I'm sure the actual category will be some mishmash of major artist releases from the eligibility period. A little Carrie here, a little Chesney there, with a dose of Strait and Flatts for good measure. Underwood's album is decent, as was Strait's, but these are my five favorite albums from the eligibility period (July 1, 2007-June 30, 2008.) Do they have a prayer of being nominated? Who knows. Even the long shots have been nominated when they were core radio acts, so maybe fate will be kind.
Kathy Mattea, Coal
I suspect that when 2008's Best of Lists are compiled, this album is going to be featured prominently on them. The album works as both entertainment and historical record, and is essential listening for those with even a passing interest in Mattea, mountain music, the working class and coal mining.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
If there was a more interestin
g album or surprising success story this past year, I can't think of one. The lead singers of Led Zeppelin and Union Station combined to make a roots album that honors the history of both rock and country music without being limited by the past.
LeAnn Rimes, Family
She wrote an entire album for the first time, and instead of it being a hubris-laden disaster, it was her best album to date. She's a better interpreter of her own material than she is of others, which is no small feat, given the impressive vocal performances she has under her belt.
Josh Turner, Everything is Fine
He's got a set of material worthy of his rich baritone on this, his third album. The singles have only hinted at the good stuff here.
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love
All of Yearwood's albums have been of high quality, but this one is excellent even by her lofty standards. It's her strongest set overall since 2000's Real Live Woman.