This evening the Americana Music Association will acknowledge the accomplishments of their finest artists for the tenth time at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The Americana Music Association Awards recognize the best that the genre has to offer. Each year it gets tougher to pare the list down to the final four in each of the six categories, as evidenced by the number of stellar artists and album releases that were not nominated for awards (chief among them Gregg Allman’s stellar album, “Low Country Blues”). I feel confident in stating the belief that Americana hasn’t witnessed the mainstream exposure it’s been receiving since the days of the motion picture “O Brother Where Art Thou,” which was released ten years ago. Virtually all of the nominees have appeared on various daytime and late night talk shows, while receiving much love from various trade organizations and magazines. It is indeed time for a well-deserved celebration.
This will be the first year I have attended the awards, the second year making predictions as to how the awards will be doled-out at this evenings’ event. I expect a few surprises tonight as all of the nominated artists had a fantastic year and more than contributed to the overall growth and continued success. You will note from the list of nominees in the six categories that choosing just one winner would be no easy task for the voters. So, here we go with how I think the chips will fall tonight. Feel free to play along, leave a comment, and we’ll compare the results tomorrow. The nominees are:
Instrumentalist of the Year
The reign of Buddy Miller will continue in this category. His stellar album with Julie Miller, continued album work for many artists, and although it shouldn’t matter for this category (but I suspect it does factor in to some voters’ decisions), his many production credits over the year will put Buddy over the top in a field of excellent musicians.
New/Emerging Artist of the Year
The Civil Wars
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Mumford and Sons
The Secret Sisters
The future is very bright for Americana, as indicated by the list of nominees in the New/Emerging Artist category. Jessica Lea Mayfield spent the year opening shows for high profile Americana acts Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The Secret Sisters emerged with a new yet classic sound that only siblings can capture. But the category this year comes down to two acts who have pulled away from the field. The Civil Wars have recently emerged as a force in Americana, selling 150,000 copies of their debut album “Barton Hollow”, touring the country to packed houses, and appearing on various media outlets. While a great arguement could be made for Mumford and Sons to get the nod for this trophy tonight, The Civil Wars should pick up the win adding to their ever expanding list of public and industry accolades. Which leads us to …
Duo/Group of the Year
The Avett Brothers
The Civil Wars
Mumford and Sons
Robert Plant and the Band of Joy
Again, this is an extremely tough category. It really is nearly impossible to select just one artist, as they can conceivably all be acknowledged as the Duo or Group of the Year. But tonight, the winner will be Mumford and Sons. To my knowledge, no group has captured the attention of such a large cross-section of the public around the world as has this British band. Their appearance on last year's Grammy Awards with The Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan catapulted the boys from England in to the stratosphere. Their album "Sigh No More" is a runaway success the world over, and they have fans aged 8 to 80. Mumford and Sons will be around for a very long time and will receive what could be the first of many Duo or Group of the Year Awards by the Americana Music Association.
Song of the Year
"Down by the Water," Decemberists with Gillian Welch
"El Camino," Elizabeth Cook
"Harlem River Blues," Justin Townes Earle
"Kmag Yoyo," Hayes Carll
Again, this is a very tough category to pick just one. I do have this whittled down to two. “Harlem River Blues” is a great, spiritual rocker that kicks off his recent album of the same name. It perfectly sets the tone for an outstanding album, one which is nominated for album of the year. Elizabeth Cook’s “El Camino” is another fantastic tune, a fun song with a fabulous funky/psychedelic beat that captures Cook’s clever song writing to a tee. In this category, I’ll go with “Harlem River Blues” as AMA song of the year. But fear not Elizabeth Cook fans, two more categories remain … and I believe it will be the year of the Cook.
Album of the Year
Band of Joy, Robert Plant
Blessed, Lucinda Williams
Harlem River Blues, Justin Townes Earle
Welder, Elizabeth Cook
When I think of the great Americana albums that have been released this year, I have no idea how you go about whittling this down to a top four. Certainly, all of the above nominees deserve to be there. The Association got it right with the four albums in this category, but I think of other deserving albums such as the aforementioned Gregg Allman’s “Low Country Blues” and I think “Wow, what a great time we’re in right now for the state of Americana music.” All of these albums are excellent and are worthy of residence in your record collection. However, the Album of the Year in my mind, regardless of who was or wasn’t nominated, is “Welder”, by Elizabeth Cook. Cook really put her heart on her sleeve for this album, a record which in many ways is autobiographical. The album features lighthearted fare such as “El Camino”, to the heart-wrenching true story of “Heroin Addict Sister”, to the sad yet celebratory true story of “Mama’s Funeral.” This is the album of the year, and it could be the album of the year for any year. It’s that good.
Artist of the Year
I’m sure by now you’ve figured out where I’m going with this. Taking nothing away from any of the accomplishments of Hayes Carll, Buddy Miller or the great Robert Plant, this has been Elizabeth Cook’s year in my mind. From her successful radio show “Apron Strings” on Sirius/XM’s Outlaw Country channel, to her landmark album “Welder”, to her constant touring and appearances on television and in print media, Elizabeth Cook has long been a torchbearer for Americana, roots based and country music. Ms. Cook continues to work hard to hone and refine her craft, while remaining a down-to-earth soul who will spend time with fans like they’re old friends. For these and many other excellent reasons, Elizabeth Cook will be so honored tonight as the Americana Music Association Artist of the Year.
It may sound cliché to say “it’s an honor to be nominated”, but this year I believe that statement holds true. Looking at the list of nominees, all can make an excellent case for winning their respective category. This years’ list of nominees shows exactly how strong the year was for Americana and provides an excellent road map of the future of this genre. Indeed, the future is very bright. I’m proud to be just a small part of it. Good luck to all the nominees this evening, and I’ll have the results up tomorrow.