I have never been prouder to be a country fan than I was when experiencing this week’s CMA Awards telecast.
The special brought out the best and brightest talents in the genre, delivering at the peak of their powers. Kelsea Ballerini, The War And Treaty, Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, Jordan Davis, Ashley McBryde, Morgan Wallen with Eric Church, Dan + Shay, K. Michelle with Jelly Roll, Tanya Tucker and Carly Pearce as well as Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Mac McAnally and the Zac Brown Band—these were performances for the ages. If you weren’t a country fan going into the show, surely these moments would make you one. My chest was bursting.
Several songs in today’s column were in the spotlight that night. The Disc of the Day is one of them—mega-talent Combs owns it.
The DISCovery Award goes to HunterGirl, whom I met at the ASCAP party. She is an American Idol alumnus, but she needs no TV set to help her on the triumphant “Ain’t About You.”
RVSHVD / “Small Town Talk”
Writers: Clintarius Johnson/Jason Afable/Josh Logan Tangney/Matty Gibbons; Producers: Jason Afable/Dream Addix; Label: Penthouse South/Sumerian Records
– In a word, wow. Stirring and anthemic, this heart-in-throat performance celebrates everyday life in tiny-town America. He sings with marvelous sincerity, and the song could not be more authentically country. I’m in. His name, by the way, is pronounced “Ra-shad” (just turn those V’s upside down.)
TYLER HUBBARD / “A Lot With A Little”
Writers: Tyler Hubbard/Parker Welling/Casey Brown; Producers: Tyler Hubbard/Jordan Schmidt; Label: EMI Nashville
– Hubbard’s warm delivery continues to enchant. Here, he praises the simple joys of poor-folks romance. Guitars blaze brightly and the beats keep a-comin.
HUNTERGIRL / “Ain’t About You”
Writer: Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski; Producer: Lindsay Rimes; Label: Wheelhouse Records
– Empowering and loaded with character and charisma. The ballad swells with positive vibes, and her vocal delivery has immense depth. This is a major, major new talent.
LAINEY WILSON / “Wildflowers and Wild Horses”
Writers: Lainey Wilson/Paul Sikes/Trannie Anderson; Producer: Jay Joyce; Label: Broken Bow Records
– If you had any doubts about this woman, her performance of this burning country rocker on the CMA Awards telecast erased them. And I do mean “country.” A delicious listening experience. “I’m barefoot and bareback and born tough as nails/I’m four fifths of reckless and one fifth of Jack.” You said it, sister.
ALEX MILLER / “Puttin’ Up Hay”
Writers: Alex Miller/Larry Cordle/Jerry Salley; Producer: Jerry Salley; Label: Billy Jam Records
– This snappy hillbilly rocker sizzles with hot fiddle and electric guitar. Loved his low vocal dip at the finale.
JESSIE MURPH & JELLY ROLL / “Wild Ones”
Writers: Jessie Murph/Jason DeFord/Feli Ferraro/Gregory “Aldae” Hein/Jeff Gitelman; Producer: Jeff Gitelman; Label: Columbia
– Murph’s saucy delivery leads the way as she sings about the dark side of Saturday night. Jelly Roll keeps pace with some strategically placed hillbilly hip-hop. The track loops back on itself throughout. Is there such a thing as “alternative outlaw” music?
TRACK 45 / “When I Grow Up”
Writers: Ben Johnson/Jenna Johnson/KK Johnson/Jaida Dreyer/Jonny Price; Producers: Track45/Jason Hall; Label: Stoney Creek Records
– The angst of youth aches from every note. Their trio family harmonies on the choruses are awesome. I remain a fan.
LUKE COMBS / “Where the Wild Things Are”
Writers: Dave Turnbull/Randy Montana; Producers: Luke Combs/Chip Matthews/Jonathan Singleton; Label: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville
– What a voice. This is a mighty, mighty country-music man. And perhaps never more so than on this punchy rocker about a man who follows his big brother to Hollywood. Right up to the death scene, his gripping delivery keeps you on the edge of your seat. A simply brilliant performance of a titanically well-written song. He justifiably stopped the show with this at the CMA Awards.
KEITH ANDERSON / “Pickup Truck”
Writers: Ben Hayslip/Dallas Davidson/Thomas Rhett Akins; Producer: none listed; Label: ONErpm
– This enduringly good fellow has plenty of gas in his tank as he takes this high-octane rocker out for a spin. “You don’t need a pickup line if you’ve got a pickup truck.” Rock on, bro.
MORGAN WALLEN & ERIC CHURCH / “Man Made A Bar”
Writers: Brett Tyler/Larry Fleet/Rocky Block/Jordan Dozzi; Producer: Joey Moi; Label: Big Loud Records/UMG Nashville
– Charisma on the hoof. Individually, they are two of the finest singers we have. Together on this splendidly written ode, they are undeniable. This, my friends, is real country music.
KARLEY SCOTT COLLINS / “Heavy Metal”
Writers: Karley Scott Collins/KK Johnson/Sam Backoff; Producers: Karley Scott Collins/Nathan Chapman; Label: Sony Music Nashville
– Her ear-catching, piercing, resonant voice is set in an echoey, stripped-down track. This gives extra punch to the lyric of a gal trapped in a dead-end marriage.
LUKE GRIMES / “Burn”
Writers: Luke Grimes/Randy Montana/Josh Thompson; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: Mercury Nashville/Range Music
– If romance with her means pain, bring it on, says Grimes. As always, he sings with great conviction. The track has a faintly western-cowboy vibe.
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