Zac Brown Band

100 Greatest Men: #90. John Denver

March 5, 2011 // 17 Comments

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.

2011 Grammy Pre-Telecast Winners

February 13, 2011 // 28 Comments

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

Grammy Awards 2011: Staff Picks & Predictions

February 12, 2011 // 9 Comments

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

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

2011 Singles: A Wish List

January 22, 2011 // 52 Comments

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.

Single Review: Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”

January 6, 2011 // 12 Comments

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

January 5, 2011 // 19 Comments

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 th 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.

A Tale of Four Hits Collections

January 1, 2011 // 22 Comments

Four generous hits collections were released in 2010, each one chronicling the entire career of a contemporary country music star. Individually, each double-disc set serve as the most expansive and thorough compilation for each artist. Taken together, they tell the story of country music over the last twenty years.

Alan Jackson
34 Number Ones

In the late eighties, Randy Travis did something that no other country star had done before. He became the top-selling country artist by a wide margin without making any musical concessions to pop or rock. In doing so, he tore up the old playbook. Suddenly, you could be a multi-platinum country artists without the added benefit of top 40 radio or accolades from the rock and roll press.

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

#10

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

#9

Broken
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

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