It’s that time of year again, to celebrate music’s biggest night. The 55th Grammy Awards are set to air this Sunday on CBS. In a rather surprising move, it’s the females who’ll be representing our genre at the show. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Miranda Lambert are all slated to perform, with Lambert teaming up with her ‘Locked and Reloaded’ tour partner Dierks Bentley for a special collaboration. The country nominees are below, and it turns out they’re much stronger than was expected. The Recording Academy seems to have found a happy medium between commercial and artistic popularity. We’ll have to see if any of the artistic nominees (Jamey Johnson, The Time Jumpers, and others) will prevail against their commercial contemporaries. Predictions are below:
Best Country Solo Performance
Home - Dierks Bentley
Springsteen - Eric Church
Cost Of Livin’ - Ronnie Dunn
Wanted - Hunter Hayes
Over - Blake Shelton
Blown Away - Carrie Underwood - Jonathan Pappalardo
Jonathan Pappalardo: A surprisingly interesting list, if you take out Blake Shelton’s blatant pandering to pop trends. Odds are on Underwood regaining her crown (she’s won in 3 of the past seven years), but the Dunn hit is even more relevant today then when it was when it written more than four years ago. In the end though, Underwood’s likely going to win this.
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Even If It Breaks Your Heart - Eli Young Band
Pontoon - Little Big Town
Safe & Sound - Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
On The Outskirts Of Town - The Time Jumpers
I Just Come Here For The Music - Don Williams Featuring Alison Krauss - Jonathan Pappalardo
Jonathan Pappalardo: The best song of the bunch is the Williams single, a slice of classic country nostalgia from a genre legend. Krauss’ guest vocal secured the nomination, which means it wouldn’t have been here otherwise, a true shame. Swift, meanwhile, deserves a lot of credit for breaking free of her constrictions and The Time Jumpers nicely brought Western Swing into the 21st century. Against these heavyweights, the two #1 hits don’t even stand a chance. Williams and Krauss are the most likely winners here. Seriously, who would vote against Krauss at this point?
Best Country Song
Blown Away - Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins, songwriters (Carrie Underwood) - Jonathan Pappalardo
Cost Of Livin - Phillip Coleman & Ronnie Dunn, songwriters (Ronnie Dunn)
Even If It Breaks Your Heart - Will Hoge & Eric Paslay, songwriters (Eli Young Band)
So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore - Jay Knowles & Adam Wright, songwriters (Alan Jackson)
Springsteen - Eric Church, Jeff Hyde & Ryan Tyndell, songwriters (Eric Church)
Jonathan Pappalardo: Underwood has enough clout that “Blown Away” will likely prevail, and while strong, it isn’t the best composition here. That would be a tie between Dunn’s recession ode and Jackson’s love lorne stunner. In the battle of emotion, the Jackson hit easily comes out on top, and should win.
Best Country Album
Uncaged – Zac Brown Band
Hunter Hayes – Hunter Hayes
Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran – Jamey Johnson
Four The Record - Miranda Lambert - Jonathan Pappalardo
The Time Jumpers - The Time Jumpers
Jonathan Pappalardo: A rather substantial yet surprising list. Underwood was weirdly snubbed for her solid Blown Away while Zac Brown Band made the cut for their most uneven project yet. Even though The Time Jumpers and Jamey Johnson turned in artistic knockouts, I see this as a battle between Lambert and Hayes – with the ambitious Four The Record winning out. But Hayes’ Best New Artist nod could easily perpell him to victory here.
Best New Artist
Frank Ocean - Jonathan Pappalardo
Jonathan Pappalardo: It’s nice to see Hayes representing country music here, even if the child prodigy marketing campaign has been slightly overblown. It’s a strong field, however, and a likely a race between Frank Ocean, the current prince of neo-soul, and Fun., the most exciting new pop group since Maroon 5. I see Ocean taking this home.
Record Of The Year
Lonely Boy – The Black Keys
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
We Are Young - Fun. Featuring Janelle Monáe
Somebody That I Used To Know - Gotye Featuring Kimbra
Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean - Jonathan Pappalardo
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
Jonathan Pappalardo: It’s difficult to justify this as a six nominee race, when it’s Taylor Swift that just barely sweeked in. “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together” is being nominated as a pop record here, as country radio ignored the song, no matter what Billboard says. Swift notwithstanding, it’s a strong category, and there are many worthy winners. And as much as I like the Clarkson track, and she’s the first Idol alum to score a nod in this category, I’m betting it’s a three way race between Fun., Goyte, and Frank Ocean, with Ocean coming out on top.
Best Americana Album
The Carpenter - The Avett Brothers
From The Ground Up - John Fullbright
The Lumineers - The Lumineers
Babel - Mumford & Sons - Jonathan Pappalardo
Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
Jonathan Pappalardo: Oh how I would kill to see Raitt win here, for one of the best albums of 2012. But this is Mumford & Sons’ award. Odds are very low that an Album of The Year nominee is shut out of its genre race. If they don’t win the top prize, this is seen as the consolation. Win both? Icing on the cake.
Best Bluegrass Album
The Gospel Side Of - Dailey & Vincent
Life Finds A Way - The Grascals - Jonathan Pappalardo
Beat The Devil And Carry A Rail - Noam Pikelny
Scratch Gravel Road - Special Consensus
Nobody Knows You - Steep Canyon Rangers
Jonathan Pappalardo: Wish I even had a clue. Without the likes of Alison Krauss or Steve Martin, this is truly anyone’s race. The Grascals are the best known of the five here and maybe Steep Canyon Rangers can parlay their association with Martin into a win.
Best Folk Album
Leaving Eden - Carolina Chocolate Drops
Election Special - Ry Cooder
Hambone’s Meditations - Luther Dickinson
The Goat Rodeo Sessions - Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile
This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark - (Various Artists) - Jonathan Pappalardo
Jonathan Pappalardo: This is a very tight three-way race. Carolina Chocolate Drops, Yo-Yo Ma and Friends, and the Guy Clark tribute album are the likely contenders. The Goat Rodeo Sessions is just different enough to peak voters interest, but I see the Guy Clark tribute, last year’s Americana Association Album of the Year, taking this home.