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Bobby Karl Works the SESAC Awards

 Pictured (left to right): SESAC's Trevor Gale & Shannan Tipton-Neese, Monty Powell, Universal Tunes' Pat Higdon & SESAC's Tim Fink.

Pictured (left to right): SESAC's Trevor Gale & Shannan Tipton-Neese, Monty Powell, Universal Music Publishing's Pat Higdon, and SESAC's Tim Fink.

Chapter 326

We Are Family.

That concept was repeatedly invoked at Monday night’s SESAC banquet on Music Row (11/9). And, my, how the “family” has grown: The event is now double in size what it was just a few short years ago.

“I’m proud to be a member of the SESAC family,” said Songwriter of the Year winner Monty Powell. Monty won for his Keith Urban hits “Sweet Thing” and “Kiss a Girl,” and the former was named SESAC’s Country Song of the Year. He is also the co-writer of Urban’s new single, “’Til Summer Comes Around.”

“For me, it really is like a big family gathering,” said SESAC’s Tim Fink.

He pointed out that SESAC is the only performing rights organization that honors Americana songwriters and introduced a video montage that included SESAC Americana celebs Hayes Carl, Gurf Morlix, The Avett Brothers, Todd Snider, The Greencards, Band of Heathens, Kieran Kane, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jim Lauderdale.

sesacThis past Americana convention’s attendance was at an all-time high, Tim pointed out, adding that there is also now a Grammy Award for the category.

Dustin, Savannah and their father Kevin Welch accepted a SESAC Americana trophy. Peter Cooper picked up two. Carol Young, Joe Lee King, Colin Brooks and Kieran Kane were also Americana honorees. Bug Music’s Roger Murrah accepted for an absent Gurf Morlix. Also not attending was double Americana winner Bob Dylan.

Following opening remarks by Pat Collins and dinner, Trevor Gale announced, “a special performance from someone who is considered a song’s best friend…the one and only Joe Nichols.”

“This is a song from the record,” said Joe introducing a track from his new Old Things New collection. “It’s not the single, which I’m supposed to plug at every opportunity.”

He proceeded to stun the crowd with the ballad that closes the CD, “An Old Friend of Mine.” The song is about gaining sobriety, which the performer did not long ago. His emotional delivery of the extraordinary lyric drew gasps, shouts and a standing ovation.

“Wow,” said Tim, “that’s a powerful performance.”

The other performance during the event was a stirring, highly political song called “Across America,” sung by new SESAC signee Nanci Griffith with co-writers Charley Stefl and Thomm Jutz. It appears on Nanci’s CD The Loving Kind. Nanci, by the way, also referred to SESAC as her new “family.”

SESAC’s Shannon Tipton Neese and John Mullins joined Tim Fink for the presentation of the country awards. Honorees included Scooter Caruso (“Better as a Memory”), Tim Johnson (“Do You Believe Me Now”), Hillary Scott (“Looking for a Good Time,” “I Run to You” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”), Brice Long (“Anything Goes”), Liz Rose (“You Belong with Me” and “White Horse”), Anthony Smith (“I Want My Life Back”), Kim Tribble (“One in Every Crowd”) and the afore mentioned Monty Powell.

Pat Higdon and Kent Earls accepted Publisher of the Year honors for Universal Tunes and Eden Valley Music.

I used to describe this banquet by writing something like, “SESAC celebrated in intimate elegance.” With more than 400 guests attending this year, it might not be quite so “intimate.” But it is still the most elegant of the performance rights events in Music City.

Gold and mauve metallic cloths covered the dining tables. Each held a centerpiece of massed crimson carnations, and the same flowers hung in globes from branches stationed throughout the cocktail tent. The dining tent’s chandeliers were crystal curtains and tubes that shimmered under pastel lights of various hues. Crystals were also tucked into the tent drapes. The entire room seemed to glitter.

Dinner was exquisite. We began with a salad with a pear center surrounded by mixed greens, spiced pecans and bleu cheese mousse drizzled with a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The main course was pan-seared grouper over sautéed baby spinach, plus savory corn bread pudding and sliced beef tenderloin that you could cut with merely a fork. The irresistible (believe me, I tried) dessert was an apple cake truffle over pumpkin mousse topped with whipped cream. The brandy finale was a nice touch, too.

Gliding through the evening and looking fabulous were Lady Antebellum, Pam Rose, Billy & Jill Block, Butch Baker, Jamie Johnson of The Grascals, Burt Stein, Jerry Salley, Blaine Larsen, Scott Siman, Jim Zumwalt, Victoria Shaw, Richard Leigh, Roxie Dean, Gary Burr, Rick & Janis Carnes, Clay Myers, Pete Fisher, Nancy Shapiro, Troy Tomlinson, Nashville First Lady Anne Davis, Jed Hilly, Kira Florita, Ree Guyer Buchanan, Dwight Wiles, Tinti Moffatt, Frank Liddell, Gary Overton, Ben Vaughn, Kyle Young, Glenn Middleworth, David & Carolyn Corlew, David & Susana Ross, John Grady, Blake Chancey, Dan Hill, Kevin Lamb, Debbie Carroll, Jill Colucci, Jeff Walker, Gilles Godard and Pat Finch. The balmy fall evening weather could not have been more perfect.

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Country Music Week activities actually got underway the day before, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Hall of Fame Park (11/8). This was a Music City Walk of Fame induction ceremony for Dolly Parton, Kid Rock, Charlie Daniels and the late Ernest Tubb and Tootsie Bess.

“It’s great to be married to the Mayor and be in love with the Governor,” said Dolly, referring to husband Carl Dean (who was not there), the similarly named Karl Dean (who was) and Gov. Phil Bredesen (also present).

Dolly remained in the spotlight Monday afternoon (11/9) via a screening and press conference for her new Live From London DVD at The Tracking Room.

“I love doing what I do, and I’m going to do it until the day I die,” vowed the ageless wonder. She swore that she will never retire.

In addition to a star-struck international press corps, her admirers included Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, George Jones and Charlie Monk.

Grammy “Sounding” Board

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood

Is it live or is it Memorex?

Remember that old commercial for magnetic tape? Remember magnetic tape? Anyhow, the gist of it was guessing whether what you heard was pre-recorded or not. And that was the game I played all night long during the Grammy telecast.

Not surprisingly, Music City’s finest fared best. Those were unquestionably live vocals by Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus during their performance of Taylor’s song “Fifteen.” That’s especially cool because Taylor can sometimes be a little “pitchy.” Carrie Underwood’s powerhouse delivery of “Last Name” was also emphatically live. You could question whether it was “country” or not, but there was no denying her performance.

Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift

Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift

The evening’s winningest champs Alison Krauss and Robert Plant were predictably jaw-dropping. I love the way their disparate voices create that harmonic overtone.

Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland’s “Stay” was also a terrific live vocal. Keith Urban’s guitar work during the Bo Diddley tribute and the great Justin Timberlake and Al Green collaboration on “Let’s Stay Together” was also on the money. Kenny Chesney’s performance of “Better as a Memory” was swathed in smoke, so it was a little difficult to tell whether or not it was live. But it was unquestionably lovely.

Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney

The deal is, they record the rehearsals. So when show time arrives, the audio guys have the choice to give us either the pre-recorded or the live performance. So Katy Perry can run all over the stage in her fruits-and-veggies outfit and not sound at all out of breath. Piped in? You bet. The Jamie Foxx, Ne-Yo and Smokey Robinson medley of tunes by The Four Tops also sounded totally pre-taped, as did T.I. with Justin Timberlake.

Coldplay, Radiohead and U2 were all toss-ups. Who can tell? Especially with the USC marching band tossed into the mix. The Rap Pack? Who cares? Although the extremely pregnant M.I.A.’s polka-dotted onesy was certainly eye-catching.

The live pop performances included Paul McCartney’s. It might have been garage-y, but maybe that’s the way “I Saw Her Standing There” should sound. Stevie Wonder and The Jonas Brothers were remarkably well mixed and very exciting.

Jennifer Nettles returned to the stage to sing with Best New Artist winner Adele. The result was soulful and heartfelt. Neil Diamond was low-key but effective. Of all people, Kid Rock sounded good. His energy level was winning as well. Naturally Jennifer Hudson killed. But she should have left her lobster bib at the restaurant.

Kanye West and an evidently Reynolds-Wrapped Estelle sounded like live vocals to tracks. The multi-artist New Orleans tribute was kind of a train wreck and was definitely blah. Whitney Houston sounded rather incoherent, but was gowned beautifully. I don’t think she’ll ever live down that reality series Being Bobby Brown. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Gwyneth Paltrow were both nice diversions. Don’t even bother trying to hear anything from Lifetime Achievement honoree Brenda Lee. She didn’t even get to stand and wave, never mind sing or speak.

Overall, however, I have to give the telecast a sonic “A.” It is a gargantuan task to make a wide variety of genres sound good and an even bigger one to do it on an international live telecast. I hope all the engineers involved celebrated afterward.

Photos courtesy Grammy.com, by John Shearer/WireImage

DISClaimer (1/30)

Newcomers, baby acts and veterans are all in the mix this week.

Both Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye arrived with excellent sounding comeback discs. Chris Young, Bomshel, Jamey Johnson continue to shine with blindingly bright promise.

Newcomer Mike Adkins totally nails the DisCovery Award.

And I continue to be in awe of the talent of Eric Church (as well as his producer, Jay Joyce). Give that man yet another Disc of the Day prize.

BOB HARVEY/Completely Harmless
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Echo
—I’m not sure what this is all about. It has a copyright notice on it that clearly says “1969.” So what’s it doing in this week’s reviewing stack? Beats me. In any case, it is an audio waste of time.

JAMEY JOHNSON/High Cost Of Living
Writer: Jamey Johnson/James Slater; Producer: The Kent Hardly Playboys; Publisher: EMI Blackwood/Big Gassed Hitties/Hope-N-Cal/Pick Them Maters/Diversion/Cal IV, BMI; Mercury Nashville (track)
—Jamey’s extraordinary Grammy-nominated That Lonesome Song CD kicks off with this harrowing—and completely gripping—tale of substance abuse. It ends in prison. When was the last time country music was this gritty and real? I applaud the courage and authenticity of this.

JOSH DAVIS BAND/House In The Hills
Writer: Josh Davis; Producer: Mike Musgove & Josh Davis; Publisher: none listed, BMI; Joshua655 (817-944-8785)
—Muddy and cluttered sounding.

CHRIS YOUNG/Gettin’ You Home
Writer: Chris Young/Cory Batten/Kent Blazy; Producer: James Stroud; Publisher: Runnin’ Behind/EMI April/I Want to Hold Your Songs/Words & Music, ASCAP/BMI; RCA
—I still think this guy is a star waiting to happen. This sexy little seduction number is just the thing to raise him up. It has a cool, rolling groove, and his burnished baritone vocal dips and slides on all the right notes.

MIKE ADKINS/Easy The Hard Way
Writer: Jamie Richards/Biff Watson; Producer: Greg White & Jamie Richards; Publisher: Mike Curb, BMI; MAB (www.mikeadkinsband.com)
—It has a nice “outlaw” sound, some dandy guitar work, a punchy rhythm track, a solid ccountry-boy vocal and a nicely penned, dues-paying lyric. I’m in.

AARON TIPPIN/Drivin’ Fool
Writer: Aaron Tippin/Terry Brown; Producer: Aaron Tippin & Tim Grogan; Publisher: Sony ATV Acuff-Rose/TCT Rose/Terry Brown, BMI; Nippit (track) (www.aarontippin.com)
—Aaron is going all retro with a collection of classic trucker songs like “Six Days on the Road,” “East Bound and Down,” “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Prisoner of the Highway” and “Drivin’ My Life Away.” He provides one new original to the genre, and it’s a dandy, a rhythm-happy prayer for truckers everywhere. The CD is called In Overdrive, and it’s a keeper.

KATIE ARMIGER/Trail Of Lies
Writer: Katie Armiger/Lisa McCallum/Quinn Loggins; Producer: Paul Compton; Publisher: Lily Road/Castle Street/Large Opportunity/Jaden Lane, BMI/ASCAP; Cold River (www.katiearmiger.com)
—This boasts a lickety-split tempo and a very well-written cheatin’ lyric. As usual, her delivery is spunky and confident.

ERIC  CHURCH/Love Your Love The Most
Writer: Eric Church/Michael P. Heeney; Producer: Jay Joyce; Publisher: Sony ATV Tree/Sony ATV Acuff-Rose, BMI; Capitol Nashville
—I can’t wait for the rest of you to hear Eric’s Carolina CD when it appears in March. It is simply the coolest sounding country record of the year to date. This glowing, warm, brilliantly-produced and refreshing single is a fine introduction to this man’s distinctive style. Spin it a zillion times.

COLIN RAYE/Mid-Life Chrysler
Writer: Neal Thrasher/Wendell Mobley/Tony Martin; Producer: Collin Raye; Publisher: Major Bob/Crosstown/Warner/Sony, ASCAP; Saguaro (CDX) (www.collinraye.com)
—His tenor vocal cuts like a hot knife through butter. The startling, original and different lyric is supported by a bopping, pop-inflected production awash in electric guitar work and stacked, soft, wafting harmony vocals.

BOMSHEL/Fight Like A Girl
Writer: Kelley Shepard/Kristy Osmunson/Bob Regan; Producer: Chuck Howard; Publisher: Getting Grown/KupKake/Osmunson/Green Hills/Big Loud Bucks/Travelers Ridge/Regan, BMI/ASCAP; Curb
—It’s a stately-sounding, empowering-female ballad with plenty of audio oomph and a terrific lead vocal performance. Recommended without reservation.