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Music City
THE AMERICANA NOMS ARE IN
5/9/17

BY HOLLY GLEASON

Just six awards, that’s all that are voted on for the Americana Music Awards. Though myriad lifetime achievement awards are also presented, the roots music organization—presided over by Jed Hilly (pictured)—only sends six categories to their members for vote. This year, with perhaps the most coherent ballot ever, finds brutal competition amongst a cadre of longtime Americanans.

Post-outlaw insurgent Sturgill Simpson leads with three nominations: Artist, Album (for A Sailor’s Guide to Earth) and Song (for “All Around You”). Southern roots rockers The Drive By Truckers, Boston alt-songwriter Lori McKenna and post-country icon Rodney Crowell are the others with multiple nominations. DBT picks up a Duo/Group and a well-deserved Album of the Year nod for American Band, while McKenna finds herself up for both Artist and Song of the Year (“Wreck You”). Crowell picks up Song with “It Ain’t Over Yet,” a high-profile event single with The Civil WarsJohn Paul White and Rosanne Cash, and Album of the Year with Close Ties.

“Every category is fantastic,” says Hilly of this year’s slate. “If I have a problem, it’s that the quality of the music coming out of this genre is so high, we don’t have enough categories.”

While many years have seen streamlining superstars recognized (Bob Dylan, Robert Plant), this year’s nominees make up a more focused group of core artists who exist solidly in the Americana tent. The other Artist of the Year nominees include last year’s Song of the Year winner Jason Isbell, raw country upstart Margo Price and John Prine, while Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Navigator and Rhiannon GiddensFreedom Highway fill out the Album of the Year category.

In an awards show universe where women are routinely a minor slice of the nominees, two women are nominated in both the Artist and Album of the Year categories, and two of those women (one in each) are relatively emerging artists.

The press conference, hosted by The Milk Carton Kids, hit a high note when Isbell joined Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley for an ad hoc reunion of the former Trucker with his bandmates. As Cooley pointed out in a deadpan manner, “This is weird.” That said, their voices on Isbell’s back-in-the-day “Outfit” held all the spark of back when.

  L-R, Back Row: Mike Cooley (Drive-By Truckers), Jason Isbell, Jerry Douglas, Caitlin Canty, Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Abi Tapia (Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum) / L-R, Front Row: Joey Ryan (The Milk Carton Kids), Jed Hilly, and Kenneth Pattengale (The Milk Carton Kids) /  Photo: Rick Diamond, Getty Images

As Americana continues to grow, hearkening back to the early days of South by Southwest, the AMAs are becoming a place for validation. Emerging artists Brent Cobb, Sam Outlaw, Amanda Shires and Aaron Lee Tasjan have all seen significant critical acclaim over the past year and feel poised for the Simpson/2016 Artist of the Year Stapleton/Isbell lift.

With The Lumineers joining Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives to fill out Duo/Group, instrumental prowess is as important in this category as songs, touring and the records made. Longtime Texas hotshot Charlie Sexton finds himself vying with Spencer Cullum, Jr., Jen Gunderman and Courtney Hartman for Instrumentalist of the Year.

For the nominees, it all comes together on 9/13 at the Ryman Auditorium. As always, the kick-off event for the annual Americana Music Conference & Festival sets the tone for an extended week of panels, shows and other events.