Grammy predictions: who will win in the country and Americana categories?

Sturgill Simpson and Miranda Lambert look set to dominate country, with returning veterans such as Robbie Fulks likely winners in the folk category

Country song

Miranda Lambert made a clear statement about the new direction she was heading in July when she released Vice, a song that was heralded for introducing a new side of feminism to country music. Vice reverses the gender role by portraying the woman as the one stumbling through one-night stands in order to get over a harsh break-up. The electronic pulse that rumbles underneath casts a dark shadow and the song’s sexual independence puts it in the tradition of Loretta Lynn’s breakthrough hit The Pill. The only threat here is the Tim McGraw hit Humble and Kind, an earnest anthem for unity that has already racked up song awards at last year’s American Music Awards and Country Music Association awards.

Will win: Humble and Kind – Lori McKenna for Tim McGraw
Should win: Vice – Miranda Lambert, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne for Miranda Lambert

Country album

Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson. Photograph: Atlantic Records

Sturgill Simpson’s latest album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, is not really a country album, but so what? The singer-songwriter casts himself as the rightful heir to outlaw country players like Merle Haggard. His underground-to-mainstream journey resulted from touring and television appearances, not the charts, which have made him a disrupter in Nashville. Certainly his current momentum means a win is likely, and would send the message that individual vision, creative experimentation and respect for tradition still matter.

Will win: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
Should win: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson

Country solo performance

For all the reasons listed above, this needs to go to Miranda Lambert. The only threat here is Carrie Underwood, whose rock ballad Church Bells is an epic revenge song that ended up becoming one of the biggest hits of her career. She also blazed through the song during three country music awards shows last year, which helped build momentum for a potential Grammy win.

Will win: Carrie Underwood
Should win: Miranda Lambert

Country/duo solo performance

The true tussle in this category is between Dierks Bentley with Ellie King and Kenny Chesney with Pink. Both are crossover collaborations – King is more of a blues singer and Pink a pop star – and both different directions for Bentley and Chesney. Chesney’s superstar status favors a win for his power ballad, and including Pink only increases the odds. But Different for Girls deserves the win because it takes chances. The song is a well-intentioned look at relationship conflict through a woman’s lens. While it is a sign of maturity for a singer who once had a hit with a song titled Drunk on a Plane, it also brought something new to stale country radio playlists.

Will win: Setting the World on Fire – Kenny Chesney and Pink
Should win: Different For Girls – Dierks Bentley and Ellie King

American roots song

Jack White
Jack White. Photograph: Jo McCaughey

Jack White’s name in any awards category tends to tilt the odds in his favor. Yet this is for a minor work – a White Stripes song from a collection of past rarities. His competition is less than high-profile: the Nashville supergroup the Time Jumpers, the singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, and the Lafayette Zydeco band Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars. The favorite, though, is Robbie Fulks – Alabama at Night is the centerpiece of an album from last year that raised the bar for modern singer-songwriters. Influenced by the 1936 literary masterwork Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, the song, sung from the author’s perspective, has literary weight not heard in song since the golden age of songwriting decades past.

Will win: City Lights – Jack White
Should win: Alabama at Night – Robbie Fulks

Americana album

Because Americana is a category that has a long musical reach, there’s no surprise this slate of nominees is just as varied. The Avett Brothers certainly rule the category in current relevance; the North Carolina folk-rock band’s latest album happens to be their most adventuresome and successful. This is their second nomination in this category, so this is probably their year. The former Stax soul man William Bell is nominated as well as the Nashville supergroup the Time Jumpers and the singer-songwriter Lori McKenna. But this could be the moment for voters to recognize the outlaw legend Kris Kristofferson. He is 80 and recently suffered a bout of Lyme disease. Now that he has resumed touring – a current victory lap of solo acoustic shows – the award would validate his lasting influence on everything Americana.

Will win: True Sadness – The Avett Brothers
Should win: The Cedar Creek Sessions – Kris Kristofferson

American roots performance

For sheer popularity, this is yet again an award for the Avett Brothers to win. But Rhiannon Giddens, late of the old-timey roots trio Carolina Chocolate Drops, has carved out a solo career that stands on its own merits. No song in this category is quite like Factory Girl, a haunting elegy that might double as a long-lost Irish murder ballad.

Will win: The Avett Brothers
Should win: Rhiannon Giddens

Traditional blues album

Lurrie Bell … one of the new Chicago bluesmen
Lurrie Bell … one of the new Chicago bluesmen. Photograph: PR

This category celebrates the traditionalists, but in 2017 the idea of “traditional blues” is not that straightforward. The bluesman who carries the longest legacy among the nominees is the Chicagoan Lurrie Bell who started in the club scene alongside his father, the famed harmonica player Carey Bell. The son, 58, remains one of the strongest ambassadors of Chicago electric blues working today. However, the marketing budget is heavier for the blues rocker Joe Bonamassa, whose nomination has already caused controversy since his playing – he’s a disciple of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan – is the furthest from the tradition you can get.

Will win: Live at the Greek Theater – Joe Bonamassa
Should win: Can’t Shake This Feeling – Lurrie Bell

Contemporary blues album

Here’s the category where Bonamassa would rule. Instead it should go to the Louisiana blues guitarist Kenny Neal, whose playing brings in a myriad of influences, including swamp pop and funk. He is a soulful vocalist also known over the last two decades for his slashing guitar work. If he doesn’t walk home with the Grammy, look for it probably going to the unfortunately named the Record Company. This is a roots-rock trio of multi-instrumentalists who channel early rock’n’roll with a heavy emphasis on classic blues – not compelling stuff but the kind of comfort-zone fare that makes it easy for voters.

Will win: Give it Back to You – The Record Company
Should win: Bloodline – Kenny Neal

Folk album

Robbie Fulks
Robbie Fulks. Photograph: Andy Goodwin/

No one wants to compete for a folk Grammy against Judy Collins. The folk revival legend is out with a new album on which she is paired with the New York singer-songwriter Ari Hest. They, plus the Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens, the teenage prodigy Sierra Hull, and the alt-folkie Sarah Jarosz make heady competition for Robbie Fulks. Yet momentum has been building this past year for the Chicago alt-country songwriter and for good reason. Upland Stories is a major accomplishment of literate storytelling and unvarnished musicianship, earning him the best reviews of his 20-plus-year career.

Will win: Upland Stories – Robbie Fulks
Should win: Upland Stories – Robbie Fulks

Bluegrass album

No surprise that this category is occupied by a number of traditionalists – the Tennessee group Blue Highway, the legends Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the fiddler Laurie Lewis, as well as the O’Connor Band, a six-member family group. Claire Lynch, considered one of the best female voices in contemporary bluegrass next to Alison Krauss, has the edge. North by South, produced by the banjoist Alison Brown, is a concept album of songs by Canadian songwriters, including Ron Sexsmith and Gordon Lightfoot, and featuring the ace players Jerry Douglas and Béla Fleck.

Will win: North by South – Claire Lynch
Should win: North by South – Claire Lynch


Mark Guarino

The GuardianTramp

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