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A fine night for Taylor Swift

Country Standard Time Editorial, November 2009

Taylor Swift's showing at the Country Music Association awards Wednesday night was no surprise. In some respects, it was invigorating to see someone who was not male and not around umpteen years like some of her male counterparts take home the biggest prize of the night, entertainer of the year.

And Swift was deserving of the award. Her "Fearless" album , which won album of the year, was very strong on the Swift-penned lyrics with a bunch of good melodies as well. She competed against some solid discs particularly Brad Paisley's "American Saturday Night" and out of left field Jamey Johnson's "That Lonesome Song."

Swift's singing has not always been up to snuff, a big downer. She seems to be getting better, although she sometimes doesn't stay on pitch either, which is particularly apparent live. Kudos to her for keeping her composure also on her biggest night. Not that she had something new to say, but she commented with genuine feeling (who wouldn't be excited?) without bawling her eyes out every time.

One of the singers she beat out, Paisley, at least did take home a few honors during the night. Paisley represented the traditional side of the country spectrum, something you will certainly not get from Swift. She is pretty much the antithesis of traditional country with a heavy emphasis on the pop side. Exactly what makes her country and others of her ilk remains very unclear to our ears. Paisley, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about twang and staying true to its roots, which he showed again live on a great reading of Welcome to the Future.

He did a good job as host with Carrie Underwood, although some of the presentation was way too corny and predictable. (the Kanye part was funny, however, though also expected. Then again, why shouldn't it be?). And Carrie, did you really need to be changing your outfits so often? Isn't there an economic crisis out there that we all should be worried about?

Speaking of pop country, Lady Antebellum did well for themselves. They took home a few awards, but have more in common with Fleetwood Mac than they do with country. It was pretty impressive as well that they took it over veterans Rascal Flatts, who did not appear all that happy in losing out.

Sugarland also isn't all that country and never has been. Jennifer Nettles sings really well, and the duo has enjoyed a slew of hits. But Brooks & Dun were the sentimental favorites no doubt. At least Sugarland recognized that, offering them a chance to come up and speak on Sugarland's time. B&D wisely passed on the offer. The whole thing kind of made you wonder if this was really B&D's last performance. They'll be in the Hall of Fame for sure. So, they'll be back.

It wasn't the best of nights for the likes of George Strait or Kenny Chesney among others, but Chesney turned in a good reading of his current hit I'm Alive with Dave Matthews and Strait brings the twang all the time and remains a huge credit to country.

One thing not needed was the pairing of country singers with folks crashing the party, even if they sounded good. Johnson didn't need Kid Rock on the great sounding Between Jennings and Jones. And why should Vince Gill take a back seat to Daughtry, even if Daughtry was way more laid back than usual? Does country music really need a step up or validation from the rockers out there to be taken seriously? No way. The music can and should stand on its own without such props.

Despite inevitable missteps this was a good night for country music, led by Swift. That is, depending on your definition of country music.