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2011 CMA Nominations

It’s always interesting to see how music industry awards reflect (or don’t reflect) larger narratives in the industry itself.

If you’re interested in the narratives behind this year’s CMAs, look no further than the two men who’ve made the biggest strides on the ballot: Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. Both show up in Entertainer and Male Vocalist, plus Album and Single, plus assorted other stuff. But the marketing approaches that have gotten them there are vastly different.

Shelton’s is the traditional wisdom: cover all media ground with an inoffensive product until the people buy in. So he’s a core act at radio; he’s on a popular TV show (The Voice); he hosted the ACMs; he was in a ton of magazines for his marriage; he Twitters a lot.

Then there’s the Aldean approach: make a distinct product, generate enough radio support to plant the seeds, then go straight to the fans, tour relentlessly, build up word-of-mouth – let the industry come to you. I think it’s the more effective approach, personally. Look at Eric Church, who has a fraction of Shelton’s ubiquity but beat him in first-week album sales and is still beating him cumulatively - no TV spotlights, no gossip mags, no Twitter.

And look at how many acts on this ballot started on indie labels. Aldean, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Thompson Square, the freaking Civil Wars. Major-label power still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Media saturation still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Music is the only thing that always counts, and even the highly political CMAs are starting to have trouble ignoring it.

Just my thoughts, anyway. What say you to this list?

Entertainer

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

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney

Who’s Out: Dierks Bentley, George Strait

Female Vocalist

  • Sara Evans
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Sara Evans

Who’s Out: Reba McEntire

Vocal Duo

  • The Civil Wars
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square

Who’s In: The Civil Wars, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Brooks & Dunn (historical moment!), Joey + Rory

Vocal Group

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Nobody

Who’s Out: Nobody

New Artist

  • The Band Perry
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Thompson Square
  • Chris Young

Who’s In: The Band Perry, Eric Church, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Easton Corbin, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band (won)

Notes: Bryan and Young are both on their second nominations here, but for once there’s no obvious frontrunner. Thompson Square pick up the category-filler nom from Jerrod Niemann. This reminds me: where has Easton Corbin gone?

Album

  • Blake Shelton, All About Tonight
  • Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party
  • Taylor Swift, Speak Now
  • Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music
  • Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give

Notes: Shelton’s is a low-selling EP. Uhhh.

Single

  • Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”
  • Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
  • Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
  • The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”

Song

  • “Colder Weather” – written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles
  • “Dirt Road Anthem” – written by Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford
  • “If I Die Young ” – written by Kimberly Perry
  • “Mean” – written by Taylor Swift
  • “You and Tequila” – written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter

Notes: Nice to see there are still some Matraca Berg fans out there amid the Brantley Gilbert ones. Interestingly, Swift’s first nomination in this category.

Musical Event

  • “As She’s Walking Away” – Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert
  • “Don’t You Wanna Stay” – Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley with Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: I’m troubled by the fact that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is nominated for Single and “As She’s Walking Away” isn’t.

Music Video

  • “Honey Bee” – Blake Shelton
  • “If I Die Young” – The Band Perry
  • “Mean” – Taylor Swift
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley featuring Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: The worst Brad Paisley video ever to be nominated here, I think.

Musician

  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally
  • Randy Scruggs

Who’s In: Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas

Who’s Out: Brent Mason, Randy Scruggs

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Summer Single Reviews Round-Up: Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley

We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).

Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”

Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson

Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B

Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”

Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk

Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+


Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”

Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann

Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-

Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”

Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele

Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B

Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”

Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall

If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-

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100 Greatest Men: #90. John Denver

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

His sweet AM radio sound resonated across genre boundaries, but for traditionalists, John Denver was where they would draw the line.

That such inoffensive music could ever cause such controversy may seem silly today, but Denver’s crossover success in the country market reached its peak with a 1975 CMA win for Entertainer of the Year.

Coming one short year after the hotly contested Olivia Newton-John win for Female Vocalist, presenter Charlie Rich may not have been in the right frame of mind when he lit the envelope on fire before announcing Denver’s win, but he certainly spoke for the wide dissent felt among the industry’s rank for these genre carpetbaggers.

But how did Denver get to the point that he’d even be a contender for country music’s top prize?  He started out as Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., born in New Mexico to a military family that moved around often. During a stint in Arizona, he spent two years as a member of the Tuscon Arizona Boys Chorus.

His interest in music was further developed when he received a guitar from his grandmother on his twelfth birthday. He was so enchanted with dreams of being a music star that while attending high school in Texas, he ran away to California with his father’s car, but was brought back home to finish high school.

He started out in the folk movement, joining The Mitchell Trio, which was eventually rebranded Denver, Boise, and Johnson by the time Denver departed. Fellow member Michael Johnson would also go on to a successful solo career, having big AC hits in the seventies before topping the country charts in the mid-eighties.

Denver’s solo career heated up quickly. Shortly after leaving the trio, he released his first solo album in 1969.  It wasn’t a runaway hit, but it featured a song called “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane”, which became a #1 hit for Peter, Paul and Mary later that year.  Two more solo albums floundered until he had his breakthrough as an artist with “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”  It was a huge pop hit, reaching #2 on the Hot 100, and made a minor impression on the country chart as well.

Now a platinum-selling artist, Denver’s brand of folk slowly took a more country turn. Unlike Newton-John, who was embraced by country music more fully than pop music at first, country radio came on board after Denver was already a regular fixture on the pop charts, starting with “Annie’s Song” in 1974.  After “Back Home Again” topped both charts, his subsequent singles in 1974 and 1975 would do better on the country charts, with “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “I’m Sorry” becoming #1 country hits.

Thus the controversial win for Entertainer, which in retrospect has more to do with Nashville’s xenophobia than anything else. Listen to Denver’s big hits alongside Nashville songs of the same era, and they don’t sound particularly less country than a lot of it, especially the records of Rich, his personal flamethrower.

Denver’s style of music laid the groundwork for everyone from Mac McAnally and Dan Seals to Kathy Mattea and Zac Brown Band, and while his star soon faded on pop radio, he still made regular appearances on the country charts, scoring a bit of a comeback in the eighties with the top ten hits “Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stone)” and “Dreamland Express.”  He also reached the top twenty with “Wild Montana Skies”, featuring the talents of Emmylou Harris on vocals.

Denver died tragically in a plane crash in 1997. While his contributions to country music were controversial at the time, memorials ran at both the Country Music Association awards and the Grammy Awards following his death, further solidifying the wide impact that this singer-songwriter made on contemporary music.

Essential Singles:

  • Take Me Home, Country Roads, 1970
  • Sunshine on My Shoulders, 1973
  • Annie’s Song, 1974
  • Back Home Again, 1974
  • Thank God I’m a Country Boy, 1975
  • Fly Away (with Olivia Newton-John), 1975
  • Looking For Space, 1976

Essential Albums:

  • Poems, Prayers, and Promises, 1971
  • Rocky Mountain High, 1972
  • Back Home Again, 1974
  • An Evening with John Denver, 1975
  • Windsong, 1975

Next:  #89. Sawyer Brown

Previous: #91. Diamond Rio

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


<a href=”../features/100-greatest-men/”>100 Greatest Men: The Complete List</a>

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2011 Grammy Pre-Telecast Winners

Refresh for updates. Major categories will be announced above the fold:

Male Country Vocal Performance: Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”

Country Duo/Group Vocal Performance: Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”

Country Song: Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott, “Need You Now”

Country Collaboration with Vocals: Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away”

Country Instrumental Performance: Marty Stuart, “Hummingbyrd”

Bluegrass Album: Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II

Americana Album: Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

Traditional Folk Album: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig

Contemporary Folk Album: Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

Southern/Country/Gospel Bluegrass Album: Diamond Rio, The Reason

Traditional Gospel Album: Patty Griffin, Downtown Church

_____

Short Form Music Video: Lady GaGa, “Bad Romance”

Long Form Music Video: The Doors, When You’re Strange

Recording Package: The Black Keys, Brothers

Boxed Limited Edition Package: The White Stripes, Under Great White Northern Lights

Album Notes: Big Star, Keep an Eye on the Sky

Historical Album: The Beatles, Original Studio Recordings

Engineered Album, Non-Classical: John Mayer, Battle Studies

Remixed Recording: Madonna, “Revolver (David Guetta’s One Love Club Remix)”

Surround Sound Album: Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony, Britten’s Orchestra

Instrumental Composition: Billy Childs, “The Path Among the Trees”

Instrumental Arrangement: John Scofield, Vince Mendoza & Metropole Orkest, “Carlos”

Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals: Christopher Tin, Soweto Gospel Choir & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, “Baba Yetu”

Compilation Soundtrack Album: Crazy Heart

Score Soundtrack Album: Toy Story 3

Motion Picture, TV, Visual Media Song: Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett, “The Weary Kind”

New Age Album: Kitaro, Sacred Journey Of Ku-Kai, Volume 4

Children’s Musical Album: Pete Seeger With The Rivertown Kids And Friends, Tomorrow’s Children

Children’s Spoken Word Album: Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs, And Lullabies

Spoken Word Album: Jon Stewart (With Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, John Oliver & Sigourney Weaver), The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Audiobook)

Musical Show Album: Billie Joe Armstrong, American Idiot (Featuring Green Day)

Hawaiian Music Album: Tia Carrere, Huana Ke Aloha

Native American Music Album: Various Artists, 2010 Gathering Of Nations Pow Wow: A Spirit’s Dance

Zydeco/Cajun Music Album: Chubby Carrier And The Bayou Swamp Band, Zydeco Junkie

Reggae Album: Buju Banton, Before The Dawn

Traditional World Music Album: Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, Ali And Toumani

Contemporary World Music Album: Béla Fleck, Throw Down Your Heart , Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks

Dance Recording: Rihanna, “Only Girl (In the World)”

Electronic/Dance Album: La Roux, La Roux

Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Michael Bublé, Crazy Love

Latin Pop Album: Alejandro Sanz, Paraiso Express

Latin Rock/Alternative/Urban Album: Grupo Fantasma, El Existential

Tropical Latin Album: Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Viva La Tradición

Tejano Album:Little Joe & La Familia, Recuerdos

Norteño Album:Intocable, Classic

Banda Album:El Güero Y Su Banda Centenario, Enamórate De Mí

Gospel Performance: BeBe & CeCe Winans, “Grace”

Gospel Song: Jerry Peters & Kirk Whalum, “It’s What I Do”

Rock or Rap Gospel Album: Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane

Pop Contemporary Gospel Album: Israel Houghton, Love God. Love People.

Contemporary R&B Gospel Album: BeBe & CeCe Winans, Still

Engineering, Classical: TIE: Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina AND Eliesha Nelson & John McLaughlin Williams, Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works

Orchestral Performance: Giancarlo Guerrero, Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina

Opera Recording:Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Rundfunkchor Berlin, Saariaho: L’Amour De Loin

Choral Performance: Riccardo Muti, conductor; Duain Wolfe, chorus master, “Verdi: Requiem”

Instrumental Solo w/Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida, “Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24″

Instrumental Solo w/o Orchestra: Paul Jacobs, “Messiaen: Livre Du Saint-Sacrement”

Chamber Music Performance:Parker Quartet, “Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2″

Small Ensemble:Jordi Savall, conductor; Hespèrion XXI & La Capella Reial De Catalunya, “Dinastia Borja”

Classical Vocal Performance:Cecilia Bartoli, “Sacrificium”

Classical Contemporary Composition: Michael Daugherty, “Deus Ex Machina”

Classical Crossover:Lucas Richman, Christopher Tin: Calling All Dawns

Producer of the Year, Classical: David Frost

Classical Album: Verdi: Requiem

Comedy Album: Lewis Black, Stark Raving Black

Contemporary Jazz Album: The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band

Jazz Vocal Album:Dee Dee Bridgewater, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee

Improvised Jazz Solo: Herbie Hancock, “A Change is Gonna Come”

Jazz Instrumental Album: James Moody, Moody 4B

Large Jazz Ensemble Album: Mingus Big Band, Live At Jazz Standard

Latin Jazz Album: Chucho Valdés And The Afro-Cuban Messengers, Chucho’s Steps

Alternative Music Album: The Black Keys, Brothers

Traditional Blues Album:Pinetop Perkins & Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Joined At The Hip

Contemporary Blues Album: Buddy Guy, Living Proof

Rap Solo Performance: Eminem, “Not Afraid”

Rap Duo/Group Performance: Jay-Z & Swizz Beatz, “On to the Next One”

Rap/Sung Collaboration: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

Rap Song: Shawn Carter, Angela Hunte, Alicia Keys, Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic & Alexander Shuckburgh, “Empire State of Mind”

Female R&B Vocal Performance: Fantasia, “Bittersweet”

Male R&B Vocal Performance: Usher, “There Goes My Baby”

Duo/Group R&B Vocal Performance: Sade, “Soldier of Love”

Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: John Legend & The Roots, “Hang On In There”

Urban/Alternative Performance: Cee Lo Green, “F*** You”

R&B Song: John Stephens, “Shine”

R&B Album: John Legend & The Roots, Wake Up!

Contemporary R&B Album: Usher, Raymond V Raymond

Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Paul McCartney, “Helter Skelter”

Duo/Group Rock Vocal Performance: The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”

Hard Rock Performance: Them Crooked Vultures, “New Fang”

Metal Performance: Iron Maiden, “El Dorado”

Rock Instrumental Performance: Jeff Beck, “Hammerhead”

Rock Song: Neil Young, “Angry World”

Pop Collaboration with Vocals: Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare, “Imagine”

Pop Instrumental Performance: Jeff Beck, “Nessun Dorma”

Pop Instrumental Album: Larry Carlton & Tak Matsumoto, Take Your Pick

Female Pop Vocal Performance: Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”

Male Pop Vocal Performance: Bruno Mars, “Just the Way You Are”

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical: Danger Mouse







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Grammy Awards 2011: Staff Picks & Predictions

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again: the 2011 Grammy Awards air this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern. Country music has its hand in the Grammy pot via major nominations for Lady Antebellum, performances by Miranda Lambert, Lady A and Martina McBride, and appearances by Keith Urban, Zac Brown, Blake Shelton and Kris Kristofferson. We’ve picked and predicted the awards below – chime in with your own thoughts, and stop by on Sunday night for our live blog!

Album of the Year

Should Win

  • Arcade Fire, The Suburbs - Dan
  • Eminem, Recovery - Kevin, Tara
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
  • Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

Will Win

  • Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  • Eminem, Recovery - Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
  • Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

Kevin: In a field of newer artists, Eminem is the established veteran that is overdue for this award. It helps that he also made the best album of his career, as well as of the five nominees.

Dan: I could actually see Lady A coming out on top, since they’ve moved a lot of units and are the least divisive act here. But Recovery was a big comeback, and NARAS likes to use this award as a lifetime achievement thing. I don’t like that tendency, though; I’d rather we just reward the best set. To me, that was Arcade Fire’s ambitious concept album.

Tara: I really respect The Suburbs and really dig Recovery. Both are deserving, but Eminem probably has the edge with NARAS for the reasons stated above. (PS – I’m still not over it. TEENAGE DREAM?)

Record of the Year

Should Win

  • B.O.B featuring Bruno Mars, “Nothin’ On You”
  • Eminem featuring Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie”
  • Cee Lo Green, “F*** You” - Dan, Tara
  • Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” - Kevin
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”

Will Win

  • B.O.B featuring Bruno Mars, “Nothin’ On You”
  • Eminem featuring Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie”
  • Cee Lo Green, “F*** You”
  • Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” - Kevin, Dan, Tara

Kevin: Perhaps it’s an instinctual reaction as a native New Yorker, but I still get chills every time I hear “Empire State of Mind.” Jay-Z’s casual “Long live the World Trade” in the second verse perfectly captures how our city moved briskly forward after 9/11 like we always do, but we haven’t forgotten it.

No Urban or Hip-Hop record has ever won this award, so it pains me to predict that Lady Antebellum will triumph over four better records. I hope I’m wrong.

Dan: Cee Lo’s viral novelty hit was one of last year’s biggest delights. I could see this award going to any track but “Nothin’ On You,” but suspect voters will probably go with the least edgy track.

Tara: I could make an argument for four of the five songs here, but I can’t peel myself away from Green’s personality-packed throwback hit that practically begs you to love it. And do I. I agree with Dan and Kevin, though, that Lady A will take this.

Song of the Year

Should Win

  • “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” – Ray LaMontagne
  • “F*** You!” – Brody Brown, Cee Lo Green, Philip Lawrence & Bruno Mars
  • “The House That Built Me” – Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin - Kevin, Tara
  • “Love the Way You Lie” – Alexander Grant, Skylar Grey & Marshall Mathers
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott

Will Win

  • “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” – Ray LaMontagne
  • “F*** You!” – Brody Brown, Cee Lo Green, Philip Lawrence & Bruno Mars
  • “The House That Built Me” – Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin – Kevin, Tara
  • “Love the Way You Lie” – Alexander Grant, Skylar Grey & Marshall Mathers
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott

Kevin: I think the biggest hurdle for “The House That Built Me” was getting the nomination. It really stands out in this field. It used to be rare for the Song victor to not be nominated for Record, but it has happened three times in the last seven years, including last year.

Tara: I’d honestly be happy to see any of these songs win. I’ll back “The House That Built Me” and just take a guess that the voters will, too.

Best New Artist

Should Win

  • Justin Bieber
  • Drake
  • Florence + the Machine
  • Mumford & Sons - Dan, Kevin, Tara
  • Esperanza Spalding

Will Win

  • Justin Bieber
  • Drake – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Florence + the Machine
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Esperanza Spalding

Kevin: I dig Mumford & Sons the most, but Drake seems to be the guy to beat.

Dan: I think Mumford has the most potential going forward. They’re got a dark-horse shot at the win, too, though Drake does seem like the most logical choice. Bieber’s by far the biggest name right now, but NARAS didn’t give it to tween-fave forerunners Hanson or Jonas Brothers, so…

Tara: Ditto. Although I have an unexplainable inkling that the Bieber might nab the award.

Best Country Album

Should Win

  • Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge – Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give
  • Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song - Dan
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution

Will Win

  • Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge
  • Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give
  • Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song
  • Lady Antebellum, Need You Now – Dan
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution - Kevin, Tara, Leeann

Kevin: I think Bentley made the best record, and perhaps the slew of collaborators will help raise its profile with voters. Usually the country album nominated for overall Album wins this award, but I’m thinking that Lambert’s recent awards streak will continue here.

Dan: I pick Johnson by a nose, but genuinely like every album here besides Need You Now. Hoping Kevin’s right about that one.

Leeann: Like Kevin said, Bentley deserves to win and I hope he does, but I think Lambert’s album may win due to accessibility and her reputation for artistic integrity.

Tara: Up on the Ridge and Revolution both hit my sweet spot: they straddle the line between reverent and relevant and make me genuinely excited about country music’s future. Bentley’s album is the better of the two (and the best of the bunch) – but I think Lambert’s will pick up the most votes.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance

Should Win

  • Jewel, “Satisfied”
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” - Dan, Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • LeAnn Rimes, “Swingin’”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Temporary Home”
  • Gretchen Wilson, “I’d Love to Be Your Last”

Will Win

  • Jewel, “Satisfied”
  • Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” - Dan, Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • LeAnn Rimes, “Swingin’”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Temporary Home”
  • Gretchen Wilson, “I’d Love to Be Your Last”

Kevin: This is Lambert’s best shot at a Grammy. Underwood will threaten, as always, but I think the strength of this song makes it tough to beat.

Leeann: Lambert’s signature song is the strongest and likely most long-lasting of the bunch.

Tara: Lambert and Underwood turn in two of the most emotive, powerful performances of their careers, but “The House That Built Me” is undeniably the better song. Since Underwood’s Grammy streak seems to be up for now, I think the voters will side with Lambert.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance

Should Win

  • Jamey Johnson, “Macon”
  • Toby Keith, “Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song)” - Kevin, Leeann
  • David Nail, “Turning Home” - Dan
  • Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around”
  • Chris Young, “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)”  - Tara

Will Win

  • Jamey Johnson, “Macon”
  • Toby Keith, “Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song)”
  • David Nail, “Turning Home”
  • Keith Urban, “‘Til Summer Comes Around” - Dan, Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • Chris Young, “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)”

Kevin: I am not going to complain about Urban winning again for my favorite single from his last two albums. But Toby Keith is way overdue in this category, and he’s nominated for one of his best vocal performances to date.

Dan: Nail’s nuanced performance brought what could have been a very rote song to life. And his career could use the boost.

Leeann: I think the Grammy voters will reflexively give the award to Keith Urban, but Toby Keith’s song is the most poignant of the nominees.

Tara: Urban’s got his hold on this category, but I’m in Young’s corner. His slow-burning hit is as charming as it is sexy, which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. And that voice.

Best Duo/Group Country Vocal Performance

Should Win

  • Zac Brown Band, “Free”
  • Dailey & Vincent, “Elizabeth”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Little Big Town, “Little White Church”- Tara
  • The SteelDrivers, “Where Rainbows Never Die” - Kevin, Leeann

Will Win

  • Zac Brown Band, “Free”
  • Dailey & Vincent, “Elizabeth”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” - Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • Little Big Town, “Little White Church”
  • The SteelDrivers, “Where Rainbows Never Die”

Kevin: I think it’s a race between Lady Antbellum and Zac Brown Band, with LA in the lead. But the SteelDrivers get the annual “song I discovered because it was nominated for a Grammy and fell in love with after hearing it” award from me.

Leeann: The SteelDriver’s song is my favorite with Little Big Town at a close second, but I suspect that Lady A won’t be shut out for such a hugely popular radio hit across the board.

Tara: Dear NARAS: since “Single Ladies” got screwed over for ROTY last year, please show Little Big Town some love for their crazy awesome countrified version. It’s just as good…maybe even better?

Best Country Collaboration with Vocals

Should Win

  • “Bad Angel” — Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert & Jamey Johnson
  • “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” — Dierks Bentley, Del McCoury & The Punch Brothers
  • “As She’s Walking Away” — Zac Brown Band & Alan Jackson – Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • “Hillbilly Bone” — Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins
  • “I Run To You” — Marty Stuart & Connie Smith

Will Win

  • “Bad Angel” — Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert & Jamey Johnson
  • “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” — Dierks Bentley, Del McCoury & The Punch Brothers
  • “As She’s Walking Away” — Zac Brown Band & Alan Jackson – Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • “Hillbilly Bone” — Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins
  • “I Run To You” — Marty Stuart & Connie Smith

Kevin: Best collaboration in a very long time. Love hearing an artist from my youth playing elder statesman so well.

Leeann: It’s difficult for me to imagine that “As She’s Walking Away” won’t be rewarded for both its popularity and the significance of the still active veteran, Alan Jackson, dispensing wisdom to the up-and-coming bright stars of country music in the Zac Brown Band.

Tara: I love the groove of “Bad Angel,” but its collaboration isn’t nearly as dynamic nor as fitting as that of “As She’s Walking Way.” I can’t imagine any “wise man” but Jackson pulling up a stool next to Brown in this song.

Best Country Instrumental Performance

Should Win

  • Cherryholmes, “Tattoo of a Smudge”
  • The Infamous Stringdusters, “Magic #9″
  • Punch Brothers, “New Chance Blues” – Kevin, Leeann
  • Darrell Scott, ‘Willow Creek”
  • Marty Stuart, “Hummingbyrd”

Will Win

  • Cherryholmes, “Tattoo of a Smudge”
  • The Infamous Stringdusters, “Magic #9″
  • Punch Brothers, “New Chance Blues” - Kevin, Leeann
  • Darrell Scott, ‘Willow Creek”
  • Marty Stuart, “Hummingbyrd”

Kevin: Punch Brothers are approaching Nickel Creek levels of awesomeness. Possibly exceeding them.

Leeann: Kevin’s right. Even as someone who isn’t typically fond of instrumentals, I dig those of the Punch Brothers.

Best Country Song

Should Win

  • “The Breath You Take” — Casey Beathard, Dean Dillon & Jessie Jo Dillon
  • “Free” — Zac Brown
  • “The House That Built Me” — Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin - Dan, Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • “I’d Love To Be Your Last” — Rivers Rutherford, Annie Tate & Sam Tate
  • “If I Die Young” — Kimberly Perry
  • “Need You Now” — Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott

Will Win

  • “The Breath You Take” — written by Casey Beathard, Dean Dillon & Jessie Jo Dillon
  • “Free” — written by Zac Brown
  • “The House That Built Me” — written by Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin – Kevin, Tara, Leeann
  • “I’d Love To Be Your Last” — written by Rivers Rutherford, Annie Tate & Sam Tate
  • “If I Die Young” — written by Kimberly Perry
  • “Need You Now” — written by Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott

Kevin: My heart is owned by “If I Die Young”, but I think that “The House That Built Me” is objectively the best song.

Leeann: While The Band Perry’s song sounds the coolest, the writing for “The House That Built Me” is clear frontrunner for the best song of the year.  It deserves and likely will be recognized as such, especially since it was both very critically acclaimed and successful as a single.

Tara: No question “The House That Built Me” is the best written song of the group, and I think it’ll be recognized as such.

Best Bluegrass Album

Should Win

  • Sam Bush, Circles Around Me
  • Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II
  • The Del McCoury Band, Family Circle
  • Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Legacy
  • The SteelDrivers, Reckless – Kevin

Will Win

  • Sam Bush, Circles Around Me
  • Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul II
  • The Del McCoury Band, Family Circle – Kevin
  • Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Legacy
  • The SteelDrivers, Reckless

Kevin: Kudos to Loveless for her nomination, but I like the SteelDrivers set more.

Best Americana Album

Should Win

  • Rosanne Cash, The List
  • Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust
  • Willie Nelson, Country Music – Dan, Kevin
  • Robert Plant, Band of Joy
  • Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

Will Win

  • Rosanne Cash, The List
  • Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust
  • Willie Nelson, Country Music
  • Robert Plant, Band of Joy
  • Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone - Kevin

Kevin: So I think Staples is nominated for an awesome gospel album and Nelson for an awesome country album. This category is confusing.

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Nashville Scene: 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

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.

What’s most fascinating about this process is that the critics have the opportunity to include comments with their ballots. These comments serve to clarify choices and pontificate on the state of country music and its various aspects. There are some insightful comments from both Dan and Tara, along with other critics that you might recognize from our blog roll.

Here are some of the cream of the crop comments that display a satisfyingly diverse array of perspectives:

“Lost amidst the rush to proclaim Jamey Johnson as the man to reclaim country music from pop acts like Taylor Swift is the fact that Johnson and Swift are cut from the precisely same cloth. Johnson is most often championed for the supposed authenticity of his songwriting, but is it really any more believable that he’s been “takin’ dee-pression pills in the Hollywood hills” than it is that Swift regrets not calling an ex when his birthday passed? Both Johnson and Swift have developed public personae and voices as songwriters that trade in the same suspension of disbelief. Swift’s music may not scan as “country” to the extent that Johnson’s does, but that isn’t because she’s any less authentic than Johnson. They both act like they’re “Playing the Part,” and they both do so awfully well.” —Jonathan Keefe, Slant Magazine

“Thank goodness the Internet and satellite radio are around to pick up FM’s slack, because brilliant would-be singles continue popping up on independent releases that Clear Channel won’t touch. My favorite two this year were Elizabeth Cook’s “El Camino” and Chely Wright’s “Notes to the Coroner.” The former: a hilarious country-rap about a creepy, mulleted lothario. The latter: a frank diary introduction from a recently deceased woman. Both: utterly unique and unshakably catchy.” —Dan Milliken, Country Universe

“In 2010, Grandpa told us about the good old days again. The most conspicuous presence on country radio in recent years has been this kindly old gentleman, lugging his aching bones out of bed to share some worldly wisdom. After years of hard labor and heartache, he’s now embarked on a second career as life coach for his hillbilly kin on recent singles from Lee Brice, Billy Currington, Craig Morgan and Alan Jackson (the matured mentor on Zac Brown’s “As She’s Walking Away”). Of course, country radio won’t fool with women over 40 except for Reba, so you never really get to hear Grandma’s side of things.” —Blake Boldt, The 9513

“Despite their two weak singles this year, “Our Kind of Love” and “Hello World,” I remain in Lady Antebellum’s corner. What hooks me is the way they’re able to inject gritty, tangible emotion into the glossiest of production and the vaguest of lyrics. That’s what elevates “Need You Now” to an aching confession, and that’s how, on a song that compares innocence to a condiment, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance alone manages to tell an evocative story.” —Tara Seetharam, Country Universe

“So if country music is doing so well artistically, why is it that whenever I turned on the radio in 2010, I heard mostly pop or rock songs with a token steel guitar thrown into the mix? I’ve long since given up hope of Americana artists ever getting picked up by mainstream radio, and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that Jamey Johnson won’t be getting many (if any) hit songs no matter how good they are. But would it kill them to play some non-hyphenated country music a little more? I know that country-pop and country-rock are the flavors of the month, but where does that leave more traditional artists? I know I’d be more willing to tolerate Jason Aldean rapping or Jennifer Nettles singing with her stupid fake Jamaican accent if “Draw Me a Map” or “Will I Always Be This Way” was next on the playlist.” —Sam Gazdziak, The 9513

“In an August interview with Spinner, Ryan Bingham rejected the notion that he makes country music. Two weeks later, Bingham was named the Americana Music Association’s “Artist of the Year,” thanks in large part to his Academy Award-winning song “The Weary Kind,” a song he wrote for a movie about a country singer. In September, when asked about the state of country music today, rising star Justin Townes Earle told The Wall Street Journal that he’s embarrassed to be from Nashville because of the “shit songwriting, shit records and shit singers who are making a million dollars.” Even mainstream country stalwart Zac Brown distanced himself from the genre, telling American Songwriter in September, “The songs that I write are Southern, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them country.” It’s a shame — and an enormous loss for the genre — that the term “country music” has come to describe something so narrow that bright young artists like these choose not to identify themselves as country. Thank God for Jamey Johnson, who wears the mantle proudly.” —Jim Malec, American Twang

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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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2011 Singles: A Wish List

The bulk of our work at Country Universe this month has been catching up on singles currently at radio.  Collectively, they’ve been abysmal, with review grades rarely reaching a B, let alone an A.

How can we turn this around? Here are five songs that I’d love to see sent to radio tomorrow.  Share your own in the comments!

Zac Brown Band, “Let it Go”

A dizzying dose of positivity, with a few great musical twists to boot.  The Serenity Prayer never sounded so good.

Court Yard Hounds, “Ain’t No Son”

The only truly country song on their album. The only truly great song on their album.

Toby Keith, “In a Couple of Days”

It’s easy to take Keith for granted, so consistent are his vocals and song structures.  Usually, its his lyrics that trip him up. It’s his heartbroke ballads, like this gem, that showcase his talent best.

Reba McEntire, “The Day She Got Divorced”

Country singers used to sing about people like this all the time.  Flawed anti-heroines like this don’t come along too often anymore.

Carrie Underwood, “Change”

I suspect those with more refined tastes than mine are clamoring for “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, an admittedly beautiful ballad, but this is the track I’m returning to the most from Play On. I think it captures the nagging cynicism that prevents many of us from fully embracing our inner benevolence.


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Filed under Miscellaneous Musings, Recommend a Track

Single Review: Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”

There hasn’t been a great song in this vein for a good long while. The last one might have been  “The River and the Highway.”  It’s the classic lover’s triangle: the man, the woman, and the impossible dream.

In this case, it’s the man who is chasing his dreams and cannot settle down, and it’s the woman who won’t wait around while he’s left her behind.  It’s structured well enough that you can’t anticipate if they will reconcile by the end of the song, if the man will give up the dream or the woman will chase it with him.

The storytelling is strong, with believable characters speaking in a believable voice. But it’s the arrangement that makes it a truly great record. Like those old Garth Brooks ballads like “Learning to Live Again”, “Colder Weather’ takes the essence of a classic rock power ballad and strips it down until it’s nearly bare.  Journey could have sung this one, but they never would have sung it this way.

Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette,  and Levi Lowrey.

Grade: B+

Listen: Colder Weather

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The Best Country Albums of 2010, Part 1: #20-#11

Countless albums were released in 2010, in mainstream country music, Americana, bluegrass, and all the other loosely associated sub-genres that make up the country universe.  Of those albums, our writers particularly enjoyed the following twenty.  All four writers submitted top ten lists for the year, and amazingly enough, there were exactly twenty different albums among them.  So if you’re wondering if your favorite album just missed the list…it didn’t.  But we’d love to hear why we were wrong in the comments.

Enjoy part one now, and look for the top ten on Friday.


#20
A Crooked Road
Darrell Scott

Tomorrow’s hits today, should the current crop of hitmakers want something as good on the radio as “Long Time Gone” or “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” or just want to have an album cut for the ages like “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Scott’s a singer’s songwriter, delivering his songs with enough personality to elevate them above demos but leaving enough room for improvisation, so that any singer can put their own spin on it.

This twenty-track collection is stunningly strong, with his observations about politics and religion and history intriguing, but his take on human relationships being downright enlightening.  – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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