The 51st annual Grammy Awards will be handed out in Los Angeles on February 8. If the wide range of categories where Roots performers appear is any indicator, this year's awards ceremony could be very rewarding for those artists.
Once consigned to categories like "traditional folk," or "world music," Alison Krauss and other Roots performers can now be found battling for more mainstream Grammys like Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Last year, the song "Gone Gone Gone" from the CD Raising Sand won Alison Krauss and Robert Plant the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Grammy. This year finds the pair nominated for that award again; this time for the song "Rich Woman." And Raising Sand is one of the five Album of the Year nominees.
Neither is a category where you'd expect to find a bluegrass superstar, but then Alison Krauss isn't just another fiddle-playing singer. To date she's won 21 Grammy Awards, more than any other female artist. She's got five nominations this year, and any win will move Alison up in the rankings for all-time Grammy wins. Right now she's tied for seventh place, and the most ever won by one person is 31. At age 37, Alison is likely to be singing for many more years, so she might pass that milestone during her career.
There is also a good chance the legendary Dr. John will have something to do with the record that wins Best Contemporary Blues Album. He appears on three of five CDs nominated in that category. In addition to his own City That Care Forgot, a CD about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. John can also be heard playing the piano on Marcia Ball's Peace, Love And BBQ, and Irma Thomas' recording, Be You.
Also in the race are Solomon Burke's Like A Fire, and Maestro, the disc celebrating Taj Mahal's four decades of making great blues, roots and reggae music. One track, "Diddy Wah Diddy," reunites Taj Mahal with The Phantom Blues Band, the group that backed him on two Grammy-winning CDs.
Best Contemporary Blues Album is just one of the Grammy races that is home to Roots music performers. This year, you can also find them vying for Country, Pop, Gospel and Folk awards. The artists are scattered because there is no "roots music category." The closest might be Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album, even though one of those up for the award, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's Raising Sand, is also in contention for Album of the Year.
The other nominees for the Folk/Americana Grammy are: I, Flathead by Ry Cooder, the California-based songwriter who is ranked the world's eighth-best guitarist according to Rolling Stone magazine; Emmylou Harris for All I Intended To Be; and Rodney Crowell's Sex and Gasoline.
Also nominated is Joan Baez for Day After Tomorrow. That CD includes three of songs written by album producer Steve Earle, who won the category last year. Other writers covered by Joan Baez on this record are Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Eliza Gilkyson, and Patty Griffin, whose songs often sound so personal that it's sometimes hard to imagine anyone else singing them. "Mary," as performed by Joan Baez, is an exception to that rule.
Joan Baez celebrated 50 years in the music business by releasing Day After Tomorrow. Although she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, a win in the "Best Contemporary Folk Album" category would be her first -win in a regular category.
Joan Baez isn't the only Lifetime Achievement winner to be up for a Grammy this year. Eighty-five-year-old Earl Scruggs is among the nominees for Best Bluegrass Album. Earl's first win came in 1968, when he and Lester Flatt won Best Country Performance for the classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." This time, Earl's nominated for The Ultimate Collection: Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends Live at the Ryman. It was recorded at a 2007 concert that featured many songs from the classic Flatt And Scruggs catalog. Earl was 83 when this CD was recorded, and as the version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" shows, Earl Scruggs is still a good banjo picker.