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COUNTRY GRAMMY TAKEAWAYS

After years of glaring omissions in the Grammys' country nominations, notably 2020's snubbing of Maren MorrisGIRL, “Girl” and “The Bones” and two-time Country Music Association Album and Entertainer of the Year winner Luke Combs generally, it seems the Academy has drawn closer to Nashville’s actual creative community.

With the exception of streaming supernova Zach Bryan (who's worked beyond the Music Row mainframe) in Best Country Solo Performance for “Something in the Orange,” this year’s nominees all have an active footprint in today’s country-music world. The only quibble is the absence of Lainey Wilson, whose six CMA nods—including Female Vocalist and New Artist—set the industry on notice and boosted a powerful new working-class voice.

Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Miranda Lambert leads the contenders, with nominations in all four categories. Palomino got the nod for Album, “If I Were a Cowboy” for Song, “In His Arms” for Best Solo Performance and “Outrunnin’ Your Memory” for Duo/Group Performance with fellow Entertainer of the Year Combs. Lambert consistently challenges herself artistically, and the sweep reflects her creative rigor.

Morris, Combs and Willie Nelson each earned three. As for Morris, the Gen Z Faith Hill, her Nashville-dream-chasing “Circles Round This Town” earned a Solo Performance and Song nom, while Humble Quest is a contender for Album. Combs’ Growin’ Up also lands in Album; this, plus his Lambert Duo/Group and “Doin’ This” Song nods, contributes to the feeling that he’s being recognized for the weight of his impact across the genre.

Nelson, approaching his 90th birthday, delivered A Beautiful Time, as classic a “Willie record” as Across the Borderline, Stardust or Phases & Stages. The set earned an Album nomination, while its “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die,” written by Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton, landed in Song. “Live Forever,” the title track of New West’s Billy Joe Shaver tribute album, received a Solo Performance nomination. 

Like Nelson, a couple of other old favorites made the list. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant found a berth in Duo/Group for their tender “Goin’ Where the Lonely Go,” as did Reba McEntire’s high-drama reimagining of “Does He Love You?” with Dolly Parton. Surprising/not surprising was the return of Taylor Swift in Best Country Song with “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version) [From the Vault],” written with Love Junkie and solo artist Lori McKenna.

In some ways, the acts earning single nominations—Cody Johnson, whose “’Til You Can’t” by Matt Rogers and Ben Stennis is up for Song, Brothers Osborne, the sole autonomous Duo/Group nominee, for “Midnight Rider’s Prayer” and Ingrid Andress/Sam Hunt for their slinky “Wishful Drinking,” as well as Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Heartfirst” lone nods—speaks most about how vast the fringes of the genre remain.

Even Ashley McBryde, a double nominee via her Duo/Group inclusion with Carly Pearce for their CMA/ACM Award-winning “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” earned an Album of the Year slot. Her singular concept project, Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, traces small-town drama and the peculiarities and peccadilloes of strong women.

The Academy’s new rule tightening the number of categories one can vote for may have thinned out the number of non-country-grounded grazers; it would seem the oversight committee gave deeper consideration to the Nashville-based country community and the projects that resonate with them.

In any case, Grammy got it right this year. The ballot truly reflects the best of what the genre can and does contain. Whether it was Bryan, who spontaneously connected with fans across the nation; boundary-pushers like Andress, Hunt, McBryde and Brothers Osborne; Nelson, a legend for both the length of his career and his creative engagement through countless albums; or the obvious contemporary forces of Combs, Lambert and Morris, Grammy 2023 for country is a survey course in the best of what the genre embodies.

From top: Bryan, Lambert, Nelson, Parton/McEntire, McBryde, Swift

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