Now that we have the Americana Music Association and International Bluegrass Music Association awards in the rearview mirror, it's time to look forward — or not — to the Country Music Association awards in November and the Grammys in February.
Because all of the programs have different qualifying timelines, the potential nominees fall in strange places. For instance, Jason Isbell just nabbed two AMAs (Album and Song of the Year) for a record that came out 15 months ago. And Chris Stapleton, who was the 2016 AMA Artist of the Year, is up for another round of CMAs even though his record came out even longer ago than that.
What to say? It's a weird world.
But I do have a couple bones to pick about it all.
Now, I thought Traveller was a good record with solid tunes and Stapleton was a nice guy with an amazing voice before I knew he was pals with Justin Timberlake and before he was firing up the charts. It's great to see his brave and bold video for “Fire Away,” which addresses mental health issues, get a nod and even more wonderful to see his incredibly talented wife, Morgane, get a hat tip for their devastating version of “You Are My Sunshine” off the Dave Cobb-produced Southern Family LP. No problems there. Show 'em how it's done, Stapletons.
I also adored Lori McKenna's songs — though slightly less so when Tim McGraw sings them — long before Faith Hill found her, so I'm thrilled with all of her success and acclaim. There's not a more deserving soul around, as she actually embodies the virtues laid forth in “Humble and Kind,” which is nominated for both CMA Song and Single of the Year. Go get 'em, McKenna! Maybe next year your fantastic record, The Bird & the Rifle, will get some CMA love. (Even if it doesn't, we'll definitely plan to see you back at the Ryman in September for the AMAs.)
Maren Morris and her big ol' voice did something great with “My Church,” creating one of the only over-played commercial country songs I didn't change the station on as I scanned the radio dial. The rest of the record, though, despite a few good moments, fails to measure up … at least to my roots-loving ears. Still, she got tagged by the CMAs in the Female Vocalist, Song, Single, and Album of the Year categories. That's fine, I guess, since she's the hot new kid on the block.
But here's where it starts to get sticky: Last year's hot new kid, Kacey Musgraves, is an artist I like quite a bit, but she didn't release a record during the July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016 eligibility window … yet she nabbed a Female Vocalist nomination. Meanwhile, Brandy Clark wrote and sang the crap out of this year's Big Day in a Small Town and got nary a nod. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. What's up with that, CMA? More than a few critics have cited Clark as the best songwriter working in Nashville, and I probably wouldn't be the first to note that she has proven herself to be an outstanding singer, as well. A tsk-tsk and a slap on the wrist for that huge oversight. I mean … seriously. BRANDY. CLARK.
And then there's Margo Price who is, arguably, the breakout country act of the year. She went home with an AMA for Emerging Artist of the Year, but got the cold country shoulder. She's good enough for SNL, but not CMA? Go figure. In terms of country icons, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell won the AMA Duo/Group of the Year and are also nowhere to be found on the CMA list. And where's Loretta Lynn, who has maybe the countriest country release of 2016? Sitting at home in Hurricane Mills … that's where.
It's safe to say that we, in the Americana/roots music community, are more than happy to embrace all of these country music refugees because it's pretty clear that, while the CMAs may be a barometer for country radio, they certainly don't reflect country music.
Dear Grammy voters, you can — and should — do better. So, looking at the Grammy eligibility window of October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016, here's how I'd love to see the various album categories fall. (A kid can dream, right?)
BEST AMERICANA ALBUM
My Piece of Land
John Paul White
Ghosts of Highway 20
I Am the Rain
BEST FOLK ALBUM
Courtney Marie Andrews
The Bird & the Rifle
The Very Last Day
Young in All the Wrong Ways
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Big Day in a Small Town
For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Lede photo of Ted Jensen's Grammy for mastering Norah Jones' 2002 Album of the Year, Come Away with Me, courtesy of Dmileson.