In Search of… American Roots Music at the Grammy Awards

William Bell won the Best Americana Album Grammy Award¬†earlier this month for This Is Where I Live, released on a revived Stax label. A lot of people said nice things about the award and what a great artist Mr. Bell is, and I don’t doubt its true. It’s also true that while I consider myself a deep Americana music fan, I am also self-educated on Americana music and I had never heard of Mr. Bell before the Americana Music Awards last fall.

Wikipedia says Mr. Bell, born in 1939, is best known as an R&B and Soul artist active in the 1960s and 1970s. ¬†I like Traditional¬†Blues, and I don’t mind most R&B especially the older tunes. ¬†Yet, with so much good Roots music coming out the last few years, the Grammys played it safe once again as a popularity contest for known names. ¬†Now, I’m not saying Mr. Bell’s album isn’t good‚ÄĒI don’t really know because I haven’t listened to it much. ¬†I’m saying I don’t know R&B. ¬†R&B is not on my Americana roots radar.

Quantity vs Quality

Americana is by necessity a big tent. ¬†It’s a bit and a bit folk-country that’s a bit too thoughtful for Pop Country radio. ¬†It’s a bit too traditional for Music Row. ¬†It’s a bit too much for the mass marketers to know what to do with. ¬†Industry insiders, such that Americana has, have pushed for years (especially through the Americana Music Association) to gain industry recognition, but in doing so they’ve pushed the “Big Names” and they’ve pushed the genre envelope to bring more people under the tent. ¬†In ever-expanding “Americana” it often feels to me like we’re appropriating whatever is popular just to get more tweets & Facebook posts.

Getting a “Best Americana Album” category named in the Grammys’ Roots Music category was quite a coup for the AMA and friends. ¬†We have our annual awards, yes, but with a fraction of the media attention of the Grammy Awards bonanza. ¬†The price of quantity, though, is accepting the fact that the vast majority of Grammy voters probably have never heard what us regular roots music fans consider “Americana” music. ¬†We get name recognition over music recognition, like just any other high school prom queen coronation.

Field 13 American Roots Music

Category 45 is Best American Roots Performance, “in the style of any of the subgenres encompassed in the American Roots Music field including Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk or regional roots.”¬† Nominees this year (winner in bold) included:

  • AIN’T NO MAN The Avett Brothers¬†Track from: True Sadness
  • MOTHER’S CHILDREN HAVE A HARD TIME Blind Boys Of Alabama¬†Track from: God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens¬†Track from: Factory Girl
  • HOUSE OF MERCY Sarah Jarosz¬†Track from: Undercurrent
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna

Category 46 is Best American Roots Song (Songwriter).  Nominees this year included:

  • ALABAMA AT NIGHT¬†Robbie Fulks, songwriter (Robbie Fulks)¬†Track from: Upland Stories
  • CITY LIGHTS¬†Jack White, songwriter (Jack White/The White Stripes)¬†Track from: Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016
  • GULFSTREAM Eric Adcock & Roddie Romero, songwriters (Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars) Track from: Gulfstream
  • KID SISTER Vince Gill, songwriter (The Time Jumpers) Track from: Kid Sister
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna & Felix McTeigue, songwriters (Lori McKenna)

Category 47 is Best Americana Album.  Nominees:

  • TRUE SADNESS¬†The Avett Brothers
  • THIS IS WHERE I LIVE William Bell
  • THE CEDAR CREEK SESSIONS Kris Kristofferson
  • THE BIRD & THE RIFLE Lori McKenna
  • KID SISTER¬†The Time Jumpers

Category 48 is Best Bluegrass Album

  • BURDEN BEARER Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
  • THE HAZEL AND ALICE SESSIONS Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
  • NORTH BY SOUTH Claire Lynch
  • COMING HOME O’Connor Band With Mark O’Connor

Category 49 is Best Traditional Blues Album


Category 50 Best Contemporary Blues Album

  • THE LAST DAYS OF OAKLAND Fantastic Negrito
  • LOVE WINS AGAIN Janiva Magness
  • BLOODLINE Kenny Neal
  • GIVE IT BACK TO YOU The Record Company

Category 51 Best Folk Album

  • SILVER SKIES BLUE Judy Collins & Ari Hest
  • UPLAND STORIES Robbie Fulks
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens
  • WEIGHTED MIND Sierra Hull
  • UNDERCURRENT Sarah Jarosz

Category 52 is Best Regional Roots Music Album (a catchall for Cajun to Hawaiian)

  • BROKEN PROMISED LAND Barry Jean Ancelet & Sam Broussard
  • IT’S A CREE THING Northern Cree
  • E WALEA Kalani Pe’a
  • GULFSTREAM Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars
  • I WANNA SING RIGHT: REDISCOVERING LOMAX IN THE EVANGELINE COUNTRY (Various Artists) Joshua Caffery & Joel Savoy, producers

Whatever your genre, life is too short to listen to pop music.

p.s. I met Sarah Jarosz very briefly at the Folk ‘n’ Bluegrass here in Pagosa last spring. Amazingly nice woman.



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1 Response to In Search of… American Roots Music at the Grammy Awards

  1. Sacha says:

    Not one single person on has tagged William Bell with Americana. Not. One. Single. Person.
    So I really don’t understand why he was the winner of the award. It doesn’t make ANY sense. He’s tagged “soul” mostly.
    Sarah Jarosz would have been more fit for the Americana award?
    Very awkward, all together…

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