Country music is getting its dues in the 2016 Grammy nominations, with both Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town up for one of the "big four awards." Despite the buzz around a potential Album of the Year or Song of the Year award for the genre, we still have the biggest country-specific category to think about... Best Country Album.
Montevallo, Sam Hunt
Pain Killer, Little Big Town
The Blade, Ashley Monroe
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
WHAT SHOULD WIN: Chris Stapleton, Traveller
Chris Stapleton redefined the country game with her debut album Traveller. After spending years as a songwriter in Nashville, he emerged on his own with a record full of some of the most earnest music out there. Filled with personal tales, Stapleton's songwriting isn't the only thing that stands out on Traveller. His delivery is guttural and charged with a passion that is genuinely inspiring yet pleasurable to listen to.
2016 was Stapleton's breakout year, and for good reason. From the tenderness of "Whiskey and You" to the sweet blend of classic Southern rock and old school country of "Might as Well Get Stoned," Traveller is an exploration of who Stapleton is as a man and songwriter, and that should be celebrated.
WHAT WILL WIN: Chris Stapleton, Traveller, or Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
There is a genuine case to be made for each and every one of these albums. Montevallo turned country music on its head, infusing the genre with R&B in a way that had never been done before. Pain Killer features some of the best songwriting in the country game right now. The Blade is honest and emotional, and Ashley Monroe consistently sold her vocals like she was singing for her life. Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material hits all of the snark and commentary of her Grammy-winning debut. And, Chris Stapleton's Traveller takes country back to a simpler time when an earnest, hardworking man with a gravelly voice and a guitar can make some music.
So, in a field as varied as this one, how to pick a winner? Basically, there are two schools of thought.
Stapleton's Traveller could cinch this win. If his album is good enough to be a contender for Album of the Year, there's no reason why that shouldn't trickle down in to his genre category. With his blend of award show hype and the album's raw material, Traveller feels like the frontrunner.
However, Musgraves may also steal this award away. Women have dominated the country music Grammy field, with women of female-including groups taking home Best Country Album seven of the last 10 years. So, that's something Grammy voters certainly seem to like. Musgraves' Pageant Material also reflects the same rebel spirit as Stapleton's album, and she has a history with this award (her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park won), so don't rule her out.