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COUNTRY CALL ‘EM: 2009 CMA AWARDS PICKS

OSBlog02_CCE_MASTERThis year, on November 11, the Country Music Association will present the best of the best of 2009  at their annual awards show. At their 43rd show, the nominees are unprecedented in talent, presence and success. With 11 different categories, and nearly 20 performances, its safe to say this year will be unmatched in star power. Narrowing down an entire year’s worth of country to just 5 nominees in each category seems difficult, so picking just 1winner from the cream of the crop is nearly an impossible task. The challenge will be daunting, but I hope I’ll do the Association proud with my picks for Best New Artist, Album of the Year and the coveted Entertainer of the Year awards.

He's definitely my favorite new artist

He's definitely my favorite new artist

It’s exciting to imagine what a few more years of experience can do for raw talent. And in the case of the CMA Awards, winning Best New Artist is as good as a one-way ticket to superstardom. Previously known as the Horizon Award, winners in the past include Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood. And, like most years, the 2009 nominees pack some stiff competition. Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen, Darius Rucker and The Zac Brown Band comprise this year’s nominees, and to be honest, any one of these nominees could take home the prize. However, with his first 3 country singles reaching Number 1, it seems that Darius Rucker walking away with Best New Artist is a no brainer. Not only has Darius taken a huge risk in crossing over from pop-rock band Hootie and the Blowfish to a solo country career, but he also took a gamble in entering a genre that has not had an African American success story since Charley Pride in the 80s. Darius isn’t just a shoe-in for Best New Artist against rookies in the business, he has also been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year against heavy hitter veterans like Kenny Chesney and George Strait.

Album of the Year is always a sticky category to predict. You must take record sales, critical reviews,and even overall content and message into consideration. Each nominee for 2009’s Album of the Year has something to offer.

Album of the Year

Album of the Year

Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song and Sugarland’s Love on the Inside are both winners in lyrical content and variety of songs; Defying Gravity from Keith Urban had successful sales, and numerous Top 10 hits. However, it is a close call between Brad Paisley’s American Saturday Night and Taylor Swift’s Fearless. Both have received rave reviews from critics, and done amazingly well in a dying market of buying full albums. Paisley has taken a big departure from his usual superficial, often comical approach to songwriting in this album, and Swift has been acclaimed as one of the best songwriters Nashville has seen in decades. The difference, however, is the unexpected and unprecedented success of Swift over the last year. Her Fearless album was the biggest selling CD in any genre for the entire year, and, coupled with its record breaking digital downloads, it seems as though Album of the Year is in the bag for 19-year-old Swift. Swift has exposed country music to an entire new audience through this album in a way no other artist has been able to achieve before.

King of Entertainment

King of Entertainment

Entertainer of the Year has been a hot topic in Nashville recently. In the years past, Kenny Chesney was the man to beat. But, after the Academy of Country Music dethroned him this year in favor of Carrie Underwood, his hold on the title seemed questionable. However, I stand by Kenny’s star power, and am giving my Entertainer of the Year pick to Mr. Chesney. Other nominees include Brad Paisley, George Strait, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. While all are undeniably the best musicians on country radio, I can’t help but firmly believe in Kenny’s entertainment value. His summer concert series sell out entire football stadiums, the tickets sell out within minutes. Year after year, Kenny delivers the concert of the year, and he did not let fans down in 2009. Yes, the other nominees produce platinum selling albums, sing Number 1 singles and lead gaggles of loyal fans, but Kenny adds something they can’t: his best-selling, stadium rocking, impossible to forget concerts. And because of this undeniable fact, it seems improbable that anyone else will be stealing his crown as King of Country Entertainment.

November 11 will be a day celebrate country royalty, and I for sure will be a loyal subject tuning in. It is certain to be a night full of great music, great people and great work being rewarded.

Do you agree with BethanyS and her picks for the CMA Awards? Let us know!

COUNTRY CATCH: BRANAN LOGAN

OSBlog02_CountryCatch_MASTERLook out Country Channel! Branan Logan is here and he’s ready to take over the country community. His twangy voice and classic country lyrics team up to make his songs something worth tuning into. The potential for stardom is both  tangible and undeniable for this songwriter. Branan’s tunes have garnered so much attention in Nashville that his tunes have been pitched to superstars like Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts. His sound is totally his own, and he is sure to be noticed for his unique approach to country music.

Branan Logan

Branan Logan

You don’t have to be certifiable in order to appreciate Branan’s catchiest diddy “Borderline Crazy”. With a Phil Vassar sound and Kenny Chesney island-themed lyrics, its only a matter of time before everyone blasts this tune through their speakers. Logan tells his 60-hour weeks “Adios!” but the only thing I see country fans saying him is “Hola!” and  “Muchas Gracias!” for making such great new music.

MARKETPLACE NEWS: FEATURED GIG – THE NEW ENGLAND AMERICANA FESTIVAL

The OurStage Marketplace connects artists looking for gigs with venues looking for new talent. With over 100,000 artists and amazing opportunities around both the USA and the world, the OurStage Marketplace is the place to be for up-and-coming artists and the venues looking to book them!

Play the New England Americana Festival with Boston Americana favorites Three Day Threshold

Play the New England Americana Festival with Boston Americana favorites Three Day Threshold

This week, we’re spotlighting a great new opportunity in the OurStage Marketplace. The organizers of the New England Americana Festival need talent to fill out the festival’s roster and are looking right here on OurStage. The New England Americana Festival celebrates the long tradition of deep-rooted American folk music. This February, the festival will be take place over three nights at Church in Boston. The festival is looking for 4 to 7 more acts to join The Bean Pickers Union, The Rationales, Bryan Pero and the Tired Horses, The Bees Knees, Golden West Motor Lodge, Odessa Rose, Dave Sammarco Band, The Kingsley Flood, Three Day Threshold and OurStage artists The Autumn Hollow Band. Artists don’t have to be located in New England to apply, but those who can draw in Boston will be given preference. If you play Folk, Americana, Traditional Country, Alt Country, Blues, Rock, Southern Rock or any other roots-influenced music, head on over to the OurStage Marketplace and submit your EPK for this gig!

Submit your EPK to the New England Americana Festival gig, click HERE.

For more info about the OurStage Marketplace, check out the Marketplace FAQ section.

COUNTRY CALL ‘EM: NOVEMBER CD RELEASES YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED ABOUT

OSBlog02_CCE_MASTEREvery November, my family gathers around our Thanksgiving table and takes turns explaining what they are thankful for. This year, I can imagine my turn sounding a little something like this: “Right now, I’m especially thankful for… the best month in country album releases this year!” Despite the stunned look on my family’s faces, I stand by my some-what shallow decision. And once you hear the three upcoming CD’s debuts, I’m sure you’ll be revising your Thanksgiving monologues as well.

Look for this in the CD aisle!

Look for this in the CD aisle!

For our first course of November music bliss (arriving November 3rd), we have the delicious Carrie Underwood serving up her third album, Play On. Having mastered the art of balancing  ballads of heartbreak with upbeat toe tappers, Underwood’s new release will not let fans down. Her recent single, “Cowboy Casanova” is a small glimpse of what this power-packing diva has to offer country radio with her new album. Underwood began making waves after winning American Idol in 2005, but her ten Number 1 singles and Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year award, proves she is the real deal. With Play On, we can only hope that she continues her streak as the reigning queen of country music.

Up next is a dish best compared to your aunt’s new casserole recipe that she is “testing out” on

Can she hack it in country?

Can she hack it in country?

your Thanksgiving table. On November 10th Michelle Branch, who has dabbled in pop as well as country, is coming out with her first solo country record, Everything Comes and Goes. During her stint in The Wreckers with friend Jessica Harp, Branch achieved a Number One country single with “Leave the Pieces” so her future seems promising. Since the duo’s demise, both members of the pop-rock/country duo have plunged head first into solo careers in country. The first single off the record, “Sooner or Later” certainly has the potential to garner Michelle new fans, while hopefully proving she can stand on her own in the country music community. Maybe her CD will become a staple for long car drives, study sessions,or party mixes, just as your aunt’s recipe could become a new family favorite.

Country gold, Josh Turner

Country gold, Josh Turner

Now for dessert. How about a helping of soul food? Just take a taste of Josh Turner’s soulful baritone with his new album, Haywire, also due out November 10th.  With two of his three albums already achieving certified Platinum status, Josh is no stranger to quality work. On this new record, songs like “Why Don’t We Just Dance” indicate that Turner is getting back on the Platinum pony. Turner has proudly stated that this album is the first one that he feels truly explores his vocal range. But, from what I can tell, the entire album will be one continuous, successful high note.

No matter what you choose to feast on this month, from cooking to country, make sure you truly savor your selection. With such a fine buffet of available treats, there is no reason your ears, or taste buds, should be left unsatisfied.

COUNTRY CALL ‘EM: TWO IS BETTER THAN ONE

OSBlog02_CCE_MASTER
Sharing the spotlight is something very few superstars are willing to do. Unless of course, you’re a country singer gearing up for an unforgettable duet. In an industry that celebrates teamwork with awards like “Musical Event of the Year,” “Duo of the Year” and “Group of the Year,” synergy is an art form that always succeeds in the ears of country fans.

The duo singing in the video

The duo singing in the video

In what I see as the pinnacle of duet dynamite, we have Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’s “Whiskey Lullaby”. The combination of Krauss’s soft, melodic voice with Paisley’s sharp but complementary vocals made this duet memorable long after its 2004 release. Whether it was the blend of two finely tuned voices, or the devastating lyrics that could draw a tear from the toughest cowboy, this song rose all the way to Number 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and won CMA awards for “Musical Event of the Year” and “Best Music Video.”  Krauss, who is often credited as the accompanying pipes on many a’ country duet (like “When You Say Nothing At All”, a duet that emerged after layering her solo version with that of the original singer, Keith Whitley), truly has the voice of an angel, able to capture emotion and beauty with as single note. Alison released a compilation CD of both her most successful solo performances, and the plethora of duets she has contributed to, called A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection. Paisley is no stranger to stellar duets either. Brad  worked with icon Dolly Parton on  “When I Get Where I’m Going”, a song about what they each hope happens when they reach the afterlife. Most recently, Brad earned another CMA nomination for “Musical Event of the Year” for his 2009 duet “Start a Band” with country rocker Keith Urban. It seems whatever song either one of these Nashville hit-makers touchs is sure to turn to Billboard and award show gold.

Performing the duet live

Performing the duet live

How about picturing this kind of musical gold—a bad-boy rocker breaking down in a song of heartbreak with one of Nashville’s most beautiful voices. That’s what happened when Kid Rock teamed up with Sheryl Crow for their chart-topper “Picture”. Both of these artists are a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, so the song is a butt-kickin’ ballad chock full of gritty voices and raw emotions. The track was the first country single either had released, and it proved to be more successful than any either had achieved before. Peaking at Number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and being nominated for a CMA “Vocal Event of the Year” in 2003, the song received accolades for its vocal and instrumental perfection. Clearly this duet was the missing piece to the puzzle of both Kid Rock and Crow’s burgeoning country careers, as both have taken off and continue to produce amazing singles that carry on their legacies as Nashville success stories.

Mr. Chesney

Mr. Chesney

The Nashville hit-making title may belong to Mr. Kenny Chesney. So what happens when you

Mr. Matthews

Mr. Matthews

combine his signature style with that of fan favorite Dave Matthews? You get a laidback duet that screams Number One of course. “I’m Alive” has been hitting the airwaves in full force recently, and not only are the vocal stylings inspiring, but lyrics like “And today you know, that’s good enough for me. Breathing in and out’s a blessing can’t you see. Today’s the first day of the rest of my life. And I’m alive and well” truly make this a song anyone can stand behind. You can always leave it to Kenny to remind us what is important in life, and paired with Dave Matthew’s songwriting chops, this song reaching the top spot is inevitable.

It seems that no matter who these stars pair themselves with, hits are sure to follow. From country legends to novices on the charts, teamwork is proving to be a sure-fire way to success. We all know that two heads are better than one, and these country duo’s are proving that two voices are clearly better as well.

COUNTRY CATCH: WHISKEY SAINTS

OSBlog02_CountryCatch_MASTER
The Whiskey Saints; there’s an oxymoron for you. But there is nothing moronic about this band, who has been catching attention on our Country Channels ever since they’ve joined. In the hustle and bustle of their home in Los Angeles, this foursome is making space for a genre as rare in LA as a wrinkle on Joan River’s face. Their sound is original and head turning, so the band really has the potential to cultivate LA’s country scene simply by playing one show for an undecided crowd.

One thing is decided here at OurStage, The Whiskey Saints’ videos deserve a shot. The video for their song, “With the Lights On” is a humorous story that begs the question  “What the hell happened last night?” The video reveals what occurs when the boys play in the basement of an old Victorian home, with no lights on. Not only is the song enough to keep you entertained, the video shows you that you never know what the night vision cameras may reveal. Heck, if Mother Theresa knew a Whiskey Saint could be this good, I’d bet she’d be willing to cozy up to Jack Daniels (and make all that saint work a little more interesting.)

Check out The Whiskey Saints’ video for “With the Lights On,” and make sure you stop by their fanclub. You’ll want to stay until even the lights shut off.

COUNTRY CALL ‘EM: SUCCESSFUL STEALS

OSBlog02_CCE_MASTER

Thou shalt not steal is an important commandment. But thou shalt not covet a song? Well. . .there is no commandment saying we can’t COVER a song. Which may explain why some of country’s biggest hits are eerily familiar.  In the past few years, artists have not only reached into the country archives, but also cherry-picked songs from the Top 40 charts across other genres. The results: pure magic.

Ms. Underwood

Ms. Underwood

Like Carrie Underwood’s recent single, “I Told You So.” Originally sung by Randy Travis in 1988, the song asks the question, “Suppose I called you up tonight, and told you that I loved you. And suppose I said I want to come back home. And suppose I cried and said I think I’ve finally learned my lesson…Would you say ‘I told you so’?” Travis, who wrote and sang the single, initially tried to shop it to other crooners. However, reviews praised Travis’ vocals explaining that his raspy tenor made the song touching and believable, and the country music community agreed, making his version go Number 1 on the charts. In Underwood’s version, critics applauded her strong, unwavering voice in the verses but felt the vocals overpowered the chorus, making it just another song and not a plea for love, acceptance and understanding. Radio listeners begged to differ, and Underwood’s cover made the Top 10 on charts. The two versions are like night and day; the differences that stand out are exactly the ones the critics harped on. Travis sings this song simply, while Carrie’s bravado makes her song a production. Emotionally, Travis’ is more resigned, while Underwood’s is desperate and yearning. The two teamed up for the duet in March of 2009, and it seems that opposites do attract— listeners that is. Their duet went Number 1 on the Country charts shortly after being debuted.

Brian McKnight's single

Brian McKnight's single

Another interesting cover was taken from what might be country’s polar opposite genre—R&B. Brian McKnight wrote “Back At One” for his 1999 album of the same name. His smooth voice carried the song to Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that year. Shortly after, Mark Wills — a country singer with hits like “19-Somethin’” and “I Do (Cherish You)”— covered McKnight’s hit. His country-twanged version of the R&B hit also made it big, also climbing to Number 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart. When compared to McKnight’s version one would expect stark differences. But to the contrary, the two sound eerily similar. Unfortunately, a unique country spin on such a great song was not delivered so the cover is nearly a carbon copy of the original. This case of coveting a hit was certainly a miss in terms of originality and creativity, no matter what the charts show.

However, that cannot be said of Rascal Flatts’ hit with their version of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” Originally recorded for the Pixar movie Cars, country radio stations began playing this cover as an album cut. Surprisingly, the song cracked the Top 10 on the US Hot 100 Chart despite never being released as an official single. Cochrane’s version is vocally less remarkable so Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox brings something extra, not only with his remarkable voice but with his wide vocal range and upbeat tempo. When Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney’s smooth voices chime in, the harmony of this award-winning group surpasses all others. Also noteworthy

"Cars"-the reason for recording

is the group’s original spin on instrumentation which was used for TV specials in 2007. In fact, this cover was such a success for the band that it was added as a bonus track for the release of their album, Me and My Gang, in addition to being included on their Greatest Hit Volume One compilation. Already a grossly successful country group, Rascal Flatts’ cover showed their penchant for upbeat, fun tempos with strong vocals and even stronger harmonies.

They say imitation is the greatast form of flattery. Whether you steal a fashion look or cover a song, it’s important to think about how you can make the original your own. While some of these country artists simply rehash the past with little spunk or creativity, others demonstrate true artistry in molding these existing masterpieces into something magical.

COUNTRY CALL ‘EM: COUNTRY CLOTHING LINES

OSBlog02_CCE_MASTERStillettos, Gucci suits, big buckle belts? Despite the oxymoron of country music fashion, it seems that more and more country music artists are branching out of their Stetsons and into our closets. Whether they leave the design to the professionals or merely entice buyers with their big names, country stars are diving head first into a pool of denim, leather and straw hat designing.

This man is a fashion designer?!

This man is a fashion designer?!

Like our boy Kenny. While there are many things to praise about arguably the most successful country artist next to George Strait, fashion sense is not one of them. The man who’s casual look consists of a muscle tee, tight jeans and a cowboy hat has never been considered knowledgable when it comes to clothing. Because hey, lets face it, when he DOES “dress up,” he wears a simple button up, tight pants… and a cowboy hat.  Nonetheless, Kenny Chesney came out with a new clothing line called Blue Chair Bay. Thankfully, he is expanding on his lesser fashion-offensive looks; casual wear. Kenny’s  line includes khakis, shirts, baseball caps, and wait for it… COWBOY HATS. Kenny says that he wants Blue Chair Bay to represent that shirt you’ve worn a thousand times, bleached out in the sun, but want to wear again and again. Personally, the only way I would  buy an old looking shirt for a new-shirt price is if it came directly off Kenny’s chiseled, tan back.

Thank goodness leather pants are no longer socially acceptable.

Thank goodness leather pants are no longer socially acceptable.

Sheryl Crow is another crooner who is throwing her jeaned leg into the fashion race. She has come out with Bootheel Trading Co., a denim wear company sold out of Dillard’s. While some of her red carpet moments are questionable, the Bootheel line is modeled after her performance and every-day style. Basically, like Kenny, she’s going for a casual line that’s reasonably priced for her fans. Bootlegged jeans and rocker tops, Sheryl makes this line look like it could be sold anywhere, to anyone. Whether that makes it a to-die-for collection, or just another Levi-wannabe jeans company is still in question.

I'd love to get into those jeans...the Wranglers I mean.

I'd love to get into those jeans...the Wranglers I mean.

But, thank goodness for Jason Aldean. Jason really knows that in order to reap the benefits of a clothing line, you leave it to the professionals. Of the dozens of country men who rock the Wranglers, Aldean was chosen to be the butt of Wrangler Western Wear, their new retro line of denim. Jason partnered with Wrangler this summer, but his love for the brand has been a staple since he was 14-years-old. Mr. Aldean has always been the simple cowboy in Nashville, and chose to spearhead a campaign for a product all of country music can stand behind (and man, what a view we’ll have!)

When it comes to Nashville fashion, the bottom line is this: You won’t be finding sequins, Swarovski crystals or fancy frills on any line made by a true cowboy or cowgirl. The country stars that decide to brand themselves in this new and competitive market thankfully stick to what little they know about fashion; comfort and reliability. Funny, those are the two reasons why I love these artists. And I always stick with what I love, no matter which Worst Dressed list they may appear on.

COUNTRY CATCH: JASON LEE THOMASON

OSBlog02_CountryCatch_MASTER
Over the past year, if you’ve tuned in to any of our Country Channels, chances are you noticed the undeniable talent of Jason Lee Thomason. In the country music capital better known as Nashville, Jason’s music is spreading fast. The city’s songwriting community is taking notice of this rising singer/songwriter whose repertoire includes acoustic ballads and upbeat tempos.

Mr. Jason Lee Thomason

Mr. Jason Lee Thomason

Swiftly gaining momentum in the South, Jason has a Keith Urban look but his sound and style are all his own. Jason is a force that cannot be cornered into simply one category. His pipes have won him accolades in genres from Country to Acoustic to R&B/Soul which explains why he’s already playing on some radio stations in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. With a steady fan base of loyal listeners, this OurStage favorite continues to work hard and continue his success in Nashville. But rest assured, Jason Lee Thomason is ready to break out.

When you first check out Jason’s music, you’re shocked by how many catchy tunes this crooner has to offer. One of Jason’s most successful songs, “Southland”, is an upbeat track that pulls you in with the instrumentation, and keeps you engaged with soulful vocals. This song is a tribute to home, the place you want to escape to when “You’re tired of the rat race, here in the city. It gets worse (there) everyday.” But this is what I know, if Jason Lee Thomason is playing in that city, I can’t think of one good reason to leave.

AMAZING GRACE

Babes in the Woods: Or, The Whale

Babes in the Woods: Or, The Whale

San Francisco’s tricky topography makes building options finite, which in turn makes its denizens especially good at working with limited space. The Bay area residents that comprise Or, The Whale have taken that skill outside of their apartments and into to their music, finding a way to gracefully incorporate seven instruments and four vocalists into one seamless act. Of course, the general rule of thumb for playing barn-burning country rock is the more, the merrier. But Or, The Whale is just as adept at swooning and spare balladry— bleary-eyed tales of love gone wrong that feel intimate even if delivered by seven strangers. And therein lies the rub.

The band—lead by the reedy warble of singer-guitarist Alex Robins—met through a Craigslist ad back in 2005, bringing together a motley collection of backgrounds: folk and funk, country and punk, and a little chamber music thrown in for good measure. The result is a country-fried mix of treacle and grit that incorporates anything from guitars and banjos to timpani, glockenspiels and harmoniums. Though Robins may profess, “My favorite songs are all slow / Quick ones are over too soon,” he’ll inevitably call his own bluff with a killer country rock stomper. But the real gems here are Or, the Whale’s sleepy, old-time waltzes, steeped in sadness and sung in Carter Family-style harmony. Whether they’re making your heart race, or bringing it down to an achy throb, this is one band who’ll get your blood pumping with time to spare.


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