My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Kid Rock

Album Review: Gretchen Wilson – ‘Ready To Get Rowdy’

I had rather soured on Gretchen Wilson in recent years, and I wasn’t inspired by the title of her new album or the uninspired southern rock of the title track when released as a lead single last year. However, I have been quite pleasantly surprised by the full album, all the songs on which were written or co-written by Gretchen. Blake Chancey produced the set.

Her current single ‘Salt Mines’ will get no airplay, as it is musically quite the most traditional country song she has ever recorded. It is a ballad about the hard grind of staying married to a drunken layabout who can do nothing in the house but keep his wife satisfied in the bedroom, while she goes out to work all day to replenish their funds.

Also drawing on tradition is the sassy threat to get ‘A Little Loretta’ with her straying husband:

I’m feelin’ a little Loretta
And I’m on a warpath tonight
I’m tossin’ your things right along with this ring
On the porch of this house full of lies
I’m feelin a little Loretta
And lovin’ you aint’ on my mind
So stay where you are
Don’t come back from that bar
You ain’t gonna like what you find…

I’m feelin’ a little Loretta
And I know just what she would do
To any one of them blondes you’ve been lovin’ upon
Or maybe she’d just do it to you

There is a charming Cajun feel to ‘Big Wood Deck’ and while the lyrics are slight, the arrangement makes the track a delight.

I have often felt that Gretchen is at her best when she is vulnerable, rather than playing up the rough-edges. ‘Mary Kay & Maybelline’ is an excellent song, a stripped down and sensitive story song taking us from a child watching her mother use makeup to hide the tear stains from an unhappy marriage, to the adult woman who discovers her own kind of pain:

You make a choice cause you gotta choose
When it comes down to him or you
I wouldn’t go diggin’ up the truth
Cause a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do

I learned early and I learned hard
What to do when love leaves scars

In more impassioned vein, another protagonist uses a combination of ‘Whiskey And My Bible’ as she reaches rock bottom.

‘Letting Go Of Hanging On’ is pretty good too, a midpaced song calling the bluff of the protagonist’s husband who is threatening to walk out yet again, by declaring:

The ties that bind us ain’t that strong

‘Hard Earned Money’ is a likeable tribute to those who work hard for low pay, and ae grateful to have a job at all, and make the most out of life. The midpaced harmonica-led ‘Summertime Town’ is a catchy rejection of a vacation romance with no commitment.

‘I Ain’t That Desperate Yet’ is a rocker which lacks melody (it is almost on a monotone) but has energy and a strong lyric about not pretending to be someone she’s not in order to find love or to fall back on an ex, because:

I still have my self respect

‘Stacy’ is a strong country rock number (with more harmonica) gleefully criticizing a broken hearted young woman for not moving on:

Twenty-five times he’s hit decline on his cell phone
Quit driving by ’cause you cry every time when he ain’t home
I know you saw a diamond ring
Babies and an SUV
Bless your little broken heart
And how you fall apart

Oh Stacy, why you gotta be so crazy
Honey, don’t you thnk that maybe
You’re the one to blame for running them boys away
Oh Stacy, poor little “someone come and save me”
Ain’t it something sad when girls like you make women like me look bad

There is only one song I hated (I also disliked ‘Rowdy’). ‘Bad Feeling’ is a duet with Kid Rock. Gretchen sings her part well enough, but it is not country, or even southern rock, but a brassy rock ballad which is not to my taste at all.

Overall though, this is possibly the strongest album of Gretchen’s career.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Sundown Heaven Town’

Sundown_heaven_townTim McGraw got off to as bad a start as any could ever dream of when introducing his thirteenth album to the world this past winter. The first single, Mark Irwin, James T. Slater, and Chris Tompkins’ “Lookin’ For That Girl” was a smooth hip/hop meets R&B ballad with McGraw desperately pleading for relevance by pandering to trends in order to score airplay. Then came the album’s title, Sundown Heaven Town, which carries with it racial connotations so horrid, everyone in McGraw’s camp should’ve known better and avoided completely unnecessary controversy.

By the time “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” dropped this spring, McGraw needed the course correction the single ultimately gave him. The elegantly sparse ballad, co-written by Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnson, and Jeffery Steele, is McGraw’s finest single in seven years thanks to an assist from Faith Hill and a charming tale about home. McGraw and Hill are deservedly vying for both Single and Musical Event of the Year at the upcoming CMA Awards.

Just this month Big Machine released the third single from the album, a Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey, and Troy Verges penned tune entitled “Shotgun Rider.” The track, while it sounds good with a shuffle beat, is middle of the road at best and hardly memorable. The problem is keen McGraw fans will remember a different tune with the same name appearing on his Let It Go album in 2007. That “Shotgun Rider,” a duet with Hill, was far more country and less wordy than this tune.

McGraw treated fans to another of the album’s tracks, Canadian country singer/songwriter Deric Ruttan’s “City Lights” when he performed on The Voice this spring. The track is excellent, and while louder, recalls the best of his 90s/00s work. Also classic McGraw is “Overrated,” a sonically progressive muscular ballad penned by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Rivers Rutherford. The chorus is strong and memorable and he gives a nicely commanding performance reminiscent of “Unbroken” from 2001. Big Machine would be smart to release this as a single.

Newcomer Catherine Dunn, who also happens to be McGraw’s cousin, joins him on “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” a pure country album highlight that has a bit too much electric guitar, but adds a nice helping of steel about halfway through. While she’s regulated to singing harmony, Dunn adds a nice texture to the track that helps balance McGraw’s gruffness. It’s just weird to me he isn’t singing with Hill, who also would’ve been perfect here.

I also like “Words are Medicine,” a good pop-country number that I might’ve loved had someone like Jennifer Nettles sang it. As it is McGraw does well with it, but his vocal lacks a subtly a better song interpreter would’ve brought to it. “Last Turn Home” is just too loud and McGraw gives an annoying vocal performance on it, which is unfortunate.

“Portland, Maine” finds McGraw with a smoothed processed vocal that does little to give him any credibility. The lyric, by Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods, is idiotic, with the laughable hook of “Portland, Maine I don’t know where that is.” The track is ripe for parody and completely beneath McGraw’s talents. “Still On The Line” isn’t any better, with an arrangement that leans far too pop for my tastes.

Also terrible is “Dust,” an embarrassing slice of bro-country dreck unsurprisingly co-written by two-thirds of the Peach Pickers. McGraw co-wrote “Keep On Truckin’” with The Warren Brothers and Bill Daly. Like most of the dreck in mainstream country music, it’s another laundry list number that spends a lot of time saying next to nothing. Andrew Dorff’s “Sick of Me” isn’t awful, but McGraw’s vocal is grating and the song’s structure is annoying.

A deluxe edition of Sundown Heaven Town gives the listener an additional five tracks. McGraw gives a tender vocal on the piano ballad turned overproduced social conscious track “Kids Today,” he turns the volume up to eleven on “I’m Feeling You,” mixes organic country with too much rock on “The View” and ventures into Lady Antebellum territory with “Black Jacket.” I wanted to love the Kid Rock assisted “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs,” but the lyric was embarrassingly juvenile and the production far too progressive for my tastes.

As a whole, Sundown Heaven Town is a mixed bag, with McGraw getting a few things right, but still taking a lot of wrong turns along the way. I was a rabid fan of his from 1996-2007, but as the trends in mainstream country have changed, and he along with them, I’ve lost interest. He’s nicely evened out with Sundown Heaven Town, though, with the McGraw of “Truck Yeah” thankfully not showing up here. While he does need a new, far less rockified sound, this is his best album since Let It Go, which is saying a lot these days.

Grade: B-

J.R. Journey’s Top Albums of 2012

Here are my favorite albums from 2012, in no order. Click the links to listen on Spotify.

nashville soundtrackNashville Cast The Music of Nashville: Season 1, Volume 1

The Tennesseean‘s Peter Cooper made a valid case about the music coming from the hit ABC drama being better than most mainstream country hits. I agree with him. While the TV show’s original songs haven’t yet shown much aptitude with traditional country sounds – leaning more toward Americana and pop-country – they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the current top 40 when it comes to content and substance.

Recommended tracks: “Wrong Song”, “If I Didn’t Know Better”, “No One Will Ever Love You”

Kellie Pickler100 Proof

A handful of barn-burning up-tempos, a few clever female-friendly medium tempos, and even more stone country tear-jerkers, served up with heaps of fiddle, pedal steel, and Kellie Pickler’s Carolina twang? Yes, please.

Recommended tracks: “Long As I Never See You Again”, “Where’s Tammy Wynette”, “The Letter (To Daddy)”

jameyjohnsonJamey Johnson – Living For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

Johnson’s tribute to Music Row pioneer and songwriting legend Hank Cochran features an all-star cast taking on some of Cochran’s big hits and a few well-chosen and lesser known gems.

Recommended tracks: “Make The World Go Away” (with Alison Krauss), “A-11” (with Ronnie Dunn), “A Way To Survive” (with Leon Russell and Vince Gill)

Zac Brown BandUncaged

On their third album, the Zac Brown Band again combines country with bluegrass and the sounds of the islands and the songs this time out are again smart and to the point.

Recommended tracks: “Sweet Annie”, “Goodbye In Her Eyes”, “The Wind”

Alan JacksonThirty Miles West

Jackson’s first album for the EMI Nashville label follows his winning no frills neotraditional formula. Thirty Miles West is a set full of top-notch songs and performances. I can’t stop playing it.

Recommended tracks: “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore”, “Look Her In The Eye and Lie”, “She Don’t Get High”

dwight yoakam - 3 pearsDwight Yoakam  – 3 Pears

Yoakam’s first album of all new material in seven years is as eclectic as the man himself. On 3 Pears, he shares production duties with punk-rock hero Beck and songwriting credit with Robert Richie (aka Kid Rock) and Ashley Monroe on respective tracks on a set that ably combines the sound of rock and roll’s golden AM era with his own distinctive country stamp.

Recommended tracks: “It’s Never Alright”, “Heart Like Mine”, “Long Way To Go”

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – “3 Pears”

I miss the days when major label country music artists could be counted on to release albums once a year like clockwork. Not only did it ultimately mean more music in the hands of the consumer, but it also gave the artist a bit of a safety net if he or she wanted to experiment a bit. If an album wasn’t quite up to par, the fans could take consolation in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be too long before a new — and hopefully better — album would be released. But under the current business model, where it’s not unusual for the wait between albums to be five or more years, it is a huge disappointment when an album isn’t to one’s liking. And this is, unfortunately, the case with Dwight Yoakam’s latest release 3 Pears.

In addition to being Yoakam’s first studio album in five years, and his first collection of (mostly) original material since 2005’s Blame The Vain, 3 Pears also marks his return to Warner Bros., the label of his commercial heyday. It could have been — and should have been — one of the biggest events of the year in country music. But unfortunately, the album has little to do with actual country music, and seems to be more influenced by 1960s rock groups such as The Beatles and The Mamas and The Papas than Buck Owens or George Jones.

It’s hard not to like a Dwight Yoakam album, and I should make it perfectly clear that 3 Pears is by no means a terrible album, but it falls short of the high bar set by Dwight’s earlier work and it is not the album I was hoping for. While I wasn’t expecting a Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc, Etc or Hillbilly Deluxe, I was expecting an eclectic set encompassing a variety of styles, with at least a few traditional country numbers to balance things out. Instead, 3 Pears is dominated by too-loud electric guitars, too much reverb and very little that is particularly memorable. The one ostensibly traditional number — a cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” is obnoxiously overproduced with the loud electric guitars and equally loud and unnecessary percussion taking the place of the fiddle and steel of the classic Joe Maphis and Vern Gosdin versions.

The opening track “Take Hold Of My Hand”, a co-write with Kid Rock, is a pleasant enough toe-tapper that would have sounded at home on Dwight’s 2000 effort Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, but things begin to deteriorate with the second track “Waterfall”, the first of two Yoakam-penned songs with bizarre lyrics (the other song being the title track). It’s clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek but I just can’t get into lyrics like

If I had a jellyfish
I betcha we would never miss
A single peanut butter kiss or squeeze

or

If I had a big giraffe
He’d have to take a real long bath
And that’s why waterfalls are really neat

Seriously??

The lyrics to the title track are downright incomprehensible, talking about “three pairs” of various items — glasses, shades, shoes, and not the three pieces of fruit implied by the spelling of the title or the album’s cover art. My other big beef with this song is the synthesizer track that would have been intrusive even by 1980s standards.

That’s not to say that everything here is bad. “It’s Never Alright” is a nice midtempo number written with Ashley Monroe, and “Long Way To Go” is an excellent number that is reminiscent of Dwight’s 90s work. An alternate, piano-led acoustic version of the song appears as the album’s closing track. Both versions are highly enjoyable, as is “Missing Heart”, a mostly acoustic ballad that shows that Dwight is still in good vocal form, and that he doesn’t need to overwhelm his voice with loud, cluttered production and reverb effects.

In general, the second half of the album is better than the first half and the album’s better tracks show that Dwight is still capable of making worthwhile music. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear any of the songs from 3 Pears on country radio. While I can’t recommend the entire album without reservation, I do think it’s worth cherry-picking and individually downloading some of the better tracks such as “It’s Never Alright”, “Missing Heart”, and both versions of “Long Way To Go”. The rest of the album is just filler. I hope that we don’t have to wait another five to seven years for Dwight’s next project, which ideally would be a back to basics project produced by Pete Anderson. In the meantime, I’ll continue to listen to Dwight’s classic 80s and 90s work.

Grade: B-

Single Review: Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow – ‘Collide’

Part-time country hit makers Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow are again aiming for the country charts with what could be the direct sequel to their previous cross-genre megahit – or prequel, depending on your interpretation of the lyrics.  All the parts are here to recreate the magic of their first hit. Well, almost. Bob Seger’s piano playing’s helps moves along the lyrics of angst, loneliness, and the inevitable hook-up that comes from so much alone time, with the help of a steady back beat.

Released to radio this week, the pair’s duet was introduced to the mainstream country audience via a performance at the 2011 CMA Musis Fest. Despite its immediate fast-track, “Collide” lacks the kind of instantly endearing melody that turns your garden variety power ballad duet into something epic like “Picture” or “Don’t You Wanna Stay”. Without the agile punch of like-minded hits, this nomadic rhythm won’t be replacing any of its competing country power ballad duets as a perennial karaoke favorite, much less gain status as a radio hit.

Grade: C+

Listen here.

J.R. Journey’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

So many of my perennial favorites released new material this year that no room was left on the top 10 for new faces.  It wouldn’t have been hard to double this list as I bought twice as much music as last year, and had even more than that sent to me, and I found myself enjoying more and more of it as the months went on.  This always makes listing your favorites in order a task to undertake.  So this year, I  simply ranked my albums list according to their plays on my iPod and the 2 media players on my computers.  So here then, are my favorite and my most-played albums of 2010.

10. Alan Jackson – Freight Train

The ever-dependable Jackson released one of the best sets of music Nashville offered this year. Too bad more of these songs weren’t released to radio since this is likely the best Alan Jackson album most people will never hear.  If you haven’t yet, listen to ‘Tail Lights Blue’, ‘Till The End’, and the title track.

9. Sarah Buxton – Sarah Buxton

Four years in the making, Sarah Buxton’s first full-length album was finally released earlier this year, though 6 of the songs were released digitally in 2007. In addition to Buxton’s original take on the Keith Urban hit ‘Stupid Boy’, this disc features the raspy-voiced singer-songwriter’s four top 40 radio hits, and will likely continue to be mined for future hits by more A-listers.

8. Willie Nelson – Country Music

Nelson’s sedate take on these country standards and other songs from the Great American Songbook, including more than one hymn, are each one sublime.  My personal favorites are ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’, ‘You Done Me Wrong’, and an almost-hushed take on ‘Satisfied Mind’.

7. Reba – All The Women I Am

Aside from that ghastly first single, Reba’s newest album is either half-full of good songs or half-empty, depending on how you look at it . Either way, the few tracks that do hit home pack a mighty punch. ‘The Day She Got Divorced’ stands as McEntire’s finest recording in years, while the weeping ‘Cry’ and the horn-infused title track remind us there’s still a gifted vocalist behind all that makeup and leather.

6. Coal Miner’s Daughter: Tribute to Loretta Lynn

Tribute albums? Meh. That’s usually my reaction too. But very rarely does a multi-artist collection offer so many one-time gems. (Think: Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.) The usual suspects are all here – Reba’s awesome slice of western swing with ‘If You’re Not Gone Too Long’ is flawless – while even the likely Faith Hill and the unlikely Kid Rock step up to competence with Loretta Lynn’s  material. Added kudos for pairing Lynn with Miranda Lambert for the title track.

5. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song

Jamey Johnson’s epic follow up to his career-making That Lonesome Song doesn’t pack the knockout punch of that first record. Instead, these 25 songs deliver their message with subtle dark overtones, and the stories told here are the kind you just can’t make up. Check out ‘Lonely At The Top’, ‘Can’t Cash My Checks’, and ‘Playin’ The Part’.

4. Gary Allan – Get Off On The Pain

Allan’s eighth album is another installment of the gritty, pathos-infused West Coast country that only Gary Allan is doing. These songs find a man addressing the harsher realities of everyday life; lyrics driven all the way home with Allan’s competent vocal work throughout. Favorites include ‘Kiss Me When I’m Down’, ‘Along The Way’, and ‘No Regrets’.

3. Marty Stuart – Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

Stuart’s throwback to country’s first golden era is highlighted mostly by warm musicianship, which features up heaping dollops of fiddle and steel while keeping that signature Bakersfield-meets Mississippi sound that made Stuart’s early recordings so engaging. Choice cuts include the high-octane ‘Bridge Washed Out’ and ‘I Run To You’ with Connie Smith.

2. Chely Wright – Lifted Off The Ground

Lifted off the Ground finds Chely Wright ably making the leap to a mature, serious, and literate artist in the vein of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash, with a brilliant blend of country and folk with tinges of rock and pop, aided in part by Rodney Crowell, who urged Wright to pursue her inner songwriter, and also produced the set.

1. Zac Brown Band – You Get What You Give

It’s been a fairly slow build for me, but the Zac Brown Band have firmly planted themselves as one of my favorite mainstream country acts today. I’m not sure why their sometimes warm and fuzzy, sometimes humorous, always charming kind of country took two albums and half a dozen singles for me to get them, but I think I finally do. These guys are the opposite of what so many are trying to do in Nashville right now: these are legitimate southern rock stars recording actual country music (as opposed to the imposters with their ‘I’m country’ lyrics and hard-rocking guitars). Here’s a band that can out-island Kenny Chesney – ‘Settle Me Down’, ‘Let It Go’, out-country Strait – ‘Cold Hearted’, and probably out-Hollywood Tim McGraw if they chose to, but at the moment they’re making music. Substantial, memorable music full of hooks and melodies.  I really like these guys.

Album Review: ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn’

Multi-artist tribute albums are more often than not hit-or-miss; rarely does one like all of the contributing artists or their interpretations of the hits of the person being honored. Columbia Records’ newly released tribute to Loretta Lynn, marking her 50th anniversary as a country music artist, is no exception, although it does contain a fair share of surprises. I cringed when I saw certain names among the credits, but in a few instances found that their tracks were among the album’s highlights. Likewise, some of the tracks I was looking forward to were somewhat disappointing.

The opening track, performed by Gretchen Wilson, falls into the latter category. On the surface, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” seems like an ideal song for her, but her rendition surprisingly lacks the passion and spark that I was expecting. Instead, she sounds like a better-than-average amateur on karaoke night. Lucinda Williams’ take on “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight)” was also a let-down. She slurs the lyrics so badly that I found myself wondering if she really had those few little drinks referred to in the first verse prior to entering the studio.

On the other hand, the album contains quite a few pleasant surprises, not the least of which is Faith Hill’s reading of “Love Is The Foundation”. I’ve never been a huge Faith fan, and I considered her contribution to 1998’s Tammy Wynette tribute album to be one of the lowlights of that uneven project. This time around, however, she proves that she can deliver the goods. Loretta praised Faith’s performance of the song recently, and after hearing it, I have to concur that it was quite good. I was more than apprehensive about the artists who from outside the world of country music. I’d never heard of Paramore before and was expecting not to like their take on “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man”, but instead found their stripped-down, acoustic guitar arrangement to be quite effective. The White Stripes’ recording of “Rated X”, recorded several years ago, is the track that can be credited with spawning the Van Lear Rose album. I’d not heard it before, and though they’re not quite my cup of tea, the song works much better than I thought it would.

There are, of course, some famous names that seem perfectly matched for such a project, that do not disappoint: Lee Ann Womack contributes “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, which sounds like it could have actually been recorded in 1960, when Loretta’s original version was released, and Reba McEntire’s “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” is the best offering in the collection. Reba manages to accomplish the near-impossible — putting her own stamp on a Loretta Lynn classic. Producer Buddy Cannon gives the old honky-tonk number a Western swing feel, which suits Reba perfectly, and The Time Jumpers — a band that includes Kenny Sears, Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, among others — are superb. If only Reba would include tracks like this on her own albums. The two Conway and Loretta duets that are included — “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” performed by Alan Jackson and Martina McBride and “After The Fire Is Gone” performed by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, with Moorer doing the heavy lifting — are also quite good.

Like most tribute albums, Coal Miner’s Daughter has its share of clunkers. In addition to the aforementioned Lucinda Williams track, Carrie Underwood’s “You’re Looking At Country” is sung with an affected and very exaggerated twang which is quite grating, and Kid Rock’s “I Know How” is simply unlistenable. Trust me, he does not know how.

The album closes with the title track, and Loretta’s signature song, performed by Loretta herself along with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow and produced by John Carter Cash and Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn. Loretta is in good voice and more than holds her own against the two younger vocalists.

If I’d been in charge of overseeing this project, I’d have excluded a few names and included a few others that did not appear. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to include Paramore, and that indeed would have been a loss. Coal Miner’s Daughter isn’t without its flaws, but it is a more than adequate tribute to country music’s most important female artist and is well worth a listen.

Grade: B

CMA award nominees, 2010: setting the stage

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
Lady Antebellum
Miranda Lambert
Brad Paisley
Keith Urban
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.

Male Vocalist
Dierks Bentley
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
George Strait
Keith Urban

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).

Female Vocalist
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Reba McEntire
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

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.

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