Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: New & Emerging Artist

Well… It’s that time of year again.

The 2009 Americana Music Association’s Awards and Honors Show will be held September 17 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The event is part of the Americana Music Festival and Conference taking place September 16tn – 19th in Nashville.

As I did last year… I’ll be taking a look at most of the awards categories and trying to handicap the field. We start today with the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.”

First up is a songwriting collective from Austin, TX called The Band of Heathens. The Heathens got their start a few years back when songwriters Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, and Ed Jurdi were all holding down regular weekly slots at Momo’s Club in Austin. Eventually, the three solo acts started playing together along with a rhythm section of John Chipman on drums and Seth Whitney on bass. As the story goes… a local music writer referred to the collective as “That Band of Heathens” and a legend was born.

The band’s self-titled studio album was released last year and instantly started climbing the Americana Album Airplay charts. In fact, it became just the second self released album to hit the top of that chart (Hayes Carll’s Little Rock). Produced by Austin luminary Ray Wylie Hubbard and featuring appearances by Hubbard, Patty Griffin, Gurf Morlix, and the late Stephen Bruton… their debut effort features country rock grooves to boost their solid songwriting. “Jackson Station” is as good as anything else I heard over the past year.

Band of Heathens: Jackson Station (Buy Album)

The second nominee is another young group based out of the Americana Mecca that is Austin, TX. Though they call Austin their home now, the roots of The Belleville Outfit actually lie in South Carolina where band members Marshall Hood, Rob Teter, and Jeff Brown were in a band called The DesChamps band during their high school years. The three reconnected in Austin a few years later and started recruiting players for a gig they booked at Merlefest. Enter Jonathan Konya and Connor Forsyth from New Orleans and Phoebe Hunt from Austin to complete the sextet.

The Belleville Outfit’s debut album Wanderin’ came out in February of 2008 with a follow up called Time to Stand coming out earlier this year in May. Both albums draw from a wide range of influences to create a sound that is based in Western Swing but also swings out to cover styles as diverse as jazz, traditional folk, cajun zydeco, and just about anything else you’ve ever wrapped your ears around. Here’s the title track from their debut album.

The Belleville Outfit: Wandrin’ (Buy Album)

For our third nominee, we leave Texas and head to Boston for Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. Sarah is probably my favorite artist among the nominees and someone who I’ve followed for a few years now. She first got on stage as an actress and majored in musical theatre at Emerson College, a small private school in Boston. Eventually, Sarah formed a band and was signed to the Blue Corn Music label after a successful showcase at the SXSW festival.

Sarah has released three albums since then… 2005’s Silver City, 2007’s Diamonds in the Dark, and 2009’s The Stars are Out… the latter two for Sugar Hill. At it’s core, her music houses a strong rock and roll spirit with obvious flourishes of country soul mixed in for good measure. Her latest album was a little less country and a little more rock and roll. It’s a bit of a new direction for a talented performer and songwriter who figures to be around for a while. It’s nice to see her finally get some attention from the Americana voters.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Me and Your Ghost (Buy Album)

Which brings me to the final nominee this year and the only returning nominee in this category. How someone can be nominated for “Best New Artist” two years in a row… I’ll never know. Here’s part what I wrote about Justin Townes Earle last year.

“Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle and is named for Townes Van Zandt. That’s not too much to live up to is it? Justin understandably developed a love for music and was playing in a couple of bands in Nashville by the time he was a teenager. He also spent some time playing in his father’s touring band, The Dukes, but was kicked out of the group due a growing dependence on alcohol and drugs… …[Now] clean and sober, Justin self-released the EP Yuma in 2007. His debut album The Good Life followed in 2008.”

Earle returned in March of this year with Midnight at the Movies, another strong effort that, once again, showcases his skills as a songwriter (even if my favorite song on the album is a Replacements cover), and proves that he can stand on his own outside the shadows of his namesake and famous father. His recent inclusion on the Big Surprise Tour with The Old Crow Medicine Show has only broadened his exposure and helped solidify his status as an artist to watch in the future.
Justin Townes Earle: Can’t Hardly Wait (Buy Album)
So those are the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.” I put a poll up yesterday for you to vote on your favorite. We’ll find out the real winner September 17th.
As for how I would handicap this year’s race… I think JTE will be tough to beat. In addition to his nomination here, he’s also up for “Artist of the Year” and “Album of the Year.” My vote (if I had one) would probably go to Sarah Borges because she’s been a favorite of mine for some time, but her latest album is probably the least “Americana” of her catalogue. The Belleville Outfit have the most unique sound and are probably the most innovative of the group. The Band of Heathens had the best “debut” album during the nominating period and would probably be a shoo in if not for the word “Emerging” in the name of the award.
My Vote (If I had one): Sarah Borges
My Prediction: Justin Townes Earle

3 Responses to “Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: New & Emerging Artist”

  1. Bit of anomaly being New & Emerging two years running but the latest album is wonderful, so no complaints from me if JTE scoops the award.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I have heard 3 of the 4 in live concerts and like them all. They have different styles which makes it hard to put them all in one catagory. I know the Band of Heathens have been around a couple of years, however their sound and expanding global venues make them fit “emerging” in my views. My vote goes to the Band of Heathens. I wish them well with their newest CD (release Sept 15), European tour and Awards ceremony.

  3. I've been following the Belleville Outfit starting in the carolinas when they were the deschapms band. Their versatility is amazing and allows them to play straight ahead country bar music as well as hot club jazz. I hope they win the award!

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