Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Album of the Year

So far we’ve covered the nominees for “Best New and Emerging Artist” and “Song of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Awards & Honors. I gave you my picks and asked you to vote for yours. You’ve voted for all Texas artists so far with The Band of Heathens and The Flatlanders each taking their respective categories. We’ll find out who really wins when the awards get passed out September 17th in Nashville.

This week, it’s time to look at the “Album of the Year” nominees. I’ve already covered two of the nominees in great detail here at the site. I’ll start with those first.
I probably don’t have to tell you that my vote (if I had one) would go to Alejandro Escovedo for his 2008 release Real Animal. I reviewed the album back when it first came out. In fact, it was one of the very first albums I ever wrote about. I also chose it as my favorite album of 2008, and the accolades didn’t stop there. Music critics in Austin named it the best of the year, No Depression give it their top album nod, Stephen King called it one of the year’s best, and Alejandro essentially swept the Austin Music Awards. This is a great rock and roll record with a great deal of introspective song writing. It sounds great now, and I have a feeling it will hold up for quite a while as well.
Alejandro Escovedo: Sister Lost Soul (Buy Album)

Next, we move on to Chalk by Buddy and Julie Miller… an album that I wrote about back in February. As I said then… this isn’t exactly a full collaboration for Buddy and Julie. They only sing together on a few tracks, opting for solo vocals and guest appearances on the other tracks. Patty Griffin, Robert Plant, Larry Campbell, Regina and Ann McCrary, and Emmylou Harris all make appearances on the album. In most cases, the guests take the album to some very lofty places… but I still just love to hear Buddy & Julie Miller singing together. Here’s one where they do just that.

Buddy & Julie Miller: Gasoline & Matches (Buy Album)

Next up is former Drive By Truckers guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Jason Isbell with his new backing band The 400 Unit. Jason’s latest album is a self-titled project and once again reminds me why my favorite Drive By Truckers records are the ones on which he appeared. Although the 400 Unit helps him lay down some tight, southern rock inspired grooves, Jason’s strength has always been his songwriting. I’m not sure why Jason is the only nominee that I haven’t written about before. He certainly deserves the mention.

The album opening “Seven Mile Island” has a father reflecting on his own death even as his child is being born. “Cigarettes & Wine” sees a man destroyed because he can’t let himself be tied down. “Soldiers Get Strange” details the trials of a returning soldier struggling to readjust to civilian life. It’s not a happy album by any stretch, but (to steal a lyric from “Cigarettes and Wine”) it does a great job of detailing snapshots of a, “Life that ain’t grindstone to nose, but pedal to floor.”
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Seven Mile Island (Buy Album)
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Cigarettes & Wine (Buy Album)
The final nominee is Justin Townes Earle’s latest effort Midnight at the Movies. I know I’ve said this before… but with every new project he releases, Justin takes one more giant step out of the imposing shadows cast upon him by his famous father (Steve Earle) and namesake (Townes Van Zandt). He acknowledges those shadows briefly on the autobiographical “Mama’s Eyes,” but stands proudly in the sun himself with the album opening title track and stays bathed in its rays the whole way through. If he keeps releasing albums like this… he’ll stay there for a while.
Justin Townes Earle: Midnight at the Movies (Buy Album)
I’ve already told you who my vote would go to. I am firmly in the Alejandro Escovedo camp. As for who will win the award, I see this one as being pretty wide open as all four are solid choices. Buddy and Julie are always tough to beat (as Buddy’s crowded awards shelf will attest), and they have won this award before. My wife believes the fix is in for Earle to be the night’s big winner, but I don’t think he takes this one. Isbell’s songs are tremendous, but I don’t know if he has the name recognition to take out two members of Americana royalty and the heir apparent to another regal throne. This one should be interesting.
My vote (If I had one): Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo
My prediction: Written in Chalk by Buddy & Julie Miller

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