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CMA Awards 2009: All the performances, as they happen [UPDATED]

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Pop & Hiss brings you instant reviews, typos and all, of all the performances at the Country Music Assn. Awards. It was a big night for Taylor Swift, who won entertainer of the year. She ended a three-year run from Kenny Chesney,

Related: CMA Awards 2009 Scorecard: Complete nominees and winners

Taylor Swift, "Forever & Always." Nashville is going straight to its A-list star, opening the show with pop music's most popular living singer at the moment. She'll have two songs tonight, and first up is "Forever & Always." To sum it up: The 2009 CMA Awards are off and running with a train wreck. The energy and excitement of Swift's MTV Video Music Awards performance, in which she was running through a subway, is completely lost. Beginning with a fake interview with Nancy O'Dell was cute, especially when Swift noted that "If guys don't want me to write bad songs about them, they shouldn't do bad things." But turning her "Forever & Always" into a chair-throwing angsty performance, complete with a stripper --  or fireman’s pole  (depending on your level of innocence) -- was ill-advised. She looked strained in trying to capture the anger of the song, awkwardly rolling on the floor and yanking at her hair. This is a D. But she has another performance in which to redeem herself.

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Darius Rucker, "Alright." Performing after Carrie Underwood praised his ability to switch from rock ’n’ roll to country, Rucker unveiled a good-time pop-rock tune that wasn’t all that different from his Hootie and the Blowfish days. Although perhaps the reference to Patsy Cline was more of a nod to Nashville. Rucker, like Swift, sounded a bit off. But if Swift’s performance was oddly bad, this was just predictably bland. Rucker worked the crowd like he’d be selling records in the lobby after the show, running through the audience and high-fiving those in the expensive seats (the CMAs are open to the public). Pop & Hiss would say more about the song, but we’ve forgotten the performance while writing this summary. So a C.

Miranda Lambert, "White Liar." Here we go. Nashville should take note: All country award shows should be opened by Lambert. Though "White Liar" isn't the most fiery song on her recent "Revolution" (Pop & Hiss was pulling for "Sin for a Sin"), there's plenty to like here. Lambert is just the right mix of sweetness and grit, pulling the song to a mischievous stop in its final moments to reveal its lyrical twist. Her band is kickin', and she's on point. A

Brad Paisley, "Welcome to the Future." Songs about nostalgia have become a modern Nashville staple, and Paisley reveals his cute and relatable charm with this tune. Kids and parents unite as Paisley looks back on his days when he longed for a giant coin-op machine and tells us that now he has Pac-Man on his phone. References to video chats and homecoming queens stand side by side. As Paisley wields a sparkly blue guitar, he's a safe and modern star, coming across as the kind of rock 'n' roll heartthrob who isn't afraid to accessorize. B

Zac Brown Band, "Devil Went Down to Georgia." Faithful and crowd-pleasing, Zac Brown Band had the chops and the sharp violins to pull off the cover. But it’s an odd choice, considering this is one of country's most popular young acts and a group that will surely be in contention for best new artist at the Grammy Awards. An original would have been a better choice. We've heard this tune before, but the smokey D&D-like effects were kinda cool. Still, a cover here? D+

George Strait, "Twang." Country, straight-up. Sandwiched in the middle of three performances, Strait didn't get a prime showcase, but there's nothing to dislike here. This is lean-back, kick-up-your boots country, and Strait does it as well as anyone. A-

Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now." With the barren trees of fall and strands of Christmas lights, this backdrop was all elegant holiday loneliness. Hillary Scott isn't the world's most charismatic vocalist, but this ballad suits her just right. It's a gracefully easy melody line, and Lady Antebellum is better when not trying to rock out. Charles Kelley trades off with her, sounding like the completely uninteresting dude next door, but this single belongs to Scott. B

Carrie Underwood, "Cowboy Casanova." So long Nashville, as Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" carries a slinky groove more fit for a dance club. Underwood's high heels and revealing outfit, as well as her backup singers in cocktail waitress attire, struck a more risque vibe. She could have been [insert pop star here] at your standard MTV award show, sporting a very glam outfit as she strutted and swung across the stage. But a spunky Underwood is better than ballad Underwood, and "Casanova" does a swell job of disguising what is -- for all intents and purposes -- a Top 40 cut with an occasional flash of country guitar notes. B-

Vince Gill and Daughtry, "Tennessee Line." A relatively stark stage kept the emphasis straight on the vocalists here, but there wasn't enough Gill. This seemed more marketing ploy than song, setting up the inevitable future country album from Daughtry. D

Keith Urban, "'Til Summer Comes Around." Urban is channeling the Eagles here, giving a low-key, back-lit performance. The song builds nicely, and Urban shows off some bluesy guitar notes toward the end. Would rather him cut a little loose, as the show needs some fire to get it into its midpoint here, but there's a compelling spookiness to the song that works. It also gives us time to reflect on just how many Fourth of July's the Australian-reared singer has had in his life to reflect upon. B+

Tim McGraw, "Southern Voice." Bringing some fun back into the proceedings, McGraw seemed to stumble over a couple of his own lyrics, but smiled and plowed through it. It's a giant, silly, pop-culture referencing festival, but try not to sing along to "Hank Aaron smacked it, Michael Jordan dunked it." What does it all mean? Who knows, but admit it, you still sing along to "We Didn't Start the Fire" as well. B

Sugarland, "Keep You." This is Sugarland at what the duo does best. Jennifer Nettles stays just out in front of the small violin orchestra, leading the quiet moments to a whisper and not letting the orchestra overtake her as the song builds to a climax. Kristian Bush is a bit in the background here, as the camera keeps tight on Nettles, but she sounds terrific and she could silence the room. B+

Brooks & Dunn with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, "Honky Tonk Stomp." The duo's final CMA performance, until they're brought back for some sort of tribute years from now. Fast and full of pool-hall charm, they bow out with a loose rock 'n' roll number. B-

Jamey Johnson & Kid Rock, "Between Jennings and Jones."
Going into the performance, it would have been easy to point out that that one thing Johnson doesn't need is Kid Rock. As the song started, and Kid Rock sported his country-via-Hollywood look, that seemed to continue to be the case, but the two played well together. Lyrics were changed and Kid Rock played to the crowd, tossing out a reference to John Rich in the second verse as Kid Rock's savior from jail. B-

Taylor Swift, "Fifteen." Swift is more in her element here, performing amid a circle of her fans. Without the crazy, over-the-top choreography, she sounds significantly better on this performance as well -- or at least charmingly out of tune. But she's the vulnerable teenager, and one of the crowd. She's performed this song at award shows of yore, including with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards, but she isn't sold as something she’s not on her second go-round. A

Jason Aldean, "Big Green Tractor." Billed by Underwood as the "most romantic song" ever written about a tractor ride, we're unsure if that's a compliment or much of a teaser. But Pop & Hiss will disagree with Underwood here, and sub the word "only" for "most." C-

Martina McBride, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," with George Strait. A classically cool performance, with a soft-rock harmonica that hits just right. McBride brings up Barbara Mandrell -- who was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and made the song famous -- on stage after giving her a fitting tribute. A-

Reba McEntire, "Consider Me Gone." Rocking knee-high boots and a sparkly tank top, McEntire gives the CMAs another solid, stately performance. All told, this is a pretty low-key night and McEntire brings a wise, no-nonsense performance. "If you think you can do better than this, then I guess we’re done," she tosses off, seemingly without effort, and few do it better. A-

Billy Currington, "People Are Crazy." A song about wild and crazy times about talking to a stranger in a bar, ultimately leading to Currington ending up with an inheritance he doesn’t deserve. It’s a short story with a clever twist, and it only works the first time you hear it. C-

Dave Matthews and Kenny Chesney, "I'm Alive." One of the most star-packed crossover performances, the "I'm Alive" duet packs about as much energy as a hammock hanging in a basement.  And it's about as much fun. D

--Todd Martens

[UPDATED NOV. 12 11:36 A.M.] Live blogging is a risky endeavor, and a couple readers were kind enough to point out in the comment section below that I wrote in the wrong Brooks & Dunn title last night. The band did not perform "Boot Scootin’ Boogie’." The correct song was, of course, "Honky Tonk Stomp," the band's new single that actually does feature Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. The post has been updated to reflect the correct title, and the positive grade for the song remains unchanged.

Photos Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Credits: Reuters

 
Comments () | Archives (126)

My FAVORITE performance of the night was the Zac Brown Band! They were awsome! And did you hear the audience? I'm afraid this author is way off on this one. I give them an A!

The song sung by Brooks and Dunn was Honkey Tonk Stomp with ZZ Top. Not Boot Scootin Boogie.

I still don't get where anyone could think that Taylor Swift is close be being a country singer. you have to be able to sing first! Secondly, I have yet to hear a song from here that sounds country. Nettles has a voice that would blow TS out of the building! Nettles is great!

I think that members of the CMA vote for the winners. Obviously, Toby Keith made someone angry. It's hard to hear him on the radio anymore, much less the other country singers like Josh Turner, George Strait, and so many more. I adore Kenny, but when did beaches and beer and Caribean instruments and sounds become country?

Maybe it's time we "got back to the basics of life".

If Taylor Swift if the best, it sure doesn't say much for Reba, Carrie, King George, Toby, Brooks and Dunn, Keith Urban, and all the other great country singers.

I totally disagree with the criticism of ZBB's cover- It's (IMHO) one of the best live covers done in years....take a blazing song and shred it three times faster!! Awesome..

Strongly disagree with the Zac Brown "D" rating. Of all the performances last night, they outplayed and outperformed everyone with the possible exception of Reba. I was surprised they chose a cover, too, especially since they have excellent songs of their own. But that does not change the fact that they hands down outplayed every other artist on the stage. The author either does not like the direction Country seems to be taking, or has been snubbed at a ZBB Meet and Greet somewhere down the line. Or tonedeaf, since Taylor Swift was given an "A" for 15. How did you ever hear her vocals over the shouted lyrics from her fans? I sure didn't.

I can hardly wait for the AMA's next week....This was just about the worst...well, it was the worst! I have ever, ever seen...Thank goodness for Reba, Miranda, George, Keith,and Tim....starting the show off with the off key warbling spectacle we had to sit through was beyond belief......At least, with the AMA's, it will be known ahead that it is Pop,Rock etc. and is expected.....Just hope we don't have to sit through another TS performance....She is a Tween idol
and making the $$....that's why she is winning these awards
and talent on the stage is becoming a thing of the past when live....only the best of singers can pull this off!..Thanks
Reba, Miranda, Martina, George, Keith......Wish we could have heard more of Vince Gill....Daughtery ...not country!

To me, Kenny Chesney AND Dave Matthews both sounded way out of tune on that duet. I assumed something was wrong with their monitors, as both voices are usually right on the money.

What happened to Garth Brooks coming back as advertised at the CMA's after taking 4 years off. They never showed him or even discussed it. I will call that false advertisement!!!!!!!!!!!! on TV. The CMA's are a farse. Oh yes and the teeny bopper winning. She is a looser!!!!!!!

Wow, this review is hilarious..... What show were you watching? You have to be 65 years old with a belt buckle the size of Texas to not like Darius's, Daughtry/Gill and Zac Brown Band were by far the best performances of the night. That whole Yodling thing that Lambert does is annoying.

I thought it was the best cma awards I've watched in a long time. You seem to have way too many comments, that should be kept to yourself. I thought Darius Rucker was awesome. Yes, I did feel Like Taylor Swift was struggling a little with her first song. But, I hear from alot of people that go to her concerts she does do this often in the beginning and she warms up fine. She is only 19 yrs. old and I still Love her. Love Country music its the best!!

Zac Brown a D+? Are you kidding? Did you actually WATCH the performance? It was dynamic, exciting, powerful, fun, and everything that a great concert experience should include. Regardless of whether you like the song choice, that was a killer performance, easily the best of the night.

you dont know music, taylor swift is not a good singer her songs didnt even compare to sugarland's performance, she got an A++
taylor swift should have never got female vocalist of the year, Martina McBride or Carrie Underwood Should have got it

What ever drugs you haters are on... (and I'm referring explicitly to the LA Times losers that wrote the review) keep them away from me! This was possibly the best produced awards show in recent memory and sets a new standard in the industry. Emmy, Oscar, AMA, Tony & Globes will be hard pressed to step up to this level of production. As for your raping of Taylor Swift... WOW! You publicly dissed a 19 year old girl who just dethroned the four time winning Kenny Chesney! Great job asshats, you are truly awesome. BTW, I personally can't stand country music but thoroughly enjoyed the entire production... hell, they even managed to finish two minutes early! Smoke that, elitist snobs.

I loved watching Reba,Martina,Miranda, but Carries outfit for Cowboy Cassanova was disgusting along with her moves. I did not feel Taylor should have won all of the awards, because it is like putting her on a pedestal and no one else matters and that is NOT true!

I was pretty disappointed with the CMAs themselves. However I am proud of the singers for their pride and respect and to thank and even offer up the spotlight to another when it was their time to shine THATS what made country music. I love my country music, but I be damned if "Taylor -not so - Swift" is country. The ONLY thing she has going for her is daddy, Starstrucks backing and a bunch of whiney teenagers!!! She cant sing!!!

The sound system is terrible. You could barely hear some of the artists.Reba sounded like she was in a different world,could'nt hear Taylor good at beginning of show, the mike was'nt working good. It seems to be a problem every year!

I think Taylor Swift is a very pretty and sweet young lady, but the girl can't sing. I like most of her songs but she should stick to song writting. Her videos are good because of the electronics they can make her sound good, but she can't sing live. I am a big country music fan, love country music, old and new. But just can't understand how Taylor could have made CMA history with her singing.

I agree with most of the comments about Taylor Swift. Frankly I don't listen to country music anymore. She may be able to write songs for teenagers but she cannot sing at all. To give her such an award is insulting to singers who are truly country and most of all have a really good voice. What happened to true country like Reba, Faith, Martina and even Carrie and Jennifer Nettles who have great voices. I am so sick of boyfriends and breakup songs by Swift I'll tune in to something else.

Wow!! You really gave Zac Brown Band a D+?! That is an insult to all of his fans. While an original would have been expected and well received, the energy from the performance and vocal ability by Zac was by far one of the best of the night. Every person at these shows are waiting to see something unexpected and they brought that. They were great and I would give him an A++...

I think you were right on with the performances but I would probably give Carrie Underwood a D. That was awful and the song sucks. Also, I do believe there was another tractor song -- If you think my tractor's sexy. Or something like that.

Stunning performances. But Hold on a minute. Just when did Country Music become this big rock monster. The following artists could appear at any major rock festival. Lady Antebellum, Daughtry, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Sugarland, Brooks & Top!, Kid Rock!!, Dave Matthews. George Strait yes.
I live in Northern Ireland and Country Music to me is Buddy Miller, Laura Cantrell, Slaid Cleeves, Wayne Hancock, Guy Clarke, Rodney Crowell, even Sam Baker, Bill Mallonne or Tom Russell. Many other 'real country artists'
Of course here in Northern Ireland we have an even more poor example of Country where everything seems to be played to a waltz beat. Must be a cast down from the old Irish dancehalls.
I'd be interested in other views on this.

Thank you. Miranda Lambert embodies true country, while still adding modern elements. She also writes her own music and plays the guitar, unlike Carrie Underwood. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock... say what you will- they may be good music artists- but they are not country singers. It is disappointing for true country fans (those of us who liked old school George, Brooks and Dunn, and of course, AJ) to watch our genre overrun by modern pop.

I think who ever was critiquing the Zac Brown Band's cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" needs to get hearing aids. So what if they did a cover? It was an amazing cover and one I doubt anyone else could even attempt to replicate. You can't rate their performance based on what you think they should have done. You rate the content, and that performance was at least a B+, minimum.

And for those who dislike Taylor Swift and wonder why she won, think about who her songs reach. That's right, the teenage girl population. If my assumptions are correct, her fan base is extremely wide-spread because of the fact that teenage girls can relate to her songs about love and whatnot. I won't go on and debate whether she is country or not, but she won and it is highly unlikely that someone went to fix the votes. Her career aside, she is still a very sweet girl and at least she is humble. Don't know if many people can say the same nowadays.

Are they comingoutwith 2009 CMA music cd of all the songs that were part of the show? and if so when?

 
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