The Album of the Year category at the 2012 CMA Awards is as strong as it has been since the show moved to ABC. In any other year, all five nominees would be considered sure things to take home the trophy. For this reason, it’s difficult to predict a winner with any conviction — although we’ll give it a try. Who do you think will win the Album of the Year award at the 2012 CMAs?

At least three albums in this year’s category are career-defining albums for the artists. ‘Chief’ turned Eric Church into a superstar and scored him his first Male Vocalist of the Year nomination. ‘Tailgates and Tanlines’ is the best seller of the five, producing three (and counting) Top 5 hits for Luke Bryan. It’s difficult to ignore the creativity and strong songwriting on Miranda Lambert‘s ‘Four the Record,’ while Dierks Bentley‘s ‘Home’ and Lady Antebellum‘s ‘Own the Night’ are far from choices meant to fill in the category.

Here is the case for each nominee, followed by our prediction. Be sure to vote for your favorite, and then click through to vote on Single and Song of the Year CMA Award categories. Of course, you’re always welcome to leave an expanded opinion in the comments section below.

Luke Bryan, ‘Tailgates and Tanlines’: Since Jan. 1, Bryan has sold over 800,000 copies of this album — more than any other nominee in 2012. If ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ doesn’t reach No. 1, it will come close. ‘Country Girl (Shake It for Me),’ ‘I Don’t Want This Night to End’ and ‘Drunk on You’ are also found on ‘Tailgates and Tanlines.’ That’s a collection we’ll look back on in 20 years and admire.

Eric Church, ‘Chief’: It’s an understatement to say ‘Chief’ was Church’s breakthrough album. It’s gone platinum and landed the singer his first two No. 1 hits in ‘Drink in My Hand’ and ‘Springsteen.’ The latter is arguably the best song of the year — the one that will make him a major headliner in 2013. From start to finish, this may be the strongest collection of songwriting in the category.

Miranda Lambert, ‘Four the Record’: This record could also be called the best collection of songs in the bunch. Lambert takes creative risks on her follow-up to the Album of the Year award-winning ‘Revolution.’ Almost all pay off. Commercially, it hasn’t quite become the hit some expected, but artistically it’s every bit as adventurous as anything cut by a major label artist in years. Of course, the beauty of art is it’s always left in the eye of the beholder.

Dierks Bentley, ‘Home’: Bentley’s quiet way creates beautiful music, but it also makes it difficult for those who aren’t superfans to remember him come awards season. ‘Home’ has produced three straight No. 1 hits, including two that went gold, but it’s done so quietly. There are other wonderful artistic cuts on the album, but it’s possible with just 216,000 copies sold, voters might not be aware of them.

Lady Antebellum, ‘Own the Night’: Since its release in Sept. 2011, Lady A’s ‘Own the Night’ has sold more than any other album at just over 1.7 million CDs and downloads. They’re also the band with the most crossover appeal, including the multi-genre smash ‘Just a Kiss.’ The project is unfairly compared to their previous album ‘Need You Now,’ however, and that album didn’t win this award despite being a wonderful project. Is Lady Antebellum’s second best album of this decade worthy of this trophy?

Our Prediction: We wouldn’t risk lunch on a bet in this category. Sale numbers are very important to consider, as it’s nine times more likely CMA voters heard ‘Own the Night’ as it is they heard ‘Home.’ In terms of pure artistry, Church and Lambert would be left to battle for the trophy. All things considered, the honor will go to … ‘Chief,’ ‘Tailgates and Tanlines‘… ‘Four the Record.’ That’s our final answer, Regis.

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