I joined the Americana Music Association this year because I’m planning to go to Nashville in September for the Americana Conference and Festival and the member’s discount on registration was slightly more than the membership cost. So, I also get to vote in the Americana Music Awards. Cool.
As a staunch member of the NSW Labor Left it’s basically automatic to show my ballot so here is who I voted for (in bold.)
Album of the Year
Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb
The Ghosts of Highway 20, Lucinda Williams, Produced by Greg Leisz, Tom Overby and Lucinda Williams
The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap, Produced by Parker Millsap and Gary Paczosa
Traveller, Chris Stapleton, Produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton
First thing to say, why are there only four nominations in each category? I know there have always been four but five seems like a better number in line with other awards and also with the evangelising mission of the AMA, which is after all an industry body. Maybe they don’t have time to give five people a guaranteed musical slot because the Ryman charges double after two hours or everyone has label piss-ups to get to so wants to get out of there quick?
Earlier this year AMA members were invited to nominate up to 10 people/songs/albums for each category. I didn’t do 10 for all of them but I made a diligent effort, you can look at my list of favourite music from last year and see everything I would’ve voted for. It was all the same names. I assume the reason artists have labels and publicists and agents and managers and fixers of many other stripes is to make sure their hat is in the ring for these gongs so I don’t think much was riding on my contribution but it was satisfying to put in some lesser known names who I think are highly deserving.
The other thing to say about this is that while I ended up voting for Traveller … I didn’t actually put it as one of my ten nominations. That’s because I had the totally unsupported but firmly held idea Stapleton was not going to be in the Americana awards because he had been in the Country Music Awards. What happened was, I picked up somewhere (g damn you, Twitter) that Jason Isbell was not nominated in the CMAs – despite having a number one album on the country charts – because he was in the Americana pool instead … and thus via deductive logic which seemed perfectly cromulent at the time, I assumed Stapleton would not be in the Americana mix because he was in the CMAs. But here he is!
Isbell and Williams have highly deserving albums of course and Millsap’s is very good, although I honestly can’t put it in a tier with the other two. My worship of Lucinda in particular is well known and I love Ghosts of Highway 20. But it’s undeniable that the Stapleton explosion has shifted something, has changed something and has meant something beyond the Americana patch which fits into the AMA’s specific yet vague award criteria language about “exemplary years” and whatnot. I also listened to it the most of all these albums so on reflection I had to go with Chris.
Artist of the Year
Bonnie seems kind of random here but also SHE IS A QUEEN. [tiara emoji/nail polishing emoji/fire emoji] I’m not aware of her having an “exemplary year” beyond releasing a album which has been “very well received” but whatevs. All the others will/have had plenty of opportunity in AMA already and I’m a big fan of broadening the base. For instance, the definition of “Americana”on the AMA site talks about music “influenced by” soul and blues etc but, in a formal industry sense, generally excludes music that actually is soul and blues etc. This makes perfect practical sense – those genres have their own awards, charts and infrastructure whereas the Americana-Industrial Complex is a response to traditional country or hybrid country forms having nowhere else to go. However, I’m still generally in favour of more not less. So cool, let’s have a blues player win.
Duo/Group of the Year
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Lake Street Dive
The Milk Carton Kids
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Didn’t have to think very much about this one ….
Emerging Artist of the Year
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
This is a really great slate and another time it seems counter-productive not to have five, if the AMA role is to promote emerging talent and they say it is. I would have gone with Moreland anyway because I loved his album and he has had a breakthrough year off the back of talent combined with bloody hard work but also Margo and Nathaniel got nominated elsewhere and he did not so that clinched it.
Instrumentalist of the Year
This is one I did not feel very adequate to judge and even more than all the other categories without question all are deserving. It feels rude to even choose. I can’t make a musical distinction between them, only one based purely on emotion. It really came down to Jedd Hughes because he is an Aussie who has been chosen by Emmylou and Rodney to be in their band, and no higher praise has man to bestow and Cindy Cashdollar because she was in a band with Dave Alvin (The Guilty Women – here’s a shitty video of them together) and in the end the identity politics of Alvinology won out over those of nationalism.
Song of the Year
“24 Frames” Jason Isbell
“Dime Store Cowgirl” Kacey Musgraves
“Hands Of Time” Margo Price
“S.O.B.” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats
“Hands of Time” was a bolter in this category, that is a phenomenal song and I will put it here because I kind of feel bad about not choosing it. But I don’t feel bad about choosing “S.O.B.” – it was not my personal favourite song on that album but it was overwhelmingly the breakout from it. Nathaniel Rateliff’s transformation from sad sack folky (per the doco Austin to Boston, he’s by far the best thing in it but an interesting portrait if you only know the current Night Sweats period) to sweaty soul dynamo. Isn’t that perfectly American? I don’t think this is Kasey’s best song, although I like it well enough and … well, Isbell’s gonna sweep the whole night anyway, right?