HOT DISH: Kenny and Garth Are Racing Up the Chart

Dierks Bentley and Alison Krauss Make Phone Calls

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Don’t ask me how they know Kenny Chesney had 12.7 million impressions because of radio’s airplay of his new single, “Don’t Blink.” And don’t ask me how they know Garth Brooks had more than 11.6 million pairs of ears listening last week to the radio debut of his single, “More Than a Memory.” I’m sure it wasn’t planned, but it looks like the race is on. Here comes one of the two up the backstretch. It’s gonna be a race to the finish.

Meanwhile, when Kenny does the swan song of his 2007 tour with shows Sept. 7-8 in Atlanta, there won’t be any loading up his band, crew and friends to jet to the islands the next day like he’s done in years past. The man who sold more tickets this year than any other country act will be heading for the house and packing his clothes to hit radio and television with the launch of his brand new album, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, debuting Sept. 11. His first single off the album, “Never Wanted Nothing More,” topped the country chart for five weeks. Fans at his concerts have already had a taste of the second single, “Don’t Blink,” that debuted at No. 16 its first week out and is being compared to one of his best singles, “Good Stuff.” The word I got from Bristow, Va., is that Kenny, the working man, was cuter than ever in his red shirt during a recent concert. I actually saw a photo of the man in red. Look for him on Good Morning America on Sept. 13.

Looking at the CMA Finalists
When the finalists for the CMA Awards were announced, the entertainer of the year category remained a boy’s club. There had been speculation Martina McBride might be in the running, but no girls have been allowed in the entertainer category in recent years. The nominees for 2007 are Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts.

Josh Turner was a surprise newcomer in the male vocalist category along with Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban. Miranda Lambert was a surprise as female vocalist nominee alongside McBride, Alison Krauss, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood.

The strong Horizon listing includes Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Swift and Little Big Town. It’s a shame there aren’t five awards for this category.

There’s more strength in the duo of the year list than before. Nominees are Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Sugarland and the Wreckers. Emerson Drive’s major hit “Moments” obviously put them into the vocal group running along with Alison Krauss & Union Station, the Dixie Chicks, Little Big Town and Rascal Flatts.

All of the winners will be announced Nov. 7 from the Sommet Center in Nashville.

Alison Calls
When I answered the phone and Alison Krauss’ voice was on the other end, I was not only surprised, I was happy. I’ve been such a fan of hers and said so in one of my recent Hot Dish columns. Alison was kind with her remarks. It made me feel very humble, but I told her I’d received lots of calls and e-mails — all positive. After questioning country radio for not playing Alison’s records, lo and behold, I got an e-mail last week from Ken Irwin, owner of Alison’s label, Rounder Records. And will wonders never cease? Some country stations have started playing Alison’s new single, “Simple Love.” Please know that my column had nothing to do with this good news. But what if it did … .

And Dierks Calls, Too
Dierks Bentley was the headliner at the recent Capitol Pub Crawl on Demonbreun Street in Nashville on a recent Thursday when the temperature hit 100 degrees. Eric Church, Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum performed at clubs along the way beginning at 5 p.m., but it was still in the 90s that night when Dierks took to the outdoor stage. He later called to see if I was doing OK.

“It’s nice to come home and show the people what we’ve been working on,” allowed Dierks. “It was awesome that the Nashville community, the music community, came out to support not just all of us but just to support the music in general. It was a great night for me and for Capitol Records and for the entire music community.”

Like I told Dierks, “It appears to me that you all are putting music back in Music City by taking it to the streets.” I do love me some Dierks Bentley.

Dolly Hosts Hollywood Listening Party
I saw on Dolly Parton’s Web site where she was featured on Perez Hilton’s rocking news blog. So I went to Hilton’s Web page, and there was Dolly — looking good with red lips, long red nails, tight jeans and bling. According to the news item, Dolly had an exclusive listening party in Hollywood for a dozen or so invited guests. The word is that her new CD doesn’t come out until February 2008, but she promises this will be mainstream country — her first for a while. For the past few years, she’s been recording bluegrass albums. According to a guest, her new album has ballads, gospel and some amazing up-tempo material. Described as a standout track, “Backwoods Barbie” is a song Dolly wrote for the musical version of her film 9 to 5. The production is scheduled to debut on Broadway during the 2008-2009 season.

Dolly can do anything. I’d like to see her have the radio hit she wants.

Tired of the Sleaze
I am so tired of reading sleazy headlines from Hollywood about the antics of drunken and crazed Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. And about the pregnant Nicole Richie who served a whole 82 minutes of a four-day sentence for driving under the influence of drugs. I’d rather read about 17-year-old Taylor Swift topping the country albums chart for the sixth consecutive week. I much prefer my grandkids, nieces and nephews reading about Taylor.

Joe Nichols Hits a Homer
Like Merle Haggard before him, Joe Nichols has recorded an entire album of new songs filled with emotion and depth. Once through the CD, Real Things, I could almost hum every song. They’re that good and memorable and country — like the Hag’s were. Ballads showcasing his velvet vocals are included alongside up-tempo songs, like “Comin’ Back in a Cadillac,” that make you pat your feet and smile. “If I Could Only Fly,” his duet with Lee Ann Womack, is a real keeper. “She’s All Lady” reminds me of the Randy Travis hit, “On the Other Hand.” It sounds like a single to me, and I really like the title song, too. The entire album is down-home good and country. You don’t hear much of this good stuff any more. Joe’s hit a homer. I give him five stars.

Country Stars Wrangle Back-to-School Promotion
Wrangler has joined forces with some of country’s finest — including Alan Jackson and George Strait — for a nationwide back-to-school promotion. Radio listeners will have a chance to win autographed jeans by the artists and gift certificates for jeans to get kids dressed for the new school year. Others participating in the promotion are Clay Walker, Darryl Worley, Craig Morgan, Neal McCoy, Eddie Montgomery, Trace Adkins, Aaron Tippin, Trent Willmon, Tracy Byrd, Hank Williams Jr. and Jason Aldean.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Coconut Pie.