Country artists represent Georgia at Grammys

Alongside veteran superstars Brooks & Dunn, who are disbanding after this year's final tour, and Rascall Flatts, whose semi-precious "boy band" image has propelled them to amazing heights of popularity, are three relatively fresh acts from the Peach State.

Rounding out the category are the very successful Sugarland, fresh blooming stars Lady Antebellum, and up-and-comers the Zac Brown Band.

It appears that lately the Grammy nominating committees are taking a close look at what's happening on the charts and basing their decisions as much on commercial success as on artistic merit.

All three of the acts have done incredibly well in the sales categories over the past couple of years, and their hit songs are generally easy to listen to, emotionally but safely manipulative, precisely constructed ditties that appeal to the broadest fan base. Clearly, the marketing strategies have worked well as each act has its own unique sound, and the selection of a winner will be a tough choice.

So how did the artists get to this career pinnacle in such a short time? Let's take a look at each one.

Sugarland

Nominated song: "It Happens"

Sounds like: An updated "Nine To Five" with the usual patented Sugarland hooks throughout. Kristian Bush kicks it off with an acoustic guitar riff, then Jennifer Nettles twangs and keens her way through a series of daily catastrophes, and simply acknowledges that "pssh ... it happens."

Georgia connection: The uber-successful duet of Nettles and Bush both call the Atlanta area home and have lived in North Georgia for many years.

Paid their dues? Definitely. The pair separately played the regional coffeehouse and club circuit for many years, honing their skills at places like Eddie's Attic in Decatur as members of Soul Miner's Daughter (Nettles) and Billy Pilgrim (Bush).

What's Next? They are taking a short but well deserved break, to recharge their batteries and let Nettles' voice heal. Expect a few performances scattered through the rest of 2010.

Lady Antebellum

Nominated song: "I Run To You" (also nominated for "Best Country Song")

Sounds like: More pop than country, but sounds even more like a duet between contemporary Christian artists Sandi Patty and Michael W. Smith. A loaded double message is clear in the uplifting lyrics.

Georgia connection: Guitarist Dave Haywood was born and raised in Augusta and attended UGA with boyhood friend co-lead vocalist Charles Kelley, who grew up in Georgia.

Paid their dues? Together since 2006, Lady A may have paid some dues in the "Music City 1,000-plus meetings and club showcases" kind of way, but it is doubtful any of these three young, good looking artists has serenaded a full-blown barroom brawl.

What's next? The band's newest release hit stores Tuesday, followed by two gigs at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, then opening for Tim McGraw on a tour that brings them to Atlanta on May 15.

Zac Brown Band

Nominated song: "Chicken Fried" (also nominated for Best Country Album and Best New Artist)

Sounds like: Put Jimmy Buffett, Alabama, and two fists full of country cliches in a blender, then pour contents into a moonshine jug. Take a swig and holler, "Yahoo, I'm a good ol' boy!" Big appeal to people who like songs about "me."

Georgia connection: Brown was born and raised in the North Georgia mountains, and the current band members are also local boys. There is no doubt these cats are homegrown.

Paid their dues? With well over 3,000 gigs in every dive bar from Dahlonega to Panama City, Fla., over the past six years, dues have been paid in full.

What's next? Working on a new album, promoting new acts on Brown's own record label, and playing a cruise in September.

TV Preview

What: 52nd Annual Grammy Awards

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Where: CBS

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