CMA Award Nominations…A Personal View

Well, it’s that time of year again folks. The CMA Award nominations have been revealed. Has this so-called “shift” towards the traditional side of country music had any sort of influence? Yeah, right. Once again, the awards show is shaping up to be another totally predictable bore-fest, a showcase of the worrying state country music is still in. Another celebration of conglomerate success and another night on the sofa for so many talented and unfairly treated individuals who quite frankly, country radio don’t deserve.

Let’s start with the ‘Album Of The Year’ nominations:

Dierks Bentley – ‘Black’
Maren Morris – ‘Hero’
Eric Church – ‘Mr. Misunderstood’
Keith Urban – ‘Ripcord’
Carrie Underwood – ‘Storyteller’

I don’t even know where to start.

In the preliminary rounds, this category included an album titled ‘Big Day In A Small Town’. What on earth happened? Brandy Clark’s project was one of the most well-crafted projects I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in recent years. Authenticity, unbelievably skilful song writing and top quality musicianship; real country music. Nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have ‘Ripcord’ by Keith Urban, which featured PITBULL and was heavily reliant on artificial computer-generated sounds throughout. George Jones and Merle Haggard would be turning in their graves.

As the logo at the top of our page states, I’m proud to be a CMA Member. I’m proud to have my vote and I’m proud that I could contribute to Brandy Clark’s tally. It’s a shame there aren’t more members who are ordinary country fans; Less record labels. Less radio stations. Less block voting.

No disrespect to Keith Urban, he’s one of my favourite artists and having seen him in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, I can safely say he’s one of the best in the business. But ‘Ripcord’ isn’t a country album – Keith would probably admit that himself. Neither are the other nominees, aside from Eric Church’s ‘Mr Misunderstood’ which was a fabulous album and should absolutely walk it.

It’s a sad reflection of country radio, it really is. We’ve just spent nearly three weeks in the States taking in the utter dross that the syndicated broadcasters have to offer. The same old 20 songs constantly on repeat, with the odd ‘oldie’ from Luke Bryan’s immense back catalogue thrown in occasionally like ‘Country Girl Shake It For Me’. The lack of discovery and insight offered by country radio is extremely concerning; the American public are being spoon-fed a ‘clique’ of artists attached to the big record labels. Nobody else gets a look in.

‘New Artist Of The Year’ always baffles me year in, year out. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Thomas Rhett nominated for this last year, despite having already topped the charts with two singles by the end of 2013?! This year, Cole Swindell is nominated, despite releasing three #1 hits before 2015 even began. He’s not a new artist, everybody has known about Cole Swindell for ages.

But it gets even more confusing. In the preliminary rounds, Sturgill Simpson made the top 20 for this category. Let’s get real here folks. Sturgill released his first album over three years ago and has had a lot of success as an underground country artist without any commercial exposure. He’s only ‘new’ because country radio has never had the balls to play his music.

Also, can somebody explain to me why Lady Antebellum are nominated for ‘Vocal Group Of The Year’? The trio went their separate ways earlier this year to pursue their own solo ventures, and haven’t actually released an album since September 2014. Rascal Flatts also have a nomination, despite releasing their last album ‘Rewind’ back in May 2014. The only reason Rascal Flatts have remained relevant in the last year is because country radio took so long to pick up on ‘I Like The Sound Of That’. Again, I’m a huge Rascal Flatts fan, but it seems like there are some artists who are there by default. Florida Georgia Line could sit on the beach for a year and keep sippin’ Bacardi whilst their girls pedal their Harleys, and they would still be nominated for vocal duo of the year.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Scraping the barrel, there are some positive aspects that are worth highlighting. Maren Morris is nominated for five awards, a phenomenal achievement for an artist who has only broken through very recently. ‘My Church’ may well become the song that everybody associates with the 50th CMA awards, and she’s a real dark horse for the female vocalist award. Admittedly, her album ‘Hero’ isn’t a ‘country’ album by any means, but she has worked extremely hard to be in her position and she’s done it her way. Quality song writing does occasionally shine through.

Chris Stapleton also has his nomination for CMA Entertainer Of The Year. A victory for country music. A victory for the little people, the insignificant ones, who have supported Chris’ music without being spoon-fed by radio. But even this brings about its frustrations. Before his performance on the CMAs with Justin Timberlake last year, who was Chris Stapleton? Just a well-respected songwriter who had spent years playing in Nashville clubs looking for that big break as a performer. One performance with a pop star was all it took for the bandwagon to start piling up.

In the words of Sturgill Simpson – “Some days, this town and this industry have a way of making we wish I could just go sit on Mars and build glass clocks”.