(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 hosts CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
Taylor Swift remains at No. 1 with "Love Story," but the hottest single in country music right now is "Chicken Fried" by the Zac Brown Band.
He's a native of Cumming, Ga., and was raised in nearby Dahlonega, where the pines grow tall and bluegrass plays loud at the annual festivals. Married with two daughters -- Ruby and Justice, aged 22 months and 8 months, respectively -- Zac and the band play 200 or more dates annually. The five-piece group has developed an almost fanatical grassroots following by winning over believers one listener at a time.
I first saw the group perform on the Grand Ole Opry, and they left me agape and wowed. Zac's jaw-dropping flat-picking guitar skills are backed by an upright bassist, fiddler, guitarist/keyboardist and drummer who are wound as tight as Jake's hat band and ready to burn each instrument down to the ground. Like a perfect, in-tune bluegrass ensemble, each instrument complements the other while Zac sings like a saint. Well, it don't get a whole lot better than this. Having spent the past couple of weeks at No. 2 on the country chart, "Chicken Fried" is as hot as the grease it's cooked in and comes by just once in a while.
His album is titled The Foundation, but he's also developing a charitable foundation to run a children's camp which he calls his "life's work." Having a place where kids can go -- no matter who they are, where they come from or what nationality or color they are -- is Zac's way of giving back because he says he is blessed. "I want to leave something behind after I am gone that does some good," Zac told me.
Hey! I like Zac Brown a bunch.
Taylor Swift Grabs Attention With New Album
Despite all the hullabaloo over her incredible success, Taylor Swift really is a normal 18-year-old. At the stroke of midnight, the very moment her new album, Fearless, was released, Taylor was at the Walmart Superstore in Hendersonville, Tenn., standing in line with the mob of local fans with her money in hand to purchase the CD. She could have sent her mom or her dad, but no ... .
Taylor is the hottest female singer in America. She just had the largest opening U.S. sales week in 2008 by a female artist in all genres of music when Fearless sold 592,304 copies during its first week of release, including 129,046 album downloads. That's the biggest country digital debut in the history of SoundScan, the company that tracks the sale of CDs and downloads.
Congratulations to Taylor, who joins Alan Jackson, George Strait and Kenny Chesney as the only country artists to debut this year at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- otherwise known as the pop chart.
Taylor Swift heads down under for an Australian tour in March.
Blake Shelton's fifth album, Startin' Fires, has been released, and I'm here to tell you that I am a huge Blake fan. A good-looking, great singer with an incredible wit, Blake should be staring superstardom in the face in 2009. People magazine has just proclaimed him as one of 2008's sexiest men alive. Commenting on the reason for his appeal, Blake told the magazine, "A well worn truck. The wussiest thing a guy can do is drive a clean truck. Dents, scratches and mud -- that's manly."
Good-hearted Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler and the Zac Brown Band are heading to Iraq in December to entertain the troops. Let's send thanks and prayers to these entertainers who care enough to perform for those in uniform on foreign soils. God bless America, God bless the troops -- and God bless Kid, Kellie and Zac.
Trace Adkins is calling it the No Security Needed tour. He's referring to his roadwork with Alan Jackson and James Otto. Each of these guys stand well over 6 feet tall. Lay 'em down and measure, and you've almost got 20 feet of men. Nobody's gonna mess with those odds.
Trisha Yearwood has partnered with Sears for their Heroes at Home holiday promotion that supports military families left at home while their loved ones are fighting overseas. Trisha is offering free downloads of her version of a classic, "My Favorite Things," at Sears.com during the holiday season.
I don't know how they managed to do it, but they've teamed Martina McBride with Elvis Presley as he sings his favorite holiday song, "Blue Christmas." Martina's performance with the King made me weep.
Mindy McCready is at it again, doing what she does best -- being famous. Two weeks out of the slammer after serving a brief sentence for a probation violation, Mindy was off to Hollywood to speak exclusively with Inside Edition. Mindy, who claimed she wanted to see her son so badly, was all drama, admitting she had an affair with baseball star Roger Clemens, who is in hot water for allegations of using steroids. Mindy apologizes, "I'm so sorry what I put his wife through. I should have thought of Debbie Clemens more than myself." However, Mindy admits she's still in love with Clemens. May I ask a question, please? Was she in love with Roger Clemens when she accepted a 7-carat ring from actor Dean Cain? Was she in love with Clemens when she got pregnant with her baby's daddy? Just wondering.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Mexican Beef Dish.