2024 Grammy Nominations Reach A Diverse And Deserving Group
There’s often a gulf between the Grammy Awards and insider opinions in the music scenes that I value and attempt to understand, but with the nominations for the early 2024 ceremony announced last Friday, I feel like the Recording Academy and the Americana state-of-the-art are quite in tune. If somebody asked me the eternal question what is Americana? in 2023, I’d be comfortable pointing them to this year’s list of nominees, in terms of their excellence and diversity.
WMOT’s Program Director Jessie Scott counted about 50 WMOT artists receiving Grammy nods across more than a dozen categories. It’s a case of good things happening to good artists, and that seems worth celebrating, so here are updates about some of those key musicians.
Allison Russell earned four nominations for her September release The Returner, including Americana Album of the Year. Something of a sequel to her magisterial solo debut Outside Child of 2021, it touches on some of the same themes of trauma and renewal while introducing some bold new grooves and colors on the musical side. It sounds in places as if Russell’s historic encounter with Chaka Khan at the 2021 Newport Folk Festival rubbed off in her soundscapes. The song “Eve Was Black” may be her most lacerating social protest song yet, and that one’s up for American Roots Performance.
Rounding out the Americana album category is a sampler of top names with revelatory projects. Rhiannon Giddens might return to the winner’s circle with her pop-inflected and adventuresome You’re The One, released in mid August. Or it might be Rodney Crowell, one of the anchoring figures of the Americana concept, with his fresh and acclaimed Chicago Sessions, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
Little surprise, Jason Isbell is nominated for his springtime release Weathervanes, along with noms for Best American Roots Song (“Cast Iron Skillet”) and Best Americana performance for “King Of Oklahoma.” And I would not be surprised to see Brandy Clark break through with an Americana album win for her elegant self-titled album, or her nods in two categories for her song “Dear Insecurity.” Clark also took two country nominations to round out her big year.
While Tyler Childers didn’t earn an Americana Album star for his album Rustin’ In The Rain, it did find a slot in Best Country Album, alongside Zach Bryan, Lainey Wilson, Kelsea Ballerini and Brothers Osborne. The song “In Your Love,” a bold gay love story set in Appalachia, was nominated for Country Song, Country Performance, and Music Video. He had a total of five nominations and since he’s long claimed to be more country than Americana, he should be satisfied.
Bluegrass continues its run as a standard setter and torch-bearer in roots music with nominations for the genre's leading stars Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle. Tuttle is in the running for Best Bluegrass Album for her California-themed City Of Gold album. Strings has a claim on the category for his deeply traditional and intimate Me/And/Dad album, made with the father who taught him to play and sing. But Strings goes further with nods for Best American Roots Song (“California Sober” with Willie Nelson) and Best Country Duo/Group Performance (“High Note,” the jammy final track on Dierks Bentley’s own Gravel and Gold LP).
Rounding out the bluegrass album category are some of the music’s most interesting current performers. Mighty Poplar is a supergroup with master pickers from Punch Brothers, Watchhouse, and Leftover Salmon that toured extensively this year. Michael Cleveland’s Lovin’ of the Game is packed with top notch performances and bold exuberance in the service of classic bluegrass. Veteran artist and new bluegrass Hall of Famer Sam Bush offered a wonderful tribute to newgrass hero John Hartford. And Willie himself snuck in there with his imaginative album Bluegrass in one of the few nominations that seems more grounded in name recognition than understanding of the field’s most relevant work.
Speaking of veterans, it’s a testament to Americana’s affection for its elders that so many of them are tearing up the road and making such forceful music. Bettye Lavette, 77, got a Best Contemporary Blues Album nomination for her new LaVette! project. Bobby Rush, who just turned 90, is up in Traditional Blues Album for his All My Love For You. Also in that category, let’s not overlook middle Tennessee resident Tracy Nelson, the phenom of the 1960s San Francisco scene, who’s issued a nominated album in Life Don’t Miss Nobody. Leading the way for the over 80 set though are the Blind Boys of Alabama, with three nominations from their Single Lock Records release Echoes of the South. It’s up for Best Roots Gospel Album, along with nods for Best American Roots Performance (“Heaven Help Us All,”) and Best Americana Performance (“Friendship”).
The Folk Album category has become the new catch-all in roots music with a wildly diverse collection of nominees. Dom Flemons leaned harder into his songwriting and came up with the 70s-tinged Traveling Wildfire. The legends Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon are nominated, but so is the well-established contemporary duo the Milk Carton Kids and the cerebral and virtuosic Nickel Creek for its Celebrants album.
In other notable nominations, Americana breakout duo The War & Treaty have made a considerable move into the soul and R&B space and have been tapped as a possible Best New Artist winner in the general field.
The 66th Grammy Awards will be on broadcast live on CBS from Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4 at 7 pm CT.
For complete lists of winners, see the easy-to-read Pitchfork list here or the official list complete with a searchable database from the Grammys here.