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THE GRAMMY WHISPERER LOOKS INTO COUNTRY

Just as there are two locks for Grammy nominations for Album of the Year (Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar), there are two locks for noms in the Best Country Album competition—Miranda Lambert's The Weight of These Wings and Chris Stapleton's From a Room: Volume 1.

But a dark horse has suddenly emerged. The recent death of country legend Glen Campbell could push his final studio album, Adiós, to a nomination or even a win in this category. More on that later.

Both Lambert and Stapleton took Best Country Album for their last studio albums—Platinum and Traveller, respectively. Both artists would make Grammy history if they won again this year. Lambert would become the first female solo artist to win twice in the category. Stapleton would become the first male solo artist to win twice in the category since Roger Miller more than 50 years ago. (Unfortunately, the Grammys dropped the category between 1966 and 1993, leaving a rather big hole in my research. I hate it when that happens.)

The Weight of These Wings won Album of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 2. Stapleton's album hadn't been released at that point. The two albums will almost certainly go head-to-head at the CMA Awards on Nov. 8.

Here's how three top country races are shaping up at this point. The Grammy eligibility year ends Sept. 30. Nominations will be announced on Nov. 28. The awards will be presented on Jan. 28 at Madison Square Garden.

First, here's something you should know: The final nominees in the country field are decided by a Nominations Review Committee, which takes a second look at the votes of rank-and-file members. That will probably work to the advantage of such critically acclaimed artists as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and work against such commercial heavyweights as Florida Georgia Line. Just sayin'.

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM

The likely nominees

Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings. (Produced by Frank Liddell, Eric Masse, Glenn Worf). This would be Lambert's fourth consecutive studio album to be nominated in this category. She would become the third female solo artist to amass four or more noms in this category, following Trisha Yearwood, who leads all artists (male or female) with eight noms, and Faith Hill, who has had four.

Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1. (Produced by Dave Cobb, Stapleton). This would be Stapleton's second album in a row to be nominated in this category. This is the top-selling country album so far in 2017.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound. (Produced by Dave Cobb). This would be Isbell's first nom in this category. Isbell won Best Americana Album for his last album, Something More Than Free. Note: Sturgill Simpson, who won Best Country Album this past year for A Sailor's Guide to Earth, followed a similar Grammy trajectory. His previous album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, had been nominated for Best Americana Album.

Little Big Town, The Breaker. (Produced by Jay Joyce). This was the quartet's return to country after its pop experiment Wanderlust fizzled. This would be its third nom in this category.

Glen Campbell, Adiós. (Produced by Carl Jackson). This is this year's big question mark. The committee that decides the final nominations has to know that if this is nominated, it would stand an excellent chance of winning. Would a Campbell win be seen as fitting farewell to a widely respected artist, or could Grammys be faulted for honoring the most important country artist of 1967 at the expense of the most important country artists of 2017? That question will be hotly debated when the committee meets. The answer to that question will likely determine whether the album is nominated or not.

Deep Grammy Trivia: Campbell would be the first artist to win in this category posthumously, but he wouldn't be the first to be nominated posthumously. Jim Reeves was nominated posthumously for the 1964 award. Reeves was nominated again the following year, when he was joined by the long-departed Hank Williams (who died in 1953).

Other leading contenders

Zac Brown Band, Welcome Home.  (Produced by Dave Cobb). This would be the group's fourth nom in this category. That would put them in a tie with Dixie Chicks for the most noms in this category by a group. The band was nominated in this category with three consecutive studio albums, but missed out with its fourth major-label album, Jekyll + Hyde. Will its fifth major-label album put it back in the running? A nomination would potentially give producer Cobb three of the five nominees for Best Country Album.

Alison Krauss, Windy City. (Produced by Buddy Cannon). This was Krauss' first solo studio album in nearly 18 years. It would be her third nom in this category (counting an album with Union Station).

Brantley Gilbert, The Devil Don't Sleep. (Produced by Dann Huff. Executive producer: Scott Borchetta). This would be Gilbert's first nom in this category.

Thomas Rhett, Life Changes (due Sept. 8). (Produced by Dann Huff, Jesse Frasure, Rhett). This would be Rhett's first nom in this category. This is his first album release since the, well, life-changing success of "Die a Happy Man."

Lady Antebellum, Heart Break. (Produced by busbee). The trio won back-to-back awards in this category with 2010's Need You Now and 2011's Own the Night, but wasn't nominated with its two subsequent studio albums.

Debut albums often do well in this category. In the past five years, debut albums by Hunter Hayes, Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton (his solo debut) and Maren Morris (her major-label debut) have been nominated or won in this category. Will the pattern continue this year? Debut albums that have made noise this year include Brett Young's Brett Young (Produced by Dann Huff); Luke Combs' This One's for You (Produced by The Jackie Boyz, Sammy Mitchell, Scott Moffatt); and Kane Brown's Kane Brown (Produced by Dann Huff, Matthew McVaney).

Shania Twain, Now (due Sept. 29). (Produced by Ron Aniella, Jake Gosling, Jacquire King, Matthew Koma, Twain). This is Twain's first studio album in nearly 15 years. It would be her fourth consecutive studio album to receive a nom in this category. If it is nominated, she'll join that little club of women with four or more noms in this category—Yearwood, Hill, Lambert and Twain. (Now there's a law firm you'd enjoy doing business with.)

Willie Nelson, God's Problem Child. (Produced by Buddy Cannon). This would be Nelson's sixth nomination in this category. That would put him out front as the male solo artist with the most noms. He's currently tied for that distinction with George Strait, with five each.

Garth Brooks, Gunslinger. (Produced by Mark Miller). This category re-launched in 1994, so it missed out on the five years in which Brooks achieved megastardom. Even so, the country icon has been nominated here just once, with Sevens nearly 20 years ago.

Kenny Chesney, Cosmic Hallelujah. (Produced by Buddy Cannon, Chesney). Would you believe Chesney has never been nominated for Best Country Album? Chesney is one of the biggest country stars of the past two decades. Go figure.

Additional possibilities

Josh Turner, Deep South; Blackberry Smoke, Like an Arrow; Dylan Scott, Dylan Scott; Brett Eldredge's Brett Eldredge; Brad Paisley's Love and War; Lauren Alaina, Road Less Traveled; Old Dominion, Happy Endings (Aug. 25); Luke Combs, This One's for You; Kane Brown, Kane Brown; Chris Janson, Everybody (Sept. 22); Chase Rice, Lambs & Lions (Sept. 29).

Note: Reba McEntire's Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope topped the country chart in February, but it will probably compete for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. Another country star, Hillary Scott (of Lady Antebellum) won in that category this past year for Love Remains, which she recorded with The Scott Family.

BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE

In the six years that men and women have competed head-to-head in this category, women have won four times.

The likely nominees

Miranda Lambert, "Tin Man." This would be Lambert's fourth nom in this category. That would put her just behind Carrie Underwood as the top nominee in the category's history. Underwood has been nominated five times.

Chris Stapleton, "Broken Halos." This would be Stapleton's second nom in this category. He won two years ago for the title song from Traveller. If this wins, he'll become the first male artist to win twice since the combined male/female category was introduced in 2011.

Sam Hunt, "Body Like a Back Road." This would be Hunt's first nom in this category. This smash broke the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the country chart. The old record was held by Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise"—which was passed over for a nom for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

Brett Young, "In Case You Didn't Know." This ballad is the year's second best-selling country hit.

Glen Campbell, "Adiós." Even if the committee decides not to nominate Campbell's album for Best Country Album, it could honor him by nominating the title track—a Jimmy Webb song—here.

Note: As noted above, Carrie Underwood has been nominated five times in this combined male/female category, missing out only one year. Her hit "Dirty Laundry" could keep her streak going, but it was released on Sept. 5, 2016—25 days before the end of the previous eligibility year. How rigorously does the Recording Academy enforce its eligibility period rules? I think we're about to find out.

Other leading contenders

Luke Combs, "Hurricane." This is one of the year's top country hits.

Maren Morris, "I Could Use a Love Song." Morris won in this category last year for "My Church." Both of these songs are from her album, Hero, which was nominated last year for Best Country Album.

Kelsea Ballerini, "Yeah Boy." Ballerini's "Peter Pan" was passed over for a nom last year in this category, but she was nominated for Best New Artist.

Dierks Bentley, "Black." This would be Bentley's second nom in this category. He was nominated four years ago for "Home."

Additional possibilities

Blake Shelton, "Every Time I Hear That Song;" Thomas Rhett, "Unforgettable;" Jon Pardi, "Heartache on the Dance Floor;" Dustin Lynch, "Small Town Boy;" Jason Aldean, "Any Ol' Barstool;" Luke Bryan, "Fast;" Brett Eldredge, "Somethin' I'm Good At;" Billy Currington, "Do I Make You Wanna;" Justin Moore, "Somebody Else Will;" Kenny Chesney, "Bar at the End of the World;" Brad Paisley, "Today;" RaeLynn, "Love Triangle;" Josh Turner, "All About You;" Brantley Gilbert, "The Ones That Like Me;" Walker Hayes, "You Broke Up With Me;" Kip Moore, "More Girls Like You;" Russell Dickerson, "Yours; Chris Janson, "Fix a Drink"; Kane Brown, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now"; Shania Twain, "Life's About to Get Good"; Garth Brooks, "Let's Lay Down and Dance."

BEST COUNTRY DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE

Collaborations compete with tracks by ongoing groups and duos in this category. In the six years that they have competed here, collabos have taken at least two of the spots every year. Yet, a collabo has won the award just once in these six years. That was last year when Pentatonix's version of "Jolene," featuring the song's writer, Dolly Parton, took the award.

The likely nominees

Little Big Town, "Better Man." This would be the group's fifth nom in this category. The group won for "Pontoon" and "Girl Crush." Little Big Town and The Civil Wars are the only two-time winners in the category's six-year history.

Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, "Craving You." These two artists competed against each other at the Grammys this past year. Both were nominated for Best Country Song—he for "Die a Happy Man," she for "My Church."

Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, "Speak to a Girl." Six of the couple's previous collaborations have received Grammy noms—and that's not even counting an all-star 1996 collabo on which they both appeared, "Hope: Country Music's Quest for a Cure."

Kesha featuring Dolly Parton, "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)." This remake of Parton's 1980 hit (a country No. 1) has special meaning. Kesha's mom, Pebe Sebert, co-wrote the song. Women voters, especially, may be inclined to vote for Kesha as a show of support in her ongoing legal fight against her former producer. As noted above, Parton won in this category last year for a collaboration with Pentatonix. (Four other artists best known for pop or rock—Kelly Clarkson, Grace Potter, Elle King and P!nk—have been nominated in this category in the six years it has been presented.)

Lady Antebellum, "You Look Good." This funky track was a real departure for the trio, which won twice in a predecessor category, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, for "I Run to You" and "Need You Now." Fun Fact: Lady A is the only country duo or group to win five Grammys in one night (for "Need You Now" and the album of the same name).

Other leading contenders

Zac Brown Band, "My Old Man." The band won in a predecessor category, Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, for "As She's Walking Away," a collabo with Alan Jackson. Fun Fact: Zac Brown Band is the only country group or duo ever to win the Grammy for Best New Artist.

Brothers Osborne, "It Ain't My Fault." This would be the third straight year the duo has been nominated in this category with a song from its first full-length album, Pawn Shop. It was nominated two years ago for "Stay a Little Longer" and this past year for "21 Summer."

Florida Georgia Line featuring Backstreet Boys, "God, Your Mama and Me." The duo's No. 1 country smash "H.O.L.Y." wasn't nominated last year. But the presence of Backstreet Boys, who were nominated for Album and Record of the Year and Best New Artist back in the day, may prove irresistable to the committee. The Grammys love it when artists from different worlds come together.

Additional possibilities

Midland, "Drinkin' Problem;" Cole Swindell featuring Dierks Bentley, "Flatliner;" Old Dominion, "No Such Thing as a Broken Heart;" Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina, "What Ifs;" Dan + Shay, "How Not To."

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