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Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill Among Country Grammy Contenders

The 49th annual Grammy Awards will be handed out in Los Angeles on February 11. VOA's Mary Morningstar takes a look at this year's contenders in the Country categories.

The Dixie Chicks returned to the spotlight in 2006 with the album Taking the Long Way. Although the trio earned critical praise for the collection, they were widely ignored by Country radio programmers. Their peers recognized the album, however, by voting them into six Grammy categories. Two of their nominations are in Country categories - Best Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Not Ready To Make Nice" and Best Country Album. The Country album category also includes releases by Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, Josh Turner and Little Big Town.

Josh Turner and Little Big Town received their first Grammy nominations this year.

Voting members of the Recording Academy also recognized Carrie Underwood for the first time. Her long-running Number One single "Jesus Take the Wheel" brought her nominations for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best New Artist.

In addition to Carrie Underwood's nominations for "Jesus, Take the Wheel," the song's writers, Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson, share Grammy nods for Best Country Song and Song of the Year.

Vince Gill has won more Grammy Awards than any other Country artist. He could pick up his 18th Grammy trophy by beating out George Strait, Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner and Keith Urban in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category. Urban, who recently completed a 90-day rehabilitation program at the Betty Ford Center in California, has just announced dates for his upcoming European and U.S. concert tours. In a video message on his web site, Keith told his fans that he's feeling well and looking forward to his return to performing.

An interesting mix of artists fills the Best Country Collaboration category. Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and the rock band Bon Jovi are nominated for their Number One Country duet "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Also mentioned are blues legend Solomon Burke and Dolly Parton for "Tomorrow Is Forever," Kenny Rogers and The Eagles' Don Henley for "Calling Me," Rhonda Vincent and Bobby Osborne for "Midnight Angel," and Trisha Yearwood and her husband Garth Brooks for their duet "Love Will Always Win."

Rascal Flatts was last year's best-selling artist in any genre. The trio sold more than three million copies of its latest album Me and My Gang. Rascal Flatts ended the year with a Grammy nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for this 2006 Number One single, "What Hurts The Most."