A Slight Axe To Grind With The Grammys
January 30, 2014
It's been a whirlwind, emotional roller coaster ride for the past few days. Just when I'd finished processing Sunday night's (1/26) 56th Annual Grammy Awards, boom! Along came nominations for the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
And thank goodness.
Coming on the heels of the Grammys, the ACM noms were delicious comfort food.
Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert, each with seven; Keith Urban has six. Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift and Lee Brice checked in with five. Ditto Kacey Musgraves, a feat that suddenly seems apropos instead of surprising, given her prior CMA nods and Sunday's two Grammy wins.
And about those Grammys.
True to form, they continue to boggle the mind with certain nominations and wins and I don't just mean Country categories. Led Zeppelin's win for Best Rock Album with something recorded in 2007. Huh? Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl's Best Rock Song nod. Wha?
Then there were the performances.
Why was Gary Clark Jr. teamed with Keith Urban? He's talented and fine, but handcuffed Keith's "Cop Car." Is Katy Perry Maleficent and was she actually singing? If Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunite, shouldn't we hear ONLY Beatles music? On the plus side, Kacey Musgraves well-lit cowboy boots have been described to me by more than one radio PD as, "the Shit."
Yes, all that (except for Musgraves) seemed odd to me at the time but thank you, Jaye Albright, for pointing out the primary puzzler in your always readable "Breakfast Blog" from Monday (1/27), when you wrote, "More of a head-scratcher for me was 'From This Valley' by The Civil Wars for Best Country Duo/Group Performance."
I won't go so far as to assert, "Great minds think alike." That would imply I'm somewhere in the vicinity of Jaye in the IQ department but damn, I just knew I couldn't be the only one thinking that.
Look at the other nominees in the Duo/Group Performance category: Vince Gill and Kelly Clarkson for "Don't Rush;" Little Big Town for "Your Side Of The Bed;" Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban's "Highway Don't Care" and Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton with "You Can't Make Old Friends."
Hey, I like the Civil Wars. I even kinda wish they'd end their personal Civil War and reunite. But they're a Triple A, Americana and/or Alternative act. I know genre lines are blurred right now, possibly no more so than current Country music. But see what I just did there? I listed three different genres where they fit. Maybe there are more. I simply don't think Country is one of them. Not in the context of what is driving the format's appeal right now.
By the way, I don't blame the Civil Wars. As far as I know, they didn't ask to be in this category nor did they lobby for the win. And did you notice some reticence from John Paul White while accepting the award, when he said, "I want to apologize to Dolly Parton for depriving her of anything at all; she's one of my biggest heroes, and it's an honor to be nominated with everyone in this category."
You stay classy, John Paul White!
The category placement is a result of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences nomination process, which, according to grammy.org is described this way:
"Reviewing sessions by more than 150 experts in various fields are held to ensure that entered recordings meet specific qualifications and have been placed in appropriate fields ... The purpose of screenings is not to make artistic or technical judgments about the recordings, but rather to make sure that each entry is eligible and placed in its proper category."
Civil Wars eligible? Absolutely. "In its proper category?" How could 150 experts screw that up?
Well, history tells us the Grammy's have previously zagged when the rest of the world is zigging. By the way, this is the second win in this category for the Civil Wars. They also picked up a Country Vocal/Duo Grammy in 2011 for "Barton Hollow."
A look back at past Country Grammy category wins shows other head-scratchers. I'm not judging or being critical, I'm just saying they seemed somewhat out of place and I fully realize those 150 experts and eventual Grammy voters don't care about airplay, sales, or what's driving a format's popularity. But it does seem like the Grammy nation of voters sometimes takes on aspirational thinking, as if to say, "Forget that mainstream crap, this is what Country music should REALLY be."
Anybody remember some grumbling when KD Lang and Lyle Lovett won Country's Male and Female Performance category in 1989? This was prior to the format's explosion and the arrival of the "Class of '89." And '88-'89 was arguably a nondescript (ok, boring) couple of years for the format. But even then, neither Lang nor Lovett were considered a major part of the format's landscape, although to her credit, I would argue Lang's album that year, "Absolute Torch And Twang" was brilliant.
Similarly, Lovett's 1996 Country Album of the Year win for "The Road To Ensenada" followed the early '90s boom, arriving as the class of '89 momentum was waning and before Faith Hill and Shania Twain achieved complete domination of the format a year later. But two single releases both didn't crack the top 50.
On the surface, 1974's Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group win by "Fairy Tale" from The Pointer Sisters seemed odd to me. But the song was recorded in Nashville and they did perform it on The Grande Ole Opry. The song peaked at #39 on the Billboard Country charts, good enough to raise awareness in the Country world – or, as it was referred to then, "Country & Western." Ugh!
But still, when I see Country Grammy and Pointer Sisters paired together, I admit to thinking, "WTF?"
Come to think of it, ditto the Civil Wars.