It’s awards time again, with this year’s CMA awards being announced next week. We’ll share our predictions on Monday, but meanwhile here’s a reminder of who is nominated and why. The nominations this year have a few new faces showing up in unexpected places. The big questions of this year’s show will be whether Miranda Lambert will dominate the night as she has the nominations list. Whatever happens, outraged fans are likely to complain that their favorite has been “snubbed”, or someone else has won undeservedly.
Entertainer of the Year
Zac Brown Band
Last year’s controversial winner Taylor Swift was snubbed altogether in this category this year – perhaps partly because of the backlash after her clean sweep last time, but also because she released little during the nomination period. Instead, the category sees no less than three first-time nominees: critical flavor of the month Miranda Lambert (who leads nominations overall), and the two hottest bands of recent years, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band, who are among the few current artists to be selling in the millions. They join Keith Urban (the only former winner to be in the running this time) and our own current Spotlight Artist Brad Paisley, who has been nominated every year since 2005 but is so far without the trophy.
Brad Paisley has won this award for the past three years, and Keith Urban took it home for the three years prior to that. Both men are still scoring regular #1 hit singles and selling well, but is it time for another change at the top? There are two first-time nominees, Dierks Bentley, rewarded by the CMA for his artistic ambition even though country radio has been reluctant to embrace the singles from his bluegrass-inspired Up On The Ridge, and Blake Shelton, who is becoming a regular fixture at the top of the charts. The evergreen George Strait, meanwhile, seems to be nominated virtually every year, but hasn’t won since 1998 (his third year in a row – he also has a couple of trophies from the 80s).
Last year’s winner Taylor Swift gets another nod, recognizing her commercial preeminence despite a series of woeful live TV performances – including at last year’s CMA awards show. She faces pop-country queen Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, who had a massive breakthrough this year, and is the only one of these ladies to be nominated in the Entertainer category. Reba McEntire, the oldest nominee, is still contending on the charts, but the fifth nominee, Martina McBride, seems to be merely filling out the category, as she has not had a good year commercially or critically.
The Band Perry
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band
This could be one of the closest battles. Entertainer nominees Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band have among the biggest sales figures in country music at the moment, and if neither is, strictly speaking, a pure country group, neither are any of the other contenders. Lady A are probably the favorites, with the triple platinum certification of their latest album, their massive hit single ‘Need You Now’, crossover and international success, and the fact that they dominated the top spot on the country albums chart for the early part of this year. However, while their music is very popular with the public at large, critical response has been more muted. Former winners Rascal Flatts have had a fairly flat year in comparison, while Little Big Town have had an up-and-down career but are enjoying a career resurgence. Newcomers The Band Perry are rising stars but have little to show for the nomination period.
Brooks & Dunn
Joey + Rory
The Duo category always seems to be the weakest, and that holds true this year even though an influx of new duos has energized the pool of candidates. The only really successful act here is Sugarland – and they may be lucky that their widely derided new album came out after votes were cast. They have released a Christmas album and live album/DVD, and had a successful tour, but they had relatively little radio success in the nomination period with ‘Joey’ stalling at #17. Now-retired Brooks & Dunn also toured this year (for the last time), but released only one modestly performing single, ‘Honky Tonk Stomp’, in the second half of 2009. Montgomery Gentry’s recent singles have performed so poorly they have now been dropped by their label. None of Joey + Rory’s singles have charted since ‘Cheater, Cheater’ back in 2008, and their critically acclaimed new album was not released in the nomination period. Steel Magnolia have had one big hit, but have not yet released a full length album.
Easton Corbin- ‘A Little More Country Than That’
Blake Shelton ft Trace Adkins – ‘Hillbilly Bone’
Lady Antebellum – ‘Need You Now’
Miranda Lambert – ‘The House That Built Me’
Miranda Lambert – ‘White Liar’
Quadruple platinum ‘Need You Now’ was the biggest hit, and also saw significant international and crossover success, but each of these singles save ‘White Liar’ was a #1 hit. Easton Corbin’s debut single broke him on the country charts and ‘The House That Built Me’ rocketed Miranda Lambert to a new level of stardom.
‘A Little More Country Than That’ – Rory Lee Feek, Don Poythress and Wynn Varble
‘Need You Now’ – Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Josh Kear
‘The House That Built Me’ – Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin
‘Toes’ – Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, John Driskell Hopkins and Shawn Mullins
‘White Liar’ – Miranda Lambert and Natalie Hemby
This award goes to the songwriters rather than the performers. The lineup is broadly similar to that for Single of the Year, with the novelty ‘Hillbilly Bone’ substituted by the Zac Brown Band’s 2009 hit ‘Toes’.
Need You Now – Lady Antebellum (produced by Paul Worley and Lady Antebellum)
Play On – Carrie Underwood (produced by Mark Bright and Max Martin)
Revolution – Miranda Lambert (produced by Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke)
Twang – George Strait (produced by Tony Brown and George Strait)
Up On the Ridge – Dierks Bentley (produced by Jon Randall Stewart)
This category has quite a bit of variety. The AC/pop-country Need You Now has been a massive commercial success, dominating the country album charts in the first part of 2010, but it is less of a hit with the critics. Carrie’s third album is heavy on the pop-country, and has produced a number of successful singles. Miranda Lambert’s third album has been acclaimed for her improving songwriting but has been criticized for production and mixing issues. George Strait represents the old guard with a solid if unadventurous album. Dierks Bentley’s bluegrass fusion is the most artistically challenging of these contenders; Up On the Ridge has been well received by critics and sold reasonably considering the lack of love from radio.
Zac Brown Band
All the artists in the renamed Horizon category have seen career growth over the year for which nominations are valid, although only Easton Corbin (heralded by some as a new George Strait) is a genuine newcomer, becoming the first male artist in years to see his debut single go to #1. Jerrod Niemann has a songwriting career behind him, and had released a few singles before 2010’s breakthrough hit, the catchy pop cover ‘Lover, Lover’. Chris Young (one of the new New Traditionalist group we spotlighted in September) actually emerged in 2006, but only really broke through last year with his second album’s lead single, ‘Gettin’ You Home’. Luke Bryan scored his first top 5 hit back in 2007, but did leap to #1 territory this year with the gold-selling ‘Rain Is A Good Thing’. The Zac Brown Band, who must be the favorites since they are simultaneously nominated as Entertainer of the Year, are the most baffling inclusion, as they had definitely made their breakthrough by summer 2009.
‘Bad Angel’ – Dierks Bentley featuring Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson
‘Can’t You See’ – Zac Brown Band featuring Kid Rock
‘Hillbilly Bone’ – Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins
‘I’m Alive’ – Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews
‘Till the End’ – Alan Jackson with Lee Ann Womack
The Vocal Event category always tends to mix up hits with more obscure cuts. This time we have two genuine hits, one of them also nominated as Single of the Year, the other featuring a non-country act; a second cross-genre collaboration; pure country with Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack teaming up on a Vern Gosdin classic; and Dierks Bentley joined by two critical darlings on a cut from Up On The Ridge.
‘Need You Now’
‘The House That Built Me’
The only video for a song not nominated on its own merits elsewhere is Brad Paisley’s ‘Water’.
Paul Franklin – Steel Guitar
Dann Huff – Guitar
Brent Mason – Guitar
Mac McAnally – Guitar
Randy Scruggs – Guitar
There are no real surprises here, but it’s a shame that a wider range of instruments isn’t represented.