The small world of Americana music is all a-twitter over New Jersey woman Linda Chorney's nomination for a Grammy in the Americana category. In case you haven't been following the story, Chorney discovered a way to game the system and managed to convince quite a number of Grammy voters (who obviously are a little under-educated and under-exposed to the Americana genre) to vote for her tepid album, Emotional Jukebox, to get it on the final ballot in spite of it not having sold a single unit so far according to Sound Scan, the official industry tabulator of album sales.
According to interviews she's given, Chorney seems to have very little working knowledge of Americana or the artists in it. The Americana Music Association, which normally issues a boilerplate congratulatory statement to all the nominees, has not done so this year and speculation is that the association is not happy about Chorney's nomination since she is not a member of the organization and has never attended any of the annual events.
Frankly, we don't care if she's a member of the AMA or not; what bugs us about Chorney's gameswomanship is that she has knocked a number of exemplary albums out of a chance to win. And we'll bet she hasn't heard a damned one of them. So here's a list for you, Linda, of people you are basically screwing over. Like we said, do the right thing and withdraw your nomination.
Amanda Shires - Carrying Lightning On her second solo album, Shires hits the big time with her Dolly Parton-esque vibrato and a fiddle that echoes giants like Spade Cooley (look it up, Linda). A Lubbock native who snuck into bars to play fiddle in bands when she was only 14, Shires hit pay dirt in 2011 with a major feature in Texas Monthly, an upcoming cover story in Texas Music, and a sideline playing in boyfriend Jason Isbell's band. Her "When You Need A Train It Never Comes" was selected as the number five song in American Songwriter magazine's annual list of top fifty songs.
Jason Isbell - Here We Rest Jason Isbell dropped as close to a perfect Americana album as can be done in 2011. His third solo since parting ways with Drive By Truckers (look it up, Linda), Isbell drives nails through hearts with "Alabama Pines," "Tour of Duty," "Go It Alone," gets all Muscle Shoals funky on "Never Could Believe" and "Heart on a String," and kills us emotionally with the unforgettable "Codeine," which contains one of the killer lines of the year: "If there's two things that I hate / It's having to cook and trying to date." No wonder "Codeine" was number two on the American Songwriter list. If we could vote, this would be our 2011 winner. Sorry, Linda.
Jessica Lee Mayfield - Tell Me At 22, Mayfield is a battle-hardened troubadour, the spawn of a bluegrass family who took her music down the dark roads of people like Elliott Smith. When Dan Auerbach of Black Keys (look it up, Linda) got a copy of an EP Mayfield recorded at 16 -- she only printed a hundred copies but one ended up in Auerbach's hands -- the Black Key genius jumped in to produce her next two albums, including this year's excellent Tell Me. Don't look now, Linda, but Mayfield's album was number 17 on the American Songwriter list of top fifty albums. Didn't notice Emotional Jukebox anywhere on that list. Mayfield's tune "Trouble" is number 11 on the song list. Let us know when Auerbach calls you, Linda.
Fred Eaglesmith - 6 Volts Fred writes exactly the kinds of songs Linda Chorney doesn't: Memorable, believable characters, lyrics cut from the earth like a scribbling strip mine, and a sense of humanity and blue collar emotion that comes from farming (not commodities trading). Take a listen to "Betty Oshawa" and get a clue to what this songwriting stuff is all about, Linda. Eaglesmith's musical enterprise is so successful he barely engages the system at all, barnstorming across Canada, the States and northern Europe in an endless trail of hard currency and adoring fans. And record sales. And just to be clear about the ornery Eaglesmith, he don't need no stinkin' Grammy and he certainly would never sink to campaigning for one.
Brian Wright's House on Fire - Proper In All Cases A virtual unknown on the Americana scene, since his move from Central Texas to Los Angeles Wright's inner Texas singer-songwriter has awakened and he delivered one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011 with Proper In All Cases. A long term studio project that Wright pieced together mostly on his own, it features several stunners that stretch the Americana boundaries right to the edge of adult contemporary or adult alternative; "Had Enough" is a sly love song that approaches Hayes Carll territory for its subtle humor, but the monster tracks are "Maria Sugarcane" and the amazing "Accordion," which pays homage to the kind of woman we all want and are afraid of: "She don't record, she don't rehearse / She's got no chords, she's got no verse / Sweetest song you never heard." (No, we don't think that verse is about Linda and her folkie Muzak.)
The Gourds - Old Mad Joy Mentored by Doug Sahm (look it up, Linda) in their infancy 19 years ago, today Austin's Gourds are a personification of the spirit of Austin and its music, the musical Keep Austin Weird bumper sticker. Working with a serious budget and deep label support for the first time, they hooked up with uber-producer Larry Campbell (look him up, Linda) and dropped an album that is stunning in its sweep of the musical horizon, funking it up with the best on "Peppermint City" yet calmly laying down a beautiful poetic stunner like "Two Sparrows." And after ten albums, bassist Jimmy Smith finally reveals himself to be the missing member of The Faces, rocking it hard on muscled up screeds like "Drop What I'm Doing" and "Drop The Charges." This album has already spun so many times on the jukebox at my local watering hole the waitresses are tired of it.
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Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO and Other American Stories A sauntering good old boy with a razor sharp comic wit and a droll delivery that camouflages his smarts, Carll knocked it out of the park with this collection of earthy love songs and scalpel-sharp observations of the current social milieu. A protégé of Wrecks Bell (look it up, Linda), Carll comes to the job with the right attitude and the right tools. Those of us who've followed his career hardly even blinked when his song "Another Like You" took top honors in the American Songwriter list. There's not a weak moment on KMAG YOYO.
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - No Help Coming Oh, how we wish the Grammys could stage a cage match with Linda Chorney and Holly Golightly during the ceremony. Golightly comes at her Americana much like Gillian Welch, with a deep respect for the old school Appalachian music and an even deeper respect for old school rural acoustic blues. Golightly sings and plays like she's got a razor in her boot, some brass knuckles in her guitar case, and maybe a .357 underneath the seat in the van. She sounds like Wanda Jackson (look her up, Linda) with a hangover and a handful of bennies, someone who doesn't put up with one minute of shit from anyone, especially the men in her life. As the Winnebago Man said, "Listen up (Linda), I'm gonna give a clue here."
Brennen Leigh - The Box We'd already had inklings, but The Box establishes Austinite Brennen Leigh as a triple threat talent. After a bluegrass raisin', she can pick with the best, she probably has one of the four or five top female country music voices on the planet, and she writes songs that other people want to cover, like "Sleeping With the Devil," which is set to be on Lee Ann Womack's (look her up, Linda, she sings her ass off) next album. Whether with her drumless band or as an acoustic solo, she rivets the joint the second she starts to sing. And her new song, "Are You Still Takin' Them Pills," well, look out next year when that one goes on a record. It's going to take her into the elite category of Americana artists. Hello, Nashville, wake up.
Rod Picott - Welding Burns A Springsteen-ish set of blue collar plaints, these dark, brooding songs by veteran left-side-of-Nashville writer Rod Picott stick with a listener like chicken fried steak with cream gravy. Picott and his salty characters don't care whether it's the Republicans or the Democrats, the politicians and the wealthy have ruined something good, screwed us all over, and no politician or banker is likely to fix it in Picott's bruised world of working stiffs and petty thieves. Yeah, you need to check this record out, Linda; these songs are about "feelings" and "truth," something your songs are totally devoid of. What Picott has is called insight, Linda, something that in 31 years "on the road" you still haven't grasped. (Oh, and that's Amanda Shires on fiddle: look her up.)