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Chieftains, Nickel Creek Among Top Contenders for Contemporary Folk Grammy

The 45th annual Grammy Awards will be handed out in New York City's Madison Square Garden on February 23. VOA's Katherine Cole previews the five nominees for Contemporary Folk Album of the Year.

Our first nominee, Jerusalem finds Steve Earle singing politically-fueled songs. And as folk songs in their earliest form were nothing more than recitations of the news of the day, the songs on Jerusalem fit the bill perfectly.

Political malaise, global warming, and health insurance woes are just three of the topics Steve Earle contemplates in his song Amerika v 6.0. Who else is up for this award? Johnny Cash, The Chieftains, Nickel Creek and Patty Griffin. Patty, based in Austin, Texas, is a wonderful live performer with writing skills to match. And, in her stripped-down version of Bruce Springsteen's Stolen Car, she's also able to make another writer's song sound as if it's her own story.

Also nominated this year is the second collaboration between Irish supergroup The Chieftains and American country musicians. Paddy Moloney, who plays pipes and tin whistle with the group, says his goal with this CD was to establish a trans-Atlantic connection from Ireland to America, and then back again. This nomination shows he succeeded. The title song, Down The Old Plank Road, finds The Chieftains' Kevin Conneff trading verses with Jeff White, Tim O'Brien, and John Hiatt.

The Man Comes Around is Johnny Cash's fourth CD in his American series, and is a continuation of his previous work with producer Rick Rubin. This may just be the most autobiographical of Cash's recent works. Nearly every tune seems chosen to allow the ailing giant of popular music a chance to reflect on his life, and look ahead to what's around the corner. The new songs Cash wrote for this album are quite strong and, as on the previous three collaborations with Rubin, the choices of remakes also are inspired. The album closes with a touching rendition of the pop classic We'll Meet Again, complete with a classic Cash recitation and a chorus featuring the Cash Clan.

Because of his troublesome health, one fears that every Johnny Cash album could be his last. That makes We'll Meet Again a particularly interesting choice for the closing track on The Man Comes Around. Cash won Grammy's for the previous three installments in the American series, and many consider him the sentimental favorite in this category.

The fifth nominee is This Side by Nickel Creek. This young bluegrass trio was one of the surprises of the past few years, selling more than a half-million copies of their debut album. Their second release, This Side, fuses jazz with classical and pop influences, and came as a disappointment to many bluegrass fans.

We'll find out if the voters find it worthy of the Contemporary Folk Album statue when the 45th Grammy Awards are handed out on February 23.