Voting for the nominees for the 66th Annual Grammy Awards opened on October 11th, and as one of the few organizations that actually highlights independent artists in the country, Americana, folk, and bluegrass realms, The Grammy Awards offer an unique opportunity for under-recognized artists.
For sure, the big names that the Grammys tend to favor like Jason Isbell, Tanya Tucker, Tyler Childers, and Brandi Carlile will get theirs, especially after Isbell has been out there outright lobbying for them in the press. But let’s make sure that the names that don’t enjoy media darling status and might get overlooked in the process also receive attention.
These aren’t endorsements, and unfortunately Saving Country Music gets no vote in these awards. But here are some names, songs, and albums that deserve to be given consideration
Best Folk Album – Drink The River
Best American Roots Performance – “Merigold”
Gabe Lee is an incredible, generational-level songwriter and performer whose recent album Drink The River comes close to a masterpiece. He’s also one of these guys who’s career slides scandalously under-the-radar, and he may never get the attention that he deserves from mainstream country awards. He’s the kind of artist the Grammy Awards were built for, and if anyone is wondering who some of the top Dark Horse candidates are in the 2024 Grammy field, Gabe Lee should definitely be considered.
Good luck holding back your emotions when listening to his song “Merigold.”
Best Country Album – Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet
Best Country Solo Performance – “Every Time I Do”
Brennen Leigh is one of this generation’s most beloved preservationists and revivalists along a host of country and roots music styles. It just happens to be that her latest album Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet might be her best, and it’s screaming for recognition. So often a Grammy Award or nomination isn’t just about the here-and-now, but speaks to a career worthy of recognition. Like we saw happen to Robbie Fulks a few years back, a nomination for Brennen Leigh would be deserved validation for all she’s done for country and roots music through the years.
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
Best Country Album – Sweet Memories: The Music of Ray Price & The Cherokee Cowboys
Best Country Duo/Group Performance – “Kissing Your Picture Is So Cold”
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin aren’t exactly strangers to the Grammy Awards. But when you’re talking about tribute records, there can be a tendency for them to get overlooked. Sweet Memories: The Music of Ray Price & The Cherokee Cowboys absolutely does not deserve to be overlooked. Forget that it’s all covers of Ray Price songs. The execution of this album is so *chef kiss* perfect, it goes beyond revitalization to making the songs of Ray Price relevant again in the modern ear again.
These guys made a great album, and hopefully the Grammy voters agree.
Best Americana Album – 1988
Best American Roots Song – “The Town In Your Heart”
Not a complete stranger to the Grammy Awards, but with so many big performer names ahead of her, hopefully voters don’t overlook that Lori McKenna released yet another incredible album in a long line of them in the form of 1988. The insight into life McKenna is able to capture through her songcraft is something hard to comprehend, but easy to enjoy. She is one of the few songwriters left who can have her songs recorded by huge mainstream country stars and top-quality Americana performers alike. And still, it’s McKenna own cuts that still cut the hardest.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
Best Americana Album – Altitude
Marty’s West Coast psychedelic country phase may have been bisected by six years since his album Way Out West came out in 2017. But the second installment is here now, and it runs circles around other performers half his age trying their hands at song cycles or immersive experiences, or claiming their music is “psych” simply because the put a little fuzz on the guitar tone.
Marty Stuart remains always country music’s most “radical preservationist” as he likes to put it. But he holds no prejudice when it comes to that preservation work. California, the Bakersfield Sound, and the cosmic cowboys born out of the ’60s and the psychedelic age deserve radical preservation too, and to have their influences revived in the modern era. And who better to do this than Marty Stuart.
Other Songs and Albums Not to Overlook
Jim Lauderdale and the Po’ Ramblin Boys – The Long and Lonesome Letting Go – Best Bluegrass Album – With both Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle releasing big contenders this year in bluegrass, and Willie Nelson’s name recognition certainly making him a front runner as well with his bluegrass album, don’t overlook this important and potent collaborative project from these two.
Julian Taylor – “Seeds” – Best American Roots Song – This is a song that’s been on the radar for some time, but it’s been hard to know just how or where to feature it. Great writing, and it feels like something the Grammy Awards could help shine a greater light on.
Allison Russell – The Returner – Best Americana Album – There’s a nearly universal consensus that Allison Russell got hosed in 2022 around the release of her album Outside Child. Sometimes worthy Grammy recognition comes a year or two after it is actually deserved. In Allison Russell’s case, it’s deserved this year as well.
Margo Cilker – Valley of Heart’s Delight – Best Americana Album – Sorry to those anticipating a sophomore slump from ol’ Cilker after her well-received debut Pohorylle. Now seasoned as a songwriter and performer, and with many more miles on her Michelins, she’s got even more skill and material with which to send hearts reeling and stir souls. Valley of Hearts Delight is the ideal mix of fun reels and killer heartbreakers.
Turnpike Troubadours – A Cat In The Rain – Best Country Album – Yeah yeah, it’s probably a long shot. But if there was ever an opportunity for the Turnpike Troubadours to be highlighted by the Grammy Awards, it would be their comeback record after a long hiatus. A win for A Cat In The Rain would be a win for all Texas/Red Dirt, that is regularly underserved by the Grammys.
Melissa Carper – Ramblin’ Soul – Best Americana Album – Melissa Carper has crafted an exquisite work of audio goodness that mesmerizes with its wayback sound and style, stealing you to a simpler era in music when everything made more sense, and the very foundations of American music were set. Original era country, ragtime jazz, Western swing, vintage rhythm and blues are all expressed here and in a seamless experience, with the almost ghostly tone of Melissa Carper pouring out of your speakers like an apparition from the past summoned to entertain.
The War and Treaty – Lover’s Game – Best Americana Album – Despite the Grammy’s attention to diversity, the way The War and Treaty live in between the country and Americana worlds, there is a risk they get overlooked by both. Hopefully that doesn’t happen as one of the greatest live performers put out a landmark album in 2023.
Colter Wall – Little Songs – Best Country Album – Colter Wall is one of this generation’s most important performers with the way he has dramatically revitalized Western music in the modern context. But with all the big contenders in the country category, his contributions run the risk of getting overlooked.
Malpass Brothers – Lonely Street – Best Country Album – When it comes to representing the traditional side of country and the future of that side of the genre, the Malpass Brothers bring their A-game to it with Lonely Street.
Luke Combs – “Fast Car” – Best Country Solo Performance – It may seem strange to include this in a list of songs or artists that might get overlooked. But with the very loud, but very minority viewpoint that this Luke Combs cover of Tracy Chapman’s iconic song is somehow hurtful via cultural appropriation should be ignored for how a song written by a Black woman has become one of the biggest tracks in country music in 2024. If Tracy Chapman is okay with it (and she is), then the rest of us should be too.