48th Annual GRAMMYs Roundup: Country Field
Familiar names dominate the Country Field this year, with few newcomers in sight. The lone exception is in the General Field, where Atlanta trio SugarLand is nominated for Best New Artist. SugarLand made some big noise this year with their platinum debut Twice The Speed Of Life, a feisty country-pop collection that yielded several major summer hits.
The BEST FEMALE COUNTRY VOCAL PERFORMANCE nominees represent a combined 20 GRAMMY Awards. Leading the group is Emmylou Harris, who holds 11 GRAMMYs and is nominated this year for "The Connection," the sole new track from her retrospective, The Very Best Of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches & Highways. After pushing the boundaries of country to its pop limits, Faith Hill returns to her Southern roots with the autobiographical "Mississippi Girl," from the album Fireflies. No sophomore slump for Gretchen Wilson, whose debut last year earned her critical acclaim and her first GRAMMY. This year she's nominated for four awards, including the title track off her second release, All Jacked Up. Traditionalist Lee Ann Womack channels the ghosts of country's past with the cheating ballad "I May Hate Myself In The Morning," from her evocative collection, There's More Where That Came From. Three-time GRAMMY-winner Trisha Yearwood is nominated for "Georgia Rain," off her first album in four years, Jasper County. The song features the harmony vocals of husband and fellow GRAMMY-winner, Garth Brooks.
In the BEST MALE COUNTRY VOCAL PERFORMANCE category, the legendary George Jones turns in a GRAMMY-worthy performance with "Funny How Time Slips Away," a song written by Willie Nelson and recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder to Al Green and Lyle Lovett. Jones included the track on Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't, his unique look at songs he passed on recording that became hits for others. Toby Keith mellows his in-your-face swagger with some traditional twang on "As Good As I Once Was," from Honkeytonk University. Delbert McClinton is known more as an R&B/blues performer — indeed, his Cost Of Living album is nominated in the Best Contemporary Blues category — but the track "Midnight Communion" conveys the boozy attitude of a classic country drinking song. Willie Nelson is nominated for his performance of the Dukes Of Hazzard theme song, "Good Ol' Boys," off the Dukes Of Hazzard — Soundtrack. Brad Paisley is nominated for "Alcohol," his bottle's eye view perspective on drinking from Time Well Wasted. Known more as a rocker than a crooner, Keith Urban shows his softer side on the bittersweet ballad "You'll Think Of Me," from his Golden Road release.
In the BEST COUNTRY PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCAL category, Big & Rich are nominated for "Comin' To Your City," a track that blends the duo's signature "gonzo country" style with aggressive rock attitude. Not to be outdone in the high-octane department, Brooks & Dunn is nominated for "Play Something Country," a revved-up track that evokes the spirit of a raucous honky tonk. The Dixie Chicks have been off the country music radar for three years, but reemerged with the gospel-tinged "I Hope," a song recorded to benefit the survivors of Hurricane Katrina that is only available digitally. With 17 GRAMMY Awards to her name, Alison Krauss has won more GRAMMYs than any female artist — of any genre. Alison Krauss And Union Station are nominated in this category for the angelic love ballad "Restless," off Lonely Runs Both Ways. Rascal Flatts give an emotion-packed performance of the classic country ballad "Bless The Broken Road."
GRAMMY winners Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill joined Brooks & Dunn in their cover of the Larry Willoughby classic "Building Bridges," earning a nomination in the BEST COUNTRY COLLABORATION WITH VOCALS category. Willoughby's cousin Rodney Crowell is also nominated in this category for a duet with longtime friend and collaborator Emmylou Harris on "Shelter From The Storm," from Crowell's The Outsider release. Husband-and-wife team Faith Hill and Tim McGraw duet on "Like We Never Loved At All" — in 2000 the two won a GRAMMY in this category for "Let's Make Love." Willie Nelson and Norah Jones turn in a jazzed-up performance of "Dreams Come True," from Nelson's It Always Will Be release. Gretchen Wilson wrote "Politically Uncorrect" about the legendary Merle Haggard, so it made sense she'd invite him to sing it with her. The song appears on her sophomore release, All Jacked Up.
The BEST COUNTRY INSTRUMENTAL PERFORMANCE category is dominated by familiar names. Charlie Daniels' bluegrass take on the gospel classic "I'll Fly Away" could mark his first GRAMMY since 1979's "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." Dobro legend Jerry Douglas has carved out a name for himself separate from his work with Alison Krauss And Union Station; on the fiery "Who's Your Uncle?" off his own The Best Kept Secret release, he is joined by bluegrass brethren Sam Bush and Béla Fleck. He's nominated again with Alison Krauss And Union Station for the lyrical "Unionhouse Branch" off Lonely Runs Both Ways. Nickel Creek wrote the haunting "Scotch & Chocolate" under the influence of the song's namesake products. Also aptly named is Brad Paisley's "Time Warp," which takes listeners on a musical history lesson.
Nominees for BEST COUNTRY SONG range from fired-up to heartfelt. In the former category is Gretchen Wilson's bar-buster "All Jacked Up," written by Wilson, John Rich (of Big & Rich) and Vicky McGehee. Booze is also the topic of Brad Paisley's more bittersweet "Alcohol." A love ballad with spiritual overtones, "Bless The Broken Road," written by Nashville tunesmiths Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna and Marcus Hummon, is nominated in three categories this year, including a Song Of The Year GRAMMY. The song was written in 1994, and since then it has been recorded by numerous artists — including Hanna's own Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — in the country and gospel fields. Rascal Flatts recorded this version for their 2004 release Feels Like Today. Dixie Chicks Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison joined with Keb' Mo' to pen the Katrina fundraiser "I Hope." Lee Ann Womack fell in love with Odie Blackmon's melancholy ballad "I May Hate Myself In The Morning," fashioning her entire album around its retro, heart-tugging feel.
Women dominate the BEST COUNTRY ALBUM nominees. Faith Hill returned to her roots with the country-fied Fireflies, while Alison Krauss And Union Station polish their bluegrass/adult contemporary marriage on Lonely Runs Both Ways. Gretchen Wilson's All Jacked Up displayed the same rock and sass that heralded her debut on the country scene. Trisha Yearwood returned from a four-year hiatus with the richly textured Jasper County. Brad Paisley, the lone rooster in this henhouse, is nominated for Time Well Wasted, a collection set apart for its sharply observant songs, many penned by Paisley himself.
The nominees for BEST BLUEGRASS ALBUM show the enduring strength of traditional music genres. Blue Highway is an ensemble of songwriters and solo pickers whose combined talents create a special magic, as on the nominated Marbletown. Nominated for their self-titled release, Arizona-based Cherryholmes was formed six years ago as a way for the expansive Cherryholmes family to bond. Clocking in at 70 minutes, Rhonda Vincent And The Rage’s live album, Ragin' Live, covers a broad musical territory. New on the scene, The Grascals' self-titled debut blends traditional and contemporary sensibilities to create a sound that resonates with country and bluegrass fans alike. The Del McCoury Band takes a hard turn into traditional bluegrass territory with The Company We Keep, a collection that features McCoury's songwriting for the first time.