Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 CMA Awards

I did not get to watch the CMA Awards live last night due to having the opportunity to witness Radney Foster, a gentleman who has written hit songs for some of the artists who were in that auditorium and who had a few radio hits of his own back in the late-eighties/early-nineties, perform solo at Natasha's Bistro and Bar in Lexington, Kentucky. It was an excellent show and I will blog about it soon. But I was able to catch the spectacle that is the CMAs online earlier today, and recorded some random thoughts as the show went along. From beginning to end, my thoughts on the night are as follows, some snarky, some sincere, all scatterbrained and, of course, lacking brevity. Enjoy!

-Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church team up for the first performance of the night. Church seems overly unenthused, as hard as he's trying to pretend otherwise with his erratic hand motions.

-I think Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood do a pretty good job hosting year after year.

-"Moves Like Haggard" was pretty funny.

-Only thing missing from that "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" joke was the camera cutting to Taylor Swift. Other than that, I'm glad they went there.

-Carrie Underwood looks a lot better doing the "Gangham Style" dance than Brad Paisley. I mean, like, A LOT.

-Brad Paisley telling Carrie Underwood what "motorboating" is with the appropriate sounds effects is pretty good entertainment. "It's too bad Dolly isn't here tonight." Score one for tig ol' bitties.

-Single of the Year goes to Little Big Town for "Pontoon." They look genuinely thrilled to have won. Probably should have gone to "Springsteen" but still well-deserved in my opinion, if only for all the years they've put in and the underappreciation they've endured. I'm surprised "Drunk On You" by Luke Bryan wasn't a nominee. That song was ubiquitous. And a loss for "Dirt Road Anthem" is a win for everybody.

-I'm kinda surprised "motorboatin'" is getting as much play as it is. It's kinda risque, no?

-Shocked Tim McGraw isn't performing "Truck Yeah." Maybe he regrets recording it? (Doubt it.) This song ("One of Those Nights") is infinitely better than that one and actually kind of enjoyable.  This and "Better Than I Used To Be" are his best singles in years. His voice sounds really good too. I'd forgotten the guy can actually sing.

-Thompson Square wins for Vocal Duo of the Year. Out of the nominees, and in this context, they were the best choice. I love The Civil Wars as much as the next person, but it would have been weird if they had won, seeing as they have absolutely zero support from country radio as far as I'm aware. (EDIT: After watching The Civil Wars perform on Austin City Limits, whether them being nominated makes sense or not, I say screw it, they should have won, and give them all other awards for Best Duo at all the other awards shows too. Shit needs to be shaken up. EDIT #2: Well, The Civil Wars have broken up, or so it seems with the somehow too detailed yet too vague statement they recently released. Wishing them the best, and hoping it's not over for good.)

-Next up is Miranda Lambert with "Fastest Girl In Town." Not a fan of the song, not a fan of this performance.

-Zac Brown Band playing "Goodbye In Her Eyes" and sounding good, per usual.  Hope to see these guys live one day. Their new album is decent, but this song is definitely a standout. Love the driving beat.

-Dierks Bentley performing "Tip It On Back," which I think is one of the best songs on his new album Home. He's gotten a lot of flak for it not being of the same caliber as Up On The Ridge, but that was gonna be a hard feat to accomplish no matter how you look at it. This song has a little more depth and a little more darkness than your average contemporary country radio drinking song. Really good performance.

-"Better Dig Two" by The Band Perry. Dark tune with an updated murder-ballad feel to it. Love the banjo intro and the fact they don't push it completely to the back throughout the rest of the song. Not a huge fan of the hard rock guitars that come in and drown everything out, but I AM a huge fan of the pants lead singer Kimberly Perry is wearing. And her singing's sounding damn good as well.

-I've written about my love for "Springsteen" quite a bit on this blog, but I'd have really loved to hear Eric Church perform "Creepin'." That back to back with "Better Dig Two" would have sounded pretty cool. Not even interjecting "Springsteen" with a verse from "Born To Run" can save this performance from the "we've already seen this before" feeling.

-Eli Young Band sounding pretty good with a performance of "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." A little shaky on vocals during the verses but I know Mike Eli can sing. Could be technical issues. Last I checked their new single "Say Goodbye" was struggling a bit on the charts, and I've yet to hear it on the radio. I think "The Fight" would have been a better single choice.

-Kelly Pickler presenting for Song of the Year with Darius Rucker. It has got to be an awkward feeling when you release one of the purest traditional-sounding mainstream records of the year that's all but shunned by fans and the industry, and then have to present an award in front of them. I hope she hasn't lost faith in her own abilities and artistic integrity because 100 Proof was an apparent "flop."

-Miranda and Blake win Song of the Year with "Over You." I'm not particularly a huge fan of it personally but I don't mind it and find it hard to say anything bad about a song that was obviously very personal to write and means a lot to them. (And damn, I almost teared up as Blake was talking and Miranda about busted out in tears as they accepted the award.) I would have given it to "Springsteen," as I think that's an exquisitely written song, though the most interesting winner would have been Dierks' "Home," what with the controversy over the past year about whether or not he and his co-writers stole the melody from Jason Isbell (I'm perfectly fine believing it was just a coincidence, by the way, and of the opinion that the issue was probably handled badly by both parties on Twitter.) But you knew the CMA wasn't going to go walking down that wave-crashed coast.

-Brad Paisley picking out the tune to The Andy Griffith Show on acoustic guitar is a cool moment. God don't make 'em like that anymore.

-These elaborate set pieces are kind of stupid. Just sing the damn song. "Begin Again" isn't terrible and Swift has improved as a live vocalist (she's not Carrie Underwood, mind you), but she always seems to be faking/acting the emotion of the song while she's singing instead of actually feeling it. Maybe it's just my age (not a teenager) and gender (not female) and attitude (cynical), but it comes off as contrived.

-I don't hate "Pontoon" but I don't need to see another awards show performance of it. I'd much rather hear Little Big Town's new single, "Tornado," or my personal favorite from the album, "Sober."

-All these commercials for Nashville. I hope they are being ultra-soapy with it at the get-go to draw in viewers, and that eventually the focus will level out toward the music and songwriting and the inner workings of the country music industry as a whole. We'll see, but Grey's Anatomy in Music City is not what I had in mind.

-Luke Bryan is kind of annoying at times (sparkly jeans, uber-bleached teeth, uncalled for pelvic thrusting) but I actually don't mind "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." It is nowhere closer to being country music than Taylor Swift is, but it's catchy, and "Love me like you loved me when you loved me and you didn't have to try" is a killer line.

-Sugarland's still around? Damn. And meh.

-Eric Church's Chief gets the well-deserved win for Album of the Year. It truly was. Classy acceptance speech. Unfortunately no cutaways to Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, or Keith Urban. I think Entertainer of the Year is somewhere in Church's future.

-Hunter Hayes now performing "Wanted." I have nothing much to say. Talented kid. Not country by any stretch of the imagination. Vocals sounding really off tonight. Has way more talent than Brantley Gilbert.

-Faith Hill performing her new song "American Heart." Nothing of hers is catching on at radio, and it's been that way for awhile now. As pandering as this song is, it might actually have a chance. But radio does seem to have moved on from her. At least it's not a One Republic cover.

-I hate "Country Must Be Country Wide" and will never understand the appeal of Brantley Gilbert. This would be the direction I'd absolutely hate to see mainstream country go. Faux-machismo-country-boy-cock-rock is soulless and not even close to the spirit of country music. At least "Kick It In the Sticks" was kicked to the curb.

-Who decided to put Batman on the screen behind Keith Urban and Zac Brown during this performance? Anyway, song's kind of bland.

-This crop of Best New Artist nominees is kind of depressing. Hunter Hayes wins. Well, he seems like a good kid, and at least it wasn't Brantley Gilbert.

-Brad Paisley performing "Southern Comfort Zone," beginning with a shout-out to New York and New Jersey in the form of Alicia Keys' chorus on "Empire State of Mind." "Southern Comfort Zone" is a good song that seems to be misunderstood by some as just another "laundry list" song about Southern culture and stereotypes. But if you listen to the lyrics, I think he's actually calling those kinds of songs out. "Be proud, not obnoxious," he seems to be saying. Anyway, it's a good song, I just don't like the production. And the choir at the end of this performance is a bit overkill.

-Carrie Underwood can definitely belt out "Blown Away," but it is a little weird that they decided to go with this song considering the circumstances with Hurricane Sandy. There's some pretty stark imagery in there. Also, she still has the best legs in the biz.

-Scotty McCreary and Shawn Johnson look scared to stand close to one another. I bet they made out backstage.

-After all these years Little Big Town finally wins Vocal Group of the Year and their acceptance speech gets cut short.

-Jason Aldean performs "Take A Little Ride," a generic earworm of a rock song that sounds practically the same as almost every other song that he's released the past few years.

-Interjection: Damn, this is a long show. I'm getting to the point now where I was actually able to watch live last night, and getting a little bored, so the blurbs will be getting shorter.

-Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill give a classy and uncluttered performance, the best of the night hands down. I don't even know what song this is. And who doesn't love Vince Gill? Country radio should be ashamed for kicking him off their playlists. I was glad to see lots of love for him and just outrage over his now lack of mainstream acceptance on Twitter last night.

-No problem with Shelton winning Male Vocalist, just wish he'd start releasing better songs as singles.

-"Come Over" is such a boring song. Chesney should have performed "El Cerrito Place."

-I think all these women from Nashville are drunk. So seems Miranda Lambert as she accepts Female Vocalist award, though she does say something very nice about all the other nominees.

-Pretty good Willie Nelson tribute despite Lady Antebellum's involvement. And based upon the look on his face, he was thinking the same thing as everyone else when Hilary Scott started singing "Crazy" -- she's no Patsy Cline. But to be fair, nobody is. Also, Willie sounded as good as ever singing "On The Road Again."

-Blake Shelton wins Entertainer of the Year. Huge upset I feel like. I was thinking either Aldean or Swift would win. He seems genuinely surprised. He says, "I love country music more than anybody in this room." I just hope he starts releasing some again.

Additional Observations:

-Taylor Swift wasn't on camera nearly as much as she has been in years past, which is surprising, and good.

-Blake Shelton seems a lot more at home and happier singing "Whiskey River" than "Footloose." Hope he takes note. (And of course, "Footloose" is the song they play as he wins EOTY.)

-The Willie Nelson tribute unfortunately serves to remind us that the days of country music sounding like that are over. As Merle Haggard says, a lot of the songs don't seem to have much soul anymore.

-Jason Aldean not winning any awards tonight is a good thing. But he sure makes a wallet chain look cool. It's coming back, folks!

-No representatives of neo-traditionalism with any face time whatsoever, much less a nomination. I'm speaking of guys like Easton Corbin and especially Chris Young. How does Young not get nominated in the Male Vocalist category? Did releasing the ever-too-country "Neon" as a single hurt him that badly?

-In that same vein, it's thoroughly disheartening knowing that these awards shows don't give two shits about George Strait or Alan Jackson anymore (naturally, I suppose, following radio's suit). As much as I would have liked to see the younger neo-traditionalists represented, they do not hold a candle to these two legends. 

-Little Big Town has always been better than Lady Antebellum (and I like some LA songs). It's about time they were recognized for it. Huge night for them.

-Ultimately, with Shelton's EOTY win I'm left feeling a little more optimistic than I would have if Aldean or Swift or anybody else that was nominated had won, if for nothing other than the fact that Shelton has waded around in neo-traditionalist waters some in the past. He has now attained close to the largest platform a country artist could ask for in terms of exposure. I just hope he seizes the opportunity to, with his next album, come back around to his roots a little and truly represent what real Country Music -- that he so often claims to love -- is, this music he says he has a passion to spread the gospel of. If Aldean or Swift had won, it would only have been a victory for pop or modern rock, not country music. And in a way, though to a lesser extent -- and as evidenced by his recent output -- Shelton winning is just a victory for volvo-driving soccer moms everywhere. But it could have been much worse. That said, his victory could eventually mean so much more. We shall see.

-Oh, to dream that one day artists like Turnpike Troubadours, The Trishas, and Randy Rogers Band will be represented at events such as this. I do not count on it, but it is fun to dream.

-The other really big winner tonight: BOOBS (mmmm-motorboatin').

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