Exploring The GRAMMYs' American Roots Music Field Nominees
You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the American Roots Music Field categories for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
The roots of American music run deep, going back to a time in our national history when folk, blues and bluegrass were still-gestating genres. Blues became the building block for genres such as gospel, jazz, rock, rap, and pop, without ever losing its authenticity or ability to address the daily joys and woes of ordinary people. Folk music had a similar authentic thread, telling simple stories of rural and urban life that united singer and audience with the common thread of shared experience. Folk has transformed over the years into what we now call country, singer/songwriter, bluegrass, roots, and Americana. Like blues, folk shares the impulse for realistic, plainspoken expression and stretches back to the days before our country's foundation. This year's nominees in the American Roots Music Field emphasize the diversity of these American musical traditions, with fresh seeds planted for the future.
Best Americana Album
Linda Chorney nabbed a GRAMMY nomination without registering a single Nielsen SoundScan sale of her sixth self-produced album, Emotional Jukebox, as of last December. The New Jersey resident has supported herself as a working musician for 25 years with songs marked by her wicked sense of humor and lively vocals. Ry Cooder has won six GRAMMY Awards in his career, spanning folk, pop, Latin, and children's music. Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down is another showcase for Cooder's expressive guitar playing and sardonic vocals. Though he did not take home a GRAMMY during his tenure with the Band, a group that almost single-handedly invented the Americana genre, Levon Helm has won two in the last five years for his solo work. Ramble At The Ryman features contributions from top musicians such as Buddy Miller, John Hiatt and Sheryl Crow. On Hard Bargain, 12-time GRAMMY winner Emmylou Harris turns her talent from interpreter to songwriter, with self-penned songs reflecting themes such as friendship, her affinity for animal companions, romance, and racism. The shimmering beauty of her voice is spine-tingling, evidenced by her emotionally charged tributes to Gram Parsons ("The Road") and Kate McGarrigle ("Darlin' Kate"). With three GRAMMYs in folk, country and rock categories already to her credit, Blessed is Lucinda Williams' second nomination in this category, following 2009's Little Honey. Williams has made her reputation exploring the dark side of the human psyche and the songs on Blessed are as powerful as any she's ever written.
Best Bluegrass Album
Paper Airplane marks the first album of all-new recordings for Alison Krauss & Union Station since 2004, and picks up right where they left off in ably mixing bluegrass, country, rock, and pop. Krauss most recently scored five wins in 2008 for Raising Sand with Robert Plant, bringing her GRAMMY total to 26, a record for a female artist. As lead singer of the Stanley Brothers, Ralph Stanley was playing bluegrass before the genre had a name. His music stays close to its traditional mountain roots and his vocals on A Mother's Prayer, with their raw, unpolished force, harken back to his formidable rendition of the GRAMMY-winning "O Death" on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Country maverick Jim Lauderdale's alliance with Stanley on Lost In The Lonesome Pines won him a GRAMMY in this category in 2002. Reason And Rhyme: Bluegrass Songs By Robert Hunter & Jim Lauderdale is the Lauderdale/Hunter duo's second full-album collaboration, and a smooth blend of fancy picking and lyrics with a sharp literary edge. Steve Martin already had two Best Comedy Album GRAMMYs in his trophy case before going back to his first love — banjo — and winning two music-related GRAMMYs. On Rare Bird Alert he teamed with North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers and their smoking energy is evidenced by the amazing fretwork on "Northern Island" and the bluegrass version of Martin's hit "King Tut." Nine GRAMMY nominations and one Best Bluegrass Album award later, the Del McCoury Band checks in again with Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe, a tribute to the man who gave McCoury his first high-profile gig when he hired him as guitarist and lead singer for the Blue Grass Boys. As a member of Nickel Creek, mandolin player Chris Thile helped pioneer a jazzy, pop approach to bluegrass that helped introduced a new generation of young people to the genre. Sleep With One Eye Open, his debut album alongside Brooklyn, N.Y.-based traditionalist Michael Daves, is a collection of 16 traditional songs from artists such as Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe, among others.
Best Blues Album
Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipients the Allman Brothers, led by Duane and Gregg Allman, helped pioneer Southern rock and expanded the paremeters of popular music with a sound that merged rock, blues, country, and jazz. Gregg Allman returns to his roots with Low Country Blues, a simmering collection of covers paying tribute to the music that inspired him. A longtime Allman Brothers associate and Gov't Mule co-founder, Warren Haynes showcases his searing guitar work, passionate vocals and exceptional songwriting on Man In Motion. Haynes draws upon his deepest roots throughout, resulting in a potent concoction of soul and blues. When blues singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks married, the Tedeschi Trucks Band was the next logical step. Although the 11-member group bears the duo's name, the band is a cooperative effort, with Revelator offering a pleasing gumbo of blues, funk, gospel, soul, and rock. Marcia Ball's rhythmic boogie-woogie keyboard work on Roadside Attractions includes nuances drawn from zydeco, swamp rock and R&B that complement her spirited original tunes. Ball has four prior GRAMMY nominations to her credit, the most recent in 2008 for Best Contemporary Blues Album for Peace, Love & BBQ. Keb' Mo's mashup of delta blues, folk, jazz, and rock made him one of the leaders of the blues revival of the early '90s. As much soul and folk as it is blues, The Reflection shows off the three-time GRAMMY winner's continuing exploration of the crossroads where gospel, blues, pop, African-American folk, and rock merge.
Best Folk Album
The Civil Wars — the singing/songwriting duo consisting of John Paul White and Joy Williams— created an Internet buzz in 2009 when they offered fans a free download of Live At Eddie's Attic. Their studio debut, Barton Hollow, has crossed the rock, folk, indie, and pop genres, winning fans with their close country harmonies and solid songcraft. Three-time GRAMMY winner Steve Earle is a novelist, producer, poet, playwright, actor, and activist as well as a singer/songwriter. The album title is an obvious nod to Hank Williams and, like his work, the songs on I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive deal with mortality, loss and limitation. Harps, zithers, fiddles, hammer dulcimers, acoustic guitars, and vintage synthesizers ebb and flow through the soothing folk pop sound of Fleet Foxes. Helplessness Blues is intimate and anthemic at the same time — subtle folk for fans of transcendent harmonies. Alternative rock icon Eddie Vedder switches gears on Ukulele Songs, an acoustic outing on which his understated vocals and ukulele take center stage. Pearl Jam's "Can't Keep" is stripped down to its folky essence and sounds comfortable nested up against standards such as "Dream A Little Dream" and Vedder's own "Broken Heart." The music of Gillian Welch is steeped in the timeless melancholy of traditional folk music and marked by her unadorned vocals and the stunning interplay between her guitar and the sophisticated picking of her partner David Rawlings. The Harrow & The Harvest sounds like a message from the past, full of dark painful beauty and sudden bursts of soulful sunshine.
Best Regional Roots Music Album
C.J. Chenier, son of GRAMMY-winning zydeco king Clifton Chenier, got his professional start playing in jazz, R&B and funk bands. His music has more rock and blues in the mix and, as you might expect from the title, the emphasis on Can't Sit Down is on booty-shaking party jams. Slack key guitarist George Kahumoku Jr. has recently picked up GRAMMYs for the albums Legends Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar — Live From Maui, Treasures Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar and Masters Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2. Wao Akua — The Forest Of The Gods includes a mixture of traditional songs and his own compositions. When the Rebirth Brass Band was founded in 1982, they were intent on preserving the music of New Orleans marching bands and helped contribute to the form's recent resurgence by adding funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop to their infectious sound. Rebirth Of New Orleans is their first GRAMMY-nominated album. Grand Isle is the fourth album by Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys to receive a GRAMMY nomination. Led by Riley, a master accordion player and charismatic singer, the Playboys have been winning audiences with their soulful blend of Cajun, blues, zydeco, ska, and swamp rock for more than 20 years. Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra is arguably the most popular polka band in the United States with Sturr already having 18 GRAMMY wins to his credit. Not Just Another Polka includes "Ob-La-Di Polka," a polka-charged rendition of the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da."
Who will take home the awards in the American Roots Music Field categories? Tune in to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).
(Note: The videos embedded reflect official videos available through official artist and record label Web channels.)