What’s Not to Like? CMA Performances Covered All the Bases

Forget the awards part of the CMA Awards show since you probably didn’t get one anyway. Instead, look at it as a live concert with a lot of annoying interruptions. Viewed from that perspective, the show was a rousing success. It was just so varied.

There was a lot of looking backward. In tribute to Troy Gentry, who died in a helicopter crash earlier this year, Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts made a comparatively gentle revisit to Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town.” Gentle, that is until Eddie Montgomery took center stage to help them out–still delivering his lyrics emphatically and still twirling his mic stand as in days of old.

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With its weeping steel and wistful theme, Miranda Lambert’s “To Learn Her” arrived as a sonic oasis in an evening flecked by too much percussion and too many flashing lights. Country tries so hard to please that it sometimes goes overboard with its production numbers.

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For me, the highlight of the evening was Little Big Town’s sweetly harmonized rendering of “Wichita Lineman,” backed by the song’s writer, Jimmy Webb, on piano. It was, of course, a tribute to Glen Campbell who made the song immortal and who died this year. LBT should include it on an album.

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Don Williams was remembered when Brothers Osborne shifted gears from their throbbing, hypnotic “It Ain’t My Fault” to the genial Williams’ standard, “Tulsa Time.”

The uplifting element about these musical flashbacks was that most of the performers in the audience seem to know the words and be singing along.

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A final tip of the cowboy hat came when the laconic Alan Jackson strode forth to sing “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” Jackson also wrapped up the show by rocking out “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” with the show’s co-hosts, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

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Even though it was a majestic and stately performance, I wonder about the appropriateness of Carrie Underwood singing the extended version of “Softly and Tenderly” as a backdrop to memorializing the many country-related deaths this year. Not all fans are Christians or believe they’re sinners in need of saving.

As a piece of music, though, it was flawless.

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Thumbs up to Keith Urban, whose new song “Female” focused attention on the inestimable value of women and girls.

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The sentimental side of me (which occupies the entire left half of my body) rejoiced in seeing Tim McGraw and Faith Hill melodically pledging their love again via “The Rest of Our Life.” You can’t have too much of that impulse.

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And Pink? Her “Barbies,” sung to a string quartet arrangement, might well have been a country song since, like the song, country is so devoted to turning back time and “going home.”

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Here is the complete CMA Awards Show set list:

“Amazing Grace”/”Hold My Hand”–Cast

“Unforgettable” – Thomas Rhett

“My Town” – Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, Eddie Montgomery

“Legends” – Kelsea Ballerini, Reba McEntire

“Light It Up” – Luke Bryan

“To Learn Her” – Miranda Lambert

“Ask Me How I Know” – Garth Brooks

“It Ain’t My Fault” – Brothers Osborne

“The Rest of Our Life” – Tim McGraw, Faith Hill

“Barbies” – Pink

“No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” – Old Dominion

“Wichita Lineman” – Little Big Town, Jimmy Webb on piano

“Broken Halos” – Chris Stapleton

“Seeing Blind” – Maren Morris, Niall Horan

“Softly and Tenderly” — Carrie Underwood

“Heaven South” – Brad Paisley, Kane Brown

“Dirt on My Boots” – Jon Pardi

“Come Together” – Lauren Alaina, Dan + Shay

“Female” – Keith Urban

“Chattanooga Lucy” – Eric Church

“Chasin’ That Neon Raibow” – Alan Jackson

“Don’t Rock the Jukebox” – Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.