Category Archives: Editorials

Best of 2013: Singles Part 3 (10-1)

ATCBestof2013The final ten songs on my list of the best singles of the year feature only one male artist, one group, and a handful of outstanding female artists. These are the ten songs that, in my eyes, have been landmark singles on country radio (though not many have experienced chart success). They tackle various social issues, heartache, and love, but ultimately they are outstanding representations of what country music should be and needs to be. In my opinion, 2013 has been one of the best years for country music thanks to these ten songs.  Continue reading

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Best of 2013: Singles – Part 2 (20-11)

ATCBestof2013A continuation of the Best Singles of 2013, this set offers the middle 10 songs found on my top 30 singles of the year. Any guesses on who the final 10 will be? Am I missing any songs so far? Let me know! Continue reading

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Best of 2013: Singles – Part 1 (30-21)

ATCBestof2013The year is winding down as we’ve reached the middle part of December. That means it is time to unveil the list of Best Singles of the year, as ranked by me of course. When I starting putting together this list, I realized that 1) there are several artists who appear twice this year and 2) that female artists have been the most creative, authentic, and truly country artists this year. This first of three parts includes the majority of the male artists that appear on the top 30 list. Continue reading

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Me and Country Music: Terri Clark, Terri Clark

When I think about the musical journey that has gotten me to where I am today, there are definitely stand out songs, albums, and artists. A while back I shared how George Strait impacted not only my taste in music, but my life as well. This time around I am sharing how a debut album released way back in 1995 became a landmark album in that musical journey. Continue reading

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Me and Country Music: George Strait

Since 2009 I’ve written all about how I feel about country music from new singles, albums, videos, concerts and basically anything else related to the genre I so dearly love. But other than my opinions, I don’t think y’all know about who I am as a person and how I’ve become so passionate about country. That’s where this new feature comes in. Me and Country Music will basically chronicle my life by recollecting how specific artists, songs, and even albums have influenced me. From the many happy, joyous memories to the ones that weren’t so joyful, country music pretty much led me to who I am today. So I hope you enjoy these little blurbs about my life and who I am as a person.

The George Strait Influence


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Best of 2011: Singles of the Year

2011 has been a great year for singles. Like in previousyears we saw plenty of singles by the biggest artists in the genre shootstraight to the top of the charts. There were also plenty, and I mean plenty,of songs that, frankly, were far more superior then some of this year’s charttoppers.  For that very reason, our listof 2011’s top 25 singles includes plenty of songs that received chart successas well as a few that you might have missed. The criteria to make the list issimple, all singles released this year are eligible as well as singles thatpeaked this year, which gives songs released in late 2010 the chance to beincluded on this year’s list. 

25. “Gone Like That,”Josh Kelley
The second single off Josh Kelley’s first country album, Georgia Clay, is a strong single aboutthe difficulties of a break up. It’s the story of the awkward and confusingfeeling one gets when you run into your estranged significant other. Theheartbreaking song is delivered with plenty of soul and emotion, a trait bothKelley brothers (Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum is his younger brother) haveno problem in executing. This song failed to crack the top 50 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, butit was one of the year’s finest singles.

24. “Home,” DierksBentley

Who would have thought that Dierks Bentley had more tricksup his sleeve than a bluegrass album? The lead single off hissoon-to-be-released album finds the singer delivering a song completelydifferent than what we’ve become accustomed to. The raw, simple production isthe song’s highlight along with the fantastic, tender vocal performance Bentleydelivers. The song sends the message that no matter how hard and rough life canbe there’s always a place we can go called home. This a fantastic shakeup to acatalog filled with plenty of rowdy country songs.
23. “Easy,” RascalFlatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield
Rascal Flatts have made quite the career for themselves byreleasing some of the genre’s most over-the-top pop power ballads. However, Idon’t think many of them have been as good as this duet featuring the Britishpowerhouse, Natasha Bedingfield. Both Natasha and Gary LeVox sing the heck outof this breakup song, which is probably the best thing about the song. I’venever heard the group sound as good as they do and most of it is because of theaddition of Bedingfield’s fantastic voice.
22. “Mary Was theMarrying Kind,” Kip Moore
This is one of those songs that most of you probably havenever heard of. The debut single from Kip Moore offered country radio with asingle that offered strong, creative lyrics as well as a fantastic production.Kip sings about having relations with various women with decent attributes, butnone of them compare to Mary, “the one” who got away. Add Moore’s raw, edgyvoice and you have yourself one heck of a country song. This single failed toclimb inside the top 40 on the charts, but this is one that you shoulddefinitely take a listen to.
21. “Drink MyselfSingle,” Sunny Sweeney
Is there anything this traditional country songbird can’tdo? We’ve already seen the soft, tender side of Sunny Sweeney, but with thissingle we get introduced to a completely different woman. It’s very rare tohear a breakup song that is so upbeat and fun-sounding like this single. “Abottle of red, a bottle of white, which one will it be, I can’t decide…I’m agonna drink myself single tonight,” sings Sunny as she vows to drown out her ex’smemory with alcohol. Rather than turning her breakup into a sappy ballad, sheuses a production that could easily inspire a new line dance in the honky tonksof the country. It’s a shame this song went nowhere at country radio.
20. “Tattoos on thisTown,” Jason Aldean
The fourth single off Jason Aldean’s triple platinum album, My Kinda Party, is probably the singer’sfinest to date. He doesn’t offer anything new in terms of production as heutilizes the same southern, arena rock style of country, but he offers us aunique take on the “I’m proud of where I come from” type of song. Rather thansimply saying he loves where he’s from, he uses the concepts of how thememories and activities he enjoyed at home were more like “tattoos” that he andhis fellow neighbors left on the town: “It sure left its mark on us, we sureleft our mark on it, we let the world know we were here, with everything wedid, we laid a lot of memories down, like tattoos on this town.” This is a fantasticsingle from an artist who is arguably the top artist of 2011.

19. “All Your Life,”The Band Perry

Last year, The Band Perry’s critically acclaimed single, “IfI Die Young,” landed on our list of the top five singles of 2010. This year,the group once again finds themselves on our list with their current single. Thisstunning ballad of a girl’s love includes one of the best productions I’veheard on a single this year. The simple production resembles that of abluegrass as acoustic guitars, mandolin, and fiddle can be heard throughout thesong. Add a simple yet catchy melody to the mix and you have yourself quite thecatchy country song. It’s hard to believe that this group, who launched theircareer with the poppy “Hip to my Heart,” has become one of the most countryartists in the genre.

18. “Sparks Fly,”Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift continues to deliver some of the best writtensongs in country music. This number one single is no exception. Once againTaylor manages to turn a song about infatuation that should relate only to her fan base of teenage girls into a songthat reaches beyond that demographic. The song includes an incredibly catchychorus and melody that remains in your head long after the song’s end. The fantasticpop production includes some experimental usage of dynamics which range fromfull force, in-your-face to a quiet acapella line during the chorus. This ispossibly my favorite song from Swift, and by far one of my favorite songs ofthe year.

17. “The One,” TerriClark

Terri Clark was one of the many women who dominated the1990s in country music and she’s still continuing to release quality musicnearly 20 years after her debut. This single of her Roots and Wings albums is probably one of my favorites from thesinger. This is a little on the cheesy side with lyrics about not wanting tofall in love until you find “the one you can’t live without,” but Terri’ssimple vocal performance breathes life into this Tom Shapiro and Jim Collinspenned ballad. The production is country with a few mainstream twists thrown inin an effort to make the song more radio friendly. But, like most songs we’veseen on the list so far, radio failed to warm up to this fantastic single.

16. “Mr. Bartender,”Bradley Gaskin

2011 wasn’t a great year for traditional sounding songs tomake a splash at country radio. This hardcore traditionalist gave it his bestshot with this tune that nearly made it inside the top 30. This song aboutdrinking through heartache includes all the sounds that took over country radioduring the traditionalist movement of the 90s. Steel and acoustic guitars aregelled together to create a song that should be included in nearly everyhonky-tonk jukebox across the country. Throw in Gaskin’s fantastic voice, whichsounds a lot like Travis Tritt’s, and it’s incredibly difficult to not drink abeer while listening.

15. “Amen,” Eden’sEdge

 This is easily one ofthe most catchy songs to hit country radio this year. A fantastic productionfilled with mandolin and slide guitar is the background for thiscountrified-pop song about being thankful someone you love breaks up with the wrongperson to be with you. The chorus is the song’s bread and butter as itcreatively rhymes “thank God Hallelujah” with “hooped and hollered” andincludes plenty of catchy runs of “na na na na” that have you singing right alongwith the trio. The fantastic harmonies and vocal performances the groupdelivers are some of the best to come from a new artist this year. This is afantastic introduction to a trio I hope will be around for a long time.

14. “Here For A GoodTime,” George Strait

It’s amazing how year after year, decade after decade, anartist as legendary as George Strait can continue to deliver hit after hit.This year was no different as the King of Country Music struck gold with thetitle track off his recent album. This uptempo ditty has Strait’s signaturewritten all over it. The production includes Strait’s signature blend ofmainstream and traditional country sounds like steel guitar and fiddle. Thesinger’s familiar aged voice adds wisdom and experience to the song’s message aboutliving life to its fullest. This is a standout in a catalog of hits that datesall the way back to the early 80s, and a standout among this year’s mostsuccessful singles.

13. “Staying’s WorseThan Leaving,” Sunny Sweeney

Sunny Sweeney is one of two artists who appear twice on ourlist. The second single off the singer’s Concretealbum is probably one of the album’s highlights. This stunning mid-tempo songtells the story of how staying in a doomed relationship is sometimes the wrongchoice and should be left behind to protect everyone involved from goingthrough more pain than necessary. Sweeney delivers the heartbreaker of a songwith conviction and her signature country twang that makes her one of the besttraditional artists country radio has seen this year.  Here’s to hoping that 2012 will bring thesinger more success than 2011 did.

12. “Just A Kiss,”Lady Antebellum

Lady Antebellum has continued to ride the wave of momentumlast year’s Need You Now created forthem. This year they reached the top of the country singles chart twice, buttheir best single of the year was this smash hit. A beautiful pop production isthe backdrop for the relatable song about wanting to take a new relationshipslow and avoid rushing into things. Hillary Scott’s personal relationship wasthe inspiration behind this song so it’s only fitting she takes the lead vocalwith her fantastic raspy voice. This song doesn’t quite measure up to theGrammy winning “Need You Now,” but it was one of 2011’s highlights.

11. “Back to December,”Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is the other artist who makes two appearanceson our 2011 list. This superbly written song about regretting breaking someoneelse’s heart is without a doubt the best thing Swift has released. Thebeautiful haunting melody and seductive hook create a brilliant backdrop forthe song’s lyrics and Swift’s emotional vocal performance. Filled with plentyof piano, guitars, and full string backing, the production paints a bleakpicture and brings the heartbreaking story to life. Swift is no stranger todrama and she throws out all the stops to deliver an achingly, painful vocalperformance that oozes regret and sadness. This was one of early 2011’s mostbrilliant singles.

10. “Oh Tonight,”Josh Abbott Band featuring Kacey Musgraves

This song from one of Texas’ finest artists is purebrilliance from start to finish. The simple production features a primaryacoustic guitar melody, a little mandolin, and an incredible fiddle which blendtogether to blow a much needed breath of fresh air into country radio. Leadsinger Josh Abbott’s incredible raspy vocal tone blends well with NashvilleStar contestant Kacey Musgraves’ voice, which is nearly just as raspy. Thisyear saw several duets hit the charts, but only a couple were done better thanthis lesser known gem.

9. “Country Girl(Shake It For Me),” Luke Bryan

This song is one of those songs that listeners either lovedor hated this year. I just happened to be one of those that loved it. There’ssomething about Bryan’s delivery that makes this one of the year’s best singles.It almost seems like the singer knows that this song is incredibly mediocre sohe’s just trying to have as much fun with it as he can…and he succeeds byproviding plenty of energy and a carefree spirit. Even though this song is oneof those “country-rap” tunes, the production is kept surprisingly country withplenty of fiddle, guitar, and even a little steel guitar that had everyone “shakingit for the birds” this year. Say what you will about this song, but it waswithout a doubt the year’s most fun single.

8. “A Little BitStronger,” Sara Evans

Not enough can be said about just how brilliant Sara Evans’comeback hit is. First you have an extremely well-written and personal songabout hitting rock bottom and coming back stronger than ever. There’s noquestion the song’s lyrics hit the singer in the heart because of the lows the singerendured during her highly publicized divorce. Second, you add the singer’ssignature voice that exudes plenty of heart, emotion, and soul into an alreadyemotional song. Last you pair that voice and lyrical message with an incredibleproduction that is both mainstream and country all bundled up in one. This isone of the few songs by a female artist to hit number one this year, but it’sdefinitely the best.

7. “Colder Weather,”Zac Brown Band

This song is an instant country classic if you ask me. Youhave the incredibly sad story of a man who chooses to chase his dream overstaying with a woman. However, he’s soon regretting that decision and begins tosee the woman around in him in a waitress’ voice or through smelling herperfume through the “whisperin’ pines.” Zac Brown’s incredible vocal deliveryand the rest of the group’s harmonies provide the song with the requiredemotional aspect needed to pull off a song of this nature. The cold, bareproduction brings the idea of colder weather to life as it includes a gloomy,haunting melody. It’s taken a while for me to warm up to this group, butbecause of this song, I think I’m officially a fan.

6. “Hell on Heels,”Pistol Annies

The debut single from Miranda Lambert’s extracurriculargroup, Pistol Annies, is unsurprisingly one of the best things to hit countryradio in some time. The vintage production was unmatched in terms of productionthis year. A simple acoustic guitar melody and light drum beat are the maincomponents of the bluegrass/folk production. Meanwhile, the vocal performancesturned in by all three members of the group (Lambert, Ashley Monroe, andAngaleena Pressley) are filled with loads of sass and attitude…something we haven’theard from a group since the Dixie Chicks reigned supreme during the early2000s. This talented trio is off to a superb start with this outstanding debutsingle.

5. “Tomorrow,” ChrisYoung

This year saw several artists experience breakthrough yearsincluding Chris Young. This year, Young topped the charts with this outstandingcountry ballad. “Tomorrow” is yet another song about how saying you’re going toend a turbulent relationship is easier said than done. Young sings about thestruggles of wanting to end a relationship, but at the same time wanting tostay in it. Ultimately, he chooses to put off the breakup for just one more night. Chris delivers the storyof struggle and heartbreak with his most emotional and soulful performance todate. He uses his entire vocal range on this song from the low, deep tone heardduring the verses to the soaring upper register he hits during the chorus andthe bridge. This is a superb single and it will most certainly go down as oneof 2011’s most memorable.

4. “Give,” LeannRimes

Leann Rimes continues to release some of the best songsunder the radar. Last year she gave us “Swingin’” and a couple years ago shedelivered the outstanding “What I Cannot Change.” In 2011, she’s once againprovided us with a brilliant, heartfelt song in “Give.” The outstanding singleoffers the powerful yet simple message of if you want something you just haveto give it. This song applies that philosophy to common wants like love,forgiveness, friendship, and kindness. Rimes’ phenomenal vocal range is on fulldisplay here as she delivers the song with incredible power, conviction,emotion, and inspiration. A song of this nature is difficult to deliver, but I don’tthink anyone could’ve done it as well as Leann does. This is yet another gemthat radio shamefully ignored this year. (If you haven’t heard this song Isuggest listening to the acoustic version rather than the studio version)

3. “Let It Rain,”David Nail

The other 22 songs on our list could possibly be a littlepredictable, but I highly doubt anyone expected this song to not only be on ourlist, but be a part of the top three. However, this single is easily one of themost fantastic songs to climb into the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. This incredible mid-tempoballad puts a fairly modern take on one of country’s classic themes: cheating.When thinking of songs of this nature, I can’t think of one that finds thecheater pleading for the guilt and regret to be poured on him like this onedoes. Nail’s brilliant vocal delivery is filled with the same soul we heard onhis hit “Turning Home,” and shows off his fantastic vocal range which ismatched by only a few male vocalists in the genre. This song is taken up anotch by the inclusion of Sarah Buxton’s fantastic voice taking the harmonyrole. Her distinctive tone adds another layer of vocal brilliance that matchesperfectly with David’s smooth, polished tone. This brilliance of this singlewas a bit of a surprise to me, but it goes to show that David Nail is anartistic force to be reckoned with in the country genre.

2. “You and Tequila,”Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Addiction is the theme of this outstanding Matraca Berg andDeana Carter penned classic. On the surface, the song could be seen as a man’saddiction to tequila and an ex flame. However, scratch underneath the surfaceand you’ll find the struggle the man endures when trying to deal with hisaddiction. He wants to give up the bottle and the woman, but both provide him witha high and rush that it’s nearly impossible to resist. He contemplates having justone more hit, but as the last line in the chorus says “one is one too many andone more is never enough.” Chesney offers a sincere and subtle vocal performancethat we’ve rarely heard from the superstar. Rocker Grace Potter graces the songwith her outstanding voice as the harmony vocalist. The singer’s soulful voicecompliments Chesney’s to perfection and she even adds her own spin to the songwith the closing vocal runs. The production is stripped down and consistsprimarily of acoustic guitars and faint drums and allows the superb vocaliststo shine through. This is easily one of Chesney’s finest moments of hisillustrious career and was nearly good enough to top our list of best singles.

1. “Shut Up Train,”Little Big Town

Thank God for Little Big Town. While most of country’sbiggest superstars are relishing in successes brought upon them by mediocre andunenthusiastic material, this group is trying to gain that same success byreleasing music of high quality and substance. I don’t think the group has exhibitedmore substance and higher quality than the effort they put forward on “Shut UpTrain.” 
It’s always difficult getting over a failed relationshipbecause there are usually small things that remind you of that person and thelife you once had together. Here, writers Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, andChris Tompkins, metaphorically represent those little things with a train. “Shutup train, I’m trying to sleep, can’t you show me a little sympathy, this is theonly time I can get any peace, so shut up train,” pleads the singer as she’sreminded of her heartache by the passing of train during the night. Lead singerKaren Fairchild does a remarkable job in delivering such an emotional song withher gorgeous vocal tone. Meanwhile, the remaining three members of the groupsupport her with their signature harmonies. The song’s production begins in anacoustic fashion and then is joined by an electric guitar during the song’sbridge. The simple production is proof that this group doesn’t need to use anytricks, they simply open their mouths and pure brilliance just comes pouringout. “Shut Up Train” is far and away this year’s best single, and without adoubt the best thing Little Big Town has recorded.  

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2011 CMA Awards: Early Contenders

With the eligibility period for the 2011 CMA Awards now over (it ended on June 30), All Things Country is going to look at who the early contenders are to land a nomination for this year’s ceremony. Here are a few artists we feel have had a big enough year since July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011 to be among the nominees.

Rather than going category by category we’re going to instead list the artists who could score nominations and the categories they could be nominated in.

Jason Aldean

  • Entertainer of the Year
  • Male Vocalist of the Year
  • Album of the Year (My Kinda Party)
  • Musical Event (“Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelly Clarkson)

Once again Jason Aldean has been one of the biggest artists in country music this year. He’s charted four Top 5 singles (“Crazy Town,” “My Kinda Party,” “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” “Dirt Road Anthem”) and his album, My Kinda Party, is the best selling album by a male artist this year. He’s continued to sell out dates on his My Kinda Party tour and has landed appearances on shows like American Idol. Jason could be one of this year’s most nominated artists as I think he’ll land nominations in the big categories like Entertainer, Album, and Male Vocalist.

Zac Brown Band

  • Entertainer of the Year
  • Album of the Year (You Get What You Give)
  • Vocal Group of the Year
  • Single of the Year (“Colder Weather” or “As She’s Walking Away”)
  • Song of the Year (“Colder Weather” or “As She’s Walking Away”)
  • Musical Event (“As She’s Walking Away” featuring Alan Jackson)
  • Video of the Year (“Colder Weather” or “As She’s Walking Away”)

Last year it was Lady Antebellum who proved to be the year’s biggest group, but this year that title goes to the Zac Brown Band. Since July of 2010 the group has charted 3 consecutive number one singles (“Free,” “As She’s Walking Away,” “Colder Weather”) from their platinum selling album, You Get What You Give. The album has been critically acclaimed and helped earned the group an Album of the Year nomination at this year’s ACMs. They have potential to be this year’s leading nominee as I think they’ll land nominations in nearly every category they are eligible for including their second Entertainer nomination.

Kenny Chesney

  • Entertainer of the Year
  • Album of the Year (Hemingway’s Whiskey)
  • Male Vocalist of the Year
  • Song of the Year (“You and Tequila”)
  • Musical Event (“You and Tequila” featuring Grace Potter)

After having a somewhat quiet year in 2010, Kenny Chesney returned with a bang in 2011. Chesney charted 3 straight number one singles (“The Boys of Fall,” “Somewhere with You,” “Live a Little”) and released a gold selling album in Hemingway’s Whiskey. After a year away from the road he is back to selling out arenas, pavilions, and stadiums on his Going Coastal tour. This year could see his return back into the Entertainer race as well as te Male Vocalist and Album categories.

Taylor Swift

  • Entertainer of the Year
  • Album of the Year (Speak Now)
  • Female Vocalist of the Year
  • Song of the Year (“Back to December”)
  • Video of the Year (“Back to December”)

After claiming four trophies during the 2009 CMAs, she went home empty handed last year as she lost to Miranda Lambert for Female Vocalist. This year she could reclaim that crown thanks to her 3-time platinum album Speak Now, which sold over one million copies in its first week of release. The album has spawned three top 5 singles (“Mine,” “Back to December,” “Mean”) and has become country’s best selling album (within the eligibility period). Taylor could be the night’s leading female nominee as I think she’ll score at least three nominations.

Brad Paisley

  • Entertainer of the Year
  • Album of the Year (This is Country Music)
  • Male Vocalist of the Year
  • Musical Event (“Old Alabama” featuring Alabama or “Remind Me” featuring Carrie Underwood)

After claming his first Entertainer of the Year award during last year’s ceremony, Brad Paisley could find himself in the running once again this year. His tours have continued to draw millions of fans and he continues to deliver top notch performances. This year he released This is Country Music which is nearing the 500,000 mark after only a little over a month. He’s charted three number one singles with “Water,” “Anything Like Me,” and “Old Alabama” as well as a number two hit with “This Is Country Music.” This has been another consistent year for Paisley which, I think, the CMA will recognize with multiple nominations.

Sara Evans

  • Female Vocalist of the Year
  • Single of the Year (“A Little Bit Stronger”)
  • Song of the Year (“A Little Bit Stronger”)
  • Video of the Year (“A Little Bit Stronger”)

After a few years away from the business to reorganize her personal life, Sara Evans came back “stronger” than ever. Her comeback hit, “A Little Bit Stronger,” became the first song by a female artist to reach number one in 2011 and it spent two weeks atop the chart. Her album, Stronger, has sold over 200,000 copies since its release in March. This year she could make her return to the CMA nominations list since 2006.

The Band Perry

  • Vocal Group of the Year
  • New Artist of the Year
  • Single of the Year (“If I Die Young”)
  • Song of the Year (“If I Die Young”)
  • Video of the Year (“If I Die Young”)

When you think about the top new artist in country  music you’d probably automatically think about The Band Perry. The trio has had a huge year thanks to their smash hit, “If I Die Young.” The song became the trio’s first number one single and has been certified double platinum for over two million digital downloads. They are this year’s frontrunner for the New Artist award and could be ZBB’s biggest competition for Vocal Group.

Chris Young

  • Male Vocalist of the Year
  • New Artist of the Year
  • Single of the Year (“Tomorrow” or “Voices”)
  • Song of the Year (“Tomorrow” or “Voices”)
  • Music Video of the Year (“Tomorrow”)

Chris Young is on track to become one of country’s biggest superstars. This year he scored his fourth number one single with “Voices” as well as a top five smash with his fastest rising single, “Tomorrow.” Last year he broke through into the New Artist category and this year he could garner his second nomination as well as a nomination in the exclusive Male Vocalist category.

Obviously there are other artists who could secure nominations (Reba, Miranda, Carrie for Female Vocalist; Thompson Square, Luke Bryan, Easton Corbin for New Artist) but there are the ones who we think could land multiple nominations and who have had some of the biggest years in country music.


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Scotty vs. Lauren: American Idol’s Country Showdown

Tuesday night, American Idol will begin its 10th season finale with a performance show that will pit two of its youngest contestants against one another as 17 year old country crooner Scotty McCreery will go head-to-head with 16 year old Southern belle, Lauren Alaina. It’ll be a country showdown for the Idol title and to get ready for the big night, ATC will analyze the showdown and offer our prediction of what the outcome will be.

Throughout this season, both Scotty and Lauren have delivered strong performances and have become fan favorites. Considering both have been two of the strongest contestants this season, it’s easy to believe that this could be the closest finale race in Idol’s 10 year history. Each contestant has many advantages and some disadvantages going for them. We’re going to pick a part each contestant to see who has the ultimate edge in the end.

Scotty McCreery
A year ago, Scotty was a 16 year old high school baseball player in Garner, NC who worked in a local grocery store. Now he’s a 17 year old American Idol finalist who, no matter Wednesday’s outcome, will go on to become one of country’s brightest new stars.

Scotty has consistently been a judges favorite each and every week by delivering solid performances. His shining moment came last week when he turned on the charm and personality while performing Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?”. However, like most contestants, he had a few stumbles thrown in including his version of “For Once in My Life.” Scotty’s key to success on Tuesday will be to continue to stick to his country roots and deliver each performance with as much heart, emotion, and southern drawl as he can to impress the judges.

When it comes to fan votes, I believe Scotty has the advantage because he has two primary support groups behind him: the “tween” girls and the conservative demographic. Throughout the season, Scotty has been a fan favorite for the young girls who seem to pull off upsets for their favorites (Lee DeWyze over Crystal Bowersox; Kris Allen over Adam Lambert) so he’ll continue to reap the rewards from that huge demographic. He’ll also have the backing of the conservative voters who love how he’s consistently presented himself as a down home, all American boy who is simply living his dream.

There has been one disadvantage that has plagued Scotty throughout the season and that’s the fact that he’s often seen as a “one trick pony.” Early on in the season, Scotty only performed hits by country crooner Josh Turner during his audition rounds (we can all remember how many times he belted out the line “baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low”) and when it came to the live shows, he continued to pick similar artists like George Strait and Garth Brooks. Though he showed his artistic preference, it was easy to predict that he’d have trouble with other genres and even with the new mainstream country sound that he’ll encounter after the show’s end. However, he’s done a good job at showing his versatility by performing songs like Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone” and Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?.” He’ll need to continue to take risks come Tuesday night. My suggestion would be tackling a song that shows off his strong vocal range yet sticks to his traditional roots much like Chris Young’s latest smash, “Tomorrow.”

Scotty’s bread and butter is in his ability to cater straight to his audience so if he does it three more times on Tuesday night, he’ll have done enough to claim the Idol title and become the show’s youngest winner.

Lauren Alaina
Lauren Alaina is a beneficiary of the new age range which allowed 15 year olds to audition this season. So when Idol held auditions in Nashville, a then 15 year old Lauren auditioned by singing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” with judge Steven Tyler. After her audition, Tyler famously predicted that they had found “the one.” Now she has the chance to make that prediction come true.

Lauren’s key to success this season has been her ability to belt it out with the best contestants on the show. From showing her country roots on songs like “Any Man of Mine” or Reba’s “Turn on the Radio,” to singing non-country classics like “Unchained Melody” and Elvis’ “Trouble.” Unlike Scotty, Lauren has always made an effort to show off her versatility. She’s delivered power ballads like Martina McBride’s “Anyway” as well as the rock classic from Melissa Etheridge, “Am I the Only One” and also rocking country songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” She’s taken the advice of the judges and has always tried to push herself. Her shining moment came during this past week’s performance when she effortlessly delivered Lee Ann Womack’s smash, “I Hope You Dance.” It’s those moments that Lauren will need to recreate in order to take down the boy wonder that is Scotty McCreery.

Another advantage Lauren has going for her is the fact that her style of country caters to a larger audience than Scotty’s. Lauren has proven herself to be a perfect fit for the current mainstream/pop style of country. She’s performed songs by some of today’s biggest superstars in Carrie Underwood and Reba as well as some of country’s newest “it” artists like The Band Perry. She’ll need to stick to that style of country if she wants to have a chance against the traditional leaning Scotty. My suggestion would be to continue performing newer songs by artists like Underwood or even Miranda Lambert (she nailed “Gunpowder and Lead” during the top four results show).

Lauren’s biggest disadvantage could come in how she handles the big stage and big audience. In the past she’s seemed to buckle under the pressure of the moment and has often second guessed herself during her performances. During her “Unchained Melody” performance, mentor Jimmy Iovine tore her a part for not going for the song’s money note during the live performance. Even this past week, she got caught up in the moment during her performance of “If I Die Young” that she simply missed her modulation, but she recovered nicely. If Lauren can overcome her nerves and trust that she has the vocal ability to out sing her opponent, then she will have the ability to pull off the upset.

In the end, I have to say that country music will prove to be the true winner of American Idol. No matter who wins, both Scotty and Lauren have the potential to become future superstars of the genre. However, if I had to pick a winner, my money is on Scotty McCreery to take home the title. He’s been one of the best contestants this season and has one of the largest fan bases I’ve seen from a finalist. But, look for both of them to hit country radio soon, and who knows, maybe they’ll be competing once again in 2012, except it’ll be for a Best New Artist award from either the CMAs or ACMs.

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ATC’s Best of 2010: Artists of the Year

Our final “Best of 2010” list focuses on the five artists who, in our opinion, have done an amazing job representing country music this year. These five artists have all hit number one on at least one of Billboard’s country charts and have shined a positive light on country music. Let’s reveal who ATC thought were 2010’s Artists of the Year.

5. Easton Corbin
It takes a lot for a newcomer to impress me but Florida native Easton Corbin has done just that this year. Corbin skyrocketed to the top of the charts not once, but twice this year with his first two singles “A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll With It” while his album, Easton Corbin, debuted inside the top five of the country albums chart. In fact, his album also made our list of the top five albums of the year.
After seeing him in concert twice this year, it’s hard not to imagine this young heartthrob becoming one of country’s finest traditionalists and one of the genre’s best representatives. In his debut year, Corbin has already toured with Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley and nabbed three CMA nominations as well as seven American Country Awards nominations (he went on to win three ACA’s). He was just named Billboard’s Top New Country Artist for 2010. Look for Easton to be around for a long time.
4. Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean is probably the most under appreciated artist in country music. This year, Aldean has strung together smash hit singles with “Crazy Town,” and “My Kinda Party.” Jason’s newest single, his duet with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay” could prove to be his career making hit. His third studio album, Wide Open, has been consistently inside the top 10 country albums throughout the year while his fourth, My Kinda Party, had one of the biggest selling debut weeks from a male artist in a few years.
After headlining last year’s CMT on Tour, Jason moved onto headline his own tour this year and is quickly becoming one of the genres newest superstars. Just recently, Jason was honored as one of CMT’s Artists of the Year along with Lady A, Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown Band, and Taylor Swift.

3. Carrie Underwood
Just as Miranda Lambert has proven you don’t always need to win a talent competition, Carrie Underwood has proven that it doesn’t hurt to win a talent competition. Since her run to the title on the 2004 season of American Idol, Carrie Underwood has been on top of the country music world and has yet to come down. This year, Carrie continued to sell copies of her 2009 album, Play On, while sending two more singles to the top of the chart (“Temporary Home” and “Undo It”).
What makes Carrie one of ATC’s top five artists of the year is the incredible tour she put together in this year’s Play On Tour. Carrie performed in front of nearly one million fans and the tour helped propel her to become the first woman to win the ACM Entertainer of the Year award twice. Carrie keeps continuing to rewrite the country music’s history books so there’s no telling what she can accomplish in 2011.
2. Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert has proven that you don’t need to win a talent competition to make it big in country music. The Texas native placed third on the first season of Nashville Star and has since seen her career rise from a talented newcomer to country’s newest leading lady. 2010 has been a career milestone for Miranda Lambert and could go down as the best year of her career.
This year, Miranda scored her first top five hit with “White Liar,” but it was the follow-up single that has taken Miranda to the next level. Her brilliant single, “The House That Built Me,” not only became her first number one single but also spent four weeks atop the Billboard chart and was named the CMA Song of the Year and topped ATC’s list of the best singles of the year. She was named Female Vocalist of the Year by both the ACM’s and CMA’s and also claimed both organization’s Album of the Year for her masterpiece, Revolution. She also made history by receiving 9 CMA nominations which is the most for any female artist in the CMA’s history. 2011 could turn out to be another fairytale year since she’s just been nominated for four Grammy awards.
1.Lady Antebellum
It was just a little over two short years ago when I was fortunate enough to meet a new country band called Lady Antebellum when they performed in a local high school auditorium. After their performance, I knew Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood were going to be superstars, but I never imagined they’d take the country music scene by storm. This year they’ve experience the true meaning of a breakthrough year which is the reason why Lady A tops ATC’s Artists of the Year list for the second year in a row.
Their sophomore album Need You Now was released in January and is not only the best selling country album but it’s also been certified triple platinum. Need You Now also claimed the title as ATC’s best album of the year. The group also added two more number one songs to their credit this year in “American Honey” and “Our Kind of Love.” They’ve racked up several ACM, CMA, and American Music Awards and are currently up for a whopping six Grammy awards including the overall Album of the Year trophy. Along with the chart and awards success, the group headlined their first tour and received their first CMA Entertainer of the Year nomination. They’ve repeatedly stated that they will probably never have a year like 2010 again, but I beg to differ. This is only the beginning for this trio that has what it takes to become this generation’s leading group.

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ATC’s Best of 2010: Freshman Class

2010 has been a great year for newcomers in country music. We’ve seen plenty of solo artists as well as new duos and groups make big splashes on the charts in their first year out. We view the following four artists as the Best of the Freshman Class of 2010. With these four artists just making their debuts, the future of country music looks very bright.

4. Jerrod Niemann
This year saw Jerrod Niemann make big splashes on both the country songs and albums charts. His hit “Lover, Lover” shot straight to number one which helped his album, Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury, debut at number one on the albums chart. In fact, Jerrod’s album was the album that ended the 24-week reign that Lady Antebellum’s album, Need You Now, enjoyed at the top. In November, Jerrod was nominated for his first CMA award in the Best New Artist category. Jerrod is also one of the few artists that is releasing quality singles to radio as “Lover, Lover” and it’s follow-up, “What Do You Want?,” are some of the best singles released to radio this year.  If 2010 is just the beginning for this talented newcomer, then I expect him to be around for a long time.
3. Steel Magnolia
Steel Magnolia is just another reason why auditioning for a talent competition can pay off big time. This new country duo won the second season of CMT’s Can You Duet?  and have since splashed onto the country music scene. The duo’s debut single, “Keep on Lovin’ You,” peaked inside the top five of the country songs chart and the follow-up single, “Just By Being You,” which became the duo’s second top 25 single. They’ve nabbed nominations from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association Awards for Duo of the Year all before releasing their debut album. In just their first year, the duo has already toured with CMA Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley on his summer H2O tour. With their debut album expected for a January release, look for this talented duo to have an even bigger year in 2011.
2. The Band Perry
The family trio known as The Band Perry made their first appearance on the chart’s with their debut single, “Hip to My Heart,” which went on to become the group’s first top 20 single. The follow up single, “If I Die Young,” has become the group’s breakout hit. The song recently just hit number one on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and nabbed the group its first Grammy nomination in the Best Country Song category. The single was also just certified platinum for sales of over 1,000,000 copies while the debut album, The Band Perry, is well on its way to being certified gold. The group nabbed nominations at the CMA awards as well as the inaugural ACA awards and are no doubt a lock to nab a few nominations for the upcoming Academy of Country Music awards. With groups like Lady Antebellum rising to superstardom, look for this trio to be next in line in the next few years.

1. Easton Corbin
2010 has been good to all these artists but it hasn’t treated any of them like it has Easton Corbin. Corbin has had a record-breaking year thanks to his breakout singles, “A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll With It.” Easton became the first male artist to send his debut single to number one since Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinking” and he became the first male artist to send his first two consecutive singles to the top spot in 17 years. His debut album, Easton Corbin, hit the top five on the albums chart back in March and has since sold nearly 300,000 copies. Easton received multiple CMA nominations including New Artist of the Year and Single of the Year. He co-led the inaugural American Country Awards nominations with 7 (tied with Lady Antebellum) and took home three of the night’s awards. Easton was also just named the top New Country Artist of the 2010 by Billboard and his album was named Country Breakthrough Album of the Year by iTunes.  “Roll With It” also landed among the top ten country songs of the year while he was named among the top 10 male country artists of the year. In addition to the accolades from Billboard and iTunes, Easton Corbin also landed on our list of top 5 albums of the year. This has certainly been a breakthrough year for this country traditionalist and I see an extremely bright future for this talented 27 year old, Florida native.


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