Posts Tagged ‘Louvin Brothers’

Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Charlie Louvin, Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

charlie-louvin-sings-murder-balladsCharlie Louvin
Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs

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This has been quite the year for the historically themed country album.   Two of the year’s best releases have come from veteran singers exploring their roots, with Kathy Mattea collecting mining songs on Coal and Patty Loveless collecting traditional country songs on Sleepless Nights.     The final month of 2008 has brought a third set of this nature, and it’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those two predecessors.

As part of The Louvin Brothers and then on his own, Charlie Louvin has been a cornerstone of American music, influencing generations of performers while still maintaining his own vitality.   Now in his eighties, his voice is rough and shopworn, with contours only producible by time.     His weathered warbling is a comfortable fit for the assortment of old tragedy songs he has collected on his new release, Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs.

The highlights  of the set are abundant.   There’s an understated reading of  “Wreck on the Highway”, which lacks the intensity of Roy Acuff’s signature recording, creating an entirely different feel.     “Mary of the Wild Moor” was recorded by both Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton near the turn of the century, but while their versions were laced with pity for the callous father, Louvin’s performance is matter-of-fact, allowing listeners to form their own judgments.

The same can’t be said for his performance of “Down With the Old Canoe.”  This ballad of the Titanic demise is sung with sly condemnation, mocking the foolishness of those who thought they could build a ship so strong that God’s nature couldn’t strike it down.  There are also warm moments that belie the doomsday title of the set, particularly “My Brother’s Will”,  a sweet lament for a dying brother, and “The Little Grave in Georgia”, which paints a sadly beautiful portrait of a final resting place.

Like the Mattea and Loveless sets, Louvin’s album operates as both a historical document that preserves the legacy of the material, and as a vital piece of art in its own right.   Louvin has the credibility to deliver stalwart chestnuts like “Wreck of the Ole 97″ and “My Brother’s Will”  with authority.  Indeed, he’s one of the few living artists who can bridge the gap between these story songs and contemporary recorded music, making this a living piece of history and essential listening.

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