I’m not an official Community Blogger for the GRAMMYs this year. No hard feelings – it was fun while it lasted, and it was an honor participating last year. I’ve been encouraged by some followers on Twitter to keep blogging about the GRAMMYs, so, while I have no official platform on which to do so, I will use my unofficial one to keep hammering a couple points I made last year.
First off, for anyone who doesn’t like the drek currently being served up on the radio as pop music and “new” country music, the annual GRAMMY nominees CD will be, of course, dreadful, containing all the songs that were grossly overexposed last year for one more go-round. So, NARAS, why not branch out and put out a GRAMMYs compilation CD drawn from the American Roots field as well? It would give much more exposure to the area (isn’t that why the blogging program was implemented?) and, more importantly, people who listen to Americana, blues, and folk music STILL BUY CDs (instead of downloading).
I ask you, fans of American Roots music: would you buy a CD with one track apiece from the following artists?
- Rosanne Cash
- Los Lobos
- Robert Plant
- Mavis Staples
- Sam Bush
- Del McCoury
- Cyndi Lauper
- Charlie Musselwhite
- Solomon Burke
- Dr. John and the Lower 911
- Buddy Guy
- Carolina Chocolate Drops
- Ricky Skaggs
- Maria Muldaur
- Jackson Browne and David Lindley
- Guy Clark
- Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs
- Richard Thompson
- Tia Carrere
- The Pine Leaf Boys
I just got finished listening to the 2010 GRAMMY Nominees CD, and it was fine as far as it goes. If you like the popular music of the last year in pop, rock and country, then this album had something for you. I like catchy pop songs as much as the next guy, but I’m not the target audience for this CD.
As many of you know, I’ve been participating in the GRAMMY Community Blogger program representing the American Roots Field (folk, blues, Cajun/zydeco, Americana, Hawaiian, Native American, bluegrass), as part of a program to expand the reach of the GRAMMYs outside of pop music and help increase awareness of the GRAMMYs in the other genres in which they give out awards.
It occurs to me that one way they could reach out to fans of other areas is to put out additional compilation CDs. American Roots music strikes me as the logical first choice for expansion because these genres have loyal fan bases that are mostly older. Folk, blues and bluegrass fans actually still buy CDs. They are coming late to the download train.
Would you buy a CD that had a track from each of the following artists?
- Bob Dylan
- Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
- Levon Helm
- Steve Earle
- Loudon Wainwright III
- Neko Case
- Lucinda Williams
- Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet
- Buckwheat Zydeco
- Steve Martin
- Rhonda Vincent
- Michael Martin Murphy
- Mick Fleetwood Blues Band
- Duke Robillard
- Mavis Staples
- Ruthie Foster
- Derek Trucks Band
- Bill Miller
- Masters of the Slack Key Guitar
- Maura O’Connell
I would want that CD even if it did not have the GRAMMY branding. A compilation like this, with GRAMMY branding, would sell a whole lot of records and create a whole lot of interest in the GRAMMY awards for people who have pretty much tuned the GRAMMYs out as an over-the-top spectacle honoring the flavors of the month in pop music. If NARAS seriously wants to drum up interest beyond pop music, then a good next step would be putting the music in the hands of the people.
Recapping last nights awards with a little commentary:
- Best Americana Album – Levon Helm – Electric Dirt
Helm beat out heavyweights Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, Lucinda Williams and Wilco to win his second GRAMMY in three years. I honestly thought Dylan would win just because he’s Dylan.
- Best Bluegrass Album – Steve Martin – The Crow
Good choice. He won not only because he’s Steve Martin and because GRAMMY voters have heard of him, he won because this is a stellar instrumental bluegrass album with an all-star cast of pickers. I’m a little disappointed for Rhonda Vincent, though.
- Best Traditional Folk Album – Loudon Wainwright III – High Wide and Lonesome – The Charlie Poole Project
Quite a week for Loudon Wainwright III – his ex-wife Kate McGarrigle died earlier in the week and yesterday he won a GRAMMY. And let’s pause here to remember Kate and her family, as today is the funeral in Montreal. I’m a little disappointed that the Utah Phillips CD didn’t win, though – that would have made a lot of folkies very happy. Also glad that the Jimmy Sturr GRAMMY train derailed this year.
- Best Contemporary Folk Album – Steve Earle – Townes
It was indeed the Year of the Tribute Album in the folk categories. Did I call it, or what?
- Best Traditional Blues Album – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – A Stranger Here
Gotta love Ramblin’ Jack and the shout-out to the cowboy poets at Elko in his acceptance speech.
- Best Contemporary Blues Album – Derek Trucks Band – Already Free
Would have liked to see Mavis Staples win her first GRAMMY ever here, but can’t complain too much. Another category full of deserving nominees.
- Best Cajun/Zydeco Album – Buckwheat Zydeco – Lay Your Burden Down
I guar-on-tee that Radiowayne is disappointed about this.
- Best Native American Album – Bill Miller – Spirit Wind North
Bill Miller is a respected artist not only in the Native American community, but also on the folk singer/songwriter circuit, and his victory here is well-earned.
- Best Hawaiian Music Album – Masters of the Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2
Compilation CDs seem to have traditionally won most of the awards in this slot over the last few years, so this is no surprise.
It was time to retire my car from active service, and my dad found me a nice, clean used car in Florida, so I’ve been on the road for the past couple of days driving it home. I’m now back in Ohio, and over the next couple days I hope to get some more GRAMMY-related pieces up, including previews in all of the categories in the American Roots Field.
And I will, of course, be live-tweeting the GRAMMY ceremonies on Sunday, including the awards ceremony before THE awards ceremony, where the folk, blues, Americana, classical, world, and other awards will be handed out. So, if you want the play by play, make sure you follow me on Twitter. And watch it yourself at http://www.grammy.com/live
Plus, I am working through the stack of CDs that arrived in my absence. So, if you sent me a CD last week, please be patient. I’ll get to it.
woodsmeister’s note: I asked my friend and fellow Live365 broadcaster Wayne Greene to break down the Cajun/Zydeco GRAMMY nominations for me. Wayne, aka radiowayne, is a singer/songwriter and in addition to his radiowayne folk and more station, broadcasts the best of Louisiana music at Bienvenue en Louisiane radio.
by Wayne Greene
Having Cajun and zydceco music in the same category is like having country music and rhythm and blues in the same category; it seems sometimes that we are comparing apples and oranges. This year’s five nominees included three primarily Cajun recordings, one primarily zydeco recording, and one recording that well represents both genres.
Alligator Purse – Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet (Yep Roc Records).
Beausoleil has been around since the mid-1970s and should always be considered the front runner. Alligator Purse is a very likeable recording. It is typically full of rousing two-steps from both traditional Cajun, contemporary Cajun, and other contemporary music cajunized. Guest artists include Natalie Merchant and John Sebastian. Cover material includes songs by Bob Dylan, Julie Miller, and J.J. Cale.
Lay Your Burden Down – Buckwheat Zydeco (Alligator Records)
Stanley Dural aka Buckwheat has been around a long time and is considered one of the premiere zydeco performers. However, this recording is primarily a rhythm and blues album. Other than an accordion and an occasional lyric mention of something Louisiana, this could have been recorded anywhere. This album is very accessible to the general public since it is rhythm and blues sung in English. It would be a travesty for Lay Your Buden Down to win this year.
Stripped Down –The Magnolia Sisters (Arhoolie Records)
The latest Magnolia Sisters recording is an absolute delight. It has the feel of visiting some folks in south Louisiana who are sitting around on the porch playing playing folk music. Stripped Down refers to the instrumentation, which is usually a fiddle or two, an accordion and maybe a guitar. The drones of the fiddles bring a swamp voodoo feel to the music. The harmonies are spot on and the musicianship inpeccable. This would be my choice for the award. My track record at chosing winners at the GRAMMY awards, however, is abysmal.
Live at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – The Pine Leaf Boys (MunchMix, Inc)
The Pine Leaf Boys present Cajun music in its best element, live to an enthusiastic audience. The Pine Leaf Boys tackle Cajun music with youthful enthusiasm, thoughtful arrangements, and ability to take very old songs and make them contemporary without losing their roots. The Pine Leaf Boys have been nominated twice before, but should probably be considered a dark horse in this race.
L’Espirit Creole – Cedric Watson et Bijou Creole (Valcour Records)
L’Espirit Creole is a good choice for both Cajun and zydeco on one recording. Cedric Watson has a great feel for the music (both Cajun and zydeco), the older artists and styles, and contemporary rhythms. The recording is a delight and should have a very long shelf life. I would not be disappointed if this one was the winner.
Note: The following piece has been submitted to grammy.com as my 2009 Year in Review submission.
Folk music is about honoring the past, and 2009 was a year when folkies perhaps looked back even more than in prior years, celebrating its icons in both life and death.
Two legends of the Folk Revival, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, both had good years. Pete Seeger received the Best Traditional Folk Album GRAMMY Award in February. In May, he celebrated his 90th birthday, and the folk community threw him a Madison Square Garden hootenanny. PBS was there to tape every minute for the Great Performances series and even showed a few of the performances to the world in between the begging for funds. Appleseed Records released an archived concert recording from Seeger in his prime, Live in ’65. And in 2009, for the first time in over a decade, Seeger was the #1 artist receiving folk radio airplay, according to the charts compiled by the FOLK-DJ List.
Meanwhile, Bob Dylan went back into the studio and the resulting album, Together Through Life, garnered the #1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart the week of its debut on its way to GRAMMY nominations for Best Americana Album and Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. And then he released perhaps the most-talked about Christmas album of the decade, including the surreal, must-be-see-to-be-believed video for “Must Be Santa.”
While Seeger and Dylan keep performing, the folk world continues to lose people who were significant in the Folk Revival of the late 1950s/early 1960s. In 2009, the following significant artists passed away:
- Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, died on September 16 at age 72 after suffering from leukemia for several years. Peter, Paul and Mary were instrumental in bringing folk music to the pop charts, scoring Billboard chart hits with songs by both Dylan and Seeger (as well as a young John Denver). In fact, Peter, Paul and Mary were so popular that they won two GRAMMY awards each for Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” (1962, 5th GRAMMY Awards) and for Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963, 6th GRAMMY Awards). To put that into perspective, Seeger himself did not win a GRAMMY until 1996 and Dylan did not win a solo GRAMMY award until 1979.
- Liam Clancy, the last surviving member of The Clancy Brothers, died on December 4. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were in large part responsible for the revival of traditional Celtic music in the United States and paved the way for such groups as the Chieftains and even Riverdance.
- Mike Seeger, half-brother of Pete Seeger and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, died August 7. The New Lost City Ramblers were one of the most important string band groups of the Folk Revival, and many of the more obscure folk tunes re-introduced to the world by this group have now become folk music staples.
- Tim Hart of British folk/rockers Steeleye Span died December 24. Steeleye Span was immensely popular in Britain, with chart hits there and introduced British folk/rock to a new American audience while opening for Jethro Tull in the mid-1970s.
It’s also worth noting that three of the ten albums nominated in the two folk categories are tribute albums.
It is in many ways exciting and gratifying to see great artists with long careers honored with GRAMMY nominations in their latter years (this year’s honor roll in the American Roots Field includes Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Rambin’ Jack Elliott, John Hammond and Mavis Staples). However, the members of the Folk Revival generation are continuing to pass, and the folk world continues to await the next great artist who can make folk music a viable force in popular culture once again.
One of the things that struck me about the categories I’m covering for the GRAMMY Awards is how many tribute albums are nominated this year:
For Best Traditional Folk Music Album:
- Singing Through The Hard Times: A Tribute To Utah Phillips (various artists)
- High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project by Loudon Wainwright III
For Best Contemporary Folk Music Albums
So, three of the ten albums nominated in the Folk categories are tribute albums and two of them are one-person tribute projects as opposed to various artist projects. Even more surprisingly, the Steve Earle tribute to Townes Van Zandt is nominated in the category typically featuring singer/songwriters performing their own work. One of the dividing lines between “traditional” and “contemporary” folk is that traditional folkies often perform other people’s songs and contemporary folkies perform their own songs.
Only one tribute album has won this category since it began with the 29th GRAMMY Awards (1986) , and that was the first year, when A Tribute to Steve Goodman won. Cover albums have won this category, most notably Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices, Other Rooms and Johnny Cash’s American Recordings (both landmark albums in their own way), but no tribute album has won this category in over 20 years.
The artists being honored with nominated tributes this year are all noted songwriters and performers who never received the level of popular success that they deserved while they were alive. Townes Van Zandt was a hard-living troubadour whose songs were admired and often covered by first-rank popular artists (Emmylou Harris, Cowboy Junkies, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson), but whose destructive lifestyle struggles with heroin and alcoholism often derailed his own attempts to achieve stardom. He died in 1997 at age 52, and has since been the subject of several tribute albums.
Van Zandt was a mentor to Steve Earle, and Earle is famously quoted as saying “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” One of the major differences between the two, though, is that Earle got sober and found a new level of success, while Van Zandt never did, achieving “legend” status only after his death.
Charlie Poole was the banjo player for the North Carolina Ramblers in the late 1920s and is credited with recording the first major country hit. According to Wikipedia, “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues” sold 102,ooo copies at a time when there were only an estimated 600,000 phonographs in the entire Southeast of the US. His North Carolina Ramblers pioneered the string band and “high lonesome” sounds that later manifested themselves as staples in country and bluegrass music, yet he is not well-known to average music fans today. Like Van Zandt, Poole was known for his hard living, and died of a heart attack at age 39 after a long alcoholic bender.
As for why Wainwright chose to honor Poole, he says this in an article in New York Magazine: “Well, he was such a remarkable musician, singer, banjo player, and performer — if you care about country music and bluegrass music, you know he was a pioneer. And one of the interesting things about him is that he was a pioneer that was overlooked. There were other entities like the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers who are much more well known and famous, but Poole for some strange reason was overlooked. We decided to get into that stuff and do a tribute record.”
Utah Phillips, on the other hand, was best-known as a troubadour, labor organizer and mentor to many within the folk music community, and died in 2008 at age 73. He was a proud member of the Wobblies (International Workers of the World) and spent years riding the rails. His songs were recorded by many artists, including Emmylou Harris, Flatt and Scruggs and Levon Helm. He was noted as a magnificent and compelling storyteller, telling stories from his remarkable life, with his concerts often containing more of his engaging stories than actual songs. He was introduced to a younger audience in his later life when he recorded with Ani DiFranco in the 1990s.
The purpose of tribute albums is not only to pay tribute to a great or under-appreciated artist, but also to encourage fans to seek out the original recordings. In all three of these cases, folk music fans would be well-rewarded to track down recordings by any of these great artists, and it would not surprise me to see any of these albums win their category and bring even more exposure to these great artists.
I got an email the other day from Compass/Green Linnet Records congratulating their artists Liz Carroll and John Doyle for a GRAMMY nomination for their album Double Play. This is generally no big deal – I get an email like this from a lot of music labels when they have a nominee. However, in years past, I was not a Community Blogger for the GRAMMY awards, and this year it started me thinking, because I didn’t see their names in the list of categories that I cover. It turns out that they are nominated in the Best Traditional World Music Album category.
So, I’ve been pondering for the last couple days the fact that it didn’t even really occur to me that, despite the incredible popularity of Celtic music in America that there is no category in the GRAMMY awards for Best Celtic Music Album.
Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus (where I live), holds an annual Irish Festival featuring three days of Irish culture and several stages of Celtic music attended by over 100,000 people. According to Pollstar, 3 of the top 100 grossing North American music touring acts through mid-year 2009 were by Celtic music acts:
- Riverdance (#21) , 324,451 tickets sold
- Celtic Woman (#54), 106,492 tickets sold
- Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” (#62), 104,337 tickets
Let me put this into perspective by listing some other artists and their place on the list:
- Leonard Cohen’s mighty comeback tour (#27)
- Elton John (#32)
- Taylor Swift (#43)
- Aerosmith (#56)
- Diana Krall (#85)
- Bill Gaither and Friends Homecoming (#87)
This week, The Very Best of Enya debuted on the Billboard “Top 200 Album Chart” at #55, followed by her Christmas CD, And Winter Came at #57. Celtic Woman’s A Christmas Celebration is #65.
People who don’t cover or listen to this music really have no idea how unbelievably popular this music is in America, which is why I’m throwing out sales numbers and chart positions. There is an Irish or English-style pub in every burgh of any size in America where you can hear a local, regional, or maybe international Celtic band play live every Friday and Saturday night and sometimes throughout the week. According to the American Community Survey of 2007, a total of 36.5 million people in America claim Irish heritage. To put that in perspective, the total estimated population of the United States by the Census Bureau in 2007 was 301.3 million, so an estimated 12.1% of the population claims Irish heritage.
I fully realize that every genre wants its own categories and NARAS is not in a position to give one to every group that asks. Hawaiian and Cajun/Zydeco are natural categories precisely because of their American origin. Yet, it seems more than a little dismissive to shunt so many genres into World music to let them fight it out, especially considering that Latin and Reggae have been recognized with their own categories.
It’s time to broaden the horizons in the World music category and recognize some additional music styles of music popular throughout the world. Best Traditional Celtic Music Album and Best Contemporary Celtic Music Album would be a good place to start. And why not soukous or mbalax to put Africa on the global pop music map? Flamenco/Spanish-style guitar has also become a worldwide phenomenon (Ottmar Liebert and Rodrigo y Gabriela, anyone?).
Some thoughts on the nominations for the 52nd GRAMMY Awards in the American Roots Field (Field 13).
List of Nominees
Best Americana Album
- The brand new Best Americana Album category has kicked off by presenting a heavyweight battle. Between them, the nominees have won 29 GRAMMYs (Bob Dylan 9, Levon Helm 1, Willlie Nelson 7, Asleep at the Wheel 8, Wilco 1 and Lucinda Williams 3). I suspect that Dylan will win because, well, he’s Dylan and his album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, and he’s probably the world’s greatest living pop songwriter, and so on. I have to admit to some interest as to whether he will interrupt the Neverending Tour to show up at the ceremony.
Best Bluegrass Album
- Rhonda Vincent has won 14 International Bluegrass Music Association awards, but has yet to win a GRAMMY. This could be her year.
- In case the name Michael Martin Murphy sounds vaguely familiar but you can’t quite place it, you might be remembering him as the singer who was all over pop radio in 1975 with the hit song “Wildfire” and had a string of country hits throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. He has since developed into one of the leading musicians performing cowboy music.
- Yes, it really is that Steve Martin. If he were to win, it would be his fourth GRAMMY. He has two for Best Comedy Album and one as a banjo player (with an all-star band) for Best Country Instrumental Performance. He could seriously win this category on the merit of his performance and not just because he’s Steve Martin and he performed bluegrass on Saturday Night Live.
Best Traditional Blues Album
- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is a folk music legend, and his album produced by Joe Henry of songs by traditional blues legends, many of whom he knew and performed with, is probably the sentimental favorite in this category, at least in the folk world.
- Blues aficionados might lean towards longtime bluesman John Hammond, who has received a GRAMMY for being on a compilation album, but not for a full album of his own work.
Best Contemporary Blues Album
- Would you believe that Mavis Staples has never won a GRAMMY, not even with the Staples Singers? I couldn’t either. I think this is her year.
- Ruthie Foster is an amazingly talented singer, and it’s nice to see her get the recognition.
Best Traditional Folk Album
- Lots of intriguing albums in this category. The Utah Phillips tribute album is the sentimental favorite, as Utah Phillips was a beloved performer, storyteller and mentor to many within the folk community. His album with Ani DiFranco introduced him to a new generation of fans, and the tribute album issued by her label (Righteous Babe) contains a nice mix of heavyweight artists (Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Tom Paxton) and lesser-known artists.
- Another strong competitor is the Loudon Wainwright III tribute to Charlie Poole, a pioneer of country music who has not received the recognition he has deserved.
- Maura O’Connell has long been known as a really fine interpreter of songs, and her new CD of traditional and contemporary really showcases her voice by stripping away the instrumentation. The album consists of O’Connell singing unaccompanied with a variety of guest artists, including Alison Krauss, Paul Brady and Moya Brennan.
- The GRAMMYs eliminated the Polka category, but that didn’t deter the polka legions, who have inexplicably nominated Jimmy Sturr for his 19th GRAMMY, this time for Best Traditional Folk Album.
Best Contemporary Folk Album
- Remember: contemporary folk generally translates to singer/songwriter we can’t really place anywhere else.
- Only Neko Case in this category has not already won a GRAMMY award, and she really has a good chance to win this category, despite competing with so many past winners – her album is that good.
- Elvis Costello seems to have a new persona with every album, and on this album he teams up with T-Bone Burnett to front an all-star string band.
- If Steve Earle’s Townes Van Zandt tribute album causes people to go back and find the originals, then that will be awesome.
Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album
- It’s the battle of generations in this category, with the oldsters represented by BeauSoleil Avec Michael Doucet, Buckwheat Zydeco and The Magnolia Sisters, and the youngsters represented by Pine Leaf Boys and Cedric Watson et Bijou Creole. Wilson Savoy, of Pine Leaf Boys, is the son of Ann Savoy of The Magnolia Sisters. In addition, Cedric Watson is a former member of Pine Leaf Boys.
Link to GRAMMY Nominations
More comment later. Watch grammy.com for some thoughts from all the Community Bloggers.