It seems like every year the Grammys get a little more surprising. It’s an impressive, eclectic lineup this time around. Here’s a look at the general races, followed by a rundown of the country categories.
Album of the Year
- Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
- Vince Gill, These Days
- Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters
- Kanye West, Graduation
- Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
It’s very rare for a country album to get nominated in this category. Only five country albums have been cited in the last twenty years, and they were all big sellers that colored outside the lines: Shania Twain’s crossover epic Come On Over, the landmark soundtrack O Brother Where Art Thou, and the last three Dixie Chicks albums.
Now Vince Gill has always been a Grammy favorite – 18 wins to date – but he’s never been included in the general field. These Days has sold reasonably well for a four-CD set, but we’re talking less than 300,000 copies – less than last year’s Album of the Year sold in its opening week!
So why the nod? My guess is the combination of artistic merit and unconventional thinking. In an era increasingly dominated by the digital download, Gill went to the other extreme and made four CD’s of all-new material, with each disc an exploration of a different element of his musical gifts. He made a compelling case that not only is the album still a vital art form, it can be expanded, rather than just preserved. Who hasn’t wished that their favorite artist would follow in Gill’s footsteps, and turn in four strong albums at once?
I’d imagine that the nomination itself is all that NARAS will give Gill in this category, since this is shaping up to be Kanye West’s year, and rightfully so. Much like the Dixie Chicks last year, West finds himself a nominee for his third consecutive studio album, which is even more impressive in West’s case, as he’s only released three albums! Graduation proved that hip-hop can still sell, and that it doesn’t need to be dumbed down to do so. I predict he’ll win, and reflexively issue a press release about how the Grammys picked the wrong winner again.
Record of the Year
- Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable”
- Foo Fighters, “The Pretender”
- Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, “Umbrella”
- Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around…Comes Around”
- Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
This is the only category of the big four to not have a country nominee, and I’m honestly a bit surprised. I expected Carrie Underwood to be cited for “Before He Cheats.” There’s a long history of R&B and Hip-Hop singles losing in this category, despite being predicted to win.
Part of the problem is that genre usually scores more than one nod in this category, resulting in vote-splitting. I don’t think that will hurt Beyoncé, as the wide appeal of “Irreplaceable” should earn her a very deserved win. In the end, it’s a much more empowering breakup song than “Before He Cheats”, don’t ya think? It’s also the best Top 40 hit of the past two years.
Song of the Year
- “Before He Cheats” – Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins
- “Hey There Delilah” – Tom Higgenson
- “Like a Star” – Corinne Bailey Rae
- “Rehab” – Amy Winehouse
- “Umbrella” – Shawn Carter, Kuk Harrell, Terius “Dream Nash” & Christopher Stewart
How interesting that for two years in a row, NARAS has nominated a Carrie Underwood smash for Song of the Year without citing Underwood herself in the Record category. Personally, I think both “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” became smash hits because of Underwood’s delivery. She elevated two very good songs to greatness through her performances of them.
Best New Artist
- Taylor Swift
- Amy Winehouse
It’s obviously going to Amy Winehouse, but the lack of marquee names and the presence of Taylor Swift show just how slim the pickings were this year.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
- Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
- Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
- LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
- Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
- Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
A uniformly strong lineup. Every song on this list is a favorite of mine, and the longer I’ve lived with them, the more I like them. It’s going to take me a long time to pick a preference in this race.
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
- Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
- Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
- Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
- George Strait, “Give it Away”
- Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”
Who would have guessed that in a year where Vince Gill was nominated for overall Album of the Year, he’d be left out of the category which has netted him nine of his eighteen Grammys to date? For all the criticism the Grammys get for being anti-mainstream, this is the second year in a row where this race is wall-to-wall radio hits. Strait’s only been nominated four times in this category, but this is his second consecutive nod. He might have a real shot this year, with Gill not in the running, but he’ll have to contend with McGraw and Urban, who have both won before and are nominated for two of their finest performances, respectively.
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals
- Brooks & Dunn, “Proud of the House We Built”
- Eagles, “How Long”
- Emerson Drive, “Moments”
- Montgomery Gentry, “Lucky Man”
- The Time Jumpers, “Sweet Memories”
Grammy voters chose to ignore sub-par hits from Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Big & Rich in favor of giving first-time nominations in this category to four acts, including the legendary Eagles. I assume they’re the presumptive favorites, as it’s the only place on the ballot for NARAS voters to acknowledge the overwhelming success of their new album.
Best Country Collaboration with Vocals
- Steve Earle & Allison Moorer, “Days Aren’t Long Enough”
- Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”
- Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “I Need You”
- Willie Nelson & Ray Price, “Lost Highway”
- Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood, “Oh Love”
How do you handicap a race where almost every nominee is a previous Grammy winner? This is a nice mix of radio hits and album tracks, with no clear favorite to be found. Personally, I like the McGraw/Hill track the most.
Best Country Instrumental Performance
- Russ Barenberg, “Little Monk”
- The Greendeck, “Mucky the Duck”
- Brad Paisley, “Throttleneck”
- Andy Statman, “Rawhide!”
- The Time Jumpers, “Fidoodlin'”
How wonderful that a Grammy category exists where Brad Paisley can be acknowledged for his greatest strength as an artist: his prowess as a guitar player. With no high-profile competition, Paisley may finally win that elusive first Grammy.
Best Country Song
- “Before He Cheats” – Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins
- “Give it Away” – Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon & Jamey Johnson
- “I Need You” – Tony Lane & David Lee
- “If You’re Reading This” – Tim McGraw, Brad Warren & Brett Warren
- “Long Trip Alone” – Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Steve Bogard
Will “Give it Away” get the elusive triple crown, winning the Grammy for Best Country Song after taking home the same trophy at the ACM’s and the CMA’s? If it’s the victor here, it will be the first composition to pull that off since “Live Like You Were Dying”, but it’s going to have two new McGraw hits to contend with first.
Best Country Album
- Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
- Vince Gill, These Days
- Tim McGraw, Let it Go
- Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
- George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
For the first time since this category was reintroduced in 1995, there are no female artists nominated for Best Country Album. If these nominees look familiar, they should: four of the five were up for Album of the Year at the CMA’s last month. Tim McGraw takes the fifth slot that went to Keith Urban at the CMA’s. Bentley’s nomination is one of four that he received this year.
Best Bluegrass Album
- Cherryholmes, Cherryholmes II Black and White
- J. D. Crowe & the New South, Lefty’s Old Guitar
- Jim Lauderdale, The Bluegrass Diaries
- Seldom Scene, Scenechronized
- Tony Trischka, Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular
I’m not much of a bluegrass fan, but if this category is any indication, they came up with much cooler album titles than mainstream country artists do.
Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Calling
- Ry Cooder, My Name is Buddy
- Steve Earle, Washington Square Serenade
- Patty Griffin, Children Running Through
- Tom Waits, Orphans
Something about seeing Carpenter move to this category makes me feel sadly nostalgic for the days when she was a country music mainstay. Of course, she hasn’t changed her sound, which is a better fit for this category anyway, but country music was a lot cooler when it was able to claim her as its own.