TORONTO — Fewer women are nominated in the key categories at this year's Canadian Country Music Association Awards, but the organization's head says it's a case of bad timing, not a gender parity setback.
Tracy Martin, president of the CCMA, explained the absence of solo female artists both in the album and entertainer of the year categories as coincidence rather than an oversight. Most of Canada's biggest female stars, including Jess Moskaluke and Lindsay Ell, didn't release new material in the qualifying period, which ended on April 30.
"We have our females in a little bit of an off-cycle this year," Martin said in a phone interview. "They haven't released big albums."
After a groundbreaking awards ceremony last year — which featured Shania Twain marching alongside a new generation of female stars, and Terri Clark being inducted into the hall of fame — the lower profile of women among the nominees announced on Wednesday was stark.
Leading the contenders with five nods each was Alberta sweetheart Brett Kissel who tied with Ontario bro-country act James Barker Band.
Kissel picked up nominations in categories that included male artist and entertainer of the year. James Barker Band is in the running for group or duo and single of the year.
Both acts will compete against each other in the songwriter category, as well as for interactive artist, which recognizes the country performer who best uses their online presence to interact with fans.
They also landed consideration for the fan choice award, alongside eight other contenders that include the Hunter Brothers, Tim Hicks and the Reklaws.
But a year after CCMA organizers advocated a new era for women, some of the key categories showed little or no female presence.
Nominees for the newly reintroduced entertainer of the year award, which was dusted off after 30 years on the shelf, are all male.
The prize goes to a solo artist, duo or group, who has shown "the greatest competence in all aspects of the field," and the CCMA Awards call it their highest honour. Each nominee is selected by a panel of jurors after being narrrowed down based on radio play and sales.
This year's contenders are Kissel, Paul Brandt, Dean Brody, Hicks and Dallas Smith.
Meanwhile, in the album of the year category, which is selected by a panel of jurors, the only woman is Jenna Walker, who performs alongside her brother Stuart in the Reklaws, a duo that's up for "Feels Like That." The other nominees are Dallas Smith for "The Fall," Paul Brant's "The Journey BNA Vol. 2," Tebey's "Love a Girl," Tim Hicks' "New Tattoo" and the Hunter Brothers' "State of Mind."
Among the 10 nominees for the fan choice award two are women — Jenna Walker and Quebecois performer Guylaine Tanguay.
For single of the year, three women are among the five contenders. Ell's "Criminal," Tenille Townes' "Somebody's Daughter" and Meghan Patrick's "Walls Come Down" are nominated alongside Gord Bamford's "Dive Bar" and James Barker Band's "Good Together."
In the best male artist category, the nominees are Kissel, Paul Brandt, Brody, Tim Hicks and Dallas Smith.
Best female artist nominees are Ell, Moskaluke, Patrick, Tanguay and Townes.
Martin said she's optimistic about the future for Canada's latest crop of female country musicians.
Over the past 13 1/2 months, four women have reached the top spot on the country radio airplay chart that's compiled by tracking company Nielsen. It's the first time more than two Canadian female artists have reached No. 1 in 20 years.
"We're starting to get some traction here," Martin said.
"It's been a hard road, but with the batch of females we have coming through... I'm extremely optimistic that we are going to see a great representation in our format (that'll be) even bigger next year."
The CCMA Awards take place Sept. 8 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, and will air live on Global TV.
Early performers announced for the show include Nashville act Old Dominion and as well as Alberta country singer Townes.
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