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GRAMMYS: Chicks Get Instrumental Validation
NEW YORK -- Home proved to be fertile ground for the Dixie Chicks at the 45th annual Grammy Awards. The trio's third major-label album planted the seed for a total of four awards, including country album of the year, harvested during the Sunday night (Feb. 23) presentation at Madison Square Garden.

The Chicks took the greatest pleasure in winning the best country instrumental performance trophy with "Lil' Jack Slade," a track from the album. When the category was announced during the non-televised portion of the awards show, Natalie Maines told the crowd, "It may sound strange, but this is the award we wanted most." Emily Robison added, "Instrumental music doesn't always get recognized like it should, so this means a lot."

Later backstage, Maines was quick to explain that she had little to do with the song, but she was proud to note that the instrumental is named for her infant son. "It's awesome," she said. "We called him and told him he'd won his first Grammy."

"Long Time Gone," another track from Home, was named best country performance by a duo or group. Home also resulted in a Grammy for Kevin Reagan, who supervised the design of the CD cover and booklet. The art director received the trophy for overall best recording package.

Prior to Sunday's awards show, the Chicks had already won four Grammys. The latest awards provide added prestige for Home, an album that has already sold more than 5 million copies. The added prestige is perhaps noteworthy, considering that the Chicks recorded the acoustic album in Texas during a very public battle with Sony Music. When the war was over, the Chicks released Home on their own label (Open Wide Records) in conjunction with the existing Sony imprint (Monument Records).

When asked to explain the album's appeal, Maines said, "I think it's honest. It's who we are, and we're not trying to be anything that we're not. This album, especially, was very selfish. We didn't even know it was going to be an album. We weren't thinking about radio singles or the length of songs." Noting radio's self-imposed restrictions on the length of singles, she quipped, "Of course, now our label hates us because there's nothing under five minutes."

Recorded with the of help of Maines father, producer Lloyd Maines, Home marked the first time the Chicks have had total creative control over an album. Natalie Maines said, "We're most proud of this album, so I think we're most proud of these Grammys."

The Chicks were also nominated for overall album of the year, but Robison's prophecy came true when she joked, "We know we're not going to win." The honor went to the night's biggest winner -- Norah Jones -- for Come Away With Me.

The Chicks' "Landslide" and Faith Hill's "Cry" were the only two country performances of the evening. Hill's recording of the "Cry" was named best female country vocal performance, providing the fourth Grammy of her career.

Like the Chicks, Hill released her latest album this past fall. "It certainly feels good right now," she said backstage. "It's nice to have a break every so often, I think. For me, I've gotta do that."

And like many other artists, Hill said it can be intimidating to perform on a major awards show. She explained, "Especially when a lot of the peers who are out there are legendary musicians and singers that I've listened to for a long, long time, and those new artists I'm listening to now I really like a lot, like Norah Jones and John Mayer. And Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin -- it's pretty awesome to be up on that same stage as those guys."

Absent from the Grammy ceremony were Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack and Johnny Cash. Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" was named best country song. Nelson and Womack shared a win for best country collaboration with vocals for "Mendocino County Line." Cash, who was recently hospitalized in Nashville, won best male country vocal performance for "Give My Love to Rose," a track from his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. It's Cash's 11th Grammy win and Nelson's sixth. It marks the first Grammy wins for both Jackson and Womack.

When Nickel Creek heard that their latest album, This Side, had been named best contemporary folk album, the three members weren't about to curtail their youthful enthusiasm. After jumping up and down -- and hugging each other as if in disbelief -- Chris Thile said, "All the people who were nominated in our category kicked so much butt." He had a point, too, considering that their competition included Cash, the Chieftains, Steve Earle and Patty Griffin.

Thile was delighted that Nickel Creek wound up in the contemporary folk category. "Contemporary folk," he said backstage. "Probably nobody in the room could actually say what that might be, which is kind of exciting. It's good to be ... where there's not just like a box that you have to go in." Noting that he and his bandmates -- siblings Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins -- have been playing music together for more than 13 years, Thile held his Grammy and said, "To get to here, I guess it really doesn't get any bigger, does it?" Sara Watkins added, "To get to be here together, to get to share this with the people you've grown so much with ... it's really, really special."

Singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale seemed almost embarrassed to have won best bluegrass album honors for Lost in the Lonesome Pines, a project recorded with bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley and his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. Indeed, Stanley and his son, Ralph Stanley II, were nominated in the category alongside the Roland White Band and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. After expressing his devotion and gratitude to Stanley, Lauderdale added, "I also want to tell Doyle Lawson and Roland White how much I love them."

Riders in the Sky's continuing relationship with Disney resulted in the second Grammy win of their lengthy career. The cowboy group's Monsters Inc. -- Scream Factory Favorites was named best musical album for children. "We have 19 kids among us," Ranger Doug Green explained. "They've kept us young to be able to do this." The Riders later charmed the backstage press corps with an impromptu a cappela version of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," proving that "the cowboy way" doesn't require any studio trickery such as pro-tools computer programs.

Brad Paisley hosted one of the non-televised Grammy segments, presenting several awards including best instrumental arrangement.

Click here for a list of Grammy winners in the country categories.

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