When I was a boy child, I looked forward to the Grammy awards every year. The chance to see great musicians perform from all arenas on the same stage kept me entranced from start to finish. The idea of artists being validated/awarded by their peers for their work was appealing as well.
Well, the reality of political ‘block voting’, the divide of the performances between the broadcast and ‘pre-broadcast’ shows and the broadcast’s ‘need’ to appease labels, maintain an audience and ‘entertain’ have made it fairly unpalatable.
Having said all that, there are good aspects to the Academy’s work- though much of it is less visible. The MusicCares and the educational efforts are amazing and should be highlighted. Also, the impact of Grammy recognition on smaller genres can’t be overstated.
Since 1989, the Recording Academy has recognized Bluegrass with an award: Best Bluegrass Album. there was some discussion recently about ending the award but it has been retained for the foreseeable future (see below for all winners).
This year’s nominees are quite remarkable and I wanted to take a few pixels and highlight them. Here they are:
Michael Cleveland- Fiddler’s Dream
Infamous Stringdusters- Laws of Gravity
Bobby Osborne- Original
Noam Pikelny- Universal Favorite
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage- All the Rage, Vol 1
This is an interesting selection. Keep in mind that there was quite a large slate of possible recordings during the eligibility period. To narrow that to five is nigh onto impossible. Add to that quandary that Grammy voters are not limited to Bluegrassers. Indeed, Bluegrassers are likely few and far between in the voting pool.
Rather than look at the individual titles, therefore, let’s visit the choices that the voters faced. Given these five options, there are two that focus around particular instruments (Cleveland- fiddle, Pikelny- Banjo) though vocals appear on the work throughout. There are two that play on the progressive edge of Bluegrass (Pikelny/Stringdusters). There are three that play traditional styles, even when putting the style on pop/rock or country covers (Cleveland, Osborne, Vincent). Vincent has 4 prior nominations. Osborne has two as apart of the Osborne Brothers and Pikelny has two as well.
The Academy has played it fairly safe, historically. Apart from her first nomination, Alison Krauss has won whenever nominated. Dolly Parton won 1 of the 2 times she visited her grass roots (lost to Krauss). Monroe won the first one. McCoury, Skaggs, etc. All of these were/are deserving, don’t get me wrong. The Academy has had a penchant for awarding those from larger genres (Bruce Hornsby, Patty Loveless, Steve Martin and, as mentioned, Parton) or choosing various artists CDs when nominated. Sure, Parton & Loveless have bluegrass roots and produced great works and Martin continues to drive his roots in the community deeper over the years. My point is that it could well be that name recognition and appreciation from other work could well bleed over into this category. Look at the other nominees when you have time. I digress.
I suppose the ‘easy’ choice in this year’s category might be Vincent if voters are ‘guessing’ without hearing the project. It is the straight ahead, energetic Bluegrass for which Vincent is known.The ‘sentimental’ choice would be Osborne- only solo nomination in a multi decade career, 86 year old enjoying a great ride at the moment. While sounding traditional, the catalog is anything but. Songs from Broadway, the Bee Gees, Country and Americana comprise the project. The Cleveland CD brings a sense of amazement when listening- almost beyond words. The ‘Dusters CD is built upon song crafting and storytelling with inventive instrumental work. Pikelny’s work leans heavily toward the artistic, inventional side of recording.
It will be interesting to see how the vote goes.
As they say: “In awards handed earlier today….” so we should know by early evening.
Here’s a link to the previous years’ winners & nominees.