The longer cycle of album releases has made this category more difficult to predict lately, as there are major artists every year that don’t release an album during the eligibility period. This year, the big names not eligible include Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn and Carrie Underwood. There are still some biggies in the running, so the competition remains fierce for this prestigious award.


Likely to Be Nominated:

Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
Three of his four previous albums have received nominations for this award, which he won last year for Time Well Wasted. He’s widely seen as a serious artist and this album was at the top of the charts during the first round of voting.

Tim McGraw, Let It Go
Even though his nominations have become less frequent, every studio album since 1998’s Everywhere has been nominated for Album of the Year. That’s five in a row, for those of you counting at home. This is the nomination he’s most likely to receive this year.

George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
Fifteen of Strait’s studio albums have been nominated for this award, including his previous release Somewhere Down in Texas. He’s taken the award home three times. After the ACM’s, I get the impression that there’s a desire to acknowledge Strait’s vitality as an artist, and he’s always been a CMA favorite anyway.

Could Be Nominated:

Vince Gill, These Days
He just missed the Grammy eligibility period for this album, though the lead single won him his 18th, tying his number of CMA wins. Since he was nominated at the radio-friendly ACM’s for this same award, I expect the CMA, which is historically more supportive of his work than the ACM’s, to acknowledge this year’s Hall of Fame inductee in this category.

Keith Urban, Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing
His support among the CMA voters is strong – eight nominations in just the last two years, three consecutive Male Vocalist awards and a trophy for Entertainer. He’s had a low profile since his stint in rehab, but the music has remained strong at radio and retail. It’s not a sure bet, but he’s got a strong shot at being nominated.

Alan Jackson, Like Red on a Rose
His two previous side projects – Precious Memories and Under the Influence – were each cited in this category, but he’s not a sure bet. The CMA overlooked his previous studio album What I Do, and his traditionalist base didn’t take a shine to this pop-flavored project. Even though he was nominated for a Grammy for this, I’m not confident that he’ll get one at the CMA’s.

Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
She’s the most critically acclaimed new artist out there, with tremendous support from both mainstream and alternative country camps. Radio hasn’t embraced her, but consumers have. A nomination here would be a sign that support runs very deep. There are some superstars standing in the way, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see her knock them down and get the nod.

Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
Atkins has had such success at retail that there’s a slim chance he’ll slip in as a nominee. This year’s ballot will be a good indication of how much support he has among voters.

Toby Keith, Big Dog Daddy
The CMA took a pass on his last two studio albums, even the final one for Dreamworks. Sales have been solid since its June release, but Keith doesn’t seem to have enough support in the industry to place him in this category, despite this being an excellent album.

Porter Wagoner, Wagonmaster
Wouldn’t it be nice to see Nashville embrace one of its legends before the Grammys do, and while they’re still alive to appreciate it? Johnny Cash won Grammys for the good Rick Rubin albums, while the CMA played posthumous catchup and awarded his weakest album. Loretta Lynn was ignored at the CMA’s, then gave an acceptance speech at the Grammys that was the highlight of the evening. Maybe, just maybe, Nashville will take the lead on this one and acknowledge a quintessential Nashvillian’s return to peak form. C’mon, CMA. Please?
Final Prediction:

Album of the Year

  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Tim McGraw, Let it Go
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Keith Urban, Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing