Grammy Nominations

Here’s a repost of my first Grammy reactions, which haven’t changed with time. My picks are highlighted in red. A Complete list of nominees is available here. The show airs this Wednesday, Feb. 8, on CBS.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Emmylou Harris, “The Connection”
Faith Hill, “Mississippi Girl”
Gretchen Wilson, “All Jacked Up”
Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”
Trisha Yearwood, “Georgia Rain”

Readers of this blog can already guess that I probably love four of these songs and can’t stand the fifth. Yes, I believe “All Jacked Up” is an unmitigated disaster. You may be more surprised to know I don’t have much affection for the Emmylou Harris track. When I do my rundown of this year’s reissues I’ll go into depth about my problems with the Heartaches & Highways compilation released on Emmy this year, but “The Connection”, which was the inevitable previously unreleased track to encourage fans to purchase it, is a bit overlong and rambling for my tastes.

That leaves the three comeback records, all of which made my 400 singles list. “Georgia Rain” was a gorgeous reminder of Yearwood’s good taste and vocal prowess. Nobody else could hit the high note on the first syllable of “Jasper” in the chorus so effortlessly. I still love “Mississippi Girl” as well; how cool is it that both Hill and Yearwood came back with singles that name drop their home states/counties/towns? Hill sounds fully alive and engaged on her record, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

Then, of course, there’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, which is one of my favorite records of any year. As I’ve written before, it’s a brilliant song, and the production is unrivaled. Country instrumentation has rarely sounded better to my ears; it has a timeless quality that ensures a longer life than any other record in this category.

But, alas, this is not an award for best record or single. It goes only to the singer, because the award is for the best vocal performance. So, much as I love Womack, who does a great job of letting a fantastic song shine, it really is the song and the production that make “Morning” so good. If we’re going to talk vocal performance, the award should go to Trisha. It’s hard not to think that Trish could take any song in this category and do it better; she’s just that flawless a vocalist.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance
George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
Willie Nelson, “Good Ole Boys”
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
Keith Urban, “You’ll Think Of Me”

Toby Keith is an obnoxious critic of the Grammy Awards, since they rarely nominate him, and seem to acknowledge obscure records over commercial hits. It’s a bit ironic that this year, he’s not only nominated, but truly deserves the award. His comedic timing and self-deprecation on “As Good As I Once Was” ranks with the best work of his career. A lesser singer couldn’t pull off all the conflicting bravado and insecurity that the song is soaked in. Maybe if he wins one, he’ll stop bashing the show.

Still, it’s the other Keith that’s more deserving. I was surprised when “You’ll Think Of Me” didn’t show up in any CMA categories this year, though they obviously didn’t overlook Urban, giving him Entertainer and Male Vocalist. His bitter performance of this ballad helped his career skyrocket, and is very worthy of a Grammy.

Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal
Big & Rich, “Comin’ To Your City”
Brooks & Dunn, “Play Something Country”
Dixie Chicks, “I Hope”
Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”
Rascal Flatts, “Bless The Broken Road”

Another three singles from my 400 list surface in this category: “Restless”, “Bless the Broken Road,” and the top 100 inclusion, “I Hope”, for which I was questioned in the comments for including so quickly after its release. Given that it was released in the last two weeks of Grammy eligibility, I imagine the NARAS voters will be getting the same criticism from that person!

All joking aside, “I Hope” is the deserved winner, in my opinion. It’s a confident performance of an excellent song, and Maines sounds better than ever singing this gospel number with her fellow Chicks. They’re Grammy favorites, having won eight already, so there’s a good shot they’ll win again; Krauss & Union Station seem to be their only formidable competition.

The big surprise is no nomination for Sugarland. Perhaps voters couldn’t decide between the big hits “Baby Girl” and “Something More”?

Best Country Collaboration with Vocals
Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill & Sheryl Crow, “Building Bridges”
Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris, “Shelter From The Storm”
Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, “Like We Never Loved At All”
Willie Nelson & Norah Jones, “Dreams Come True”
Gretchen Wilson & Merle Haggard, “Politically Uncorrect”

The Wilson/Haggard track is bogged down with cliche, and Nelson/Jones sounds like they’re just going through the motions. Vince and Sheryl harmonize nicely with Ronnie Dunn, but like the Hill/McGraw record, it’s a case of a lead singer with distinguished backup vocals, not much of a collaboration. By far, the most interesting and rewarding listen in this category is the Crowell & Harris reworking of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm.”

Best Country Instrumental Performance
Charlie Daniels, “I’ll Fly Away”
Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush & Bela Fleck, “Who’s Your Uncle?”
Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Unionhouse Branch”
Nickel Creek, “Scotch & Chocolate”
Brad Paisley, “Time Warp”

I’m not much of an expert on stuff like this. The only track I’ve heard more than once is “Scotch & Chocolate.” I suppose that since I revisit that track, it should be my pick.

Best Country Song
“Alcohol” – Brad Paisley
“All Jacked Up” – Vicky McGehee, John Rich & Gretchen Wilson
“Bless The Broken Road” – Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna & Marcus Hummon
“I Hope” – Keb Mo, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines & Emily Robison
“I May Hate Myself In The Morning” – Odie Blackmon

I take the Grammy seriously, so silly songs, even when as clever as “Alcohol”, don’t seem worthy of the trophy. The best songs here are the final three, and if I was a voter, I’d be torn between “I Hope” and “I May Hate Myself In The Morning.” I’d think about “our children are watching us, they put their trust in us, they’re gonna be like us”, and I’d want to check the box next to Keb Mo & The Chicks. But I think “Morning” is one of the best country songs of all-time. I’d be happy with either winning, but I give the edge to Lee Ann’s comeback hit.

Best Country Album
Faith Hill, Fireflies
Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways
Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
Gretchen Wilson, All Jacked Up
Trisha Yearwood, Jasper County

I am very surprised that Lee Ann Womack isn’t nominated here; perhaps those Universal votes favored Trisha instead? I really don’t like the Wilson or Paisley albums; I think creatively, both artists repeat themselves too often. Yearwood’s first album in four years includes some great tracks, but overall, is one of her less consistent albums. It sounds great at first but doesn’t hold up to repeated listenings. I love the Krauss-sung tracks on Lonely Runs Both Ways, and I think it contains some of the best work the group has ever done. I’m surprised to say, however, that the album here that has resonated with me the most and keeps finding its way back into my CD player is Faith Hill’s Fireflies. It’s a fantastic collection of songs that sound better with each listen. Five months later, I’m still discovering hidden gems. Lately I can’t stop playing “Wish For You”, a sweet ballad that is buried at the end of the album. “Stealing Kisses” is what Tammy Wynette would be singing if she was around today. It’s a fantastic album that deserves the Grammy.

Best Contemporary Folk Album
Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine
Rodney Crowell, The Outsider
Nickel Creek, Why Should The Fire Die?
John Prine, Fair & Square
Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust

It will take an act of God for him to beat Bruce Springsteen, but Crowell’s masterpiece deserves some Grammy love.

Here’s a rundown of the big four categories, about which I have only a few comments to make:

Record of the Year
Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together”
Gorillaz featuring De La Soul, “Feel Good Inc.”
Green Day, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”
Kanye West, “Gold Digger”

Album of the Year
Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi
Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Gwen Stefani, Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
U2, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Kanye West, Late Registration

Song of the Year
“Bless The Broken Road” – Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna & Marcus Hummon
“Devils & Dust” – Bruce Springsteen
“Ordinary People” – W. Adams & J. Stevens
“Sometimes You Just Can’t Make It On Your Own” – U2
“We Belong Together” – J. Austin, M. Carey, J. Dupri & M. Seal

Best New Artist
Ciara
Fallout Boy
Keane
John Legend
Sugarland

Of course, I’m rooting for Sugarland for Best New Artist. I’m shocked that they made it into one of the top categories but aren’t nominated in the genre categories.

It’s great to see “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” up for Record of the Year. Since American Idiot won Best Rock Album last year, nothing from that project was eligible in the Rock categories. They deserve to win for Record.

There are some great songs nominated this year, but the best to my ears was “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”. I’d like to see U2 pick up Album of the Year as well. I admire acts that stay away from formula and release something truly different each time out. How many acts have been doing that consistently for the last twenty years besides U2? Bruce Springsteen and Madonna are the only names that come to my mind.

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