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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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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”

BUY IT ON AMAZON

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

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2011 In Review: Singles I Would Rather Forget

It would be extrememly redundant if I were to mourn over what a weak year 2011 has been for country music, but really, let’s face it.  Country music just doesn’t get “good years” anymore these days, at least not from a mainstream perspective.  Periodically we are treated to a something genuinely great that offers a glimmer of hope for the genre’s future – Last year it was “The House That Built Me”; this year it was “Cost of Livin’.”  But even then, we still have an enormous amount of duds foisted upon us at the same time.

The following is a candid list of 2011 single releases that, as far as I’m concerned, unequivocally missed the mark.  I will indulge in one last breath of biting sarcasm, and afterwards I shall never speak of these songs again.  I don’t care at all if the songs were big hits or not – They’re being judged solely on the basis of how badly they make my skin crawl.

Trace Adkins, “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”

A heaping helping of distasteful over-the-top sexual imagery built around a corny pun that grows more intolerable with each chorus.  When I first heard this, I thought surely this would be the worst country single of 2011.  At any rate, not playing this song was one of the few things that country radio got right in 2011.

Aaron Lewis, “Country Boy”

A rocker-gone-country du jour sets out to prove his country cred by coughing up every rehashed country cliché in the book.

Eric Church, “Homeboy”

An annoying title pun and a few slight tinges of rascism fail to disguise this dud as anything other than just another throwaway tune about how country life trumps city life.

Sugarland, “Tonight”

There were two good songs on Sugarland’s largely atrocious album The Incredible MachineOnly two good songs.  After they were both sent to radio, it figures that the inevitable third single would sum up everything that’s gone wrong with Sugarland’s music lately.  The lyrics make no sense.  The production is bloated and tasteless.   Worst of all, the typically stellar Jennifer Nettles turns in one of her weakest performances to date.

Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”

With inspid lyrics set against an arrangement that sounds like bad eighties pop music, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” plays like a big heap of almost everything I hate about stale mainstream country music all wrapped up in one package.

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

Lyrics?  Dumber than dumber than dumb.  Bryan’s playful vocal almost saves this from being a complete dud.  Almost.  But not quite.

Brantley Gilbert, “Country Must Be Country Wide”

“In every state, there’s a station…” playing crappy country pride anthems that shamelessly namedrop legends in a vain attempt to compensate for their own utter lack of artistic merits.

Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”

This gets a nomination for Song of the Year?  I don’t get it.  What unique and amazing qualities does this song possess that deem it worthy to compete against the work of Matraca Berg and Deana Carter?  Because it’s the first song in forever to crow about dirt roads and cold beer?  Because it’s so revolutionary to namedrop George Jones?  Way to knock your credibility, CMA.

Gloriana, “Wanna Take You Home”

This song is like air to me.  I get nothing out of it whatsoever.  It starts by rhyming “girl” with “rock my world”… and then it’s all downhill from there.  What more is there to say?

Kristin Chenoweth, “I Want Somebody (Bitch About)”

Hey!  Yeah you!  Y’all better listen up!  Uh-huh!  O-kay!  She’s a Broadway star – It’s not like she’s never sung before.  So how on earth does she turn in a performance so awful?  Never mind that the song itself was pretty much a turd to begin with.  Every now and then, I might get the lurge to listen to this song just to chuckle at how amazingly bad it is, but even then, I rarely stay with it past the first chorus.  When I first heard this, I though surely this must be the worst country single of 2011.

The JaneDear Girls, “Merry Go Round”

Oh, my ears.  Oh, my ears!  I’m so sorry, but these girls are total vocal hacks, and smothering them in auto-tune only makes it worse.  It just blows my mind that a major Nashville label is throwing their support behind such godawful music.  Sorry, Adkins and Chenoweth, we have a winner.  This is undoubtedly the worst country single of 2011.

Martina McBride, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”

Just in case you didn’t hear her, she said “I’M GONNA LOVE YOU THROUGH IIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTT!!!!!”

Justin Moore, “Bait a Hook”

This whole “country-good-city-bad” shtick wore out its calling card a long, long, LONG time ago.  Why, oh why, do country music’s frat boys insist on selling us the same unintelligent one-dimensional character over and over again?  Or perhaps the better questions is why are people still buying it?  I hate to wax philosophical here, but isn’t it just so sad that this is what country music has come to?  Drivel like this undermines the overall credibility of the country genre, disrespects its rich history and heritage, and gives genre outsiders one more reason to be instantly dismissive of country music in general.  If I didn’t already love country music, songs like this would probably make me hate it.

Brad Paisley, “Camouflage”

Yet another sign that Paisley’s creative batteries are begging for a recharge.

Lady Antebellum, “We Owned the Night”

Glorified elevator music.  But, to keep it in perspective, the rest of the album was even worse.

Well, there you have it.  I’ve had my say, so now it’s your turn.  What were your least favorite singles of 2011?

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Year In Review

 

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