(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
The more I think about the Grammy Awards show, the more I’m convinced that, overall, it was a very positive thing in one major regard. Grammy’s view of country music and of Nashville itself bodes well for both. Overall.
Grammy’s view is, of course, not the only view, and there’s great disagreement as to the extent that it matters in comparison with the scrutiny coming from the CMA Awards, the ACM Awards, the CMT Music Awards (and to an increasing extent the Americana Music Awards and the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards). Not to mention the view from radio, TV and print media.
But Grammy remains the main window through which much of the non-country music world sees country music. And here’s what I think they saw:
Loretta Lynn received vindication as a cherished and still vital older artist with the guts to do what she believes in. It’s hard to believe that she had won only one Grammy in 33 years — and that was for a duet with Conway Twitty rather than her long and solid body of solo work. In getting her second and third awards for her daring collaboration with rock artist and producer Jack White, I think she transcended being completely overlooked by the CMA Awards. CMA voters will probably catch up with her three or four years after the fact, just as they did with Johnny Cash.
On the Nashville front, music and musicians got a deserved spotlight. Steve Earle, an old-time Nashville scrapper, became a first-time Grammy winner after 19 years of making recorded music, and he got it for one of his most political albums ever.
Two historically important and significant albums produced in Nashville were recognized. Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970 and Beautiful Dreamer — The Songs of Stephen Foster are both major contributions to music history and scholarship in addition to being very listenable contemporary recordings. As major labels consolidate their staffs and cut back on non-superstar efforts, they are eliminating any such marginally-selling projects that preserve music’s heritage. Good for Nashville’s institutions that they are willing to take up the effort and to expend considerable time and resources to turn out such stellar work.
Ricky Skaggs and Earl Scruggs were awarded for their continuing excellence in bluegrass. The Dixie Chicks’ getting the best country performance by a duo or group for the older live track “Top of the World” was a not-unexpected slap in country radio’s face for dropping the Chicks after their anti-Bush remark.
Randy Travis continues the well-deserved second chapter of his career as his Worship & Faith was named best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album.
With Tim McGraw, the commercial and mainstream side of country music is being rewarded for being far better than it has to be — and better than it was in many of its eras. People tend to cloak country’s past in glowing golden eras, when in fact, much of the music of the past was commercial dreck. He deserved his male country vocal performance honor, and McGraw’s hit, “Live Like You Were Dying” (written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols), was the clear winner as country song of year and came close to being the overall song of the year.
Gretchen Wilson — a newcomer with more brass than a hardware store — gets her just props for the best female country vocal performance award. She and the other favorite for overall best new artist, Kanye West, lost because their close votes canceled each other out, allowing the decidedly lesser Maroon 5 to eke through.
And country’s live music exposure on the awards show was arguably mixed. Alison Krauss’ talents were unfortunately wasted on the all-star performance of “Across the Universe.” Reducing her to fiddle accompaniment while far less-talented singers around her were demonstrating their vocal limitations tells me that the Grammy producers still don’t know their country artists.
One thing is for sure. Keith Urban’s stock went up through the stratosphere after his very convincing performance with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dickey Betts and Elvin Bishop in the Southern rock tribute. Betts is a grizzled old journeyman who’s still got the chops that made him a rock legend, but he was quick in his backstage interviews to praise Urban’s musicianship. As did rock veteran Bishop.
And Earl Scruggs asked to meet with Urban after the latter’s performance and the two spent a good amount of time together talking. Scruggs, the 81-year-old banjo master who helped usher in the new music form of bluegrass when he was the pivotal musician in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the late 1940s, is still interested in teaching. And in learning. That’s something to which all country fans and Grammy voters should give some serious thought.