Vince Gill takes country's top award


Forget what you may have heard about the laid-back country lifestyle. If last night's broadcast of the 28th Country Music Association Awards show was any indication, life in Nashville is every bit as frenzied as it is in New York or Los Angeles.

Packing more stars into three hours than any awards show in memory, the CMA Awards show had so much talent on display that they actually had people singing from their seats in the audience -- no time for set changes, apparently. As such, it was a great deal for those who just can't get enough of country music on TV.

Or even on the radio, since WPOC's Laurie DeYoung was named Large Market Radio Personality of the Year.

Unfortunately, the CMA Awards were a little less valuable as a means of figuring out who was where in the country music establishment's pecking order. Although the nominations emphasized a handful of performers -- Reba McEntire (six), Alan Jackson (five) and Brooks & Dunn (four) -- the results were too evenly spread to offer any consensus.

For instance, even though Horizon Award winner John Michael Montgomery's rendition of "I Swear" took Single of the Year honors, it lost Song of the Year to Alan Jackson and Jim McBride for "Chattahoochee." McBride seemed particularly surprised, because "Chattahoochee" had won two trophies at the last CMA Awards show.

But this year's voters had a definite sweet spot for repeaters. Vince Gill continued his streak as Male Vocalist of the Year and took Entertainer of the Year honors, as well.

Reba McEntire and Linda Davis won the Vocal Event of the Year award for "Does He Love You," a song they performed on last year's show. Both seem pleased at the win. Said Davis, "Just think: Last year I had no record deal!" But McEntire was somewhat nonplused that host Gill was still talking about the cleavage-intensive outfit she wore at the last CMA show. "Just think: Last year, I had just half a dress on," she meowed.

"At least it was the right half," joked an apologetic Gill.

Brooks & Dunn were voted Vocal Duo of the Year (again), and fiddler Mark O'Connor was named Musician of the Year (again). "I guess I'll just have to practice more," dead panned O'Connor.

The bulk of the show was given over to performances. Trouble was, there were so many of them that only the very worst and very best left any impression.

Among the more noteworthy performers were Female Vocalist of the Year Pam Tillis, who sang a great "Mi Vida Loca" with a Norteno-style backing band; Video of the Year winner Martina McBride, who smoldered through "Independence Day"; and Clint Black, who fumbled a line in "Desperado" but still conveyed enough honest passion to bring the crowd to its feet.

Far less successful were McEntire, whose rendition of "She Thinks His Name Was John" was so over burdened with vocal ornamentation that its melody was almost unrecognizable, and Jackson, whose rendition of "Gone Country" was undercut by annoying bouts of feedback.

This being television, though, some of the performances tended to stress star power over musical content. That was especially embarrassing during the Little Richard-Tanya Tucker duet on "Something Else," which tried to strike Ike and Tina Turner-style sparks but ended up generating little real heat. Then there was Carpenter, whose wonderfully sultry "Shut Up and Kiss Me" was undone by unfunny "comic" cameos.

Even that, though, seemed more honest than the way Asleep at the Wheel's version of "Blues for Dixie" was milked for star power. Because Lyle Lovett was the guest vocalist on the song, the camera cut to Mrs. Lovett -- actress Julia Roberts -- at the end of the song, only to find her staring doe-eyed and startled into the cameras.

A real classy touch, guys. Bet they know better than that in L.A.

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