On our minds and on our playlists
If Lucinda Williams wins the inaugural Grammy for best Americana album Sunday night, the veteran singer-songwriter will have copped four tiny gramophones in four separate categories. Her mantel already boasts trophies in the rock, contemporary folk, and country categories. “It’s pretty funny,’’ she admits of her disparate wins. “I’m glad I’ve been spread around in different categories because I do do different kinds of stuff.’’
“I think that sums up Americana,’’ says Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, who calls the new category “a huge acknowledgement.’’
Like many Grammy watchers, Williams thought Americana would replace the contemporary folk category to which it was previously appended. “I thought it was good because the name lends itself to more different styles of music,’’ she said of the genre moniker meant to imply a hybrid sound derived from American roots music traditions. But upon learning the contemporary folk category would remain she was confused. Grateful, but confused. Why does Steve Earle remain contemporary folk but Williams is now Americana? “That makes no sense to me,’’ she says. “How do they possibly decide who’s going to go in which one? Because it’s kind of all the same.’’
It didn’t have to be, though. Because, really, what’s the point of instituting a new category if you’re just going to shift the same group of famous names around between them instead of opening it up to worthy lesser known acts? Certainly all of the nominees are unimpeachable artists including Bob Dylan, Wilco, and Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. Levon Helm in particular was tailor-made for this prize. But a few new names on the ballot would be nice.
Hilly is willing to be patient for the net to widen and thinks the Recording Academy is off to a good start nominating what he calls “benchmark’’ names. “Each of the [nominees] has played an integral role in the establishment of the Americana genre.’’ Williams is just keeping her fingers crossed in a category with stiff competition. “You never know,’’ she says with a laugh.