The second article in our Grammy Awards series, our personal favorites in the country categories at this year’s ceremony.
Best Country Album
- Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
- Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights (Blake, Leeann)
- George Strait, Troubadour
- Randy Travis, Around the Bend
- Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love (Dan, Kevin, Lynn)
Blake: Strait’s collection is a mixed bag of middlebrow art with the occasional glimpse at his right-as-rain Texas style. Excepting Troubadour, these discs are highwater marks for the genre. Johnson and Loveless finished one-two on my 2008 list, but I’ll root for Loveless to win a long-awaited solo Grammy.
Dan: I actually think Johnson made the best album, but Yearwood’s is my second-favorite, and she’s long overdue.
Kevin: It’s a strong field overall, but Yearwood’s album is the most cohesive. She’s the greatest female album artist since Emmylou Harris, yet she’s never won an album award. It’s time.
Leeann: My choice is Patty Loveless’ album, though Trisha Yearwood’s is a very close second. While Loveless’ is an album of covers, it’s the one I find myself putting in without skipping a track more than Yearwood’s. I really would be happy for either choice, however.
Lynn: Loveless put together my favorite album as a whole, but Yearwood is long overdue and her wonderful album was shamefully ignored. I hope she wins.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
- Martina McBride, “For These Times”
- LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change” (Leeann)
- Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
- Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call” (Lynn)
- Trisha Yearwood, “This Is Me You’re Talking To” (Blake, Dan, Kevin)
Dan: Rimes and Womack are represented here by arguably two of the best performances of their respective careers, and both are very deserving. But to these ears, Yearwood’s vocal on “This Is Me You’re Talking To” is a a technical and interpretive tour-de-force, easily the finest in recent memory.
Kevin: Three of these songs were among my top ten singles of 2008, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if any of these five won. They’re all strong singers, and even though Carrie’s song is slight compared to the other four, she did deliver it well. I think Yearwood is the champion among champions here. With the possible exception of “There Goes My Baby”, this is the strongest vocal performance she’s been nominated for. I hope she wins.
Leeann: Personally, I choose “What I Cannot Change.” It’s easily Rimes’ finest vocal performance. I, however, wouldn’t complain if Yearwood won the award, because while I’m not crazy about the song itself, her vocals are undeniably superb nonetheless.
Lynn: Yearwood and Rimes both give gorgeous vocal performances, but I hope Womack is rewarded for her wistful country vocals on “Last Call.” She surprised me this year – in a wonderful way.
Blake: Rimes’ rendition of her Serenity Prayer-inspired ballad is lovely. Womack’s bitter response to a boozed-up ex is special stuff, too. But Yearwood’s “This Is Me You’re Talking To” is a master class in singing; few performances rival this one in Trisha’s excellent catalog.
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color” (Blake, Dan)
- James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
- Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me” (Kevin, Leeann, Lynn)
- George Strait, “Troubadour”
Kevin: “Letter to Me” is Brad Paisley’s finest vocal performance to date, and Strait’s single is a perfect encapsulation of his entire career. It’s a close call between the two of them for me, but I think Paisley is the most deserving this year.
Leeann: While I personally like the Otto tune the best, I think Paisley’s song is most deserving of the award. It’s a fine vocal performance for one of Paisley’s most mature songs.
Lynn: All of these artists experienced success with these singles and none of them are throwaway artists. While somewhat cheesy, my personal favorite is Paisley’s “Letter to Me.” It was charming, just like the artist himself.
Blake: The “vocal” tag on the performance categories is merely ornamental. Really, it all comes down to the song. “In Color” is a classic of epic proportions, and Johnson delivers in spades on his breakthrough hit.
Dan: I like Paisley’s record and wouldn’t gripe if NARAS used this category to finally honor Strait, but Johnson’s performance is the most compelling to me, and it’s not like Strait and Paisley don’t have a good share of awards on their mantles already.
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals
- Brooks & Dunn, “God Must Be Busy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here”
- Rascal Flatts, “Every Day”
- Steel Drivers, “Blue Side of the Mountain” (Leeann, Lynn)
- Sugarland, “Stay” (Blake, Dan, Kevin)
Blake: The Jennifer Nettles Band earns recognition for a nakedly honest reading by one of the genre’s finest voices.
Dan: Some bloggers (I’m lookin’ at you, Thanki!) have drawn this race as a “SteelDrivers versus everyone else who is less authentic” thing, but I think Jennifer Nettles’ performance on “Stay” is every bit as inspired and original as the bluegrass group’s on “Blue Side of the Mountain.” Either single would be a worthy pick, and I actually really like Lady A’s submission, too.
Kevin: Its wide exposure and previous success at award shows have not dulled the impact of “Stay” for me. It deserves to win.
Leeann: While I think “Stay” is certainly a worthy opponent, I’m drawn to the refreshing sound of “Blue Side of the Mountain.”
Lynn: I don’t discount the massive and righteous impact “Stay” had on radio, but I’m rooting for the SteelDrivers. Exciting bluegrass with a mainstream edge.
Best Country Vocal Collaboration
- Kenny Chesney & George Strait, “Shiftwork”
- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Killing the Blues” (Kevin, Leeann)
- George Strait & Patty Loveless, “House of Cash” (Blake)
- Sugarland, Jake Owen & Little Big Town, “Life in a Northern Town” (Dan)
- Trisha Yearwood & Keith Urban, “Let the Wind Chase You” (Lynn)
Leeann: The Plant & Krauss nomination is the only song that I truly like in this category.
Lynn: Personally, I’m not crazy about any of these collaborations, but my favorite of the bunch is Yearwood and Urban’s “duet.”
Blake: “Let the Wind Chase You” is an understated gem worthy of plentiful praise. It’s not a proper duet, though, so I’ll side with the Strait/Loveless homage to the burned-down Cash dwelling.
Dan: All of these have some major merits (“Shiftwork” excepted), but I think “Life in a Northern Town” is a downright inspiring cover. So many things threaten to make it fail – that it’s recorded live, that it’s a bunch of country singers singing a trippy pop song, that they trade off lines in the verses. But it all works beautifully.
Kevin: Plant & Krauss.
Best Country Song
- Ashley Gorley & Bob Regan, “Dig Two Graves” (Kevin, Leeann)
- Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell & Wade Kirby, “I Saw God Today”
- Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto, “In Color” (Blake, Lynn)
- Jennifer Nettles, “Stay” (Dan)
- Ashley Gorley & Lee Thomas Miller, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
Lynn: “Dig Two Graves” strikes a chord with me, but it may not be as strong of a song if you take Travis’ vocals out of the mix as “In Color.”
Blake: “In Color” mirrors our times in the most touching manner, a work of significance and sentiment.
Dan: Ooo, tough call. I really love “Dig Two Graves” and “In Color,” but I think “Stay” is a contemporary classic, the kind of thing that seems so natural and obvious that you can’t believe it was never written before.
Kevin: “Dig Two Graves” is my favorite of the five, though I wouldn’t mind seeing “Stay” win, either.
Leeann: “Dig Two Graves” has really grown on me in the past few months. It has become my favorite of these choices.