NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Grammy Nominations Acknowledge Country Music Excellence

Jamey Johnson Is Singled Out, Along With Randy Travis, Lady A, Trisha Yearwood, Others

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Every music awards show is criticized, often viciously, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. That may be part of the experience of watching an awards show. Everyone’s a critic these days. What fun would an�awards show be that pleases everyone? I have never seen one that managed to do so.

In the past, country music was sometimes shortchanged, often because it was not well represented in all the large membership. In recent years, as more country music industry members join the Grammy ranks, it is being much more equally treated, in my view.

In the niche awards shows, like the CMAs, ACMs and others, all the voters listen to the same music. And theoretically, those awards shows have to please only one audience. Not so with the Grammy’s 110 musical categories and 12,000 voters and who knows how many different musical audiences.

The criteria for Grammy awards are markedly different from the other awards shows. The Grammy organization states the following standards: “The Grammys are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.” With that in mind, let’s reflect a minute on this year’s country nominations.

There were several surprises announced on the hour-long Grammy nominations concert Wednesday (Dec. 3). I was not surprised that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were nominated in the album category for their Raising Sand. They’re up against stiff competition with Coldplay, Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo and Radiohead, but I like Plant’s and Krauss’ chances to win. But I did not anticipate seeing them also nominated in the pop collaboration (“Rich Woman”) and for record of the year (“Please Read the Letter”) categories, but it makes sense for a record that totally defies categorization.

Nor did I expect to see Lady Antebellum nominated for best new artist in the general category although I am pleased for them. Taylor Swift was nominated for best new artist last year, so maybe all that country has to do is keep producing at least one star act every year.

I did expect to see Lady A in the country group or duo performance category (“Love Don’t Live Here”) because of their strong debut album and performances this year. Their competitors here are Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts,the SteelDrivers and Sugarland, who I think will be the favorite, if by a narrow margin.

I think the most richly deserved country nominee was Jamey Johnson with his three nominations for album (That Lonesome Song), male vocal performance and song (both for “In Color”). Johnson has persevered with his singular vision of what country music can and should be, in the face of initial marketplace indifference and occasional hostility. His timeless album and the breakthrough song “In Color” embody the grit and integrity of traditional country, with a modern sensibility. Here’s to his record company Mercury Nashville for staying the course.

Next as welcome surprises would come the two nominations from Randy Travis’ first country album in eight years, Around the Bend, and the nominations for Patty Loveless’ album of country standards, Sleepless Nights and Trisha Yearwood’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. None of those three albums has met with commercial acceptance (yet) but clearly embrace everything that makes country music great — strong, strong songs, heartfelt vocal performances and the unparalleled picking that went into those records.

And it’s good to see Kathy Mattea get some due for her superb album Coal. This moving work, about the coal country of West Virginia where she grew up, is up for best traditional folk album. And I’m pleased to note that the new albums by Rodney Crowell (Sex and Gasoline) and Emmylou Harris (All I Intended to Be) are alive and well in the best contemporary folk/Americana album category.

Read more about the Grammy country nominees.