the Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel collaboration.   The new year should also bring studio albums from Keith Urban and Tim McGraw.    More than anything else, I’d like some new music from Shania Twain and Faith Hill, who have gone quite a few years without a proper new album.

But what I’m most pumped for right now is the February release of Wynonna’s Sing – Chapter 1.   Listening to the samples below, this sounds like it will be the most interesting covers collection since Dwight Yoakam’s.

What releases are you looking forward to and hoping for in 2009?

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Kevin J. Coyne’s Top Singles of 2008

Gone are the days where this would just be called the Country Universe’s Top Singles of 2008.   The collective tastes of our writers makes for more distinguished lists, but thankfully, there’s still a place for my personal favorites.   Here are the twenty singles of 2008 that I enjoyed the most.

#20: Reba McEntire & Kenny Chesney, “Every Other Weekend”

A welcome return to domestic themes, which have often provided McEntire with her best work.   This plays out the like the epilogue to “Somebody Should Leave.”

sara-evans#19: Sara Evans, “Low”

Triumph in the face of adversity, as the surrounding negative energy is rejected in favor of a positive and determined move toward the future.  Plus, it’s a little bluegrassy, which just sounds cool.

#18: Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt”

Even Conway Twitty wasn’t so good at slipping in mature themes so skillfully.    There are children across the country bopping along to this one without a clue about how she ended up wearing that shirt.

#17: Josh Turner featuring Trisha Yearwood, “Another Try”

Turner’s unsure vocal reveals emotion for a moment, then pulls back, then reveals a little bit of it again.   He’s hoping for one more chance, but it doesn’t sound like he’s convinced himself that he’ll truly “hang on for dear life” next time.

#16: Tim McGraw, “Let it Go”

Letting go of the past doesn’t mean that you forget your mistakes.    Rather, you resolve to learn from them without letting them dictate your future.

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Discussion: 2009 Singles

With little new music on the horizon, we can at least hope for some fresh songs on the radio and video outlets from current albums.   I miss the days when a label could work three or four singles a year from one project, but aside from the superstars, those days are gone.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the albums of 2008, but there are some tracks from this year’s and last year’s releases that are still waiting to be heard.    One that I’d really like to see in the new year is “I Know You Won’t”,  a track from Carrie Underwood’s 2007 set Carnival Ride.   It’s my favorite vocal performance of hers to date.

That’s one hit waiting to happen, but far from the only one.

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Discussion: SoundScan Sound Off

salesIn this era of rampant piracy and economic recession, things aren’t looking good for the music industry.   We don’t post too often about the business side of the music business here, as we tend to keep the focus on the music.   But the reality is that these numbers matter.  If Little Big Town’s second Equity album had performed as well as the first, the label might still be in business.

It’s not all doom and gloom, as many artists go on to make their best music once they leave major labels.   But this Christmas, you can guarantee that some artists and record executives will be bracing for the New Year, while others are embracing it.

Here’s a look at some totals for albums released in 2008, ranked by total sales (rounded to the nearest thousand):

  1. Taylor Swift, Fearless – 1,519,000
  2. Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,179,000
  3. George Strait, Troubadour – 693,000
  4. Alan Jackson, Good Time – 628,000
  5. Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 530,000
  6. Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 479,000
  7. Faith Hill, Joy to the World – 341,000
  8. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 337,000
  9. James Otto, Sunset Man – 332,000
  10. Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 – 330,000
  11. Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 284,000
  12. Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 260,000
  13. Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 224,000
  14. Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 203,000
  15. Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory –  195,000
  16. Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 183,000
  17. Heidi Newfield, What Am I Waiting For – 162,000
  18. Jessica Simpson, Do You Know – 153,000
  19. Brad Paisley, Play – 137,000
  20. Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 129,000
  21. Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 127,000
  22. Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 127,000
  23. Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be – 119,000
  24. Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 118,000
  25. Randy Travis, Around the Bend – 89,000
  26. Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good - 84,000
  27. Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 81,000
  28. Trace Adkins, X – 72,000
  29. Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 65,000
  30. Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 60,000
  31. Hank III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 47,000
  32. Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 45,000
  33. Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 44,000
  34. Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights – 38,000
  35. Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 34,000
  36. Craig Morgan, That’s Why – 31,000
  37. Randy Owen, One on One – 22,000
  38. Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 17,000

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Various Artists, Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country and Contemporary Country

Various Artists

Ultimate Grammy Collection:

Classic Country

Contemporary Country

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Earlier this year, the Grammys celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with a series of compilations focusing on winners in different fields.  Two of the best entries in this series focused on country music.  With five decades of winners to choose from, it’s no surprise that Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country and Ultimate Grammy Collection: Contemporary Country are solid collections.

The Classic Country set is particularly strong, including a diverse selection of significant artists from the sixties and seventies.   Even better, most of them are represented with their signature tracks.    Roger Miller opens the set with “King of the Road”, easily his biggest hit.   Other superstars include Tammy Wynette (“Stand By Your Man”), Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”) and Waylon & Willie (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”)

As the collection moves on to the seventies and eighties, there is a healthy portion of pop-country classics from the likes of Kenny Rogers (“The Gambler”), Dolly Parton (“9 to 5″), Crystal Gayle (“Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”) and Willie Nelson (“Always on My Mind”).   In the midst of that crossover sound, however, there’s  a healthy dose of traditional country, courtesy of George Jones  with “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

That Jones track is the only one that wouldn’t be familiar to fans that buy the set because they remember those crossover hits, even though it’s a country classic.   They might also revel in the discovery of  Ray Price (“For the Good Times”) and Jerry Reed (“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”), which were both AM radio staples back when top 40 regularly played country records.     The set also includes mega-hits from Charlie Daniels Band, Lynn Anderson, Donna Fargo and Jeannie C. Riley.   The only real misstep is the inclusion of Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “If I Were a Carpenter”,  an unnecessary inclusion that was no doubt shoehorned in because of lingering sentiment for all things Cash.   That slot would’ve been better represented with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “After the Fire is Gone.”

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Discussion: Billboard’s 2008 Year-End Charts

Earlier this week, Billboard announced the year-end charts in all musical genres. Billboard’s chart year runs from the first week of December (2007) to the last week of November (2008), and the country albums list provides an interesting commentary on the current state of the genre.  Below is the list of the 25 best-selling country albums of the year.

1. Long Road Out Of Eden, Eagles
2. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift
3. Carnival Ride, Carrie Underwood
4. The Ultimate Hits, Garth Brooks
5. Still Feels Good, Rascal Flatts
6. Love On The Inside, Sugarland
7. Enjoy The Ride, Sugarland
8. Raising Sand, Robert Plant / Alison Krauss
9. Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, Kenny Chesney
10. Reba Duets, Reba McEntire
11. Greatest Hits, Keith Urban
12. Troubadour, George Strait
13. Fearless, Taylor Swift
14. Good Time, Alan Jackson
15. American Man: Greatest Hits Volume II, Trace Adkins
16. 22 More Hits, George Strait
17. 5th Gear, Brad Paisley
18. 35 Biggest Hits, Toby Keith
19. Some Hearts, Carrie Underwood
20. Everything Is Fine, Josh Turner
21. Lucky Old Sun, Kenny Chesney
22. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert
23. Sunset Man, James Otto
24. Living Hard, Gary Allan
25. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum

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Single Review: Josh Gracin, “Telluride”

If you’re going to comb through an artist’s catalog looking for missed hits, Tim McGraw is a good guy to start with.    “Telluride” was on Tim’s Set This Circus Down album, which produced four #1 hits.    It’s easy to imagine this one lighting up the charts, though it’s quite a bit less effective in the less experienced hands of Josh Gracin.

There’s none of the wry humor or devilish charm of McGraw’s reading here.  If anything, Gracin’s overly earnest. McGraw gave a performance that connected with what the lyrics described – a one-night stand that was noteworthy for the action.  Gracin sounds like he’s swooning over a long lost love.    In case anyone out there’s still looking for proof of the difference between being a gifted singer and an effective one, here it is.

Written by Brett James and Troy Verges

Grade: C

Listen: Telluride

Buy: Telluride

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Discussion: Country Music Pet Peeves

A less cheery discussion tonight, just because I read something that annoyed me.   Here’s an article about songwriter Jeffrey Steele:

NASHVILLE (Billboard) – One could forgive Jeffrey Steele if he had an inferiority complex.

The writer of scores of hits, Steele is cursed with the same affliction that troubles songwriters worldwide: The public knows his songs, but not him. It comes with the territory, even for someone who has twice been named songwriter of the year by performing rights group BMI.

Artists ranging from Faith Hill to Rascal Flatts to Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins have topped the charts with Steele’s compositions, but as a solo artist the best he could do was a No. 33 finish on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs with “Somethin’ in the Water” in 2001.

“They were saying I was too rock’n’roll for country, blah, blah, blah,” Steele says. “I could never fit into that mold of being a traditional country artist.”

But Steele is doing just fine, thank you, and starting to draw attention. Along with Craig Wiseman, Bob DiPiero and Tony Mullins, he starred in the GAC reality show “The Hitmen of Music Row” in 2007. And after a Best Buy representative saw Steele last summer as a judge/mentor on NBC’s “Nashville Star,” the electronics retailer contacted him about selling his product in its stores. “I’ve been knocking on it all my life, but that show opened the door to finally get some product out there,” Steele says.

What’s annoying about this?  Lazy journalism.  Rather than buy into the “songwriter in the shadows” myth that Steele is selling here, the writer should’ve pointed out that Jeffrey Steele had several hits as an artist.   He was the lead singer of Boy Howdy, who had three hits in the mid-nineties, including the top five “She’d Give Anything” and “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore.”   His first hits as a songwriter were sung by him!

I don’t blame Steele for pushing that angle, but a more conscientious writer would’ve been aware of the ruse and called him on it.  I haven’t forgotten “Bigger Fish to Fry”, Mr. Steele.  Your Howdywood days will follow you until the end.

What are some of your country music pet peeves?

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