Carrie Underwood arrives for the CMA Awards. (Chris Pizzello / Associated…)
Welcome, country music fans.
What follows will be instant grades of every performance at tonight's Country Music Assn. Awards. This post is written off-site from the CMAs at the LAT HQ, and strives to be as fast and accurate as possible. On tap at the show are performances from the likes of Jason Aldean, Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, among others.
This will be updated constantly throughout the night. There may be typos. Enough preamble.
Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan & Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know.” The CMA Awards got off to a workmanlike start. As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, Aldean and Church kept things simple and straightforward with this sleeves-rolled-up anthem. A nearly romanticized ode to hard, blue-collar work, Aldean sang of soaking in the rain, baking in the sun and getting things done with one's back against the fence. It's stronger in the hands of Aldean, who's a little rougher around the edges. But co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley soon took the show down a more lighthearted path, poking fun at Swift, referencing Maroon 5 and doing a little "Gangnam Style" dance. The first 10 minutes captured the line this show will attempt to walk between county and pop. Grade: B.
PHOTOS: CMA 2012 on the red carpet | CMA 2012 Winners and nominees
Tim McGraw, "One of Those Nights." The CMA Awards suddenly took a rather steamy turn about 20 minutes in. McGraw’s new single, "One of Those Nights," is all about grown-up seduction. The mid-tempo slow-dance — from McGraw’s as-yet-unreleased new album "Two Lanes of Freedom" — is close-up image after close-up image of putting on lipstick, whispering in one’s ear and getting out of a party. Yet it’s all coated in nostalgia. McGraw keeps the song flourish-free, and it only works because it seems to recall moments past, not moments happening. Grade: B.
Miranda Lambert, "Fastest Girl in Town." As someone who has championed Lambert in the past, "Fastest Girl in Town" leaves me defenseless. This is Lambert's look-at-me-I'm-crazy shtick at most predictable. There are references to guns, bullets, booze, fast cars and any other country music-meets-action-movie cliche you can think up. Although her outfit, which looked like a stained-glass window made of plastic, may lend some credence to her claims of beings nuts. Grade: D.
Zac Brown Band's "Goodbye In Her Eyes," followed by Dierks Bentley's "Tip It On Back." The performances are coming too fast for the ol' Pop & Hiss to keep up. Unfortunately, it’s mid-tempo song after mid-tempo song at this point. At least this one-two sleepy punch went from a tearjerker to a tear-drowner. The CMAs are nothing if not tidy. Grade: C.
The Band Perry, "Better Dig." The CMA Awards are getting heavy on promotion at this point, as the Band Perry is here to perform a song from the group's as-yet-unreleased second album. "Better Dig" isn't so much a country number as it is mainstream Nashville trying to mimic Mumford & Sons. This is a plucky, slow-build banjo anthem, and it at least upped the energy of the show. Grade: C+.
Eric Church, "Springsteen." Detractors of Bruce Springsteen will point out that his songs feel nostalgic for an America that never was — a glorification of the working class and political references that are vague enough so as not to offend. Far worse than any of that is a nostalgic song about being nostalgic for Springsteen songs. Grade: F.
Eli Young Band, "Keep On Dreaming." For those of you who have purchased a card that, say, congratulates a young graduate — Congratulations! Dream big! Good luck! — and have thought, "Boy oh boy, I sure wish this were a three-minute song with acoustic guitars instead of a card," here you go. Grade: D.
Taylor Swift, "Begin Again." Swift's new record, “Red," wants to have it all, ranging from strummy ballads such as "Begin Again" and more rock-pop numbers such as "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." She’s becoming a country-tinged chameleon, able to fit in with all spectrums of the Top-40 landscape as needed. She kept it light and airy at the CMAs, and while it's never a good idea to place the words "James Taylor" in a song, she's a likable enough personality that her colorfully anonymous lyrical details can at least hold the listener’s interest. Although her dress may or may not have been an ad for Target, the Paris-via-Epcot backdrop was pretty to look at. Grade: B.