by Julian Spivey
The Grammy Awards typically get things right when it comes to honoring country music, because unlike other award shows they don’t seem to necessarily care what’s popular on the radio (and why should they?). This is how you’ll occasionally see something like Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from the soundtrack of the documentary “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” nominated for Best Country Song. It’s also why you won’t see utter tripe recorded by the likes of Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line in this category. Radio airplay and popularity don’t count or matter. Sure, the other four songs nominated in this category: Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids,” Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown” and Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” were all popular radio hits, but they are also of higher caliber than most of what you’re hearing on country radio today and it doesn’t take an expert of any kind to point that out.
So, which of these songs should take home the honor on Sunday night?
1. “Give Me Back My Hometown” by Eric Church
This list is the order in which I think these songs deserve to be ranked, not necessarily a prediction. I actually do not believe that Eric Church will win this award and if I had to give an honest prediction I’d say he has the fourth best chance of winning out of the five nominees. But, I believe this song co-written by Church and Luke Laird was the best country song on mainstream country radio in 2014. It’s the perfect song about what exactly heartbreak can do to a person – not only tear out their heart, but also their memories and just make life a complete hell. The vocal by Church is damn near perfect and definitely one of the best of his career – you can hear the hurt and longing in every single word. “Give Me Back My Hometown” is pretty much a perfect country song.
2. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell
I believe Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from the documentary “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” to be the dark horse pick to win this award – and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it did. The song, which has also been nominated for an Academy Award later this month, is the perfect send off for Campbell who finally had to hang up his music career after a multi-year farewell tour due to Alzheimer’s. It’s a truly heart-wrenching and poignant performance that deserves to be acknowledged and included in this group, even though I’m sure some view it as a token or lifetime achievement nomination. Unfortunately, if “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” does go on to win it’ll no doubt be a controversial victory for those very same reasons. That’s too bad, because it’s honestly a deserving choice.
3. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw feat. Faith Hill
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” was the perfect song for this point in Tim McGraw’s career because he’d frankly lost his way a little bit doing stupid stuff like “Truck Yeah” and other songs pandering to what’s popular on country radio at the moment, but didn’t sound right coming from a man who’d recorded terrific hit after hit from the mid-90s throughout the mid-00s. I’m not saying that “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” is going to get McGraw back on the right track, after all I suspect he’ll still record crap that panders to public opinion and popularity, but this was the sound he needed at the moment and it was music to my ears. The song co-written by Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnston and Jeffrey Steele, which features sweet backing vocals by Tim’s wife Faith Hill is a nice little story about a fast-paced life and needing to settle back down and live a country style life – not just a good story, but honestly a good euphemism for McGraw’s career at the time.
4. “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney
I know people have always been pretty mixed on Kenny Chesney, but I’ve always enjoyed the guy’s music and I think he’s always remained true to himself and in an era where few in the genre seem to be actually doing that his music has stood out as some of the best in the genre over the last decade or so. I really do enjoy “American Kids,” co-written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, but there are some things about it that are a little annoying and one thing that’s greatly annoying. These things keep it from becoming a great Chesney song – and believe me he’s got a “greatest hits” worth of them. The slightly annoying thing is the song is a little too listy, even though I can give it a pass because the things being listed aren't the same ones listed over-and-over again in stereotypical country songs. The really annoying thing is the too effeminate “heys” that come too often in the song, especially after the line “born in the USA.” It’s a fun song. Not much more. But I do find the more I’ve heard it the less I’ve enjoyed it.
5. “Automatic” by Miranda Lambert
I’ve got to admit that even though I have Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” co-written by her, Natalie Hemby and Nicolle Galyon, listed as the least worthy of winning Best Country Song at this weekend’s Grammy Awards it is the song that I am predicting will win the award. Lambert seems untouchable right now and I can’t really blame people for giving her award after award because she’s easily one of the best artists in the country genre at the moment. Except … she’s actually regressed from her last albums and “Automatic” is a perfect example of this. Lambert is one of the best singer-songwriters in country music at the moment who’s given the genre many of its best and biggest songs of the last six to eight years, including the Grammy winning “The House That Built Me.” When you know what Lambert is capable of doing a song like “Automatic” frankly seems a little too easy and by the numbers for me. A little too automatic, if you will. The vocal is fine, it’s just missing some in the writing.