Posts Tagged ‘Lady Antebellum’

It’s that time of year: Predictions for the 48th annual CMA Awards

October 31, 2014

Logo for "The 48th Annual CMA Awards"With Brad Paisley and a pregnant Carrie Underwood set to host for the seventh straight year, and all the usual suspects set to perform, you’d think business would run as normal. But you’re wrong. Not only will this mark the first CMA telecast without Taylor Swift in nine years, pop starlet Ariana Grande is set to perform with Little Big Town while Meghan Trainor will sing her hit “All About That Bass” with Miranda Lambert. Few other surprises have been announced, but God only knows why Trisha Yearwood has been regulated to a presenter’s slot and not given prime exposure to sing “PrizeFighter” with Kelly Clarkson.

At any rate, here are the nominees. You’ll find my Should Win / Will Win perdictions below. Do you agree/disagree? Sound off in the comments.

Entertainer of the Year

george-strait-credit-vanessa-gavalya-650Blake Shelton and Keith Urban have one trophy apiece while George Strait is nominated the year he gave his final concert. Only Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert, who are on their second nominations, have yet to win.

Should Win: George Strait – The Country Music Hall of Famer and country music legend wrapped his Cowboy Rides Away Tour a year after beating his younger competition to win this award for the first time in 24 years. When all is said and done, the CMA would be foolish to deny Strait his rightful place as an all-time category winner (four wins), along with Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney.

Will Win: George Strait – Prissy Luke Bryan can have his turn with his third consecutive nod next year. Strait, who’ll never be eligible for this award again, will go out in style.

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The 2012 CMA Nominations: The year that, well, just couldn’t

September 5, 2012

Such as they are, here’s the CMA nominees list for 2012 with my comments and Will Win / Should Win picks:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

The usual solid, yet unspectacular group. The lack of Carrie Underwood will have all her fans fuming as usual and everyone else will bark at the inclusion of Swift, a two time winner and the incumbent, for her increasing lack of country credibility.

Will Win: Taylor Swift – I’m betting on the safest choice this time around. She’s the most likely to pull off a win, her third. Chesney may’ve had the biggest tour, and Aldean is on fire right now, but Swift has the lock on this category.

Should Win: Luke Bryan, but he wasn’t nominated. As an all around entertainer, he’s so much better than Aldean, the only one who stands to keep the award out of Swift’s hands.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Kelly Clarkson, really? I adore her but she hasn’t fully embraced a career in country music…yet. But she did score a #21 hit with the country version of “Mr. Know It All” so her nomination is somewhat, albeit very marginally justified. McBride is a snoozer scoring her 14 consecutive nomination and 15th overall as her career takes a downward spiral.

See, this is what happens when all the great female artists of late (Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Nettles, Shawna Thompson) are members of duos and groups.

Will Win: Lambert – she’s at the top of the heap and the countriest of the big 3

Should Win: While I’d love to see this award go to Clarkson, she’s a pop singer who’s done a bang up job covering country songs in concert. That’s it. I’ll say Lambert because of her intuition with Pistol Annies

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Another somewhat standard list until you take into account Urban is here in place of the red hot Dierks Bentley. His exclusion, which comes on the heels of three back-to-back #1 hits is shocking. Urban should’ve joined Brad Paisley and been made to sit this one out this year.

Will Win: Shelton – there’s seemingly no stopping him right now despite one mediocre single after another.

Should Win: Bryan. While I love Church, Bryan is the most exciting male vocalist to come along in years and a personal favorite of mine.

Vocal Group of the Year

The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

On chart hits alone, all five deserve to be here this time around. It’s nice to see the exclusion of Rascal Flatts as their already bland material has only gotten worse in recent years.

Will Win: Lady Antebellum – is there any reason to bet against them?

Should Win: Little Big Town – Their latest single “Pontoon” isn’t just their biggest single, but its country music’s song of the summer. Zac Brown Band has also yet to score a deserving win, but LBT has been waiting for their time in the spotlight for far too long.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

Another interesting list. Sugarland shot themselves in the foot with Incredible Machine and thus are the least likely to repeat in this category. Love and Theft just scored their first #1, and Thompson Square have the ACM momentum.

Will Win: Thompson Square – they’ve yet to repeat the monster success of “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” in their last two tries, but they’re far from one hit wonders. Shawna may not be the most flashy female vocalist, but she’s the most akin to the genre’s traditions.

Should Win: The Civil Wars – there isn’t a more ear catching duo in country music right now

New Artist of the Year

Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

If we ever needed proof country music is in a rut, this is it. No one on this list has proven truly outstanding in anything they’ve done to date, and none have displayed the integrity to correctly push the genre forward.

Will Win: Brice, Gilbert, and Hayes are so even I can’t predict between the three. That may give Thompson Square the edge.

Should Win: Thompson Square – of this group, they’re the best of the bunch

Album of the Year

Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record
Dierks Bentley, Home
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

The significance of this category is huge. For the first time since his MCA debut When I Call Your Name, Vince Gill isn’t nominated. Guitar Slinger was one of the best country records of 2011 and deserved to be on this list. Also missing are George Strait’s Here For A Good Time, despite the fact his last two albums won, and Pistol Annies for their excellent Hell on Heels.

But rest assured, we get Own The Night. The category wouldn’t be complete without it now would it?

Will Win: Own The Night – if its good enough to get a Best Country Album Grammy, than it can’t loose here, right?!

Should Win: Chief – The Church album is the best of this list and the most original commercial country album of 2011. Four The Record was good, but nowhere near the caliber of Chief.

Song of the Year (Award goes to songwriters)

“Even if It Breaks Your Heart” – written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
“God Gave Me You” – written by Dave Barnes
“Home” – written by Dierks Bentley and Jon Randall Stewart
“Over You” – written by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton
“Springsteen” – written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Another boring list. The exclusion of “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” is a travesty, and George Strait should’ve been honored for his songwriting contributions to Here For A Good Time. But the inclusion of “Springsteen” is all that matters to me.

Will Win: “Over You” – I can already see Lambert and Shelton accepting this together and I’m very happy about it

Should Win: “Springsteen” – its the best song of this bunch hands down

Single of the Year (Award goes to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”
Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You”
Dierks Bentley, “Home”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Eric Church, “Springsteen”

Aren’t the nominations for Aldean’s awful rap over? Shelton, meanwhile, has been nominated for one of his grossest productions ever. Bentley’s patriotic anthem is wonderful, and Church’s ode is his best single yet.

Will Win: I’m leading towards, “Home” but could also see “Springsteen” sneak in a win. But as far as singles of the year go, “Pontoon” is about as big as it gets

Should Win: “Pontoon” – sure its frivolous, but unlike the Aldean hit its harmless fun, and LBT deserve anything the CMA decide to throw their way

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

The most thought out and interesting list, by a wide margin. The Jackson duet is his most exciting song from Thirty Miles West, the Swift duet is the most compelling single of her career, and the Nelson song is an hilarious classic in the making. The reworking of Richie’s classic suits him and Rucker well while the only clunker is the awful excuse for Chesney and McGraw to sing together on stage this past summer.

Will Win: “Feel Like A Rockstar” – the CMA can’t resist when two genre superstars team up

Should Win: “Safe and Sound” – putting Swift aside, its the most compelling track and another reason why The Civil Wars are currently the genre’s best duo.

Music Video of the Year

Eric Church, “Springsteen”
Kenny Chesney, “Come Over”
Miranda Lambert, “Over You”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup”

Of these, Church has the best video, followed by LBT. What’s so remarkable about the whole “Pontoon” thing is LBT haven’t caved into any pressure to act like 20 year olds. They’re being completely themselves all the while making millions.

Of the others, The Keith video is stupid fun, Chesney is all sex and no substance, and Lambert is as boring and depressing as the song.

Will Win: “Red Solo Cup” – as stupid as the song, but captures it perfectly

Should Win: “Pontoon” – lets have fun with this one, and this video is pure fun in the sun. But if Church only ones award, it’ll likely  be this one

Musician of the Year
Sam Bush
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Brent Mason
Mac McAnally

The award I know the least about, but all talented musicians. Can’t go wrong with any of them.

Will Win: Mac McAnally – too strong to bet against

Should Win: Sam Bush – for some variety

 

Country Haiku – my first attempt

April 17, 2012

Inspired by Country California‘s “Country Haiku” concept: 

Dancin’ Away With My Heart

Was so much better

As “And Still”

In the spotlight – regional country singer Kiley Evans

May 17, 2011

One of the benefits of interning at 95.9 WATD is their association with local bands and artists on the south shore of Massachusetts. Whether or not their music is heard on the airwaves or just in local clubs, the DJs and hosts are very tuned into the local scene. This allows music fans like me, access to the best the region has to offer, including local country singer Kiley Evans. A 23 year-old Boston native, Evans describes herself as a “Boston girl with a Nashville soul.” She’s been gaining exposure thanks to multiple appearances on Cat Country 98.1, Rhode Island’s country radio station, and the many YouTube videos she’s posted of not just her own music, but covers of current country songs. She also just released two singles, “Johnny Depp,” and “Not Toady.”

Evans hit a home run with the title of “Depp.” It’ll surly intrigue listeners before they’ve ever heard it. And while song titles of famous people have proven to be hit or miss (“Johnny Cash” by Jason Aldean, anyone?) they have launched superstars including Taylor Swift (“Tim McGraw”). This addition to that linage may be a regional single, but it perfectly showcases Evans’s charm and appeal. Unlike a lot of country singers these days, she sings from the perspective of someone her age, which is a welcomed change. She also demonstrates a maturity that a lot of young talent spend most of their careers trying to find. Overall Evans has made a wonderful first impression which is often difficult to come by in this era of selling yourself out at the expense of fame and exposure. It’s the perfect single for her to gain local notoriety.

The single follows the well-worn path of relationship songs, but keeps it fresh by an infectious melody and catchy chorus that can’t help but get stuck in your head. I’ve only heard “Johnny Depp” a number of times and I can’t stop singing it. She  sells the song by her vocal delivery and invested interest in what she’s singing. It’s the perfect companion for those long summer drives with the windows rolled down and the radio cranked up. What really drew me into the song was her comparisons of the guy in question to both John Travolta and Johnny Depp – which might come off a bit corny at first, but is the attention grabber that made me take notice.

Unlike many country songs that misrepresent country music legends with disrespectful name drops, Evans employs two of Hollywood’s leading men as benchmarks in her quest to find true love. I can’t say it’s been done before, especially not recently, and it turns the name dropping trend on its head by finding a fresh perspective. Plus, it perked me up and got me to listen – the goal of anyone trying to achieve notoriety.

Evans’s other single is the tune “Not Today,” which allows her lets loose with her voice. A  pop/country power ballad, “Today” captures her slower side and unique tone to her voice. As a sucker for songs in this vein, I really like this one as well. While not as instantly catchy as “Johnny Depp,” it works because of what she puts into it. Evans injects enough personality to give this song life. While I wish the arraignment had been a little more sparse, she more than overcomes that minor shortcoming by telling a relatable story of being in love but not wanting to rush into anything. She wants to spend time with her man, but he wants to hold off for some rainy day, leaving her to wonder, “What if those rain clouds don’t come our way?” It isn’t that uncommon for women to beg for the attention of their men and that’s just what she’s doing here – trying to seize the opportunity at hand. And honestly, if this song is any indication, he’s be a fool to put it off any longer.

A complex story, Evans succeeds here by not retelling the same boring relationship story we’ve heard so many times before in a thousand different ways. Just like with “Johnny Deep,” she’s found a unique and fresh angle to themes relatable to everyone regardless if you’re a man or woman. Plus, it’s hooky enough to stick with you long after you finish listening to it. I’m always drawn to ballads for some reason anyway – I guess I’m just in the mood a lot for slower songs and “Not Today” really does fit the bill. And it’s alive enough that it isn’t sleepy. It’s often difficult to make a ballad that isn’t too slow and maudlin, a sleeper usually unfit for radio, but she smartly avoids all those pitfalls and has a really good song here.

It’s hard for me to decide if forced to choose, which of her two singles really is the better song since both perfectly show off the two sides of her personality and the type of artist Evans envisions herself to be. I honestly cannot choose – I like both songs equally as much.

Another great aspect of our ever growing technological world is the phenomenon of YouTube – the premiere outlet for sharing video content around the world. Evans has displayed not only her original songs on the site but also covers of some of country’s most popular hits of late including Thomson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss,” Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” and Swift’s “Mean.” All three bring another depth to Evans’s ever-growing catalog of music. Seeing how a new artist interprets current hits allows fans to see who influences that artist when they’re creating their own sound through they’re own songs.

I really enjoyed Evans’s cover of “Mean” – she took the song from an uptempo country rocker and turned it into a stripped down ballad. While I always find it a little weird to hear someone other than Swift singing this song, Evans has one of the better cover versions I’ve heard. What’s interesting to me is, Evans seems just as comfortable in front of a camera just playing her guitar as she does singing her own songs with the band/studio musicians. There’s no doubt how hard it is to be that naked and post it for the whole world to see, and she really pulls it off.

Evans’s cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss” underscores a problem I’ve had with Lady A for a while – Hillary Scott isn’t a very dynamic singer. Scott can come off a bit flat at times, and lack a necessary intensity. This only boasts well for Evans who brings much more to this song than Lady A ever could. She has the power to her vocals needed to pull off this song.

As far as “Kerosene” goes, Evans is treading on dangerous waters. I haven’t been shy regarding my love of Lambert, and was leery of someone else tackling one of her hits. She gives the track, courtesy of a brand new guitar, a fire and intensity that made the original so great and she gives the song her all. There really isn’t anything negative I can or would want to say about it. Overall, it’s a very good cover.

The other recent hit she’s covered is easily one of 2011’s biggest in the country world – Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not.” While this song moved up the charts at a glacier pace, it exploded in January and was very difficult to escape. It only took a mere nine months before topping the charts. That being said, what would Evans bring to the song to make it her own? As is the case with almost all her covers, she does stick very close to the original version. And her take on “Kiss Me” isn’t any different. She showcases her humor at the beginning, talking about not wanting to kiss the camera, and goes into the song. It’s a very good cover of a very catchy song.

What’s just occurring to me, is the clarity of Evans’s voice. When she’s doing these covers, with just her guitar, she has a clearness to her vocals that rivals many singers today. To be able to understand vocalists is often overlooked but it’s key. It’s how listeners remain invested in the music. With that being said, it seems like Evans has a bright future ahead of her. While she won’t be burning up the national charts in the coming months, she’s working extremely hard to build her profile. If you’re in the south shore Massachusetts area, she’s worth checking out.

For more information check out http://www.kileyevans.com where you’ll find her blog and a list of upcoming appearances. Also, be sure to check out her many videos on YouTube and request her music on Cat Country 98.1, 95.9 WATD, and any other radio station who will give her a shot. Also be sure to buy her two singles on iTunes. Below are her two singles, “Johnny Depp,” and “Not Today” plus her cover of Lady Antebellum’s new single “Just A Kiss.”

Album Review: Sara Evans – Stronger

April 16, 2011

Sara Evans

 Stronger

* * 1/2 

In the six years since Sara Evans released Real Fine Place, she’s appeared on Dancing With The Stars, powered through an ugly divorce, released a Greatest Hits album, a novel, remarried, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoyed a top 15 hit with “As If” in 2007, and watched every other single she and her label released (“Some Things Never Change,” “Love You With All My Heart,” “Low,” and “Feels Just Like A Love Song”) tank. The latter was supposed to be the lead single from her My Place In Heaven album that got pushed back again and again. Her loosing streak turned around last fall when “A Little Bit Stronger” became her first significant hit in more than four years and her first top 10 since 2005’s “Cheatin'”. That long-awaited album was retitled Stronger and finally saw the light of day in early March.

“A Little Bit Stronger” was a welcomed return to form for Evans who seemed cast aside for boobalicous blondes half her age. Co-written by Lady A’s Hillary Scott, the song is a perfect mix of country charm and pop production suited for airplay. It’s appearance on the Country Strong soundtrack more than gave it a boost and the exposure it needed to make it big at radio. While wearing extremely thin after six months of repeated listenings, “A Little Bit Stronger” stated that Evans was back, in a big way.

But, unfortunately, she didn’t follow through with the rest of the album. For someone out of the game for four years, all we get is a ten track album consisting of eight new songs, a Rod Stewart cover, and a puzzling bluegrass version of “Born to Fly”? Stronger is an easy and very enjoyable listen but fails to stick with you because very few of the songs are remarkable let alone memorable. While it does retain more country arraignments than most mainstream releases, it’s safe and generic and does nothing to push the genre, let alone Evans’s career, forward.

The problem with the album is two-fold. In the past Evans has stunned with her ballads. Gone from Stronger are the sweeping story songs – “I Learned That From You,” “You’ll Always Be My Baby” that she executes so well. While they haven’t proven to fair well at radio (and “You” was never a single), such songs showcase the power of Evans’s vocal ability and add the grounding needed to root her music in substance. Also missing are those punchy songs that everyone loves so much. Where’s this album’s “Suds In The Bucket?” or “Born To Fly?” Nothing of that caliber exists here. While we do have an odd Bluegrass cover of “Born To Fly,” resurrecting your signature song in place of a new song of the same energy, doesn’t count.

But luckily for Evans, there are three distinct highlights – the infectious “Anywhere,” “What The Drink Cost Me,” and the Rod Stewart cover “My Heart Can’t Tell You No.” At least all three attempt to pull off something worthy of Evans’s talents. The cover of “No,” while not really country except for the prominent steel guitar, may be the best vocal of her while career. The overall selection of songs on this record may be far less than stellar, but it isn’t like she’s not working hard here. It’s just when the lyrical content of a song is awful, there’s nothing you can do to elevate it.

That logic is never more evident than on the opening couplet of “Life Without Losing:” “My nails are chipped and my hair’s in knots/And my jeans are ripped and I just can’t stop.” It’s by and far the worst line on the whole album. To hear Evans’s sing those words is cringeworthy. Why is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated female singers wasting their talents on drivel like that? The Nashville machine of dumbing down is clearly at play here, and to see Evans become its latest victim is down right sad. If she desires a CMA Female Vocalist trophy, she isn’t showing it with lyrics like that.

But there is some good news – Stronger finds Evans still in a very strong voice and Nathan Chapman, known for producing Taylor Swift, keeps the arraignments from fighting her vocals. They also air on the side of country, which is rare in 2011 Nashville. Evans doesn’t hide her twang as much as embrace it, and the end result is far more authentic to her roots. It’s enjoyable to hear a well placed fiddle and steel guitar on a mainstream country record. These are pop/country songs mind you, but it is nice. Stronger builds more on the foundation of “As If” than “Suds in the Bucket,” but there are worse places to construct from. Believe me.

While it isn’t the slam dunk we all hoped it would be, Stronger is more than an enjoyable listen. It just doesn’t hold up once you’ve turned it off. Most of the songs and hooks aren’t ear worms and none are likely to become legendary, but it’s great to have Evans back after all these years. Let’s hope she doesn’t wait as long to release her next album.