Predicting the Country Winners at the Grammys Writers Agree to Disagree in Discussing Their Picks

Who will be the big winners at this year’s Grammys? It’s anyone’s guess.

Predicting Grammy winners is a slippery proposition, at best, not that’s editorial team is timid about looking into the crystal ball and pronouncing our findings. After all, what’s more fun than risking ridicule from family and friends when those predictions don’t exactly pan out?

But the Grammys really are more unpredictable than industry-voted country music awards. For the most part, voters for the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards make their living in the country music business. (Fans decide the winners of the CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards.)

On the other hand, those determining the Grammy winners encompass a wide range of musical interests — everything from rap and metal to opera and classical — and are eligible to vote in country categories. As one writer observes later in this very story, many members of the Recording Academy tend to choose artists who write their own songs, don’t sell a lot of records and might have died within the past year.

The voting members of the Recording Academy are defined as “professionals with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent). These may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, producers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators and music video artists and technicians.”

Despite any minor shortcomings, the Grammys remain the most prestigious music award program in the U.S. With the full understanding that anything can happen when the winners are announced, here are the best guesses from’s Chet Flippo, Edward Morris, Craig Shelburne and Calvin Gilbert.

The 46th annual Grammy Awards show takes place Sunday (Feb. 8) at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The program airs on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance
(For a solo vocal performance)

  • “Keep on the Sunny Side”
    June Carter Cash
    Track from: Wildwood Flower
  • “On Your Way Home”
    Patty Loveless
    Track from: On Your Way Home
  • “This One’s for the Girls”
    Martina McBride
    Track from: Martina
  • “I’m Gone”
    Dolly Parton
    Track from: Halos & Horns
  • “Forever and For Always”
    Shania Twain
    Track from: Up!

Flippo: Patty’s lovely “On Your Way Home” is my pick, but Shania has one of her strongest songs ever.

Shelburne: Loveless’ “On Your Way Home” moved me the most, but I’d suggest that Twain ought to make room on her mantle.

Gilbert: Even if she hadn’t died unexpectedly in May, the September release of June Carter Cash’s album, Wildwood Flower, would have generated plenty of interest — especially among those who gravitate toward public radio. Despite greater sales and airplay for the other nominees, Grammy voters will pay a final tribute to June Carter Cash.

Morris: While betting on these awards will almost certainly ruin my chances of ever being elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame, self-interest must ever defer to duty. So here I go. I am guided in my bets by the knowledge that out-of-town voters — who often decide country winners — tend to back artists who (a) are recently dead, (b) don’t sing well, (c) don’t sell well, (d) write their own songs and (e) don’t live in Nashville or like anyone who does. With an eye to those standards, my bet is that June Carter Cash’s “Keep on the Sunny Side” will win this category. But my vote is for Patty Loveless’ exquisite “On Your Way Home”

Best Male Country Vocal Performance
(For a solo vocal performance)

  • “Annabelle”
    Ray Benson
    Track from: Beyond Time
  • “Next Big Thing”
    Vince Gill
    Track from: Next Big Thing
  • “My Baby Don’t Tolerate”
    Lyle Lovett
    Track from: My Baby Don’t Tolerate
  • “She’s My Kind of Rain”
    Tim McGraw
    Track from: Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors
  • “Brokenheartsville”
    Joe Nichols
    Track from: Man With a Memory
  • “Three Wooden Crosses”
    Randy Travis
    Track from: Rise and Shine

Shelburne: If Gill wins, it’ll be his 16th Grammy. But I’m inclined to go with Randy Travis here. Off the topic: Am I the only one who’s still unsure if “She’s My Kind of Rain” is supposed to be a compliment?

Flippo: Lyle is an Academy favorite; Nichols is getting a lift from younger voters, and the oft-awarded Vince is the frontrunner — rightly so, for the great “Next Big Thing”; but I favor Randy Travis and his against-the-commercial-grain “Three Wooden Crosses.”

Gilbert: The winner should be Travis for delivering one of his finest vocal performances and reviving his career with — God bless him — an inspirational song. I still predict a swing to the left of center, though, so Lovett will likely get the final nod.

Morris: Figuring that Ray Benson and Lyle Lovett will split the Texas vote, Joe Nichols is too new, Randy Travis too gospel and Tim McGraw too low-profile this past year, both my bet and my vote go to Vince Gill’s “Next Big Thing”

Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
(For established duos or groups with vocals)

  • “Red Dirt Road”
    Brooks & Dunn
    Track from: Red Dirt Road
  • “I Believe”
    Diamond Rio
    Track from: Completely
  • “My Front Porch Looking In”
    Track from: Greatest Hits (From There to Here)
  • “Colors”
    The Oak Ridge Boys
    Track from: Colors
  • “A Simple Life”
    Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
    Track from: Live at the Charleston Music Hall

Morris: My thinking here is that Brooks & Dunn are too wildly popular to win, Lonestar and Diamond Rio are too melodic and that nobody’s even heard the Oaks’ entry. Thus, my bet is that Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder will take the prize. My vote is for Diamond Rio, whose penchant for sentimental lyrics I adore.

Flippo: The strongest single from Brooks & Dunn in eons should run through the competition like a turkey through the corn.

Shelburne: Dixie Chicks, all the way. Just kidding. “Red Dirt Road” should take it, but Skaggs could surprise. “A Simple Life” always struck me as a bluegrass version of “My Front Porch Looking In.”

Gilbert: It’s between Skaggs and Brooks & Dunn. Skaggs’ eight Grammy wins are mostly in the bluegrass category, so Brooks & Dunn will be taking the road to the podium.

Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
(For a collaborative performance, with vocals, by artists who do not normally perform together)

  • “Temptation”
    June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash
    Track from: Wildwood Flower
  • “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
    Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett
    Track from: Greatest Hits Volume II
  • “Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You)”
    Willie Nelson and Norah Jones
    Track from: Live and Kickin’
  • “Beer for My Horses”
    Willie Nelson and Toby Keith
    Track from: Live and Kickin’
  • “How’s the World Treating You”
    James Taylor and Alison Krauss
    Track from: Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers

Shelburne: Grammy voters should recognize every name here, which is not always the case in the country categories. It’s impossible to count out anybody, but I’d give the edge to Willie and Norah. Incidentally, Jimmy Buffett has never won a Grammy.

Morris: June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash are shoo-ins here, for the reasons I’ve already enumerated. But my vote goes to the ethereally poignant James Taylor and Alison Krauss.

Gilbert: This is an especially tricky category to predict, but I’m still inclined to think the Cash clan will be a sentimental favorite.

Flippo: Johnny and June might get sentimental votes but probably not enough. Grammy ignores country drinking songs, so forget “Beer” and “Five O’Clock.” “How’s the World Treating You” wasn’t heard enough but should have been. Give it to the grits ’n grace duo of Willie ’n Norah.

Best Country Song
(A songwriter(s) award)

  • “Beer for My Horses”
    Scotty Emerick and Toby Keith, songwriters
    Willie Nelson and Toby Keith, artists
    Track from: Live and Kickin’
  • “Celebrity”
    Brad Paisley, songwriter
    Brad Paisley, artist
    Track from: Mud on the Tires
  • “Forever and For Always”
    Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain, songwriters
    Shania Twain, artist
    Track from: Up!
  • “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
    Jim “Moose” Brown and Don Rollins, songwriters
    Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, artists
    Track from: Greatest Hits Volume II
  • “Wave on Wave”
    Pat Green, David Neuhauser and Justin Pollard, songwriters

    Pat Green, artist
    Track from: Wave on Wave

Flippo: That drinking thang biases Academy voters, so toss out “Beer” and “Five O’Clock.” “Celebrity” feels a bit too frivolous for NARAS voters. Pat Green is still too green and unknown for the voters. Take it home, Shania.

Shelburne: Shania, of course. It’s the only ballad here, and it’s also the most melodic. This is where she’ll be rewarded for keeping country music in the public eye.

Morris: This is a veritable kennel of choices. I mean is any one of these songs really for the ages? My bet is on “Wave on Wave” because Green still bears the faint smell of rebellion so beloved by Grammy voters. My pick, albeit a less than passionate one, is Brad Paisley’s “Celebrity.”

Gilbert: They’re all perfectly good songs, but I agree that it’s hard to imagine any of them will be deemed a classic a decade from now. The closest thing would be “Forever and For Always.”

Best Country Album
(Vocal or Instrumental)

  • Cry
    Faith Hill
  • My Baby Don’t Tolerate
    Lyle Lovett
  • Run That by Me One More Time
    Willie Nelson and Ray Price
  • Live and Kickin’
    Willie Nelson
  • Up!
    Shania Twain
  • Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers
    Various Artists

Flippo: You would think that the two Willies would cancel each other out. It’s not Faith’s year karma-wise for this album. Lyle always has a shot, and Shania is the favorite. My pick is the superb Louvin tribute album.

Morris: With fingers crossed and motor running, I give the laurels here to Shania Twain’s Up! But my heart and vote are pledged to the various-artisted Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers.

Shelburne: The Louvin tribute just might take it, considering that 34 artists appear on the album. Plus, it’s magnificent. Lyle Lovett won this award in 1996 and might capture it again. But my final prediction is Shania Twain.

Gilbert: I’ll go with the numbers and pick the Louvin Brothers tribute. Even Grammy voters who don’t recognize the names of Sonya Isaacs or Carl Jackson will be drawn to a project also featuring James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. I should follow up this jaded remark by adding that there couldn’t be a more deserving winner than this true labor of love from executive producers Carl Jackson and Kathy Louvin.

Other country-related Grammy nominations include:

Best Country Instrumental Performance
(For solo, duo, group or collaborative performances, without vocals)

  • “Ain’t Chet Yet”
    Ray Benson
    Track from: Beyond Time
  • “Cluck Old Hen”
    Alison Krauss & Union Station
    Track from: Live
  • “Spaghetti Western Swing”
    Brad Paisley Featuring Redd Volkaert
    Track from: Mud on the Tires
  • “Pick Along”
    Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs
    Track from: The Three Pickers
  • “Get Up John”
    Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
    Track from: Live at the Charleston Music Hall

Best Bluegrass Album
(Vocal or Instrumental)

  • Live
    Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • It’s Just the Night
    The Del McCoury Band
  • Live at the Charleston Music Hall
    Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
  • Christmas on the Mountain — A Bluegrass Christmas
    Various Artists
  • One Step Ahead
    Rhonda Vincent

Best Traditional Folk Album
(Vocal or Instrumental)

  • Wildwood Flower
    June Carter Cash
  • Any Old Time
    Steve Forbert
  • Bon Reve
    Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
  • The Three Pickers
    Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson & Ricky Skaggs
  • Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Volume 3
    Pete Seeger and Friends

Best Contemporary Folk Album
(Vocal or Instrumental)

  • Rules of Travel
    Rosanne Cash
  • Stumble Into Grace
    Emmylou Harris
  • Looking for the Moon
    Tom Paxton
  • World Without Tears
    Lucinda Williams
  • The Wind
    Warren Zevon