Jason Isbell and Gillian Welch top the AMA Nominations
May 31, 2012
You might think it’s strange to hear that the AMA nominees were announced at Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum. Aren’t the American Music Awards rivals of the Grammys? These AMAs, however, are the other AMA’s – the Americana Music Association’s Honors & Awards. Although the awards show will take place in Nashville on Sept. 12 during the 13th annual AMA music conference, Americana folks weren’t out of place at this Hollywood-adjacent locale. This nomination announcement, and accompanying performances, revealed a number of LA/Nashville connections at the nominee ceremony. Longtime show emcee Jim Lauderdale lived in L.A. as did Americana icon (and house band leader) Buddy Miller, and several of the performers were Southern California residents Lucinda Williams and Shelby Lynne, who both are Grammy winners too.
Adding to the star power was the man that AMA head Jed Hilly got to read the nominations: actor and sometime musician John C. Reilly, star of Walk Hard and a performer in the recent L.A. Bluegrass Situation festival. Although admitting to having just gotten out of his sick bed, Reilly looked dapper in a tan Stetson. Forgoing the opening remarks written for him – “let’s cut to the chase. You have lunches to get to” – Reilly read off the nominees in the various categories.
Leading the nominations, somewhat surprisingly was Jason Isbell. The one-time Drive-By Trucker received 4 nominations: Album of the Year (_Here We Rest_), Song of the Year (“Alabama Pines”), Duo/Group of the Year and Artist of the Year. Gillian Welch had 3 (Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Duo/Group of the Year), although it is really 4 if you count Dave Rawlings’ Instrumentalist of the Year nod.
The overall nomination field mixed some new names in with familiar Americana figures, like the Earles (Steve and Justin Townes), Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. Justin Townes Earle joined Welch, Isbell and Hayes Carll in the Artist of the Year category. His father Steve is up for Album of the Year with Isbell, Welch and the Guy Clark tribute This One’s For Him. Griffin’s rendition of Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” is among the Songs of the Year with Isbell’s “Alabama Pines,” Steve Earle’s “Waiting For The Sky To Fall,” and young Sarah Jarosz’s “Come Around.” Miller is up against such virtuosos as Darrell Scott, Dave Rawlings and Chris Thile for Instrumentalist of the Year.
Thile’s Punch Brothers is one of the contenders in the interesting Duo/Group of the Year category, which also includes veterans Welch & Rawlings and Isbell & the 400 Unit and rising stars Civil Wars and Carolina Chocolate Drops. Speaking of rising stars, the Emerging Artist of the Year contain a strong grouping led by buzz band, the Alabama Shakes as well as L.A.-based Dawes, the Canadian group Deep Dark Woods and young troubadour Robert Ellis.
Ellis was among the musicians to play before the nomination announcement. Host Lauderdale introduced Ellis quoting a comparison to Jackson Browne and George Jones. Ellis’ performance of his “Westbound Train” favored the Browne influence with his laidback charms although he showed some grit when he was joined by the band (guitarist Miller, bassist Don Was, drummer Don Heffington and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz). Miller preceded Ellis, taking the band through a rugged run-through of “Gasoline and Matches.”
Following Ellis, Lauderdale brought out Shelby Lynne, whom he aptly described as a “revered artist.” Lynne did a smoky version of “I’ll Hold Your Head,” which she revealed as being about growing up in South Alabama. Lauderdale performed next, doing “Throw My Bucket Down,” a new collaboration with Robert Hunter that he recorded with the South Mississippi All-Stars. His version with the Miller-led house band showed it as a full-bodied bluesy number.
Lauderdale then introduced an old pal and collaborator, Lucinda Williams, whom he called a “rosetta stone for understanding what Americana is about.” Joking about the early hour for performing, she launched into “Blessed,” an apt tune for a nomination ceremony. She followed it with the torchy “Born To Be Loved.” Williams later joined Lynne, Lauderdale and the band for a closing number, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” which was dedicated to the notable musicians who had recently passed away, from Levon Helm to Doc Watson.
The song, an obvious but appropriate number, not only relates to how these musicians will carry on from their predecessors, but also how the Americana scene itself respects the past and strive to continue, and build upon, its musical traditions.
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