Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Americana Music Awards

My blogging colleague over at A 50 Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz is doing a really nice job of previewing the Americana Music Awards, to be announced on September 9. Unfortunately for the AMA, I am not nearly as nice or as sober as Mr. 50 Cent Lighter. If you want reasonable, balanced commentary, go read his page. If you want to see a music snob at her worst, keep reading.

According to the AMA website, the Americana Music Awards are, "Selected by members of the Americana Music Association, the 2010 nominees reflect the genre's affection for innovative and inspiring artistry. The nominees' eligibility is based on work released between May 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010." So if the awards for 2009 had the same eligibility period, and you released an album in April 2009, you are not eligible. To become a member of the AMA you have to pay a $75 annual membership fee. In theory, as a blogger I could be part of this group. In practice, I have better things to spend $75 US ($78 Canadian) on, like beer. Keep in mind that I currently get paid in Canadian dollars, so yeah, I'm cheap, and with Ontario beer tax $78 doesn't go all that far. And, who am I kidding, this blog is a total vanity project. I'm not out to impress anyone.

Starting at the top of the list of awards with "Album of the Year." The first nominee is Rosanne Cash's The List. This album is lovely, and I really enjoyed it, but it bothers me that a covers album is nominated for "Album of the Year." Shouldn't this award be for original songwriting? Similarly, nominee Patty Griffin performs a bunch of traditional songs, plus some originals, on her album Downtown Church. Dave Rawlings Machine's tremendous album A Friend of a Friend covers both Neil Young and Ryan Adams! The final nominee, Ray Wylie Hubbard's A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no c), seems to be the only one of all originals.

Dave Rawlings Machine - Ruby.mp3
From (Daytrotter): A Friend of a Friend (2009)

I know that there is a great tradition of reinterpreting folk and traditional music in the Americana genre, but there were so many great original albums released in the last year that it just seems lazy of AMA members to select covers albums, regardless of how good they were. In fact, I challenge the AMA to come up with a better list of albums than a group of Americana bloggers did last year (see The Bird List). Although The Bird List and the AMA have different time frames, isn't it telling that only one of the AMA's nominees (Dave Rawlings Machine) made the top 20 of the Americana bloggers? Yes, three of the top ten on The Bird List were AMA nominees for 2009, so I am probably comparing apples and oranges. But you get my point. Or not. Leave me alone, I've been drinking.

The next category is "Artist of the Year." The nominees include: Ryan Bingham, Patty Griffin, Levon Helm, Steve Earle, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. I don't know what to make of this category. I go to a lot of shows and only Steve Earle and Levon Helm played Toronto in the last year, and I was out of town for both shows. Ryan Bingham should take this category, given both his album Roadhouse Sun and his work on the movie Crazy Heart. He's been one busy dude this year.

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses - Tell My Mother I Miss Her So.mp3
Buy: Roadhouse Sun (2009)

For "Duo or Group of the Year" I have no objections to any of the nominees. I saw The Avett Brothers late last year, and Dave Rawlings plays Toronto tonight (Edit: Dave Alvin was actually playing that night. I get confused when I am drinking.). Carolina Chocolate Drops and Band of Heathens are the dark horses of this group.

I am pretty clueless when it comes to instrumentalists, so for the category of "Instrumentalist of the Year" I'll go with what the AMA picks. The nominees are Buddy Miller, Dave Rawlings, Sam Bush, and Will Kimbrough. I may not know much about this category, but I do know that Will Kimbrough rules.

The "New and Emerging Artist" category is completely weird. I wish I could find some information on what criteria the AMA uses to select their nominees. The only two artists that make any sense on this list are Sarah Jarosz and Joe Pug. Ryan Bingham was also nominated for this category in 2008. How can you "emerge" twice? Hayes Carll won the 2008 award for "Song of the Year." How can you win an award in 2008, and then be an "emerging" artist in 2010? And, as Mr. 50 Cent Lighter points out, Corb Lund "was playing in punk bands in his native Alberta, Canada, in the late 1980's before Sarah Jarosz was even born." Maybe Lund was nominated because his current album Losin' Lately Gambler (which is fantastic) is his first proper US release of his five (or six?) albums. But in the internet age, that is a totally lame excuse. I live in Canada and I discovered Lund's music via a friend in the US who lives south of the Mason-Dixon line. AMA members need to wake up.

Joe Pug - Not So Sure.mp3
Buy: Messenger (2010)

Side note: I discovered two other of my favorite Canadian artists via the internets. A kid in Alabama enlightened me to NQ Arbuckle, and a friend in the UK told me about Doug Paisley. Both NQ Arbuckle and Doug Paisley regularly play at a club about 2 miles from my home. Clearly I need to stop sitting at home, drinking by myself, and get out a little more. But my point is that the internet has opened up a new world to music lovers, and if the AMA can't past American releases, then I feel bad for it.

Anyhoo, in my world, I would have nominated AA Bondy, Those Darlins, and hell, Doug Paisley, in place of Bingham, Carll, and Lund. And I really love the music of latter, but they are not emerging artists. In my pickled brain at least, they are already established.

And finally, we have "Song of the Year." This category is so subjective. And honestly, I'm not nuts about any of these nominees:
1. "The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" - Written by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, performed by Ryan Bingham
2. "Drunken Poets Dream" - Written by Hayes Carll and Ray Wylie Hubbard, performed by Ray Wylie Hubbard
3. "Ruby" - Written by Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch, performed by Dave Rawlings Machine
4. "I and Love and You" - Written and performed by The Avett Brothers.

Here are four songs from May 1, 2009 - Mar 31, 2010 which I absolutely love:
1. "I Was a Photograph (Blake's Song)" - written and performed by Kasey Anderson (Is this Americana? I don't care, it's song of the year in any genre.)
2. "Not So Sure" - Written and performed by Joe Pug (listen above)
3. "Mom" - Written by Ben Nichols and performed by Lucero
4. "All Time Low" - Written by Carolyn Mark and performed by Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle

Feel free to tell me that I am full of shit.


chris yackoboski said...

Song of the Year = Burnout by Ox. Yes, it's absolutely subjective.

simon2307 said...

Good point on the "cover" albums.
The "new" and "emerging" category seems a bit lame almost - if there's nothing we like from the newbies we can pick an established (if not renowned)artist.
Track of the year for me (today) "Sinful Wishing Well" Caitlin Rose

Tim and Jen said...

David Rawlings did co-write both of the "cover" songs on his album.

Rockstar Aimz said...

I didn't realize that Rawlings co-wrote "To Be Young." Maybe I need to actually read the liner notes. I'm an idiot.

T-Sizzla said...