(L-R) Jason Isbell, Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Gregg Allman, Brent Cobb, Raul Malo (Mavericks)
2018 GRAMMY Nominations: Best Americana Album Roundup
While Americana is one of the younger genre categories to be recognized at the 60th GRAMMY Awards — the award was implemented for 2009 — the music itself is deeply rooted in our country's musical culture. Whether incorporating the crafty twang of country, wielding the attitude and grit of rock, summoning the spirit of soul, or harkening back to the storytelling origins of folk, Americana at its best tends to pick just the right mix of flowers and weeds from the garden of musical tradition to create a bouquet that is familiar yet fresh, beautiful yet prickly and reverent yet honest.
This year's crop of GRAMMY nominees in the Best Americana Album category covers a vast swath of the genre's influencers and tastemakers. Nominees range from the legendary late Gregg Allman, who helped invent the genre with the Allman Brothers Band, to newcomer Brent Cobb, who represents the contour of a more modern Nashville, Tenn., skyline with deep roots and country crossover ability.
The category also includes alt-country pioneers the Mavericks, who blend "Cuban grooves and Bakersfield-inspired twang," indie-folk sweetheart Iron & Wine, who brought the genre to a new audience, and Americana powerhouse Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit, who have re-drawn the genre's boundaries of success and influence.
Let's take a closer look at the five GRAMMY nominees making the cut in this dynamic Best Americana Album category.
Gregg Allman, Southern Blood
The final studio album from one of rock and roll's true legends, Southern Blood delivered an intimate look at GRAMMY winner Allman. For his last act, Allman compiled a collection of one original song — the leadoff track, "My Only Friend" — plus a mixture of cover songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Lowell George, Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, and more.
Released three months following Allman's death, the album was recorded at the historic Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and was produced by GRAMMY winner Don Was. Despite the sense that Allman's health was worsening — the singer died on May 27, 2017, due to complications from liver cancer — Was explained that the album came from a more uplifting place of introspection.
"It's not an album about dying," said Was. "Gregg was explaining his life and making sense of it, both for the fans who stood with him for decades, and for himself."
Brent Cobb, Shine On Rainy Day
Originally from a small town in rural Georgia, singer/songwriter Cobb has managed to carve out his own groove while landing big-time cuts with marquee Nashville names such as Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan. But country star-power aside, Cobb's soulful debut album, Shine On Rainy Day, evokes the vibe of his hometown of Ellaville, Ga.
"It just is Georgia," said Cobb. "It's just that rural, easy-going way it feels down there on a nice spring evening when the wind's blowing warm and you smell wisteria, you know?"
While Cobb hopes to win his first GRAMMY, it wouldn't be the first GRAMMY in his family. His cousin, Americana super producer Dave Cobb, took home two trophies at the 58th GRAMMY Awards: Best Country Album for Chris Stapleton's Traveller and Best Americana Album — the same category for which his cousin is now vying — for Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free.
Iron & Wine, Beast Epic
Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Sam Beam returned in 2017 with his sixth LP, and first in four years, under the stage moniker Iron & Wine. Earning Beam his first career nomination, Beast Epic showcases the direct connection his songs draw to the soul, while giving his audience a new, more vulnerable view inside his world.
"I feel like [vulnerability is] important for what I like to write songs about," Beam told Under The Radar. "That's appropriate for this group for sure. There's a brokenness to them but I also don't think they're just sad. They're just honest songs about our frailties and our strengths."
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
Coming off his time in alt-country rock ramblers Drive-By Truckers, Isbell has enjoyed a wildly successful solo career in recent years, highlighted by 2013's Southeastern and his 2015 GRAMMY-winning album, Something More Than Free, which took home two awards at the 58th GRAMMY Awards, one for Best Americana Album and another for Best American Roots Song for "24 Frames."
His latest effort, The Nashville Sound, re-enlists his backing band, the 400 Unit, and establishes Isbell as one of today's finest songwriters. His band includes his talented wife, Amanda Shires, on violin — a successful singer/songwriter in her own right. The couple's romantic and musical compatibility is on full display in the painful and stunning "If We Were Vampires," which also earned Isbell a GRAMMY nomination this year for Best American Roots Song.
The Mavericks, Brand New Day
Unique in their design and execution of Americana music, pulling in Latin flavor with retro rockabilly elements, the Mavericks formed more than 25 years ago. Led by singer/songwriter and co-producer Raul Malo, the Mavericks returned in 2017 with Brand New Day, their third album in five years following a nine-year hiatus.
Rolling Stone lauded the title track's "throwback, symphonic sweep," adding it "recalls the wall of sound arrangements of the 1960s. Malo pulls double duty as frontman and Phil Spector-ish producer, stacking the song high with bells, horns, harmonies, and plenty of four-on-the-floor stomp."
The Mavericks are hoping to land their second career GRAMMY win. The band's "Here Comes The Rain" won Best Country Performance at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for 1995.