My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Steel Magnolia

ACM Award predictions

The Academy of Country Music is announcing its annual awards live on TV on Sunday. Here are our predictions and hopes for the ceremony:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Jonathan: First off, let the Carrie Underwood backlash begin. And end. I agree with the fans who love her, but she didn’t make enough of a splash in 2011 to be considered here. At least you need to release a solo single. I agree with this list as it features most of the big players in country music right now. I would’ve included Zac Brown Band here as musicianship should win out over star power. But I can’t say any of these artists don’t deserve it from a numbers perspective.
Will Win: Taylor Swift – it’s still a fan voted award and she has the largest fan base for these kinds of contests.
Should Win: Blake Shelton – not because of his radio hits but because he’s the only one here to ascend to the next level in 2011. He makes country music look cool on The Voice, too. He may not have a strong catalog of singles but we could do far worse in Hollywood’s ideal of country music.

OH: I think I would also lean to Blake Shelton here. Chesney, Aldean and Swift have all had bigger tours and more impressive sales, but Blake has been representing country music to a mass audience thanks to his TV exposure. However, this being a fan-voted category, I think Taylor Swift will be Sunday’s winner, with only the fast-rising rocker Jason Aldean likely to challenge.

Razor X: Taylor Swift has this one in the bag, as it’s fan voted again this year.

Note: Voting is still open for anyone who wants to make their contribution. Read more of this post

Advertisements

2011 CMA award predictions

The Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 9th, 2011, presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have become something of a fixture in that role in the past few years. Last year Brad also triumphed by winning the Entertainer of the Year title for the first time. The show will feature performances from many of the nominees, plus American Idol Scotty McCreery and pop star Lionel Richie, who has been recording duets with country stars for release next spring.

Here are our thoughts about who will walk away smiling next Wednesday night, category by category:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton: Jonathan Pappalardo, Occasional Hope, Razor X, J.R. Journey
Taylor Swift
Keith Urban

Occasional Hope: I feel this is a genuinely open category this year. Brad Paisley is the reigning Entertainer, having finally won the long overdue title last year, and is clearly popular with voters. However, I think he has passed his peak both commercially and (more importantly) artistically, with relatively disappointing sales figures for recent albums, although he continues to do well at radio with a #2 and two #1 hits over the period. He is also one of the top earners in country music, alongside Taylor Swift. Teen favorite Swift won the title controversially in 2009, then was largely ignored last year, and is back again with a brace of nominations. She undoubtedly has the biggest international and pop profile of all the nominees, as well as the biggest sales, with over three million copies sold so far of Speak Now in the U.S. and platinum or multi-platinum status in a number of other countries, some (like the Philippines) with little exposure to country music. She has also toured successfully overseas this year. Of course, that makes her an international pop star as much or more than a country star who has gotten lucky with pop airplay; how far should that sway the CMA?

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jason Aldean could be a big winner this year overall. He’s had a good year, with one of the best-selling albums (over 1.5 million sales), and his brand of country-rock, while far heavier on the rock than the country, has carved out a niche in the market for himself. I’m not a fan myself, but he is undeniably one of the big names in country music at the moment, with two #1 and a #2 hit single from this album, and a crossover AC hit thanks to his duet with Kelly Clarkson. But my gut feeling is that it’s a bit soon to win the top award this year. Blake Shelton, despite his title as reigning Male Vocalist, is the other surprise nominee, and he could just swing it based on the impact he has had as an ambassador for the genre, with his TV role on The Voice. He has also had two #1 singles with ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’ and ‘Honey Bee’, and the frankly baffling inclusion of his poorly selling EP among the Album nominees signals that the Association voters are keen to reward him.

Razor X: It’s hard for me to get very excited about any of these nominees, but Shelton seems to be on a hot streak so I think he will win. And if I have to root for one of these nominees, I’d probably go with him.

Jonathan: This is a case of the veterans versus the newcomers. Urban hasn’t won since 2005 and I don’t expect that drought to end this year. Paisley (who should win) and Swift are strong contenders, but their steady success isn’t enough to help them prevail. It comes down to Shelton versus Aldean, and in a battle between the country rocker and the TV star, Shelton walks away with his first Entertainer trophy.

J.R. Journey: I think Paisley and Urban are just slot-fillers at this point in their careers, so they’re out. Jason Aldean had a strong year and so did Taylor Swift, but neither exploded into the mainstream – Taylor’s been there for several years now – like Blake Shelton, with a major television and soundtrack push. He’s on a major upswing, and that ought to sway voters enough to give him the edge.

Read more of this post

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.

Read more of this post

ACM Awards: My Kind Of Country’s predictions

It’s award time again, with the Academy of Country Music due to hand out its trophies for achievements during 2009 on Sunday April 18. Here are our predictions of the likely winners:

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
This category is fan-voted this year (as it has been for the last couple of years). This year, though, the number of nominees has been substantially increased.

Kenny Chesney
Toby Keith
Brad Paisley
George Strait
Taylor Swift: our unanimous pick
Carrie Underwood
Keith Urban
Zac Brown Band

Occasional Hope: Fan-voted. No further comment required.
Razor X: Since this is a fan-voted award, the only two serious contenders are Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Underwood won last year, and since Swift has had a more successful year, I’m going to predict that the momentum is in her favor.
J.R. Journey: I think she’s ahead of the pack in this race by a large enough margin to safely call her the early winner. With it being fan-voted yet again, Taylor’s younger, internet-savvy fan-base would give her the edge even if she didn’t already have it.
Meg: Taylor will get it due to fan voting, and it’s not as though she hasn’t worked equally hard as the other nominees, or harder.

TOP MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley: J.R., Meg
Darius Rucker: Occasional Hope
George Strait: Razor X

Keith Urban

Meg: Brad’s got this one. He’s come into his own as a performer, writer, and entertainer with great musicianship and great vocals.
J.R.: Major tours, a critically acclaimed album and an impressive run of chart-topping singles are just Brad’s commercial qualifications for his victory here. When he wants to be, he’s also a mighty fine statesman and torch-bearer for traditional country.
Razor: After three consecutive wins in this category for Brad Paisley, I’m guessing that the Academy will want to give this award to someone else this year. Urban is the only serious competition.
OH: If Darius wins it will be seen as a surprise victory, but I think he just could get it. He does have an interesting tone, has scored some big radio hits, and sold exceptionally well. And it all seems to be about commercial impact these days. Plus, you need at least one surprise at any award show.

Read more of this post

The Idol effect

There is no doubt that American Idol has had an impact on mainstream country radio. Fourth season winner Carrie Underwood has built on her launch on the show to become one of today’s best selling artists. She can boast several CMA Female Vocalist titles, and is the reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year. The show has been much more successful at kicking off careers than country-based equivalents like Nashville Star and CMT’s Can You Duet, although sustaining them has proved harder.

The first Idol contestant to make a mark on country radio was Josh Gracin, who finished fourth in season 2, in 2003. He signed to Lyric Street, and enjoyed a short run of success including one #1 hit and several top ten singles, but his time ran out and he was dropped by his label last year. Carrie then raised expectations for Idol alumni, and the year after her win saw two contestants move on to country chart success. Kellie Pickler has gained more attention for her personality than for her music, but is still doing reasonably well. Bucky Covington followed Gracin to Lyric Street, and his career pattern is looking similar: he enjoyed some success from his first album, but singles from his as-yet unreleased follow-up have not done as well.

Contestants from later season have not fared as well. Season 6’s Phil Stacey and season 7’s Kristy Lee Cook both got deals soon after their runs on the show; in a bizarre coincidence each released one single reaching exactly #28 on the Billboard country chart, and an album which was received with indifference, before being unceremoniously dropped. Stacey then moved into Contemporary Christian music. The latest product of the show, last year’s Danny Gokey, has a single currently in the lower reaches of the chart and an album out today; it will be interesting to see if he catches on with a country audience, having (like Stacey) not been identified with the genre while on the show.

This year’s show has two teenage pop-country singers very much on the pop side of that equation – Aaron Kelly, who cites Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban as influences, and African-American Haeley Vaughn, who is comparable to a non-writing Taylor Swift, right down to the poor live vocals. The history of the show suggests that if either of these 16 year olds can reach the top six or eight, they can pretty much count on a major label deal. Any lower placing probably means a quick return to obscurity.

Nashville Star has been generally less successful at launching careers. The last two winners never even got a general album release. The biggest star from the show is season 1’s third placed Miranda Lambert, but her rise has been slow; followed by season 4 winner Chris Young, who had to wait a few years before getting his first big hit last year. Both are genuine talents who I suspect would have got there in some other way eventually. Can You Duet, lauded as the best of the reality shows at finding real talent, launched the wonderful Joey + Rory, but first season winners Caitlin & Will flopped at radio. The jury is still out on their successors Steel Magnolia.

Why has a country-based show been less successful than a multi-genre one at launching country artists? Partly the answer lies in exposure: Idol is shown on a bigger TV network, and can boast substantially higher audience figures. There are several drawbacks to this; one is that effectively the new artists gaining the greatest media exposure are selected by a TV production company without any particular interest in country music, and whose primary concern is making a TV program which will attract the greatest number of viewers and sell commercials. In addition, those who do well on Idol tend to be those who appeal across demographics and musical tastes. Carrie Underwood was very vocal about being a country singer, but clearly her musical influences incorporate pop as well, and she gained fans on the show partly through her performances of rock songs. Doing well on a voting-based show with Idol’s numbers indicates a starting fan base which does a lot of the groundwork for the marketing people. Others to have launched country careers after the show (Gracin, Stacey and Gokey for instance) showed little attempt to come across as country artists at all until very late in the day. The Idol contestant who appears to be the most rooted in country music are probably Kellie Pickler, and her records have not yet borne that out, while she is not the strongest singer; and Kristy Lee Cook, who was a pleasant enough singer but lacked the vital spark.

Appearing on Idol is by no means a guarantee of stardom in country music, but it allows some singers to get that initial break, together with mass exposure most can only dream of. I can hardly blame any aspiring singer from applying for the show, or begrudge them any success they may get as a result. Nor can the show be blamed for the drift popwards of country radio, which was already well underway before it was launched. It has however benefitted from that drift, which has offered a more welcoming home for artists with the inbuilt crossover appeal necessary for a successful Idol run. I can’t really criticise the labels for signing artists from Idol or similar shows, either. In some ways, the voting audience provides a giant focus group for the A&R department, as well as providing publicity and developing fan bases  which help to get a nascent career off to a good start. A down side is that poor live performances are also transmitted to a wide audience, and those bad memories can linger. I still remember with shuddering horror Kellie Pickler failing to hit the high notes on aversion of Martina McBride’s hit ‘How Far’, and that has probably colored my response to her records ever since.

Do you think American Idol and its competitors have been an influence for good or bad on country music – or have they made no real difference to the underlying issues, just changing some of the faces?

Single Review: Reba McEntire – ‘I Keep On Lovin’ You’

The title track and third single from Reba’s comeback album has a lot to live up to, as the follow-up to her latest #1 hit. I admit I never expected radio to be as receptive to Reba after such a long layoff as it has proved to be, but it looks as if the concessions Reba and her producer made to contemporary tastes have paid off handsomely in commercial terms. Two uptempo numbers have given her airplay, and now she changes the pace by showing off her interpretative ability to a new radio generation on a ballad. To say this song provided one of the better moments on Keep On Loving You may come close to damning it with faint praise because I was disappointed by that album as a whole. The release of this as a single gives me a chance to reassess it on its own merits.

Written by Ronnie Dunn with his regular songwriting partner Terry McBride, the song bears many of the hallmarks of a Brooks & Dunn ballad and I can imagine Ronnie singing it himself. The tune is very pretty, and help to lift a first verse which offers a few platitudes about having faith. The lyrics of the central part of the song, however, are genuinely interesting, offering an unusually mature attitude about a longterm relationship which has endured its share of ups and downs. The protagonist is almost obstinate in the way she is holding on to love through fights, repeated (probably broken) promises, and pleas for forgiveness:

Sometimes I swear it might be easier to throw in the towel
Someday we’re gonna look back and say look at us now
That’s why I keep on lovin’ you

It is not a romantic picture, but it does feel very real. I do wonder how younger listeners with a more idealistic image of love may respond to it. On the whole, then, this is a very good song.

Reba’s version opens very nicely indeed, with some subdued steel and an effectively restrained, reflective vocal in the first two verses and first run-though of the chorus. I really enjoy listening to the first half of the song. Unfortunately the production builds into a big ballad with heavy production as the song progresses, and some totally unnecessary electric guitar rises way too high in the mix from the second chorus (exactly halfway through the song) onward. I think perhaps this may be intended to indicate triumphing against the odds, but that is not really borne out in the lyric. Reba’s voice (still one of the best in country music) is strong enough not to be completely overpowered, but in order to do this comes close to oversinging at times, particularly in some of the repeats of the title line. Furthermore, the build from the first half of the song to the second does not really sound organic, making this feel somewhat disjointed – as though Reba is trying to appeal to two bases simultaneously.

While the lyric is mature and definitely grown up, the production of the second half is clearly aimed at the mainstream sound on today’s country radio. It should follow ‘Consider Me Gone’ to the upper echelons of the chart. The coincidence of almost sharing a title with a song currently on the charts, labelmates Steel Magnolia’s top 30 hit ‘Keep On Lovin’ You’, is unlikely to harm the chances of Reba’s offering. The songs are dissimilar enough that there is no risk of confusion between them, and not only is Reba a much bigger name and on a hot streak at the moment, but this is a better song. While the production is flawed, this will not hurt it at radio.

Grade: B

The next step for Caitlin & Will

Caitlin & WillThe latest news is that Caitlin & Will, winners of the first season of Can You Duet, appear to have been dropped by their record label, Columbia (along with Keith Anderson).

What went wrong? The label certainly doesn’t seem to have known what to do with the duo, whose excellent single ‘Even Now’ was sent to radio, only to be pulled following what was allegedly strong pressure from radio programmers for ‘Address In The Stars’ to be pushed instead. But then radio didn’t play that, either. Even a performance on this year’s Can You Duet failed to make it into a hit. A promised album was delayed in favor of a six-track digital EP. The full length album will presumably now remain on the shelf indefinitely.

There are a number of intriguing questions. Will the pair (each of whom has a strong, distinctive voice) stay together musically, or decide to pursue separate paths? They entered the competition with other singing partners, and Caitlin admitted on the show that she would have liked to be a solo artist, but in their label-approved interviews the two have talked repeatedly about the strength of their musical partnership. We may see now how deeply rooted that partnership really is.

What do you think? Why has it not worked out for Caitlin & Will, when their rivals on the show, Joey + Rory, have made a place for themselves in country music by working with a respected independent label, and even scored themselves a CMA Award nomination? Do they have any chance at surviving as independent artists, or even picking up another major label deal? Will this year’s winners, Steel Magnolia, have any more success?