In a nod towards diversity, the General Field nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards include a shepherd’s pie of musical genres, with Brit soul ingenues (Adele, Duffy) against American pop trios (Jonas Bros., Lady A), Brit pop bands (Coldplay, Radiohead) against American rappers (Ne-Yo, Lil’ Wayne), all with a Brit rock legend (Robert Plant) lording over them. While it’s hard to argue the breadth of recent nominees in these categories, their depth is always up for discussion (see: Herbie Hancock, 2008 Album of the Year; Ray Charles, 2005 Record of the Year).
The country field is filled with critical faves. George Strait enjoys the strongest across-the-board success in his estimable career, newcomer Jamey Johnson is lauded for his neo-outlaw soul, and Randy Travis, Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood continue Grammy’s trend of nominating veterans alongside newer artists.
The staff of Country Universe have chosen their personal favorites and predictions for this year’s Grammy ceremony. First up on the docket: our predictions in the country categories.
Best Country Album
- Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (Blake, Leeann, Lynn)
- Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
- George Strait, Troubadour (Dan, Kevin)
- Randy Travis, Around the Bend
- Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Blake: Is Jamey Johnson the savior of modern-day country music? I think by placing his name next to four of the format’s legends, the Grammy voters have already voiced their opinion on the matter. The vociferous critical support surrounding this release suggests that Johnson will surpass the veterans in this race.
Dan: I was totally thinking Johnson until just this morning, but I’m having last-minute doubts about his widespread support – he’s still very new to lots of voters, and I’m not confident that his hype will be sufficient to summon confidence from everyone voting in this category. So I’m siding with Kevin’s prediction on Strait.
Kevin: The only proven vote-getter here is Randy Travis, but I’m doubtful that he’ll be able to triumph with Johnson and Loveless garnering so many of the traditionalist’s votes. Grammy loves its women, which could give Yearwood and Loveless an advantage, but I’m not sure there’s a clear favorite between them. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict George Strait. He’s long overdue for a Grammy, and he has the most commercially successful album of the five. With three of the album’s songs represented in other categories (“Troubadour”, “I Saw God Today, “House of Cash”), this might be his year.
Leeann: I really think Johnson will grab this one. The critics love him and he’s had the most hype in the last year.
Lynn: I agree this will be a tough one for Grammy voters. Yearwood and Loveless both have the sheer talent Grammy voters appreciate and they produced quality albums. However, I think the voters’ penchant and love for multi-talented newcomers with musical integrity will give Johnson his first Grammy.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
- Martina McBride, “For These Times”
- LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change” (Lynn)
- Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” (Kevin, Leeann)
- Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
- Trisha Yearwood, “This Is Me You’re Talking To” (Blake, Dan)
Dan: Man, I don’t know. I guess I think Yearwood has the best shot at a final victory, but she might split the vote with Womack, another critic’s darling, which would leave the field open for Underwood to swoop in and grab her third consecutive victory in this category, albeit for one of her least memorable singles to date.
Kevin: I predict Carrie Underwood will win, simply because she’s undefeated in this category and the other four women have been defeated quite a bit. This is the only place on the entire ballot to recognize her talent this year, and Grammy voters have already shown a fondness for her. Until I see her lose, I’ll have trouble imagining her losing.
Leeann: I’m sufficiently persuaded by Kevin’s argument for Carrie Underwood, though I’m not happy about it. This is not the song that should garner her an award this year.
Lynn: I think Rimes, Yearwood and Womack all have a colorable shot at winning, with Rimes in the lead to win her third. This is her best album since garnering a Best New Artist Grammy in 1997. While Underwood is a Grammy favorite, “Last Name”? Seriously? I think voters will hold off until next year and give it to her for “Just a Dream.”
Blake: Since the Grammys introduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, Yearwood’s seen all of her studio releases receive a nod. She’s clearly a favorite of the recording academy, but her last triumph took place in the midst of the “How Do I Live” melodrama. It’s been a long time between drinks, but Yearwood will swill from the well again. Underwood, the two-time defending champ, can expect favored status again next year with “Just a Dream.”
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color” (Lynn)
- James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
- Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me” (Kevin, Leeann)
- George Strait, “Troubadour” (Blake, Dan)
Kevin: Unless Johnson’s support runs deep, I think this is between Paisley and Strait. My guess is this is the most obvious place to finally acknowledge Strait, but it’s also the first time Paisley is competing with a truly substantive record. I think Paisley takes it in the end.
Leeann: Johnson will probably win this one, especially if he doesn’t win the album award.
Lynn: I see the race being between Johnson and Paisley. If Johnson wins album honors, this one goes to Paisley. If not, this one is Johnson’s to lose.
Blake: The academy has rewarded the Grammy-less Strait four nominations this year, a testament to his endurance in uncertain times. Selecting against the legendary Strait is heresy, but Grammy voters love a newcomer. Johnson, with his well-worn philosophy to music, is just the kind of “serious” artist that NARAS lavishes with praise. On second thought, the academy makes a living by honoring artists two decades late (Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan, anyone?). Strait, then, breaks the Susan Lucci-like streak.
Dan: Again, I was betting on Johnson, but as the date draws closer it looks more and more like a Strait win to me.
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” (Lynn)
- Sugarland, “Stay” (Blake, Dan, Kevin, Leeann)
Leeann: I predict that Sugarland will take this one. It’s obviously still deserving of the award and it’s done so well up to this point. I do think “the cool factor” of The SteelDriver’s song has a good chance of proving me wrong though.
Lynn: Given recent Grammy results, it’s obvious the recording academy loves itself some bluegrass. I wouldn’t be surprised if the SteelDrivers win – not just for the cool factor, but because the song meets the tastes of the voters. Also, very popular songs like “Stay” are all too often over-played. I wouldn’t be surprised if the “wow” factor has worn off for some voters.
Blake: The puzzling dominance of the Flatts at country’s annual galas doesn’t transfer to the Grammy crowd (The trio counts “Every Day” as only their third career nomination.). Voters won’t bob their heads to this whiny, weaselly ballad on decision day; Sugarland’s cheating song secures victory.
Dan: Barring a “cool factor” win for the SteelDrivers, I think Sugarland will take this one pretty decisively.
Kevin: “Stay” will win, unless Sugarland’s support among voters is truly lacking. This is their first nomination in this category, so we’ll see.
Best Country Vocal Collaboration
- Kenny Chesney & George Strait, “Shiftwork”
- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Killing the Blues” (Blake, Dan, Kevin, Leeann, Lynn)
- George Strait & Patty Loveless, “House of Cash”
- Sugarland, Jake Owen & Little Big Town, “Life in a Northern Town”
- Trisha Yearwood & Keith Urban, “Let the Wind Chase You”
Lynn: I foresee Plant & Krauss winning this one. But if not, I think “Life in a Northern Town” has a backdoor chance.
Blake: The Plant/Krauss juggernaut must be favored in virtually every category. How an angelic singer from Illinois and a British rock superstar came to complete the year’s best pairing is beyond my comprehension, but their harmonies blend with unmistakable grace. Interesting note: Chesney, a performer on this year’s telecast, earned his first nomination for “Shiftwork,” a bit of bathroom humor that falls at the first hurdle.
Dan: Plant & Krauss will triumph here with a deserving track.
Kevin: Plant & Krauss.
Leeann: Obviously the Grammy voters love Krauss, so why wouldn’t she win with this much-deserving collaboration?
Best Country Song
- Ashley Gorley & Bob Regan, “Dig Two Graves”
- Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell & Wade Kirby, “I Saw God Today”
- Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto, “In Color” (Blake)
- Jennifer Nettles, “Stay” (Dan, Kevin, Leeann, Lynn)
- Ashley Gorley & Lee Thomas Miller, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
Blake: Strait’s story of a new father’s reborn spiritual faith wins scattered votes, but Grammy voters will stick with Johnson’s journey through his grandfather’s photographs.
Dan: It remains to be seen whether Johnson will sweep the country categories, which seems like a good possibility. But I suspect “Stay” has it.
Kevin: It’s been fairly common in recent years for songs to win all three industry awards, and “Stay” already has the ACM and CMA under its belt. It’s the presumptive favorite.
Leeann: I wouldn’t be surprised if either Nettles or Johnson win. If I have to make a solid prediction, however, I’ll play it safe by going with Nettles here.
Lynn: I don’t think there’s any question “Stay” will win in this category, particularly because Nettles wrote the song herself.
Best Traditional Folk Album
- Kathy Mattea, Coal
- Tom Paxton, Comedians & Angels
- Peggy Seeger, Bring Me Home
- Pat Seeger, At 89
- Rosalie Sorrells, Strangers in Another Country
The Country Universe staff anticipates a win for Kathy Mattea’s Coal.
Best Contemporary Folk Album
- Joan Baez, Day After Tomorrow
- Ey Cooder, I, Flathead
- Rodney Crowell, Sex and Gasoline
- Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be
- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
While Emmylou Harris’ All I Intended to Be is also deserving of the trophy, we expect Plant & Krauss to dominate the field.