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"This Is Country Music": A Playlist for the 44th CMA Awards

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Hey, I like that Lady Gaga as much as the next guy -- or as much as most next guys -- but I couldn't have been prouder to be associated with last night's 44th CMA Awards -- Country Music's Night in which we brought you great Ladies like Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, Sheryl Crow and yes, the prettiest third of Lady Antebellum too. From my admittedly biased point of view backstage writing for the show, this was a truly great evening of music that showcased the fact that country music today is an loving extended modern family. It's a family that includes everyone from Loretta Lynn to Taylor Swift to the Zach Brown Band. Like all families, country love kids -- so Kid Rock was there and warmly welcomed too.

I've been coming to Nashville, Tennessee for nearly a decade now to work on the CMA Awards, and I find the place to be uniquely warm and welcoming whether you're an Oscar-winning actress who can really sing, like Gwyneth Paltrow did so beautifully with the master Vince Gill last night, or someone like myself with no discernable talent or appeal. Because I blog here, some have expressed surprise to me about how much I love and admire the world of country music. Here's the thing that we self-proclaimed progressives consistently miss about country music -- it's not about Red States and Blue States. Country music is first and foremost about the human state, and that's a big reason why country music endures and evolves and continues to speak to people throughout America and increasingly in other countries too.

Our wonderful hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley were so funny and entertaining last night, but even if you didn't watch the show, and just assume that's you are not a country music fan, I would hereby encourage here you to think again. Below are ten recent songs from country that I would direct you towards just as my personal starting point. Please share any other modern country songs that speak to you.

Someone will write in to say that today's country is shallow, or too poppy, or that it has no connection to the country greats of the past. With all due respect, if Loretta Lynn hears the connection between her and Miranda Lambert, then who the hell am I -- or you -- to argue? Last night, CMA's new Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley decided not to play his current single -- the commercially prudent thing to do -- and instead he debuted an extraordinary brand new song called "This Is Country Music" that's not even out yet.

Here's hoping somebody gets this radient gem out to radio today, because as I hear it, "This Is Country Music" is a song that says it all. To my ears, "This Is Country Music" is a song about being yourself and about being part of a larger musical family too. It's a song about inheriting a great cultural legacy and having the guts and grace to carry that legacy forward in our modern world. At the end of the song, Brad in essence lovingly tips his cowboy hat at country music's past, as he name-checks some of the genre's most illustrious hits. Revealingly, these songs include everyone from Johnny Paycheck to John Denver, and that's the same kind of range that allows for a night as big as last night's splendid show.

From a tired liberal guy from New Jersey who now lives in the Hollywood Hills, this is country music:

"THIS IS COUNTRY MUSIC" -- Brad Paisley
"THE HOUSE THAT BUILT ME" - Miranda Lambert
"AS SHE'S WALKING AWAY" - Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
"YOU'RE LOOKING AT COUNTRY" - Carrie Underwood
"BAD ANGEL" - Dierks Bentley with Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert
"PUT YOU IN A SONG" - Keith Urban
"MY KINDA PARTY" - Jason Aldean
"THE BREATH YOU TAKE AWAY" - George Strait
"LITTLE MISS" - Sugarland
"YOU AND TEQUILLA" - Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter
"HELLO WORLD" - Lady Antebellum
"LOVE IS THE FOUNDATION" - Faith Hill
"READY TO LET YOU GO" - Michelle Branch
"HILLBILLY BONE" - Blake Shelton and Trace Atkins
"IF YOU'RE NOT GONE TOO LONG" - Reba
"COUNTRY STRONG" - Gwyneth Paltrow