Raising Americana In 2010
(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)
Aside from the ongoing debate over what constitutes Americana, the genre continues to mature and grow in influence. As the '80s dawned, alt-country artists like Lone Justice, Jason & The Scorchers, BoDeans, and early R.E.M. were taking their place on MTV, and a new breed of Americana artists like Steve Earle, k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, and Dwight Yoakam was shaking up Nashville. The '90s brought bands that had grown up on trailblazers such as Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, and Blue Rodeo. These and other artists spiked classic country with a stiff dose of punk and hard rock.
The watershed moment for Americana came at the new millennium. Current GRAMMY nominee T Bone Burnett featured influences of bluegrass, spiritual, blues, and classic roots on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? The soundtrack went on to win Album Of The Year and Best Compilation Soundtrack For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media, at the 44th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2002. The soundtrack also garnered GRAMMY wins for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" (Harley Allen, Pat Enright and Dany Tyminski), and Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "O Death" (Ralph Stanley).
In 2010 the music industry landscape was facing mounting industry uncertainty, but Americana had one of the most productive and dynamic years ever.
Rock icon Robert Plant continued to follow his muse and build on the success he enjoyed, along with Alison Krauss and Burnett, with Raising Sand. The album won all five awards for which it was nominated at the 51st Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2009. This year, Plant revived Band Of Joy featuring Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Darrell Scott, Byron House, and Marco Giovino. Plant's latest release, Band Of Joy, has nominations in both the Rock and American Roots Fields.
Country and Americana music icon Willie Nelson continued his daunting touring schedule at 77 years of age, still blazing his own musical trail. Nelson's latest release, Country Music, produced by Burnett, is nominated for Best Americana Album and is comprised mostly of classics from the American songbook, including Merle Travis' "Dark As A Dungeon" and Hank Williams' "House Of Gold."
Last year also saw a posthumous release from Johnny Cash. American VI: Ain't No Grave concluded a fruitful collaboration with producer Rick Rubin and was released three days prior to what would have been Cash's 78th birthday. Cash's accomplished daughter, Rosanne Cash, released the GRAMMY-nominated The List in 2009, an album of 12 classic covers from a list of 100 essential country songs that her father gave her when she was a teenager. Last year also saw the release of Rosanne Cash's best-selling memoir, Composed.
Burnett returned to film with the GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack to Crazy Heart featuring Stephen Bruton, Ryan Bingham, Townes Van Zandt, and Buck Owens, among others. Last year also saw the prolific Burnett produce albums for Elvis Costello (National Ransom), Elton John and Leon Russell (The Union), the Secret Sisters' self-titled release, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses (Junky Star), Jakob Dylan (Women + Country), and John Mellencamp (No Better Than This). Burnett and Mellencamp proved that using vintage recording equipment within the legendary Sun Studio and Nashville's famed RCA Studio B, respectively, can produce great songs that remain relevant and vibrant in the world of Auto-Tune and canned beats.
And to cap off 2010, Rolling Stone's 30 best albums of the year list featured seven Americana releases from Elizabeth Cook (Welder), Peter Wolf (Midnight Souvenirs), Neil Young (Le Noise), Mellencamp (No Better Than This), Plant (Band Of Joy), Jamey Johnson (The Guitar Song), and John and Russell (The Union).
As good as 2010 was, 2011 has already started out strong and looks to be even better for Americana and roots music.
Who will take home the GRAMMY gold in the American Roots Field? Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.