Americana Music Awards Nominees: Song of the Year

Above is a picture of Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller taken at the 2007 Americana Honors and Awards Show in Nashville. For the last few years, Jim has served as the host of the awards while Buddy has led the house band. Both gentlemen will reprise those roles again this year.

This June, the Americana Music Association announced the nominees for the Seventh Annual Americana Honors and Awards Show to be held September 18th at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Between now and September, I’ll highlight most of the awards categories and honorees here on the blog. Today, we’ll start with the nominees for Americana Song of the Year.
And the nominees are…

Hayes Carll: She Left Me for Jesus (Buy Album)

Tift Merritt: Broken (Buy Album)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Gone, Gone, Gone (Buy Album)
James McMurtry: Cheney’s Toy (Buy Album)
Levon Helm: Poor Old Dirt Farmer (Buy Album)

Hayes Carll – “She Left Me for Jesus” The first song on the list is also the one that generated the most controversy. Hayes Carll’s “She Left Me for Jesus” tells the common story of a man who lost his girl to another man. What makes this song different is that the narrator knows his girl’s new beau is named Jesus, and that he wears sandals and has long hair. He is not aware, however, that Jesus is really JESUS. He doesn’t even seem to know who the Biblical Jesus is. He also is not aware that his girl has not really left him for another man. She has just found a higher calling in doing the Lord’s work. Confused, our hero just doesn’t understand her decision and vows to find Jesus and have his revenge.

The humor of the song comes from the total obliviousness and ignorance of the narrator. We laugh at him the same way we laughed at Archie Bunker. We don’t laugh at the awful things he says. We find the humor in the total lack of awareness and misguided beliefs that lead him to say those things in the first place. Understandably, certain religious groups have had problems with the song (We haven’t played it at WDVX for that exact reason), but I find it to be all very tongue-in-cheek and quite hilarious.

Tift Merritt – “Broken” I wrote about Tift Merritt’s latest album Another Country recently here before her show in Knoxville. When I wrote that post, I left out the second nominee for song of the year because I knew I would get to share it with you here.

Tift Merritt’s “Broken” is an uplifting song that reminds the listener that the clouds always have silver linings.

“I wish I were a freeway
Laid out clearer than a bright day.
Run wide open down this causeway.
Like brand new.
But I’m broken.
And I don’t understand
What is broken
Falls into place once again.
And the kindness
Come and gather me in like a rainstorm
Again and again and again.”

A common theme, but given a fresh life here by Tift. She says the metaphor of “Gather me in like a rainstorm” comes from spending time on the coast of North Carolina. When the daily storms would move in toward the coast, families would gather together for comfort and safety from the storm. No matter how broken she gets, others gather her in with kindness and remind her that we’re never truly broken as long as we have a support system of friends and family to fall back on.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: “Gone, Gone, Gone” The third nominee comes from an unlikely combination of one of the sweetest voices in bluegrass and one of the most legendary voices of Rock & Roll. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss seem as mismatched as a musical pair could be. Listen to them sing together, however, and it all somehow makes sense. The two combined to deliver one of the catchiest and best sounding songs I heard over the last year with their cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Gone, Gone, Gone.”

The sessions were produced by T-Bone Burnett (O Brother Where Art Thou?), so there is no surprise that the record sounds amazing. The surprise is in the sound itself. Plant, known for his Rock & Roll wailings, did things with his voice on this record that he had never done before and says he didn’t know he could do. He pulls back just a bit, using restraint and playing a complimentary role. He taught himself to harmonize with Krauss and the lesson paid off.

James McMurtry: “Cheney’s Toy” The next nominee is another controversial track. James McMurtry’s scathing indictment of President George W. Bush is the most politically charged song on this list, and like Hayes Carll, that controversy has hurt airplay for this track.

The controversy, however, doesn’t stem from McMurtry’s political angst. He’s mined this territory before on tracks like the brilliant “We Can’t Make it Here” from 2005’s Childish Things. In fact, this sort of vitriol directed toward the White House is almost expected from him these days. The controversy, rather, came when some misunderstood (misunderestimated?) the song as an attack on the American Soldier instead of an attack on “W.”

“Keep smiling for the camera.
Keep waving to the crowd.
Don’t let up for an instant.
Stay the course and make your mama proud.
You’re the man.
Show ’em what you’re made of.
You’re no longer daddy’s boy.
You’re the man.
That they’re all afraid of,
But you’re only Cheney’s toy.”

By using Bush’s pet phrase of “stay the course” and referring to the subject as “daddy’s boy”… a reference to George H.W. Bush… McMurtry says he thought he made the subject of the song quite clear. One thing that is clear is that topical songs like this one seem to do well with many of the liberal leaning Americana voters.

Levon Helm: “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer is his first solo album in 25 years, and an album that almost never got made. Helm underwent surgery for throat cancer in 1998. After surviving 28 radiation treatments and a fire that destroyed over 80 percent of his barn studio in Woodstock, NY, Helm spent a few years rebuilding his studio and regaining his voice. Dirt Farmer was recorded in that rebuilt barn studio and provides a fitting showcase for Helm’s unique vocal instrument.

Like many of the songs on the album, “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” is a traditional tune like the ones Helm learned to play many years ago with his family. He didn’t learn this particular song until years later while working in Gatlinburg, TN on the set of the movie, The Dollmaker. If you get the feeling from listening to this song that Helm may know something about the life of that poor old farmer… you’re right. Helm grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas. It was on that farm that he learned many of the tunes that would comprise most of his latest record.

Who should win? I honestly can’t decide, but you can leave a comment if you want to vote.

Edit: I’ve added a poll on this topic to the right of the screen. Feel free to vote in that as well.

One Response to “Americana Music Awards Nominees: Song of the Year”

  1. my vote is for levon helm – but that’s probably just because it’s the only one i hadn’t heard before reading this…nice post.

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