NASHVILLE SKYLINE: CMA Awards Rightfully Salute Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert

So, What Did You Expect? Taylor Swift?

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Question: Which of the following people have won a CMA Award?

Beverly D’Angelo
Jeff Silber
Roger Miller Robert Plant Lee Greenwood Larry Henley
Don Wayne
Johnny Christopher
Roger Bowling
John Denver

Answer: All of them, except Country Music Hall of Famer Roger Miller.

In defense of the CMA, the CMA Awards began in 1967 and Miller’s biggest impact and career hits — like “King of the Road” and “Dang Me” — came in 1964 and 1965. Still, after all these years, surely a talent of Miller’s magnitude could have been somehow recognized with an actual CMA Award,┬áif even posthumously, by country music’s flagship organization.

Miller was nominated once for a CMA Award, in 1999, as the songwriter of Brooks & Dunn’s recording of his composition “Husbands and Wives.” He did not win.

He did in the course of his career receive 11 Grammys for his songs. And his Broadway musical, Big River, garnered seven Tony Awards. But there has never been a CMA Award for Roger Miller.

The lesson? Let’s all keep a little bit of perspective about the importance of awards. Awards are not always based solely on artistic merit. In the end, an award is just an award. That reminds me of a memorable quote from former Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas. When he was asked just before Super Bowl VI if the Super Bowl is truly the ultimate game, Thomas answered with his own question: “If it’s the ultimate game, how come they’re playing it again next year?”

Be that as it may, this year’s edition of the CMA Awards show was every bit as impossible to accurately predict as ever. I like that.

And the 2010 awards show was as off-kilter as you would like. Many were predicting Miranda Lambert would be the victim of a backlash by the voters, both as a result of her nine nominations and of last year’s entertainer of the year award winner Taylor Swift being snubbed by CMA voters this year. So Taylor has the biggest year yet of her young career and gets ignored. That’s an awards show for you. Only here could a grizzled group of road veterans like the Zac Brown Band be simultaneously nominated for entertainer of the year and for the new artist award. That actually happened once before — to Ricky Skaggs in 1982.

The show itself, which ran an agonizingly-long three hours, is just about what you expect from the way a TV network would run a bloated music show. It’s OK, but just only.

Lambert herself was lavishly displayed onscreen. She was abundantly rewarded for filling in for the missing Taylor Swift slot as young babe of the year. Her award for female of the year was not unexpected. And she was respectfully grateful.

Musically, there were several significant highlights. I think that Reba’s version of “If I Were a Boy” was the musical highlight of the evening and lingers as a lesson of what country music should be striving for these days. That may have once been a Beyoncé song, but now it belongs to Reba.

Gwyneth Paltrow, for her part, delivered a serviceable rendition of the theme song for her upcoming movie, Country Strong. We now know Taylor Swift can play the piano.

Brad Paisley’s new song, “This Is Country Music,” that he debuted on the CMA Awards was rousing and also begs for subsequent listens before making any substantive judgment. On the first listen of this song, I would have to question his flat statement that what he’s addressing is that “this is country music” when it begins to directly affect individual rights. Everyone’s definition of country music is different. Excessive flag-waving and name-checking Johnny Cash also beg the question of excess. And rhyming “cancer” with “answer” is a bit of a reach. In my humble opinion.

But I’m glad Paisley was finally rewarded with the entertainer of the year award for his many years of hard work. Good for him.

Much has been made of late about the generational gap in country music’s stars. Everyone’s either aging or appears to be a young infant. I think that gap is pretty much nonexistent. Alan Jackson — of all the laid-back artists in the world — appeared to have more pep than his duet partners, the Zac Brown Band. George Strait is no spring chicken, but he still delivers a master class in singing a convincing country song. Rascal Flatts are looking jowly and wearing glasses, but they still can lay it down in an authoritative way. Lambert and her fiancé Blake Shelton are now veteran CMA Award winners and act and sing like it. I was just waiting for Garth to spring out from the wings for the ultimate CMA moment.

And good for Sissy Spacek for delivering a heartfelt and overdue tribute to a true road warrior, the indefatigable Loretta Lynn.