Best Country Album
The nominees: Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged, Hunter Hayes’ Hunter Hayes, Jamey Johnson’s Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran, Miranda Lambert’s Four The Record, The Time Jumpers’ The Time Jumpers
The discussion: This would be the first win in this category for any of the nominees. Three of these albums have topped 500K in sales: Uncaged, Four The Record and Hunter Hayes. Only one of them, Four The Record, was nominated for Album of the Year at the CMA Awards in November.
Female artists seem to have an edge in this category. Female solo artists or female-dominated groups have won 10 times since the award was re-introduced in the 1994 awards year. Male solo artists have won four times. (No male-dominated groups have won.) The other four awards went to two Various Artists albums and two albums by Lady Antebellum, which is a group with no clear leader.
Four The Record is starting to look like our winner, but let’s look at a couple of other options.
Hayes is vying to become the third artist to win in this category the same year he received a Best New Artist nomination. He would follow Shania Twain, who won for 1995’s The Woman In Me, and Dixie Chicks, who won for 1998’s Wide Open Spaces. Hayes also won New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards.
Johnson’s salute to songwriter Hank Cochran (whose songs include Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” and Eddy Arnold’s “Make The World Go Away”) would be the third tribute album to win in this category. It would follow a pair of Various Artists albums—Hank Williams: Timeless, which won for 2001, and Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’—Songs Of The Louvin Brothers, which won for 2003.
The pick: Miranda Lambert.
Best Country Song
The nominees: Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” (written by Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins), Ronnie Dunn’s “Cost Of Livin’” (which he co-wrote with Phillip Coleman), Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (written by Will Hoge & Eric Paslay), Alan Jackson’s “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” (written by Jay Knowles & Adam Wright), Eric Church’s “Springsteen” (which he co-wrote with Jeff Hyde & Ryan Tyndell).
The discussion: “Springsteen,” “Blown Away” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” were all million-sellers. “Springsteen” and “Even If Breaks Your Heart” are the only two finalists here that were nominated for Song of the Year at the CMA Awards.
Kear and Tompkins, the writers of “Blown Away,” won in this category for writing Underwood’s 2007 smash “Before He Cheats.” Kear also won for co-writing Lady Antebellum’s 2010 smash “Need You Now.”
Pop and rock enthusiasts are allowed to vote in the country field, which will probably boost the chances for “Springsteen.”
The pick: “Springsteen.”
Best Country Solo Performance
The nominees: Dierks Bentley’s “Home,” Eric Church’s “Springsteen,” Ronnie Dunn’s “Cost Of Livin’,” Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted,” Blake Shelton’s “Over,” Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.”
The discussion: “Wanted,” “Springsteen” and “Blown Away” were all million-sellers. Church, Shelton and Underwood were nominated for Male or Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMAs. Underwood has won five Grammys. Dunn won two as half of Brooks & Dunn.
With five men and one woman in the running, the woman has the edge. Whenever someone stands out, it boosts their chances. This would be the second year in a row that a woman has won in this category. Taylor Swift won last year for “Mean.” (Prior to last year, male and female vocalists competed in separate categories.)
The pick: Carrie Underwood.
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
The nominees: Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” The Time Jumpers’ “On The Outskirts Of Town,” “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars, “I Just Come Here For The Music” by Don Williams featuring Alison Krauss.
The discussion: “Pontoon,” “Safe & Sound” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” were all million-sellers. The Civil Wars won in this category last year for “Barton Hallow.” They are vying to become the first group/duo to win two years running since Lady Antebellum won for 2009 and 2010.
Little Big Town won two big prizes at the CMA Awards: Single of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year. Eli Young Band was also nominated in the latter category. The entry by Swift & The Civil Wars was nominated for the CMA award for Musical Event of the Year.
Krauss is vying to win her 28thGrammy, which would enable her to surpass Quincy Jones as the non-classical artist with the most awards in Grammy history. Last year she tied the legendary producer when she won her 27th Grammy. Only the late classical conductor Georg Solti has won more Grammys (31).
Krauss’ history-making chances notwithstanding, this is probably between Little Big Town and Swift & The Civil Wars. The latter team’s song from The Hunger Games soundtrack is also nominated for Best Song Written For Visual Media. (Swift & The Civil Wars co-wrote the song with producer T Bone Burnett.)
The pick: Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars.
Best Americana Album
The nominees: The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter, John Fullbright’s From The Ground Up, The Lumineers’ The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons’ Babel, Bonnie Raitt’s Slipstream.
The discussion: This category is in the American Roots Music Field, not the Country Field, but it’s such an important category, I decided to sneak it in here. As the front-runners for Album of the Year, Mumford & Sons has it sewn up.
The pick: Mumford & Sons.