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Country Music Good...Awards Nothing Special
December 6, 2010  | By Eric Gould


At a glance, country music artists can get awarded for pretty much anything by anybody, in categories of such graying distinction as Top Vocalist vs. Top Entertainer. (Isn't the Top Vocalist pretty much the most entertaining??) And the shows seem to be spawning. Case in point: Fox's new American Country Awards special, tonight (Monday) at 8 p.m. ET...

Fox says "the two-hour primetime special is the only country music awards show that gives fans the opportunity to vote for their favorite artists not only in traditional categories, but also in previously unrecognized areas of the business such as touring, encompassing the entire spectrum of country music and bestowing honors that no other awards show has."

So, if we've got this right, the fans, sloshed and brainwashed from the half-dozen other awards shows, get to pick the same performers all over again. Except this time, they get categories such as awards for the mental heavy lifting required for putting together an all-star tour, and "Best Music Video by a Breakthrough Artist."

(Such "breakthrough" artists have been in heavy rotation on the glacially advancing playlist of videos on CMT for over a year now.) I believe Easton Corbin's "I'm A Little More Country Than That", a song-writing achievement equivalent to formatting an office holiday memo, began running during the Bronze Age.

Including videos, breakthrough awards and singles, the voters -- so drilled into submission by CMT -- have nominated Corbin for maybe 10-plus awards.

A casual check showed essentially the same lineup of artists from the Academy of Country Music Awards, (which reached almost 17 million viewers last year), The Country Music Association Awards, the CMT (Country Music Television) Awards, as well as cross-over performances on the American Music Awards and Grammys. Same-old same-old.


And it's a shame, too. While Fox is giving us, yet again, the now-standard, but always top-shelf, lineup of Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum (shown at the top), and the other twenty or so usual suspects, they get to kill off these bankable acts a little faster, since all of them will be so saturated in a year or two, no one will really care.

Maybe this is the Grand Ole Opry gone national in some sort of corporate conspiracy: These stars are so talented, so hot right now, the musical powers that be figure anyone will watch them, any time. Just who is pulling the strings in Nashville, when no one can crack this awards lineup, or the playlists on CMT or your local country hits radio station?

Fox has, I think, unintentionally and ghoulishly underlined the whole thing with the advertising for this one. With the colorization techniques they've oddly given everyone, including the barbecue-stoked Zack Brown, the same, odd, healthy tan and freakishly white teeth, it gives the impression we're going to see the Stepford Country Awards instead.

All of this sadly bypasses the genius of Nashville producers who have engineered, over the past ten years, such sounds that Brian Wilson and Phil Spector never dreamed of (and some object, way too mechanically and slickly.)

The work coming out of Nashville these days is remarkable, taking the pedal steel guitar and four-part harmony to spectacular, crystalline heights -- a level of craftsmanship perhaps second to none. And since these awards show are live, it does give us a chance to witness the mastery of the talent and engineering of these live performances, such as those by Tim McGraw and his band, who have been touring for 15 years. They're nuanced, huge and utterly flawless.

As for the rest of the line up out there in the mass media wilderness -- such scruffy second-tier artists as No Justice and Gary Allen -- they have the same rock chops or better, and equally enthusiastic audiences. They just can't crack The Man's two-hour line up of these shows.


As the seldom seen Jamey Johnson cracked at getting the CMA Song of the Year in 2009, "I never even thought y'all would let me me come to stuff like this, but thanks," joking he wasn't glitzy enough to make the broadcast.

Nothing against Taylor and Tim -- they're excellent artists, and I love them. They're just not the only ones. And though you won;t find the others winning a Best Touring Act award, they're out there, on iTunes and other MP3-video sites, only a click away.

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