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2012 CMA Nominations

They’re out!  What are your thoughts on this year’s CMA nominations?  Discuss in the comments section.

Entertainer of the Year 

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Vocal Group of the Year

The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

Vocal Duo of the Year

Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

New Artist of the Year

Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

Album of the Year (Awarded to artist and producer)

Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines - Produced by Jeff Stevens and Mark Bright

Eric Church, Chief - Produced by Jay Joyce

Miranda Lambert, Four the Record - Produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Ainlay, and Glenn Worf

Dierks Bentley, Home - Produced by Brett Beavers, Luke Wooten, and Jon Randall Stewart

Lady Antebellum, Own the Night  - Produced by Paul Worley and Lady Antebellum

Song of the Year (Awarded to songwriters)

Eli Young Band, “Even if It Breaks Your Heart” – Will Hoge and Eric Paslay

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You” – Dave Barnes

Dierks Bentley, “Home” – Dierks Bentley, Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers

Miranda Lambert, “Over You” – Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Single of the Year (Awarded to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem” – Produced by Michael Knox

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You” – Produced by Scott Hendricks

Dierks Bentley, “Home” – Produced by Brett Beavers and Luke Wooten

Little Big Town, “Pontoon” – Produced by Jay Joyce

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Produced by Jay Joyce

Musical Event of the Year

“Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band

“Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson featuring Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson

“Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars

“Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker

Music Video of the Year (Awarded to artist and director)

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Directed by Peter Zavadil

Kenny Chesney, “Come Over” – Directed by Shaun Silva

Miranda Lambert, “Over You” – Directed by Trey Fanjoy

Little Big Town, “Pontoon” – Directed by Declan Whitebloom

Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” – Directed by Michael Salomon

Musician of the Year

Sam Bush
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Brent Mason
Mac McAnally

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in News and Events

 

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Lady Antebellum – “Wanted You More”

The following article is a guest contribution by Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine and Country Universe

Songwriters:  Matt Billingslea, Dennis Edwards, Jason “Slim” Gambill, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Jonathan Long, Hillary Scott

“Wanted You More” epitomizes what happens when popular music stops being about art and starts being about a focus-grouped product. It’s a song that credits an astonishing seven writers – including the three members of Lady Antebellum – yet manages to have no trace whatsoever of individual experience, emotion, or insight.

If any one of Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, or Hillary Scott had looked to his or her phone and said, “Siri, can you write a song?” the result would have a more definitive and more definitively human point-of-view than what they and their cadre of hired-gun co-writers came up with here.

Utterly soulless stuff, “Wanted You More” doesn’t contain a single line or phrase to establish why its particular story is unique or, barring that, why it’s a story worth telling at all. Which, fine, not every song has to have an original premise or narrative. But Lady Antebellum, as has become their wont, show absolutely no initiative when it comes to expressing their banal ideas or to telling their tired stories in ways that make those ideas and stories theirs.

All a verse like, “All the words unspoken/Promises broken/I cried for so long/Wasted too much time/Should have seen the signs,” accomplishes is rearranging a bunch of clichés that could have been pulled randomly from a hat, for all their disregard for having a sense of purpose or intent. Anyone with a rhyming dictionary could have put “Wanted You More” together, and Lady Antebellum have rather quickly devolved into an act defined by that kind of anonymity.

They just seem terrified by the idea of imposing themselves. Even the song’s hook (“I guess I just wanted you more”) is phrased conditionally. Scott and Kelley are singing about a failed relationship – and, in Scott’s case, singing about it a quarter-pitch sharp the entire time – with all the urgency of someone who can’t decide what to watch on TV. “I guess I’ll watch this re-run of Chopped/Since nothing else is on,” would have as much impact as a hook for a song because it would, at the bare minimum, express some sort of intention.

With nothing of any consequence to get worked up about, it’s no wonder that Lady A’s production and performances are so tepid. The songs on their self-titled debut may have wanted for originality, but at least the arrangements on those songs had some spark and the trio sang their material with real conviction and presence.  But “Wanted You More” sounds interchangeable with the “easy listening” Adult Contemporary of the early 90s. It wouldn’t sound out-of-place between deadly dull minor hits like Richard Marx’s “Hazard” or Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” on a playlist for a dentist’s office or, perhaps more fittingly, a sleep clinic.

Whatever potential they may have once displayed, Lady Antebellum have turned into the most insubstantial, flat-out boring act in popular music. “Wanted You More” doesn’t even have the gumption of a “Hashtag Truck Yeah” or a “Corn Star” to be actively offensive or awful: It just finds Lady A at their most nothing yet.

LADY A’S SCORE:  2
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Guest Contributions, Single Reviews

 

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Zac Brown Band – “The Wind”

In an ever-conscious effort to appeal to all, and offend none, the country music industry seem thoroughly convinced that the way to achieve mass appeal is to slather everything in watery, tasteless pop sludge, and to avoid at all costs offending listeners’ tastes through anything twangy or overtly country-sounding.  In such a market, singles such as the excellent new Zac Brown Band offering are becoming more and more of a rarity.

“The Wind” – our first taste of the Zac Brown Band’s upcoming album Uncaged, due out July 10 – is crisp, clean, and attention-grabbing right from the opening chords as the band picks away furiously at high speed.  The record soars with the sounds of Jimmy De Martini’s fiddling, Clay Cook’s mandolin picking, as well as Brown’s breezy yet focused lead vocal, all of which imbue a strong sense of urgency to the song.  It sounds more like a skilled jam session than a calculated product of a recording studio session.

It’s tempting to give the record a free pass on its sound alone, but the lyrics rise to the occasion, offering colorful imagery and figurative language to portray a narrator who will never stop loving his estranged significant other, mixing strong tones of heartbreak with an undercurrent of hope.  The fact that the song even exists is cool enough, but the fact that it’s coming from an act with an unbroken string of Top 2 hit singles – an act who stands the best possible chance of putting the song into heavy radio rotation – is almost unbelievable.

It’s hard not to compare “The Wind” to the offerings from country music’s other leading vocal group, Lady Antebellum, who often seem to remain one step ahead of the Zac Brown Band at the award circuit.  Yet, if one compares “The Wind” side by side with the absolute train wreck that it is Lady Antebellum’s current single, the stark difference in quality is so obvious that it should be embarrassing.

Is there any space left on country radio for music that just plain sounds good?  And cool?  And that actually goes so far as to arrest the attention of the listener?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  The Zac Brown Band’s high commercial profile may very well make this song a hit – we shall see.  Even if it that doesn’t happen, “The Wind” is still perhaps the most enticing preview of the band’s new album that we could hope to get.

ZAC BROWN BAND’S SCORE:  9
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Reviews, Single Reviews

 

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Album Review: Tim McGraw – Emotional Traffic

Now that Tim McGraw has finally been freed from his Curb Records contract by a Nashville court, his long-delayed contract-fulfilling album Emotional Traffic has finally seen a release.  Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be putting this album on the same shelf as Own the Night and The Incredible Machine.  Though McGraw has touted it as his “best album ever,” I’m going to have to beg to differ.  Emotional Traffic easily ranks among McGraw’s weakest career efforts to date.

Each of the album’s first two singles offered a different possible preview of the forthcoming album’s musical direction.  “Better Than I Used to Be” suggested a throwback to the classic late nineties-era Tim McGraw sound, while its predecessor “Felt Good On My Lips” (which originally appeared on the 2010 Number One Hits compilation) suggested an album dominated by shouted-out arena rock.  Regrettably, the album sticks almost entirely to the former.  Emotional Traffic is a bloated moody mess of an album that recalls the overblown, underdeveloped musical styles that acts such as Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum have often reveled in, as well as even formerly impressive acts like Sugarland.

I’m not saying that this bad album just because it isn’t “country enough” (which would be kind of a cop-out). The problem is that these eardrum-busting arrangements are in terribly poor service to the songs themselves.  The album as a whole disregards the one cardinal rule about great country music:  It’s all about the songs.  It’s not just about being as loud and noisy as one possibly can.  Even when the songs are good, the incessant loudness acts as a sonic barrier between the song and the listener.  It’s impossible for a song lyric to connect with you on any significant level if you can scarcely tell what the lyric is even saying.  With a sound ruled by screaming electric guitars, Emotional Traffic is at times practically unlistenable, and with McGraw himself having produced the album with Byron Gallimore, a decent portion of that blame rests on his own shoulders.

Such production choices are a disservice not only to the songs, but also to McGraw himself.  Though his singing voice lacks the depth and range of contemporaries such Vince Gill and Toby Keith, McGraw’s greatest gift as a vocalist has long been his impeccable strength as a lyrical interpreter.  Career gems such as “Everywhere,” “Just to See You Smile,” and “Please Remember Me” provide solid evidence of that fact.  When he has to shout to be heard over audacious bass lines and blunt force guitar licks, all the magic is lost.  His fine vocal nuances are lost in the shuffle, and his voice becomes but a small component in a constant storm of noise.  Because the album puts far too much focus on beating listeners over the head with needless noise, the emotional traffic is drowned out by an excess of instrumental traffic.

The production fails to mask the fact that most of these songs are no great shakes to begin with.  Album opener “Halo” flirts with the idea of offering a substantial take on a breakup, but ends up a crude jumble of ill-conceived metaphors.  “The One” warns you by its dime-store title hook that it has nothing noteworthy to say, offering only a lazily written list song, while “Touchdown Jesus” only reaffirms the fact that mining the Peach Pickers songwriting catalog rarely yields anything more memorable than the usual radio-pandering formulas.  The pseudo-inspirational “I Will Not Fall Down,” co-written by McGraw with Martina McBride and her common writing compadres Brad and Brett Warren, leads us to expect something interesting as it begins by addressing the theme of getting older.  Sadly, the song offer no listener payoff beyond the shallow declaration of “I will not fall down without getting up… That’s when I need your love,” while volume of the in-your-face production reaches a nearly intolerable high.

Perhaps what’s most disconcerting is the fact that McGraw’s vocal performances are startlingly inconsistent, with him often tackling melodies that are extremely ill-suited to his vocal range.  When he attempts to attack the rocking groove of “The One,” his voice sounds nearly shot.  He sings the soaring chorus of “I Will Not Fall Down” with as much force as his thin voice allows him, but the song would have been better left to the big voice of co-writer Martina McBride.  Half the time McGraw sounds more like he’s shouting than singing, with the “oh-oh-ohh”s and “whoa-oh-oh”s of “Felt Good On My Lips” serving him no better.

The album contains a few enjoyable moments, but such are sparse.  The first, obviously, is the single “Better Than I Used To Be.”  Though McGraw’s version of the song doesn’t fare well in comparison to the 2010 Sammy Kershaw version, it sounds pretty dang good when sandwiched between “The One” and “Touchdown Jesus.”  The second is “One Part, Two Part” which weighs the emotional pros and cons of being in a relationship with too much taking, and not enough giving.  Though the production is somewhat loud, it is comparatively restrained when held up against the songs that surround it.  It ultimately stays out of the way of the lyric, such that wife Faith Hill is even able to contribute guest vocals without being drowned out.  We can even make out a melody that is somewhat catchy.  If we manage to stay with the album until Track 11, we find certain components beginning to fall back into place, as “Only Human” and “Die By My Own Hand” find the songwriting quality improving.  Even then, frustratingly, obnoxious, heavy-handed arrangements act as unwelcome interruptions. Beyond a precious few cuts that are worth cherry-picking, there is little to recommend.

I can hardly begin to convey my disappointment.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Emotional Traffic, but I was expecting a heck of lot better than what I got.  By the way, this is not coming from a longtime McGraw detractor – I have long considered myself to be something of a Tim McGraw fan.  Why, he and Faith were my first concert.  I like Tim McGraw, and I thus approached this album with an open mind, fully ready to be impressed.  That didn’t happen.  When the album tracklist was revealed, I was initially disappointed that the turgid single “Felt Good On My Lips” was going to be included.  But after having heard the rest of the album, I have to say that the real disappointment is not the fact that the song was included, but that it fits so well with the rest of the album.  Because the rest of it is just as bad - often worse.

With McGraw’s Curb partnership having come down to this, perhaps his leaving the label will be for the better in more ways than one.  Let us hope that McGraw’s post-Curb endeavors find him getting back to the basics of what made him a compelling artist to begin with, and that his future output will offer some musical redemption from this disaster.  If it didn’t represent a last-ditch cash grab for Curb Records as they say goodbye to their flagship act, Emotional Traffic would have been better left to collect dust on the Curb shelves next to some underloved Jo Dee Messina album.  This is dreadful.

TIM’S SCORE:  3
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Download These:  “One Part, Two Part,” “Better Than I Used to Be”

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

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Lady Antebellum – “Dancin’ Away With My Heart”

Songwriters:  Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott

Oh, Lady Antebellum… They have it in them to be so good, and yet they can be so bad.  Their current single “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” falls somewhere in between the two extremes, somewhere in the territory of the middling and mediocre.  It begins somewhat nicely with a soft laid-back tempo as the lyrics describe an intimate embrace between lovers, but the lyrics soon collapse under the weight of rote imagery with little emotional heft, plus as a title hook that bears no meaningful connection to the overall lyrical content.

The song never takes off.  A foremost hindrance is that it’s bogged down by a painfully plodding, paint-by-number melody that becomes almost grating as the song plays through.  Though Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley bring traces of genuine wistfulness to the song’s lyric, the soulless melody and lifeless arrangement give them no room to shine.

Of course, anybody knows that at this point in their career, Lady Antebellum could make a crossover smash hit out of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” so it’s a foregone conclusion that radio will still play whatever single the group sends out.  But with that in mind, it’s all too easy to get the feeling that we’re listening to Lady Antebellum on autopilot – coasting through their mega-successful career without making any significant effort to move themselves forward artistically.

At any rate, “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” is a definite misfire – all melodrama with no real substance.

LADY A’S SCORE:  4
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

HEAR IT

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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