As autumn leaves turn golden hues, music awards season begins each Fall with awards for golden tunes. Each September, the Americana Music Association bestows Honors and Awards on the previous year’s crop and the genre’s legends.
The Americana Honors & Awards show is fairly well established these days. The Call for Nominees goes out in May to the membership—I was a member back when I was on KRFC, longer ago with each passing season. Eligibility for “Of the Year” runs April-March prior, which is a bit of an odd growing season, but it gives a flavor for the later, more well known, awards shows.
Through the year, I use Americana Radio chart to watch for what I might want to listen to. The AMA radio chart is getting a dust up next year, but the current iteration anyway is a pretty good indicator of pretty good music. The annual AMA music awards are also a pretty good indicator, but they tend to be a bit more political and a bit more, well, “hippie” maybe, then my more Traditional Country Music leanings.
My 2016 favorite/most played music tended to encompass most of the AMA winners. Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide showed up at #20 album scrobbled, and Amanda Shires scored #23 for her album My Piece of Land. At the end of 2016, Sturgill took the top spot in the No Depression reader poll, followed by Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Margo Price and John Prine, with Shires at #10. The Lumineers gained #4 on the AMA radio chart, with Sturgill at #8. I’m surprised, otherwise, that the AMA radio chart didn’t predict the AMA nominees more closely, something to watch as the radio chart methodology is adjusted. I don’t listen to the Riff Raff or Billy Bragg, and the Lumineers are on the Pop end of my taste. Lori McKenna, as usual, turned in solid songwriting on The Bird & The Rifle, released in June 2016, but Rodney Crowell is an AMA institution.
Adjusting my last.fm stats to the eligibility period (4/16-3/17), A Sailor’s Guide rises to #15—I played Elizabeth Cook’s Exodus of Venus, and Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town twice or three times more and they are both June 2016 releases solidly in the AMA universe. Jason Isbell’s new album with the 400 Unit was released after the nomination period, and will threaten all comers at next year’s awards. Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter came out in March 2016, earned her recognition last year (her promising new album came out Friday 10/20/17). MacArthur “Genius” Rhiannon Giddens and Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives are scoring in my 2017 charts (Freedom Highway was released 13 February 2017 and Way Out West was released 10 March, both fresh for AMA nominations).
ALBUM OF THE YEAR nominees:
AMERICAN BAND by Drive-By Truckers
CLOSE TIES by Rodney Crowell
FREEDOM HIGHWAY, Rhiannon Giddens
THE NAVIGATOR, Hurray for the Riff Raff
A SAILOR’S GUIDE TO EARTH, Sturgill Simpson winner
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
JOHN PRINE winner
DUO/GROUP OF THE YEAR
BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY
MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES winner
EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR
AARON LEE TASJAN
AMANDA SHIRES winner
SONG OF THE YEAR
“ALL AROUND YOU” Sturgill Simpson, Written by Sturgill Simpson
“IT AIN’T OVER YET” Rodney Crowell, Written by Rodney Crowell winner
“TO BE WITHOUT YOU” Ryan Adams, Written by Ryan Adams
“WRECK YOU” Lori McKenna, Written by Lori McKenna and Felix McTeigue
INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR
SPENCER CULLUM, JR.
CHARLIE SEXTON winner
Regarding the Lifetime Achievement awards, well, I don’t know much what to say. I’ve never paid much attention to Van Morrison other than to recognize background music that’s not unpleasant. And Hi Rhythm Section is R&B or Soul or whatnot but Americana? C’mon, this is just more of what shoe-horned the talented R&B artist William Bell into the Americana Grammy.
Sir George & Mr. Cray & Graham Nash (along with the late, great Tom Petty) are among the legacy R&B and Album-Oriented Rock musicians which Americana is adopting as they lose any place on commercial radio. That’s fine. I like them, yes.
It just feels like we’re claiming others’ glories when there are plenty of our own to tout.
Iris DeMent, on the other hand, is an obvious Americana treasure with a unique vocal style. Her duets with John Prine are precious. I’m not sure what music earned Charlie Sexton the Instrumentalist of the Year. Knowing there’s always new (to me) music out there helps make the Sweet Old World worth exploring through another season.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR SONGWRITER
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT TRAILBLAZER AWARD
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR PERFORMANCE
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR INSTRUMENTALIST
SPIRIT OF AMERICANA / FREE SPEECH IN MUSIC
JACK EMERSON LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR EXECUTIVE
LARRY SLOVEN AND BRUCE BROMBERG FOR HIGHTONE RECORDS