from twang and swing to rock and beyond, the best of the genre's diverse offerings had two things in common: heart and soul
b est Country Song
Songwriters: Josh Kear, Chris Tompkins
Artist: Carrie Underwood
From: Blown Away
Publishers: Global Dog Music/Lunalight Music, Big Loud Songs/Angel River Songs
Label: 19 Recordings/Arista Nashville
Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins won the best country song Grammy in 2007 for writing Carrie Underwood's revenge-filled hit "Before He Cheats." "Blown Away" took a similarly dark tone after Tompkins ran across a thunderstorm sound effect on his keyboard. It was part of the inspiration for what became an ominous piece about domestic abuse with a twister metaphor, which Underwood carried out in a "Wizard of Oz"-inspired video. Underwood also supported the song live with a swirling, faux tornado.
"Cost of Livin'"
Songwriters: Will Hoge, Eric Paslay
Artist: Eli Young Band
From: Life at Best
Publishers: Hoge Music/Cal IV Songs
Label: Republic Nashville
Nashville rocker Will Hoge suffered a major scooter accident in August 2008 in the middle of recording an album, delaying the project seven months. The following April, he co-wrote "Even If It Breaks Your Heart"-a song about following your calling-with singer/songwriter Eric Paslay, and it made the album, The Wreckage, after Hoge resumed recording. The Eli Young Band's version followed "Crazy Girl" to become the act's second No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
"So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore"
Songwriters: Jay Knowles, Adam Wright
Artist: Alan Jackson
From: Thirty Miles West
Publishers: Alrighty Den Music/Dean-Parnell Music/Acme Nashville
Label: EMI Records Nashville/ACR Records
When Alan Jackson debuted his own imprint, ACR Records, in 2005, the label introduced duo the Wrights, which includes Jackson's nephew, Adam Wright. Jackson recorded two of Wright's compositions for the 2004 album What I Do and latched onto "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore"-a chivalrous breakup song-for his first album on EMI Records Nashville. Co-writer Jay Knowles previously authored George Strait's "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and Jack Ingram's "Love You."
Songwriters: Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell
Artist: Eric Church
Publishers: Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, Sinnerlina Music, Purple Cape Music, Bug Music, Mamma's Cornbread Music
Label: EMI Records Nashville
The Boss is less the topic of "Springsteen" than he is a device that Eric Church used to re-create the memory of a relationship with a high school flame and a concert they shared. The song incorporates numerous Springsteen song titles and employs a "whoa, whoa, whoa" chorus intended to approximate part of "Born to Run." Shades of the E Street Band's Roy Bittan: A simple keyboard riff played by Ryan Tyndell and recorded on a laptop during the writing session is central to Church's ultimate master.
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Zac Brown Band
Label: Southern Ground/Atlantic
Producers: Zac Brown, Keith Stegall
Engineers: Chris Allen, John Kelton, Steve Lowery, Matt Mangano, Hank Williams
The Zac Brown Band has displayed an uncanny interest in expansion from the outset, adding an extra musician-multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook-to the lineup for its second studio album, and adding another-percussionist Daniel de los Reyes-for Uncaged. The project, which continues to knit together the act's mix of country, rock and jam-band tendencies, became its second to debut at No. 1 on Top Country Albums and on the Billboard 200. Jason Mraz co-wrote the opening track, while Mac McAnally co-wrote the closer.
Producers: Dann Huff, Hunter Hayes
Engineers: Mark Hagen, Tony Daigle
Hunter Hayes is a precedent-setter: the first by a country artist on a major label in which the artist sang every vocal, played every instrument, co-wrote every song and co-produced the entire album. Even more impressive, the 12-track effort-which has yielded hits thus far with "Storm Warning," "Wanted" and "Somebody's Heartbreak"-was released barely a month after Hayes turned 20. Hayes, who worked on the album in isolation with co-producer Dann Huff, collected three Grammy nominations in all, including one for the all-genre best new artist trophy.
Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran
Label: Mercury Nashville
Producers: Buddy Cannon, Dale Dodson
Engineers: Butch Carr, Steve Chadie, T.W. Cargile, Tony Castle, Drew Bollman, Charlie Kramsky, Chris Owens, David Robinson, Jon Hersey, Jonathan Harter, Leland Elliott, Matt Rausch, Nathan Yarborough, Paul Bowman, Rob Katz, Sam Seifert, Seth Morton, Will Harrison
Pioneering Music City writer Hank Cochran was a 1974 inductee to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Jamey Johnson saluted Cochran, who died in 2010, with a disc of performances from a bevy of Johnson's fellow country stars, including George Strait, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack and Willie Nelson.
Four the Record
Label: RCA Nashville
Producers: Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf, Chuck Ainlay
Engineers: Chuck Ainlay, James Towler, Brandon Schexnayder, Ryan Krieg
Miranda Lambert's Four the Record emerged at the end of a hectic year that also saw the release of Hell on Heels, the debut from side project Pistol Annies. Both of her Pistol bandmates get songwriting credits on Four the Record, as does husband Blake Shelton, who co-wrote "Over You." Lambert set a mark by becoming the first female artist to debut at No. 1 on Top Country Albums with her first four releases.
The Time Jumpers
The Time Jumpers
Producers: The Time Jumpers
Engineers: Drew Bollman, Justin Niebank, Matt Rausch
After performing regularly on Mondays at Nashville's Station Inn since the band's 1998 inception, the Time Jumpers moved in June 2012 to the larger-capacity 3rd & Lindsley. Rounder also released the first studio project by the western swing-based band, made up primarily of studio musicians, including bassist Dennis Crouch, steel guitarist Paul Franklin and fiddler Larry Franklin. Also in the ranks: Riders in the Sky's "Ranger Doug" Green, McBride & the Ride alumnus Billy Thomas and Grammy icon Vince Gill.