Prediction: Eric Church’s ‘Desperate Man’ Wins CMA Album of the Year

photo: Joe Pugliese

Eric Church’s latest album Desperate Man will win the CMA Album of the Year in 2019, beating out Thomas Rhett’s Center Point Road, Dan + Shay’s self-titled release, Girl by Maren Morris, and Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty. This is the bold prediction Saving Country Music is putting out there right here and now, and we’ll see just how smart or silly it looks when the trophy is handed out on November 13th.

The reasoning for Desperate Man winning is simple. Dissimilar to many of the awards handed out by the Country Music Association, Album of the Year regularly goes to the most qualified, and the most critically-acclaimed, with commercial performance being secondary to the decision. This is how Chris Stapleton shocked the world and won for Traveller in 2015, and again for From ‘A’ Room Vol. 1 in 2017. This is how Kacey Musgraves won for Golden Hour last year, and how Eric Church won the CMA Album of the Year in 2016 for Mr. Misunderstood, and Chief back in 2012.

The nominees for the CMA Album of the Year in 2019 mark an incredibly weak field, and frankly, pretty embarrassing aside from Desperate Man. The only other album that feels it’s even in the same stratosphere is Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty. Well-regarded mainstream-level albums from George Strait, Reba McEntire, Randy Houser, and The Pistol Annies were curiously passed over this year. If they were included, maybe there would be a little more intrigue in this pick. Perhaps Carrie Underwood, or maybe Maren Morris will rise up simply because the CMA is putting an emphasis on women in 2019. But this is the only probable way Eric Church loses.

Eric Church has won two of the three CMA Album of the Year trophies he’s been nominated for, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s because out of all of the awards, Album of the Year is the one he roots for the most. “It’s the one award that … I got to quit saying it because it’s the only one we win … but it’s the one award I want the most. Album of the Year is the one that’s most special to me,” Eric Church said after winning the ACM for Album of the Year with Chief in 2013, and echoed these sentiments when he won the CMA Album of the Year for Mr. Misunderstood in 2016. Where the other awards boil down to popularity contests, Album of the Year rewards creativity, and that fits with the mold that Eric Church is going for in his career.

Many Eric Church fans chimed in when the prediction was made that Carrie Underwood would win for Entertainer of the Year, believing that Church is the rightful owner of that trophy in 2019, and has been gunning for it all year with his unique Double Down tour where he plays two shows at the same venue on consecutive nights with no opener. The Eric Church team has also been releasing little sizzle reel videos and such on social media showcasing Church’s fan interaction and the loyalty he enjoys. Most certainly he’s a strong candidate for the Entertainer award as well, and perhaps he will win.

But when the CMAs announced on August 19th that the 2019 presentation would be a celebration of women, and that Carrie Underwood would host the awards with Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, you could palpably feel the consensus begin to coagulate around Carrie Underwood as being the likely Entertainer of the Year this cycle. This would be the perfect ending for the CMAs, since Entertainer of the Year is the last award to be handed out. And as hard as Eric Church might be lobbying for CMA consideration publicly and privately, the Carrie Underwood camp is lobbying even harder, and for Entertainer of the Year specifically.

And even though bloc voting and horse trading are more difficult with the CMAs compared to the ACMs since the voting segment is so vast and diverse, it still occurs. Whether it’s Carrie Underwood or Eric Church, if you lobby for both Entertainer and Album of the Year, you may not win either as votes get parsed between the two. Put your weight behind winning one or the other, and you just might come out victorious for the one you most want. Just because Eric Church is engaging in a PR campaign for CMA votes doesn’t mean they have to go for Entertainer. In Carrie Underwood’s case, her team is naming her as the presumptive Entertainer of the Year winner by name. The Carrie team wants it, and they want it bad.

Eric Church will have other opportunities to get Entertainer of the Year. Carrie Underwood very well may not. Yet Underwood could win Album of the Year at a future date. In recent years, Entertainer of the Year has become more about a performer’s touring purse as opposed to their critical acclaim or overall popularity. Eric Church is just hitting his stride when it comes to tour numbers. Carrie Underwood may not tour at all in the next year or two.

Who knows, perhaps Eric Church pulls off Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year in 2019. And if he does, it will go down in history as his night. But if there’s only one trophy for him to have, you can bet it will be Album of the Year, and not just because he’s arguably the most deserving, but because it’s the award he most covets.