In recent years the unveiling of the nominees for the annual CMA Awards has become an exercise in disappointment and false hope to the point where it’s questionable if it’s even worth paying attention unless you happen to be rooting for country music’s turn towards the dark side. But the 2015 nominees includeed a few surprises and glimmers of promise that all of the clamoring for more recognition of older artists, female artists, and performers with a little more substance has not fallen on deaf ears.
Seeing Chris Stapleton nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, as well as Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year was a welcomed surprise. Though they may prove a long shot, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s nomination for Musical Event of the Year was a nice gesture by the CMA’s. And seeing all female-lead performers get the noms for Video of the Year was another positive sign that at least an effort is being undertaken to be more inclusive.
But possibly the most heart warming was to see six-time CMA winner Lee Ann Womack re-emerge in the Female Vocalist of the Year category.
It was fifteen years ago, at the 2001 CMA Awards where Lee Ann won the Female Vocalist of the Year for the first and only time, primarily off the strength of her blockbuster song and now country standard, “I Hope You Dance.” To put it in perspective, it was the George Strait and Alan Jackson-performed “Murder on Music Row” that won Song of the Year during that season. Maybe it speaks to the dearth of females to nominate in the category that Lee Ann has re-emerged in this top-level distinction, or maybe it’s recognition of the hard work she and husband/producer Frank Liddell put into Lee Ann’s first new record in six years, The Way I’m Livin’.
“That news hit me pretty hard in the heart,” Lee Ann says about the nomination. She was driving to her mother’s house in east Texas when she received the call. “I am and always will be a country music singer. It’s what I do”¦ It’s what I love”¦ and it’s the thing that truly makes me feel alive. Having the CMA recognize that after the year I’ve had since ‘The Way I’m Livin” came out really does my heart good.”
The nomination comes after a period when Lee Ann parted ways with her major label, and took some time to reassess the direction she wanted her career to go. “I followed my heart,” she says. “I trusted the music, and I believed that if we let the music dictate everything else would fall into place. It’s been a different year from any other I’ve had since ‘Never Again, Again,’ but in a lot of ways I have the same kind of excitement I had when my first single came out. I didn’t know and every day was an adventure, but oh the things we’ve done!”
And it’s not just the Country Music Association that has taken notice. The Americana Music Association nominated Lee Ann in both the Artist of the Year and Album of the Year categories for their 2015 awards. Lee Ann’s nominations on both the independent and industry side of the country music world show the wide appreciation and respect for her music.
“I am so grateful to my husband Frank (Liddell) for believing in what this could be and encouraging me ”¦ His co-producers Glenn Worf and Chuck Ainlay, and all the incredible musicians who came and played and tracked in a whole different kind of way,” Lee Ann says.
One of the special ingredients of The Way I’m Livin’ was using music from songwriters who did not pen their material by committee, but through personal moments and reflection.
“When you get songwriters like Julie Miller, Hayes Carll, Adam Wright, Mando Saenz and Mindy Smith, Neil Young, Bruce Robeson, Brent Cobb, Brennan Leigh and Kenny Price, who wrote ‘Tomorrow Night in Baltimore’ for Roger Miller, it’s not letting those writers down. What they bring inspires me. This nomination is as much about them as anyone.”
It still may be an uphill battle for Lee Ann to win the Female Vocalist CMA come November. Miranda Lambert—who Lee Ann shares Frank Liddell as a producer with—has won the distinction the last five years running, and has to be considered the front runner. But Lee Ann will give fans of Americana, traditional country, and music of more substance someone to root for on the night.