Around the halls of our Austin office, I am the “country music expert.” I know I’m not the only one that likes country music, but I am the one that comes from a long line of country music lovers (Dad was partial to Western swing and grew up dancing to Hoyle Nix and his West Texas Cowboys while Pappa was a truck driver so you know he liked Dave Dudley’s Six Days on the Road). Plus, I have played a lot of Willie Nelson and George Strait on the radio in my disc jockey days.
So with those impeachable credentials, I thought I would handicap the upcoming Grammy awards country categories for you. The 55thAnnual Grammy Awards will be presented and televised on CBS February 10th.
Just a few years back, there were seven categories of awards for country. With the recent cuts the Grammys made, country only has four categories now: Best Album, Best Song, Best Duo or Group Performance, and Best Solo Performance. No more instrumental category or male/female awards.
Before we dive in let me give myself an out, in case my predictions for the Grammys are as bad as my predictions were for the Superbowl (Go Cowboys!). The Grammys have traditionally not been a reflection of what is played on country radio or what is even classified as country in the record stores. In a world where some of us still categorize a whole bunch of songs as “disco” when that term isn’t even used, and what I label as “disco” would be filed under about a dozen different labels to a lover of the dance genre, country is not easy to label either. Since the Grammy Awards are nominated and voted on by people in the music industry that are very aware of music, but sometimes aren’t as aware of what is popular in the REAL world, fans of country music have gotten angry at some choices. In 1989, Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang were the male and female “Vocalists of the Year” in the country category. Both great vocalists with terrific followings and, arguably, their music is country, but since they had not had hits on country radio, country music fans were aghast. More recently, the Dixie Chicks continued to win country music Grammys after their fall from grace in country radio and their sound had taken a decidedly more pop turn. The Eagles, a rock band from the start, won a country Grammy in 2007. I’m keeping that quirkiness of the Grammys in mind as I make my picks:
BEST COUNTRY SONG
“Blown Away” (Carrie Underwood sang it)
“Cost Of Livin'” (Ronnie Dunn sang it and wrote half of it)
“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (the Eli Young Band sang it)
“So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” (Alan Jackson sang it)
“Springsteen” (Eric Church sang it and wrote some of it)
Ronnie Dunn and Alan Jackson are well-known names and have had a long string of hits, but these two songs were stiffs. The other songs were all Top 10 hits. Carrie Underwood is well established in Nashville now. The Eli Young Band and Eric Church are still gaining their footing on the scene. Personally, I think “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” is the “best” song of the bunch, if I’m judging them on the basis of the writing, the meaning, and whether it is a country song. Since (I think) the Grammy judges don’t look at that, I say the Grammy goes to Springsteen by Eric Church. They’ve heard of Springsteen (the artist, not the song) and, therefore, it gets their vote.
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Uncaged by the Zac Brown Band
Hunter Hayes by Hunter Hayes
Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran by Jamey Johnson
Four The Record by Miranda Lambert
The Time Jumpers by The Time Jumpers
My favorite, hands down, is The Time Jumpers. Full disclosure, I haven’t heard all of the others all of the way through. The Jamey Johnson album is very good and a great tribute to one of the great songwriters of country music (he wrote “I Fall to Pieces,” “He’s Got You” and “The Chair” among so many more). Sometimes those albums get the Grammy because of the subject matter. Not this year. This year the Zac Brown will get a well-deserved Grammy. They’ve only had one before (for their collaboration with Alan Jackson on “As She’s Walking Away”). They’ll get recognition this year to make up for lost time.
And I’ll throw this in here… Hunter Hayes is up for Best New Artist along with Fun., the Lumineers, Frank Ocean, and Alabama Shakes. He won’t win, but it is quite an honor for him to be in there. He does have quite a future. He became a YouTube sensation at four years old singing “Jambalaya.”
Now, at 21, he is touring with Carrie Underwood and really showing his talents. It is nice that the Grammys are noticing him.
BEST COUNTRY DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE
“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” by the Eli Young Band
“Pontoon” by Little Big Town
“Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
“On The Outskirts Of Town” by The Time Jumpers
“I Just Come Here For The Music” by Don Williams Featuring Alison Krauss
Taylor Swift won two Grammys last year (and four the year before that) but I think she’ll go home empty handed this time. This song with the Civil Wars was in The Hunger Games, but didn’t get any attention beyond that. Don Williams came out of his retirement to tour and record an album and that should have been huge news, but since Nashville is fickle and likes the shiny new artists, he won’t win either. The Time Jumpers (have I mentioned I love the Time Jumpers?) includes multi-Grammy-winning artist Vince Gill, but his shine has gotten tarnished over the years, too, and he will likely be ignored. Between the other 2? I’m going to say the Eli Young Band will take this one home. I hope they do. Full disclosure: I’ve known these guys since they were barely out of the University of North Texas. They played a great Texas Music Series I hosted years ago and even then I didn’t think they had the right sound for the Texas music we were promoting. They had the big-time Nashville sound and they have developed it and improved and are really a great band onstage and in the studio. I’m pulling for them. And if you don’t know, it’s Mike Eli and James Young (there is no “Eli Young”) along with Jon Jones and Chris Thompson. Nice guys who have worked hard to get where they are today.
BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE
“Home” by Dierks Bentley
“Springsteen” by Eric Church
“Cost Of Livin”‘ by Ronnie Dunn
“Wanted” by Hunter Hayes
“Over” by Blake Shelton
“Blown Away” by Carrie Underwood
Six artists made it into this category. I wonder if they decided they needed to include ONE female artist and opened it up bigger to get Carrie Underwood included? It doesn’t matter; she won’t take it home this year. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that Blake Shelton gets the Grammy. He’s never won one before and since The Voice came along, he’s known to everyone that knows Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. That will go far and now he’ll have a Grammy to balance out the one his wife Miranda Lambert got 2 years ago.
I will be curious to see how many of these awards get prime time coverage on the Grammy television broadcast. Maybe I should predict that, too. I say they will show the Best Solo Performance award because they will want to show Blake Shelton on TV (unless they don’t want to promote a competing network?) and there is a chance they will show the Best Album. Who knows? But I will be watching and we can dish about it afterward.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design