TJ’s 2012 Americana Music Association Honors & Awards Nominations Rundown
By Terry Paul Roland, Staff Writer
On May 31st at L.A.’s Grammy Museum, at the musician unfriendly hour of 11:00 AM, the Nashville based Americana Music Association announced their 2012 Honors & Awards Nominees. For those of us fortunate enough (and alert enough) to attend we were treated to performances by Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Ellis and Shelby Lynne with a band that included Don Was on bass, Don Heffington on drums and Greg Leisz on pedal steel. The set of songs that included Lucinda Williams’ “Blessed,” and Buddy Miller’s “Matches and Gasoline,” alone was worth the early wake-up. The nominees and honors for 2012 were another story.
In past years, the AMA has taken bold moves in honoring artists and albums that represent the overlooked side of the American country, folk, soul and rock stream of music. For example, in 2003 Johnny Cash’s American lV: The Man Comes Around was given the Album of the Year while Cash himself was awarded Artist of the Year. Honors have also gone to innovative veterans like John Prine, Loretta Lynn, Jason and the Scorchers and Wanda Jackson.
However, in recent years, the awards have leaned heavy on repetition (try counting how many awards Buddy Miller has collected-you may need an accountant) and often safe, middle-of-the-road choices that seem to support commercial attention over merit and achievement. Last years Album of the Year to Robert Plant for Band of Joy was a case in point. The album was hardly the best of American roots music for 2011. But, the need to gain attention for the genre, the association and the event seemed to take precedence over authentic artists who better represent the best in Americana music.
This year is no exception. Listening to the list of nominees, four to a category, except for Group or Duo of the Year, which merits five nominees for some unexplained reason. Hopefully the AMAs award the Carolina Chocolate Drops this year with the Best Group honor, as they seem late in the game considering the Carolina Chocolate Drops have already been recognized by the Recording Academy with a Grammy, but for some reason they have yet to be recognized by their own community with a win. But beyond that, the Group or Duo of the Year category, was at best a pedestrian event. At its worst, it was frustratingly curious. It makes you wonder, when there are so many emerging Americana artists, why important award categories like Album of the Year and Artist of the Year are limited to four choices. It’s hard not to ask who that fifth nominee could be. While artists like Jason Isbell, Gillian Welch and Steve Earle are all deserving and certainly put out fine music this year, where’s Merle Haggard’s fine Working In Tennessee in the mix? It is one more in a stringof fine singer-songwriter based albums released by Hag over the last 12 years. Then there’s the question of Ray Wylie Hubbard whose Grifter’s Hymnal boogied the listener to the core. He has also has put out an impressive series of fine albums over the last decade.
But, the real obvious problem with the awards this year is the in prestigious Lifetime Acheivement choice. In the past the honor has gone to choices like Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely and Levon Helm. This year Bonnie Raitt will be honored, like Greg Allman last year, a questionable and safe choice. With a new CD in release that may garner Grammy attention, Raitt’s honor seems like a play for spotlight for the association and the event. While Raitt’s early career focused on upbeat blues with her unique slide guitar lead work, her albums since the Grammy winning, Nick of Time, have mostly been straight down the middle-of-the road when it comes compared to roots music.
So, again, like the earlier categories, the Lifetime Achievement honor this year is not so much about who is there, but who’s been overlooked. In this case the choice that seemed cry out to be made was easily Guy Clark who turned 70 this year. A fine new tribute album, This One’s For Him, has been released in his honor, which garnered a well-deserved nomination for Album of the Year. Clark was the obvious choice for a Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s a solid contributor to that fine line between folk and country with moments of jazz and blues blended in for good measure. His song legacy has influenced so many artists in the genre now called Americana over the last 30 years. though he was awarded with a Lifetime Acheievement for Songwriting, it could be said that Guy Clark was playing Americana before anyone gave the genre its name. But, an honor to Guy would benefit the artist and shed light on his considerable legacy and not the association or the awards show. An honor for Guy would be less likely to sell tickets or make news than Bonnie Raitt.
And then, again, there are so many others deserving of this Lifetime honor. The next three artists would be Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard and Merle Haggard. You get the point. After Haggard, the list would include Jimmie Dale Gilmore(special note to the Wronglers project he participated in last year with Warren Hellman), Laurie Lewis, Tom Russell, Arlo Guthrie, Maria Muldar…the list goes on and on.
2012 Americana Music Association Honors & Awards Nominees
Turnstyled Junkpiled Picks indicated with *
Album of the Year
Here We Rest - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive – Steve Earle
The Harrow & The Harvest – Gillian Welch
This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark – Various Artists *
Artist of the Year
Justin Townes Earle
Emerging Artist of the Year
Deep Dark Woods
Robert Ellis *
Song of the Year
“Alabama Pines” – Written and performed by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
“Come Around” – Written and performed by Sarah Jarosz
“I Love” – Written by Tom T. Hall and performed by Patty Griffin
“Waiting On The Sky to Fall” – Written and performed by Steve Earle *
Instrumentalist of the Year
Dave Rawlings *
Duo/Group of the Year
Carolina Chocolate Drops *
Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit