The 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards Roundup: Folk/Blues/Reggae Fields
The GRAMMY Awards honor recordings in 108 categories across 32 fields, from rap to classical. To help readers get a better sense of the breadth of the nominees and the wealth of recordings they've created over the last year, GRAMMY.com has prepared these field Roundups, which give quick details on the nominees in an easy-to-read format.
The artists nominated for BEST TRADITIONAL BLUES ALBUM come from all over the nation, but its their commitment to the internal geography of heartache and hard times that marks their art. Marcia Ball's fusion of East Texas blues, Louisiana swamp rock and New Orleans swagger and strut has made her one of the most unique female vocalists in or out of the blues field. Ball is also a world-class pianist with chops to spare. Live! Down The Road features Ball's precision touring band laying down an irresistible groove while the singer delivers sizzling versions of her best-known tunes. Country bluesman John Hammond has dedicated his life to keeping the cornerstone sounds of the blues alive with his big howling voice and slashing slide guitar work. In Your Arms Again includes a few more recent tunes by Ray Charles and Howlin' Wolf, but they're played with the loose, funky and frenetic feel of a back woods Saturday night house party. B.B. King doesn't play the blues, he is the blues, with an instantly recognizable guitar sound and vocal style. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and 13-time GRAMMY winner turned 80 in 2005 and celebrated with the aptly named 80, credited to B.B. King & Friends. Bobby Bland, Van Morrison, Gloria Estefan and almost a dozen other stars join King for this historical milestone. Maria Muldaur has what may be the most seductive sounding vocal style in the world; she makes your ears burn and your spine tingle with a single purring note. On Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul, a tribute to blues pioneer Memphis Minnie, she puts her pipes to excellent use on a dozen classics delivered in her patented drawl with an acoustic band that includes Taj Mahal, Pinetop Perkins and jug blower Fritz Richmond. For more than 20 years Hubert Sumlin was the guitar man who put the menace into the growling vocals of Howlin' Wolf with his slashing, aggressive leads. About Them Shoes features 13 tunes associated with Muddy Waters, Wolf's main Chicago rival, and while the input of Keith Richards and Eric Clapton adds a bit of rock and roll glamour, it's Sumlin's aggressive, barely controlled lead work that makes the set essential.
Everybody's had the blues, as the old song says, and as long as that remains true, artists like this year's BEST CONTEMPORARY BLUES ALBUM nominees will continue to sing the blues and put their own personal stamp on the music. Solomon Burke never stopped performing but in 2002 his GRAMMY-winning Don't Give Up On Me returned him to the national spotlight. Make Do With What You Got is another strong effort featuring a sparking horn section and expansive arrangements by producer Don Was, but as expected, it's Burke's big, soulful larger-than-life vocal performance that makes the music come alive. Five-time GRAMMY-winner Robert Cray emerged 25 years ago at a time when some journalists were prematurely lamenting the death of the blues. The title track of Twenty deals with a young soldier's death in Iraq, demonstrating again that the blues is an art form that will never stop being relevant. After more than 50 years on stage and five GRAMMYs, Buddy Guy remains indomitable, a link between the first generation of Chicago blues masters like Muddy Waters and today's players, an artist steeped in tradition but capable of astonishing with his restless creativity. Bring 'Em In features collaborations with Carlos Santana, Keith Richards and other friends and relations for a romp that acknowledges the close ties between R&B, soul and the blues. Texas singer/songwriter and living legend Delbert McClinton is another uncontained talent, a multiple GRAMMY winner known for his ability to combine country, blues, soul, honky-tonk and rock into a sound as big as his native state. McClinton seems to grow more powerful, more passionate and more soulful with every release and Cost Of Living is another explosive chapter from a guy who refuses to mellow with age. The young turks who are known as the North Mississippi Allstars — Luther Dickinson, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Cody Dickinson, drums; Chris Chew, bass — come from a punk rock background, but their brand of primitive country blues was inspired by the North Mississippi sounds of players like their friends R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Electric Blue Watermelon finds the band pulling out all the stops on a collection that revs up their barely controlled electric boogie without forsaking the music's deep traditional roots.
You can call it folk, Americana, alt-country or any other catchy phrase you like, but the music of rural America that is honored by the BEST TRADITIONAL FOLK ALBUM in its many permutations continues to inspire artists all around the world. The Chieftains, Ireland's premier folk ensemble, may not be American, but the music they play is one of the deep roots of Southern Appalachian folk music. Live From Dublin — A Tribute To Derek Bell is just what its title implies: A set of tunes played to honor Derek Bell, the band's Celtic harp (and dulcimer and assorted keyboard instrument) player for the past 30 years. The band and their invited guests kick up their heels and mourn their comrade by celebrating his music and his life. Jimmie Dale Gilmore's dad was an amateur picker that obviously passed on his good taste in country music to his son. For Come On Back, Gilmore crafted simple arrangements for a batch of classic country hits from the '50s and '60s that showcase the aching beauty of a good song, simply sung. Multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien made his name as a bluegrass picker, but he's also a gifted tunesmith and often uses bluegrass as a jumping off point for his own compositions. Fiddler's Green shows O'Brien's more traditional side, pairing stripped down arrangements of old songs like "Buffalo Skinners" with contemporary standards like Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain." Live In The UK is an aural document of Tom Paxton's 2003 tour of England and Scotland. The songwriter, who will receiver this year's Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, leads his fans on a sing-along history of his music from "Ramblin' Boy" to "John Ashcroft And The Spirit Of Justice." Jo-EL Sonnier has straddled the worlds of traditional Cajun and modern country music for decades without dishonoring either genre. Although it was recorded in the studio, his latest opus, Cajun Mardi Gras!, delivers the wild, freewheeling mood that makes Mardi Gras the nation's best-known yearly bacchanal.
During its commercial peak in the '60s, folk and protest music acted as an alternative news source informing people of the stories and people behind the news. Most of this year's nominees for BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK ALBUM honor that tradition with compositions that salute the common folk while taking a few potshots at the powers that be. Ry Cooder's Chávez Ravine recreates a time and place that doesn't exist and longer: the Chicano communities of Los Angeles' Chávez Ravine displaced by greed and political nepotism in the 50s. Cooder's blend of traditional and contemporary Mexican music, given voice by many artists who lived through the events he chronicles, tell an inspiring tale of a vital culture that is still thriving, despite being ignored by the mainstream. If you looked for two words to sum up the career of Rodney Crowell, you couldn't come closer than The Outsider, the title of Crowell's nominated entry. He's an artist that has had massive success with his own inimitable blend of folk, pop and country; with each new album he continues to dig deeper into his soul and share the results with us all. Nickel Creek — Chris Thile (mandolin, lead vocals); Sean Watkins (guitar, backing vocals); and Sara Watkins (fiddle, lead vocals) — started their career playing bluegrass music and original compositions echoing the traditional style. On Why Should The Fire Die? the trio makes a giant creative leap with a collection of original tunes blending rock, blues, country and folk for an innovative acoustic folk-rock sound all their own. Fair & Square marks John Prine's return to the kind of personal, finely wrought tunes that have made him a national treasure. The playing is spare and beautiful, folky in a down-home, back porch way, while Prine's lyrics deal honestly and poignantly with mortality, limitation, war and the abuse of power that is currently tearing the nation apart. Bruce Springsteen isn't known as a folk singer, but anyone who knows his music can recognize his debt to Woody Guthrie and other artists concerned with the soul of America. Devils & Dust, like The Ghost Of Tom Joad and Nebraska, is another excursion into the grimmer aspects of American life in the new century, moving songs that delve into the dreams and nightmares, the joys and fears of ordinary folks trying to get by in a world they don't understand, or in some cases, understand too well.
Reggae began as a protest music born in the desperate caldron of Trenchtown's ghetto. Today the music, in its many permutations, can be found almost anywhere on earth. While it still serves as a vehicle of expression for the poor and oppressed it's just as often used to celebrate the joys of the human condition. The nominees for BEST REGGAE ALBUM range from traditional protest singers to natty pop stars. Winston Rodney, the man better known as Burning Spear, has been making incendiary music for more than 40 years, with no sign of slowing down or mellowing out. Our Music is another powerful salvo celebrating human dignity and freedom marked by the deep riddems and sharp horn charts of his magnificent backing band. Damian Marley, the youngest son of reggae legend Bob Marley, has some big shoes to fill and he steps into them full force with Welcome To Jamrock. The single that gives the album its name was one of the biggest hip-hop/dancehall crossover tunes in years. The rest of album, produced by his half-brother Stephen, is just as powerful, blending acoustic and electronic textures to deliver messages his dad would be proud of. Sean Paul helped bring dancehall reggae to the mainstream with his song "Dutty Rock," a blend of reggae, R&B and hip-hop. He could have coasted on his success, but on The Trinity he returns to the hard-core dancehall riddems that first brought him success. Shaggy is one of reggae's international sex symbols and the sly, slinky grooves of Clothesdrop, a perfect balance of smooth R&B and brittle dancehall beats, won't do anything to tarnish his image as a lady's man. Third World has gone from roots rockers to pop stars and back again, one of the first bands to drop R&B, funk, rock and hip-hop into the mix without diluting their reggae roots. Black, Gold & Green are the colors of the Jamaican flag and as you might expect from the title, this set balances social commentary with odes celebrating the joys of their homeland's sun, green hills and the spirit of the people.
Native American music grows out of a multifaceted culture that's thousands of years old, making it one of the oldest musical traditions on Earth. The nominees for BEST NATIVE AMERICAN MUSIC ALBUM honor their ancient roots even as they move the music forward, keeping the Red Road vital for future generations. This is the fifth GRAMMY nomination for Black Lodge singers, one of the top Northern-style drum groups on the powwow trail. On More Kids' Pow-Wow Songs, Black Lodge sings in English and presents familiar tunes like "Old MacDonald." The English lyrics will enable non-Natives, both children and their parents, to follow the music and gain a better understanding of contemporary and traditional drum group style singing. With Intonation: Harmonized Songs From The Southern Plains, Alex E. Smith and Cheevers Toppah have created one of the year's most innovative Native releases. They blend a style of singing common to the ceremonies of the Native American Church with Southern-style drum music to produce a sound full of soaring harmonies and deep spiritual feeling. Producer Jim Wilson created Sacred Ground — A Tribute To Mother Earth as a reminder to take care of the planet we all live on. The album includes new songs from some of Native America's best-known artists including Mirabal, Joanne Shenandoah, GRAMMY-winner Bill Miller, and Primeaux and Mike. Randy Wood's Our Love Will Never Die is full of gentle, uplifting songs delivered in his own distinctive style. Wood blends lyrics in English and Cree with quiet drumbeats to create songs with echoes of both mainstream and Native cultures.
Hawaiian music's lilting melodies and the chiming sounds of slack key guitar — a method of tuning the guitar to a major chord and ornamenting the melody with slides and bell-like harmonic notes — are instantly familiar to most American music lovers and this year's list of nominees for BEST HAWAIIAN MUSIC ALBUM is dominated by the style. Kapono Beamer is the younger brother of Keola, and although he's not as well known on the mainland as his brother, he's released almost two-dozen albums as a singer, composer and guitarist. Slack Key Dreams Of The Ponomoe showcases his smooth vocals and stellar guitar on a selection of jazz-tinged original compositions. Raiatea Helm's debut album won her two Nä Hökü Hanohano awards — Female Vocalist of the Year and Most Promising Artist. On her follow up, Sweet & Lovely, the 20-year-old ukulele-playing singer delivers 14 stunning tunes marked by her mastery of Ha'i, a female falsetto singing tradition that's currently undergoing a revival. Ledward Ka'apana's improvisational wizardry is legendary both on the island and on the mainland. On Kiho'alu — Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar he displays his skill as both composer and interpreter, especially on his surprising reinvention of Bob Will's "San Antonio Rose." Although Sonny Lim has been playing in Hawaii for decades — as a member of the Lim Family and on his own — Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry Of Sonny Lim is his first solo album. Lim shared in the first Hawaiian Music GRAMMY for Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2 and was one of the stars of that set. The Artistry Of Sonny Lim features 11 solo guitar performances that feature a bit of ragtime, a hint of country music and plenty of gorgeous slack key melodies. Masters Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar — Vol. 1, produced by Daniel Ho, Paul Konwiser and Wayne Wong, is the first of a series of live albums that will make the music of Hawaii's masters, young and old, available to a wider audience. The concerts that the performances on this album are drawn from showcase the history of the slack key style as well as introduce audiences to some of the genre's stars. Vol. 1 includes performances by George Kahumoku Jr., Cyril Pahinui, Ozzie Kotani and producer/guitarist Daniel Ho.