Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

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!

trisha12009

  • 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.

vince-gill-these-days2008

  • 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.

2007

  • 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.

2006

  • 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.

2005

  • 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.

2004

  • 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.”

2003

  • 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.

2002

  • 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.

2001

  • 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.

2000

  • 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.

1999

  • 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.

1998

  • 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:

1997

  • 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.

1996

  • 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.

1995

  • 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:

1966

  • 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.

dang-me1965

  • 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.”

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23 Comments

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23 Responses to Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

  1. ZachNo Gravatar

    This year I feel the award should definatly go to Yearwood. :)
    (This one and Female Vocal Performace)

  2. Great job with these!

    At My Kind Of Country, we’re actually polling to see who people will pick for this category. So far Johnson’s winning, but Trisha is trailing by just a few percentage points…

    I think Yearwood should win, then Loveless, then Johnson, and maybe Strait. I don’t have the Travis album, but I’ve heard only good things about it.

  3. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Yeah, I’d be happy with either a Johnson or Yearwood win here. And I’d like to see them both triumph in their respective performance categories, too.

  4. LindaNo Gravatar

    I thought “Faith” by Faith Hill was a pretty good album. I don’t think it’s light at all.

    Yay for Shania for winning an Album of the Year award.

    I hope Trisha wins this year.

  5. Cory DeSteinNo Gravatar

    All are very deserving, but Yearwood is long overdue and this album like her rest is very very deserving.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’m pulling for Patty’s album, but Trisha’s follows very close behind. In some ways, the fact that Trisha’s is original material and Patty’s is an album of covers almost makes them tied for me, even though Patty’s album is my preferred project.

    Great breakdown of this award, Kevin!

  7. Pingback: Poll- Best Country Album at Grammys? « My Kind Of Country

  8. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I pretty much agree with Leeann here, although I’d put Trisha’s HH&TPOL as a distinct rather than a close #2, tied with George Strait’s Troubador…Then Jamey Johnson’s then the Randy Travis album.

    By my reckoning, Patty has had 14 Grammy nominations now, including these two current ones, and has only won once, and that was for her collaboration with Marty Stuart and a bunch of other great artists for “Same Old Train”. The song is a tribute to Tradition, and Patty’s career itself is a tribute to tradition as well.

    I think it’s high time that Patty Loveless is finally awarded a Grammy outright, not only in recognition of her outstanding career, but also based on the intrinsic merits of this incredible Sleepless Nights album. The competition is stiff, some great albums here, but I think Patty deserves to win for Sleepless Nights, and also for House of Cash.

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    My order of preference is:
    Patty Loveless
    Trisha Yearwood
    Jamey Johnson
    Randy Travis
    George Strait

    Although I’ll be pretty disappointed if Strait wins this one. I was very unimpressed by his album and want him to make something better this time around. Even though Travis’ album is my second to last on this list, I think it’s leagues better than the Strait project and a solid album over all. So, I’ll be pleased if he wins something for it.

  10. JHDNo Gravatar

    My vote:
    1. Trisha Yearwood
    2. Patty Loveless
    3. Randy Travis
    4. Jamey Johnson
    5. Strait has no business even being nominated.

    Pretty much how I see it. I actually have Trisha and Patty tied for the top but the original material from Trisha tipped the scales for me. I won’t be hatin’ it if Patty wins though. Both are deserving.

  11. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Yeah, I think “Troubador” would be the too safe and conventional choice, and therefore somewhat dissapointing..I think it is a great album, but not as great as Patty’s or Trisha’s or Jamey’s.

    Confession, I have to admit to my bias once again for Patty Loveless, and it’s her contribution to the “Troubadour” album with “House of Cash” that compels me to put it so high on my list. And with my lack of objectivitiy in this matter, it is to everyone’s benefit that my opinion doesn’t actually count! :)

    I really hope Patty wins, but certainly would not consider it a miscarraige of justice if Trisha or JJ wins instead.

  12. GavinNo Gravatar

    My personal feeling is that cover albums should never qualify for an honor such as this. I think originality should be held in higher regard and rewarded as such. An album is a work of art and very personal to the artists and writers that created it. As much as I love Patty Loveless I will not be rooting for Sleepless Nights to win in this category. Any of the three albums with the exception of Troubadour and you know who (sorry Steve) deserves to win. I’ll be happiest if Trisha walks away with the honor.

  13. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I have the original DANG ME album ROGER ND OUT – it has one of the oddest covers, particularly for its time

  14. Soul Miners DaughterNo Gravatar

    Patty Loveless… on so many levels.
    If not Patty, then Randy.
    If not Randy, then Trisha.

    I LOVE that the Grammy’s actually put thought into this category.

  15. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Gavin, I totally understand what you are saying…but when you think about it, Patty’s INTERPRETATION is very very original…and with the exception of those who actually write their own material, ie Jamey Johnson, Mary Chapin Carpenter etc…most songs by most artists are in a sense “covers” including most if not all of the songs on Trisha’s HH&TPOL. By definition, any song that is recorded by an artist that is not penned by that artist is an interpretation, and in the very broadest sense, a cover. Especially when the author is a singer songwriter.

    Sara Evans recorded a great song by a brilliant Boston area songwriter named Lori Mckenna called “Bible Song”…most people never heard Lori’s original version, but she recorded it first. Does that make Sara’s more well known version a cover?

    No need to apologize Gavin, no offense taken,,,I totally undrstand the pervasive bias against cover albums, even those which are especially well done like Patty’s Sleepless Nights. And I think that is one factor that will be working against her, unfortunately. But I am still optomistic. If the judges are in a mood to really reward an especially excellent tribute to Tradition, Patty’s their girl!

  16. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I guess what I’m saying is this…if one thinks originality should reign supreme as the most important criteria for a Grammy nod, than what is actually more original.?..An record by a great artist like Trisha who makes an album in a brilliant but fairly conventional way using professional songwriters, or is it more original for someone to take a risk, go against the grain and record an album of well known, (and not so well known songs), and do it with inspired, creative originality, like Patty did with Sleepless Nights? Don’t forget, not all of these songs were well known or even singles…and most of them were done by male artists. I’d say that’s pretty original….And in a stroke of musical genius, Patty and husband/producer Emory knew exactly when and how to pick up the tempo, as they did with “Why Baby Why” .adding more passion and soul than even the original George Jones version, as well as when to slow it down, like they did with Crazy Arms, allowing for far more depth of emotion than the Ray Price original. I think such creativity and originality should be rewarded at the highest levels.

  17. GavinNo Gravatar

    Steve, Sleepless Nights is basically a tribute album . These songs have been done and they are classics for a reason. Why Baby Why will always be a George Jones song no matter who records it and Patty Loveless would say the same thing. You pretty much get the gist of what I’m saying and I respect your thoughts and, besides, it is just how I personally feel. One day someone will do a tribute to Patty Loveless and do their version of some of your favorite songs and with her body of work she has no doubt inspired many.

  18. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Yes, Sleepless Nights is a tribute album all right, a tribute to Tradition. But that certainly does not diminish the significance or the quality of this outstanding record. And Sleepless Nights was NOMINATED for a reason, namely it is a fresh, original and creative resurrection of these these great songs, and indeed, a tribute to the original artists, and the solid Country tradition that inspired them to greatness. ..In many ways, Patty has also made these classics her own. (Some folks have even mistaken Patty’s interpretations of these old classics for new songs.) And sometimes remakes do surpass the originals…I think with many of the songs on Sleepless Nights, this is the case, but it is certainly open to debate and personal preference.

    I respect your opinion too Gavin, but you raised a point that is quite commonly held about the relative inferiority (for lack of a better word) of cover albums in the minds of many people. And that was the larger point that I wanted to address, and suggest another way of looking at cover albums, especially those that are as well done as Patty’s Sleepless Nights.

    But we certainly agree on a few points…Patty’s humility, and her talent. She is far too humble to make the claims that I have made, and many critics have also made on her behalf.

    And as for her talent, that is quite apparent..I share your optimism that someday talented new artists will pay tribute to Patty Loveless as well. .And some critics have even called Patty a “female George Jones” . Ralph Stanley in the liner notes of his Clinch Mountain Country album puts Patty in the same league, right up there with George Jones as a vocalist.

    High praise indeed, but Patty deserves it.

  19. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I’d just like to add….

    In this day and age of pop-diluted country music, Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Niights, (cover or not) is a timely remedy, and points the way back to the very Soul of Country Music.

    And that alone is sufficient justification for a Grammy nomination.

  20. GavinNo Gravatar

    Steve, I didn’t mean for you to think that I thought it was inferior. It is more like putting it in a separate category. Do I think Sleepless Nights is a better album than That Lonesome Song? Absolutely not. If you reversed the question I’d give you the same answer. Do I prefer it to Dwight Sings Buck or Martina’s Timeless? A definitive yes is my answer to that question. Patty Loveless is a gifted and instinctive singer with an old soul and could wrap her vocal around any classic and give it new life. Don’t think I’m not a fan just because I have a different way of looking at things.

  21. JakeNo Gravatar

    I really hope Trisha wins it. BTW, this is somewhat randam, but is Let The Wind Chase You, off the album, a new single, because I heard it on the radio yesterday?

  22. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Gavin, I don’t think I ever said that you didn’t appreciate Patty, I realize that you are a fan, and tried to reflect that in my comments. Sorry if I gave you the impression to the contrary with any of my remarks…..but thanks for the clarification anyway.

    And conversely, I hope I did not give the impression that I’m not a fan of Trisha’s, because I am. I was just trying to use HH&TPOL as an example of an excellent album by an outstanding talent, but one that was done in a fairly conventional way..ie with the help of professional songwriters. I was trying to make the point that an album of covers could be just as “original” as most anything out there, if it is done the way Patty Loveless did Sleepless Nights.

    And I especially like your line “Patty Loveless is a gifted and instinctive singer with an old soul and could wrap her vocal around any classic and give it new life” Very well said… I would only add,; ” with an old soul and a young heart, and a gift for interpretation equaled by very few artists in any era of Country music history.

  23. These are all awesome albuns!