TORONTO – Country music is often knocked for giving its female musicians a smaller spotlight, but if the nominees for this year’s Canadian Country Music Association awards are any sign, women might be making some inroads to industry equality.
Two of Canada’s country favourites — Jess Moskaluke and Brett Kissel — are neck and neck with six nominations each, the CCMAs announced on Wednesday, marking a rare instance when the women of country are standing tall alongside the men.
In some categories Moskaluke and Kissel are vying for the same trophy. Three women are also nominated in the album of the year category.
It’s a moment that CCMA president Tracy Martin doesn’t want to go unnoticed.
“We’ve had a huge year in Canada for females,” she said of the country genre.
Martin promises this year’s CCMA Awards telecast will “organically” recognize the influential women from various generations of song.
Shania Twain is hosting the event, while Terri Clark will be inducted into the hall of fame, and then there’s Moskaluke, the 28-year-old songstress whose career has been on a steady trajectory helped by a number of CCMA accolades and a Juno Award win for country album.
Moskaluke, born in Langenburg, Sask., got her break in 2011 after being picked as the “Next Big Thing” at a contest sponsored by a Regina radio station. Several months later she was part of a new artist showcase put on by the CCMAs.
The attention helped draw more ears to her debut single “Catch Me If You Can,” and garner significant accolades in the years that followed.
She’s won the CCMA award for best female artist three times over the past four years — losing to newcomer Meghan Patrick last year.
Her album “Kiss Me Quiet” won the 2017 Juno Award for country album, which boosted her status on Canadian country radio.
The awareness helped her single “Drive Me Away” crack the top three of the Billboard Canadian country music airplay chart — making her the first woman to do so since 2008, when Terri Clark climbed to No. 1 with “In My Next Life.”
“Drive Me Away” is now contending for single of the year at the CCMAs alongside fellow nominees that include Patrick’s “Country Music Made Me Do It,” James Barker Band’s “Chills,” Aaron Goodvin’s “Lonely Drum” and Dallas Smith’s “Side Effects.”
Both Moskaluke’s “Past the Past” and Kissel’s “We Were That Song” are in the running for album of the year alongside Patrick’s “Country Music Made Me Do It,” Lindsay Ell’s “The Project” and The Washboard Union’s “What We’re Made Of.”
Kissel, 28, was last year’s big winner at the CCMAs, picking up four awards that included male artist and video of the year. The singer insists he shares a similar affinity with Moskaluke for rural Canadian life, having grown up in Flat Lake, Alta.
“We’re both very proud, small-town people,” he said.
“It’s a very special feeling because we came from humble beginnings … so there’s a lot of small-town pride that I know Jess feels and I echo that. I certainly feel it too.”
Even the fan choice award is looking decidedly more female this year, after a number of years without a single woman among the list.
The CCMAs doubled the number of contenders for its fan choice award to 10, opening the doors to an array of artists competing for the prize.
Twain and Moskaluke are the first women to be considered for fan choice award in six years, which is when female-led band Hey Romeo was in the running, and the first solo females since 2011 when Terri Clark was up for the award.
In the best male artist category, the nominees are Kissel, Smith, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee and Bobby Wills.
Best female artist nominees are Moskaluke, Patrick, Ell, Madeline Merlo and Shania Twain.
The CCMA Awards will take place in Hamilton on Sept. 9 hosted by Twain and be broadcast on the CBC.
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