CMA Nominations: Album Of The Year

I had a chance, over Labor Day Weekend, to give a good listen to all five albums the CMA nominated for Album of The Year. In essence, they are all very good collections of music. Here’s a reminder of the nominees:

  • Lady Antebellum Need You Now
  • Dierks Bentley Up On The Ridge
  • Miranda Lambert Revolution
  • George Strait Twang
  • Carrie Underwood Play On

Going into this extended listen, I favored Revolution. Lambert’s third collection of songs is among the most stellar to come out of Nashville in years. She has a knack for not only choosing but writing quality songs that’ll hold up well into the coming decades. She’s an album artist and Revolution showcases that perfectly. While it is still my favorite, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed the other four nominees.

I really loved Strait’s Twang when it was released a year ago and still do. Much like Revolution this CD deserves to win. He has won for his last two releases, but Twang is far better than either of them. To be this long into a career and still making music of this quality is an impressive feat.

It’s also the best he has sounded vocally in years, and he picked (plus wrote) some really top-notch songs. I love “Easy As You Go” and the first single, “Livin’ For The Night.” Other stand-out tracks include “Arkansas Dave” and “The Breath You Take.” When the latter song was chosen as the fourth radio single from the project, I was a tad upset. I thought it was much too slow for country radio but I have to admit I do love the song.

I just wish “He’s Got That Something Special” would hit radio. This release hasn’t garnered Strait a single #1 song and this is the one to do it. The tale of a guy wondering what his ex sees in the man she left him for, this just may be Strait’s best song since “Blue Clear Sky” fourteen years ago. Let’s hope MCA Nashville stretches this album to five singles. It would be a shame to leave it as an album track.

When I first heard the song, “Up On The Ridge” last spring, I wasn’t impressed. I thought Bentley’s vocal was flat and didn’t match the energy of the musical track. It has since grown on me, and I do like it now. I feel the CD was nominated on principle, an acknowledgement of Bentley’s venture into Bluegrass.

Overall it is a very good album. It doesn’t have the same zippiness as Dixie Chicks Home, but it is very solid. “Fiddlin’ Around” and “Draw Me A Map” are standout tracks as is the Lambert/Jamey Johnson duet “Bad Angel.” I was also impressed at how effortlessly he cruised into Bluegrass as though he’s made this type of music his whole career. It fits him like a glove and he wears it well.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Need You Now could’ve been so much more. After six months of repeated listenings, I still feel the CD falls far short of Lady A’s talent. The album does have a couple good songs, mostly “American Honey” which serves as the perfect showcase for not only Hillary Scott’s vocal prowess but for the kind of sound Lady A should make with every album. “Stars Tonight” is the perfect anthem for their fans and live shows and the title track is a perfect piece of pop confection.

But where the record falls short is on tracks like “Hello World,” “Perfect Day,” and “When You Got A Good Thing.” “Hello World” is a bombastic attempt at social commentary that fails on every level and doesn’t even come off as a Lady A song but rather a Charles Kelley solo effort. “Perfect Day” is a mess, a bad attempt at something fun and upbeat that’s far too fast with an idiotic hook: “Ain’t worried about tomorrow/When you’re busy livin in a perfect day.” Can’t we all be so lucky…And “When You Got A Good Thing” is a creepy love song sung as a duet between Scott and Kelley. They have more of a brother/sister relationship which doesn’t suit a love song. If this is an attempt at recreating the magic of “All We’d Ever Need,” it didn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal and I’ve heard far worse albums in my lifetime. Plus, Need You Now was just named the best selling album of the year regardless of genre for 2010. For the CMA to ignore this monster would’ve been upsetting. I just wish it could’ve been that truly great album that measures up to the sales and radio airplay.

The final nominee, Play On showcases the mellower side of Carrie Underwood. Clearly a woman in love, the songs exude a confidence that comes with entering the next phase of your life. Whether she’s giving her mother permission to give her away (“Mama’s Song”) or she’s contemplating a life beyond this one (“Temporary Home”), Underwood has never been in finer voice. She makes the Grand Ole Opry crowed proud while still giving her pop fans the slick sheen they crave with the thumping lead single, “Cowboy Casanova.” Problem is, the record goes down fine but is hard to digest. Underwood has yet to make her artistic statement or record her “House That Built Me.” While very good, the CD is not great. Let’s hope she does something different next time. At least she has two of the best ballads of her career on this set.

In the end, I noticed a commonality between the five nominees. All the albums are ballad heavy and lean on the slower songs to make their impact. While it isn’t a good nor bad thing, it’s just a fact. The only artist to balance both worlds is Lambert who knows when a good pick-me-up is needed to insert energy into an album.

I believe strongly that Lambert is going to take the award home. The CMA surely want to make up for ignoring Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and acknowledge Lambert’s ability to create complete albums full of excellent material. Her closest competition is Strait who could easily make it three in a row with Twang. When I first listened to his album I thought for sure it was going to win the award. Of course I hadn’t heard Lambert’s CD yet but the CMA may choose to give the award to the guy who made a career best album in a career full of praise-worthy music.

Should Win: Revolution or Twang (Yes, it really is a toss-up)

Will Win: Revolution

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