Best country pop album - Kenny Chesney - Lucky Old Sun (BNA) Chesney knows how to have a good time, but he also gets increasingly introspective giving thought to time passing by and his station in life. He's not very country from the traditional standpoint, but this is a strong effort. And while he didn't write it, was there a better line this year than "everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wanna go now"?
What sophomore slump? - Taylor Swift and "Fearless." Not all that much of a surprise given the super ultra huge commercial success of her debut with a zillion hit singles. With more good writing and catchy songs, she's off to a great start on the follow-up. Her personality helps attract a teen audience even if she did have a dust up with a Jonas Brother.
Best new pop country artist - Lady Antebellum. Their debut offered a lot of perky, enjoyable country pop with an emphasis on the latter. Probably the break through new act of 2008 in a year with very few of them.
Best new country act - Ashton Shepherd. Then again, she had little competition because most everyone else went pop. And Jamey Johnson isn't new.
Most magical concert - Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on the "Raisin' Sand" tour. While the CD was excellent, it was also a bit tame at times. But live, they showed a lot. Plant and Krauss still seem like really strange bedfellows, but Plant deserves a tremendous amount of credit for delving into the music and not holding songs like Black Dog so sacred they cannot be touched.
Out of left field - Glenn Campbell's "Meet Glenn Campbell (Capitol). Mr. Wichita Lineman needs no intro, of course, but Campbell's interpretation of covers from the likes of Green Day wins hands down. Most of it is real good, and it was a hoot seeing Campbell perform at the Americana conference in September.
Deepest voice - Trace Adkins. Can anyone get as low as he can? While he acknowledges he may never be a superstar (perhaps not in so many words), Adkins' career took a few steps forward this year. The guy's got one great voice. When you see the word "timbre" in Webster's, Adkins' name should be there.
Most misnamed song - Jason Aldean's "She's Country." The song had all to do with rock and nothing to do with country, pretty much like Aldean.
Where's Garth? - Nothing new from Garth at all in 2008. Now, that's a real surprise. Every year, there seems to be something new from the guy. This year, he settled for his returns to giving concerts.
Where's Shania? - She may pull a reappearing act in 2009, we predict. After all, she showed up at the CMAs in November, a good sign that she's not going to stay in Canada, or Switzerland or is it New Zealand forever.
Not bad for 81 - Charlie Louvin goes ahead and releases two albums within four months and tours and tours with folks like Old 97's, reading a new audience. No sense sitting home on the porch swing.
Country is king - after all, why else would Jewel, Darius Rucker, Jessica Simpson switch gears and go country? Rucker enjoyed success (so far), Simpson, not really. Jewel - not so much either.
Kiss of death award - winning Nashville Star. It's much better to get your face on TV & make an impression, but not win. Just ask Miranda Lambert. It's amazing record companies would bother getting involved given the lack of success for the winners. Does anyone even remember who won this year?
Sign of the future? - The closing of the Equity label, started in part by Clint Black, fell victim to the record industry's turmoil, not to mention losing Little Big Town. The music industry's in real tough shape these days (make that years).