A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.
The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for example.
Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.
As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.
Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!
- Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
- Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
- George Strait, Troubadour
- Randy Travis, Around the Bend
- Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”
Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)
While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.
- Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
- Vince Gill, These Days
- Tim McGraw, Let it Go
- Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
- George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.
- Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
- Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
- Little Big Town, The Road to Here
- Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
- Josh Turner, Your Man
The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.
- 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
With the exception of Wilson’s lackluster second set, this is a great lineup. Yearwood is a perennial nominee in this category – every studio album she has released since the category was created has been nominated – but she’s never won. This year, it went to Alison Krauss & Union Station, which was Krauss’ 20th Grammy win.
- Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
- Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
- Tift Merritt, Tambourine
- Keith Urban, Be Here
- Gretchen Wilson, Here For the Party
After its surprising exclusion at the CMA awards, Loretta Lynn’s tremendous comeback was acknowledged – during the live telecast, even! – at the Grammys in 2005. Van Lear Rose won over excellent albums by Hill and McGraw, but as the return to greatness of one of country’s most important singer-songwriters, who can argue with the call that NARAS made? Her hilarious acceptance speech should’ve led to a hosting gig the following year.
- Faith Hill, Cry
- Lyle Lovett, My Baby Don’t Tolerate
- Willie Nelson, Live & Kickin’
- Willie Nelson & Ray Price, Run That By Me One More Time
- Shania Twain, Up!
- Various Artists, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers
Classic Grammys. Pop-leaning artists with widespread cred across musical genres compete with low-selling critical favorites that most people have never heard of. Also Classic Grammys: a low-selling critical favorite wins, the stellar tribute album to The Louvin Brothers which featured appearances from legends and current artists. Go pick it up and check out Johnny Cash & Pam Tillis collaborating on “Keep Your Eyes On Jesus.”
- Dixie Chicks, Home
- Alan Jackson, Drive
- Willie Nelson, The Great Divide
- Joe Nichols, Man With a Memory
- Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns
As I’ve said before, Home is a masterpiece. Even in a generally strong category, there was no contest. The Chicks have won this award for every studio album they’ve released, and they never deserved it more than when they won for this modern classic. The controversy that would envelop the band came a month after this victory, but before those fateful words were spoken in England, this was as close to a universally beloved project as a country album gets.
- Diamond Rio, One More Day
- Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
- Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection
- Various Artists, Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute
- Trisha Yearwood, Inside Out
NARAS chose a solid tribute album over the studio albums of some great artists who had turned in some of their lesser works. Several of the album’s tracks were nominated in the vocalist categories, thanks to contributions from Ryan Adams, Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams.
- Vince Gill, Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye
- Faith Hill, Breathe
- Alan Jackson, Under the Influence
- Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance
- Trisha Yearwood, Real Live Woman
One of the more mainstream lineups the Grammys ever chose, voters went with the biggest album, though not really the best. The Gill record is a dud, but the other three nominees turned in great projects. Hill would go on to be nominated for much better albums – Cry and Fireflies. Gill, Jackson and Yearwood would also return, but surprisingly, this remains Lee Ann Womack’s only nomination, despite several appearances since in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category.
- Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
- Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt & Dolly Parton, Trio II
- Dixie Chicks, Fly
- George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
- Alison Krauss, Forget About It
The Chicks broke through to the general Best Album category for the first time as they picked up their second consecutive Best Country Album trophy. This is the only album to date that has won all three country album awards, as it also earned Album honors at the CMA and ACM awards.
- Garth Brooks, Sevens
- Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
- Faith Hill, Faith
- Shania Twain, Come On Over
- Trisha Yearwood, Where Your Road Leads
When the Chicks defeated Shania Twain in this category, there were audible gasps in the audience, but in retrospect, it’s easy to see why they won. There are four pop-leaning, light albums here, and the Chicks were the obvious alternative for voters who wanted to honor something with a bit more substance. By losing, Twain was eligible the next year and won two more Grammys to go with the two she got in other categories that night. So she ended up with four Grammys for the project, proving that sometimes you can win by losing.
- Johnny Cash, Unchained
- Alan Jackson, Everything I Love
- Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
- George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
- Dwight Yoakam, Under the Covers
Four mainstream country albums competed against the only Cash album of the American era to be submitted in the Best Country Album category; the others vied for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Cash’s win led to this notorious ad in Billboard magazine, where a a “thank you” is given to country radio for all of their support:
- Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
- Vince Gill, High Lonesome Sound
- Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
- Lyle Lovett, The Road to Ensenada
- Trisha Yearwood, Everybody Knows
- Dwight Yoakam, Gone
You can trace a lot of the discontent with NARAS among the Nashville music industry back to this win, which infuriated Music Row. Over five mainstream hit country albums, the Grammy went to an alternative country artist who had cut all ties to Nashville almost a decade ago. After giving the Grammy to an artist that the Row didn’t take seriously the previous year, there was a feeling that NARAS was anti-Nashville, despite wins going to CMA favorites Brooks & Dunn and Vince Gill that same evening.
- Junior Brown, Junior High
- The Mavericks, Music For All Occasions
- John Michael Montgomery, John Michael Montgomery
- Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
- Trisha Yearwood, Thinkin’ About You
- Dwight Yoakam, Dwight Live
Despite resounding commercial success, Twain was shut out of the CMA’s the previous fall, losing to Alison Krauss, who swept the ceremony. While she lost to Krauss at the Grammys also, in the Best Country Female category, Krauss was ineligible for Best Country Album. Twain took it home, making her first industry award the most prestigious one and validating her talent long before the CMA’s did, though the ACM’s selected The Woman In Me as their Top Album later that year.
- Asleep at the Wheel, Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
- Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
- Reba McEntire, Read My Mind
- Trisha Yearwood, The Song Remembers When
My two favorite albums of all-time, Stones in the Road and Home (Dixie Chicks), have both triumphed in this category. Carpenter was the first artist to win after it being reintroduced, and with Twain winning the following year, the Grammys had suddenly matched the CMA’s total number of winning female artists, despite the CMA giving out the award many, many more times.
Best Country Album began as a category in 1995, but for two years in the sixties, a Grammy was awarded in the Best Country & Western Album category:
- Eddy Arnold, My World
- Chet Atkins, More of That Guitar Country
- Roger Miller, The Return of Roger Miller
- Jim Reeves, The Jim Reeves Way
- Hank Williams & Hank Williams Jr., Father and Son
Miller won for the second year in a row, with an album that featured his biggest hit, “King of the Road”, and two of my personal favorites: “Do-Wacka-Do” and “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.” It was one of six wins that evening, bringing his total Grammy wins to eleven in only two short years.
- Chet Atkins, Guitar Country
- Johnny Cash, Bitter Tears
- Roger Miller, Dang Me/Chug-a-Lug
- Buck Owens, The Best of Buck Owens
- Jim Reeves, The Best of Jim Reeves
- Hank Willams Jr., Sings Songs of Hank Williams
It was inherently unfair to allow compilations to compete with all-new material, but Roger Miller’s studio album won anyway, with a collection of witty songs that showcased his wry sense of humor, like the title cuts, “The Moon is High (And So Am I)” and “Lou’s Got the Flu.” For curious historians, the album was originally titled Roger and Out, but was repackaged and retitled to capitalize on the success of “Dang Me.”