(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Only a fool would try to confidently pick CMA Award winners. But, hey, let’s forge ahead anyway. I actually picked all of the winners correctly one year, but that was when I was on the CMA Board of Directors, and my brain had gotten so skewed around that I literally became a typical CMA voter. Now, I don’t recall what that sensation was like. Maybe that’s a good thing…
• Entertainer of the Year: Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw. All of these have had banner years and there are no losers here. Should win: McGraw. Will win: Keith, due to the Natalie vs. Toby thang. Remember that? Seems a long time ago. Interesting that there are no women nominees.
• Male Vocalist of the Year: Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, George Strait. Again, this is a very strong field and these are all winners. But again, I see a sentimental vote. Should win: McGraw. Will win: Keith. It’s payback time.
• Female Vocalist of the Year: Terri Clark, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton. A very good year artistically, although not commercially for women in country. All of these artists posted very strong albums in the face of a wimpy Nashville industry push for women. Should win: Loveless. Will win: McBride.
• Vocal Group of the Year: Alabama, Diamond Rio, Dixie Chicks, Lonestar, Rascal Flatts. Alabama is retiring and is therefore a sentimental favorite. The Chicks shot themselves in the feet. Upstarts Rascal Flatts may steal the trophy. Should win: Dixie Chicks. Will win: Rascal Flatts.
• Vocal Duo of the Year: Bellamy Brothers, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Sons of the Desert, The Warren Brothers. This is an award that should be retired, as the CMA comedy award was several years ago. Brooks & Dunn was a fabricated duo, put together years ago because the Judds were retiring and therefore a CMA Awards slot for duos was becoming vacant. No disrespect intended. They have since set the standard for country duos and produced great music. There’s just not much demand for country duos anymore and not much competition here. Should win: Brooks & Dunn. Will win: Brooks & Dunn.
• Horizon Award: Gary Allan, Buddy Jewell, Joe Nichols, Blake Shelton, Darryl Worley. This is another very strong field. Allan has the most musical integrity but has been around a very long time for being a Horizon nominee, Jewell is the Nashville Star guy, Nichols has a very strong debut album, Shelton shows signs of being an enduring country star and Worley is becoming a stand-up guy for musical integrity. Should win: Nichols. Will win: Nichols.
• Vocal Event of the Year: “Beer for My Horses,” Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson; “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett; “Picture,” Kid Rock featuring Sheryl Crow; “Tears in the Holston River,” Nitty Gritty Dirt Band featuring Johnny Cash; “The Truth About Men,” Tracy Byrd (with Andy Griggs, Montgomery Gentry and Blake Shelton). Should win: “Picture.” Kid and Sheryl exhibit an odd country naivete and innocence that’s been missing from country events and videos lately. Will win: “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”
• Album of the Year: American IV: The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash; Home, Dixie Chicks; Man With a Memory, Joe Nichols; Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors; Unleashed, Toby Keith. The Man in Black gets his final pirouette in the spotlight. Should win: American IV. Will win: American IV.
• Song of the Year: “Beer for My Horses,” Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson; “Celebrity,” Brad Paisley; “Have You Forgotten?”, Darryl Worley; “Red Dirt Road,” Brooks & Dunn; “Three Wooden Crosses,” Randy Travis. Should win: “Three Wooden Crosses.” Will win: “Three Wooden Crosses.” This would be a vindication of Nashville integrity. For a core, stand-up song and a core, gritty stand-up artist.
• Single of the Year: “Beer for My Horses,” Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson, “Celebrity,” Brad Paisley; “Have You Forgotten?”, Darryl Worley; “Hurt,” Johnny Cash; “Three Wooden Crosses,” Randy Travis. Should win: “Three Wooden Crosses.” Will win: “Three Wooden Crosses.” The CMA will reward Travis for a brave return to the arena with a strong song.
• Music Video of the Year: “Beer for My Horses,” Artists: Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson; Director: Michael Salomon; “Celebrity,” Artist: Brad Paisley. Director: Peter Zavadil; “Concrete Angel,” Artist: Martina McBride; Directors: Robert Deaton and George J. Flanigen IV; “Hurt,” Artist: Johnny Cash; Director: Mark Romanek; “Red Dirt Road,” Artist: Brooks & Dunn. Director: Steven Goldmann. Should win: “Hurt.” Will win: “Hurt.” There’s no way that “Hurt” is not the consensus winner. The video is so graphic and so sympathetic that it’s as if Johnny Cash opened a vein and invited us to watch and help him die.
• Musician of the Year: Jerry Douglas, Dobro; Paul Franklin, steel guitar; Aubrie Haynie, fiddle/mandolin; Brent Mason, guitar; Randy Scruggs, guitar. These are all front-line pickers. I can’t single out a winner here.