Leading up to the Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, Rolling Stone is breaking down 16 different categories. For each, we’re predicting the nominees, as well as who will (and who should) win on Grammy night.
Lainey Wilson won Album of the Year and Female Artist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in May, and she’s the likely victor in this category. But there are so many strong albums making an impact, it’s hard to say — and the field may be even more crowded. Both Buzz Brainard, who champions new country talent as a host on SiriusXM’s The Highway, and CMT’s Leslie Fram say that Jelly Roll’s Whitsitt Chapel could be a surprise nominee. “If there’s something left field, what he’s done is multigenre, he could be it,” says Fram, who predicts noms for Jelly Roll in the general fields, too. “Everything on that album is fantastic, and this guy is here to stay for sure,” Brainard adds. There’s also a new album from perennial Grammy nominees Brothers Osborne that dropped on the final day of the eligibility period, a late release that “could work against them,” Brainard says. But even if Brothers Osborne don’t crash the party, other upsetters might include Zach Bryan’s self-titled album (which debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200) and new artist Bailey Zimmerman’s Religiously. The Album. “Bailey is three pretty-good-singles deep,” Brainard says. Fram thinks Kelsea Ballerini’s repackaged Rolling Up the Welcome Mat project could be one to watch, too. “It’s a career-defining record,” she says.
Bell Bottom Country
Wilson is Nashville’s newly anointed star because of albums like this one, which oozes relatability. She throws around phrases like “sweet buzz” and “takin’ pulls” in a way that’s genuine, not forced, in “Watermelon Moonshine,” an ode to young love, and she celebrates an undying spirit in “Heart Like a Truck” (“Lord knows it’s taken a helluva beating”). She also reached a swath of new fans with her role on the hot Western drama Yellowstone. “Lainey went from being this hip, cool newcomer to now being a mainstream contender,” says Brainard. “She’s right in the wheelhouse now, and this album is going to be in there.”
Nominated six times but yet to win, Combs should have a Grammy finally coming his way this year. It could be for Gettin’ Old, a document of a maturing songwriter (and husband and father) that is stacked with some of the North Carolina native’s most astute songs, like “Hannah Ford Road,” “Joe,” “Tattoo on a Sunburn,” and the fan-favorite “5 Leaf Clover.” There are also a pair of hit singles in “Love You Anyway” and his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” “Did we all think Luke was going to get even bigger than last year? Yes,” says Leslie Fram, CMT’s SVP of music strategy. That includes three country-
radio Number Ones and a stadium tour.
One Thing at a Time
Wallen’s past scandals are ancient history to his fans — and perhaps to many Grammy voters, too. So expect the east Tennessee singer-songwriter to be a contender in the Country Album race. Like its double-album predecessor, Dangerous, One Thing at a Time is a behemoth, overstuffed with 36 tracks, most of which (like “I Wrote the Book” and “Tennessee Fan”) rise above filler status. It’s a testament to Wallen’s broad appeal, says Fram. “I see it coming from all age groups, people saying, ‘My kid is into him,’ or ‘My grandfather listens to Wallen.’ He’s bridging that gap.”
The Devil I Know
For last year’s Grammy-nominated Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, McBryde assembled an eclectic cast of artist friends to write and perform songs about a fictional country-music town. But The Devil I Know is all her story. “This feels like her coming-of-age record,” Fram says. It’s a startling snapshot of a songwriter at the peak of her abilities — and proves why all three of McBryde’s previous albums were nominated in this category. Could this be the one that brings home the gold?
Sweet Western Sound
Tucker was a 13-year-old ingenue when she had her first hit, “Delta Dawn,” in 1972, and she won her first Grammy at 61 by teaming with producers Shooter Jennings and Brandi Carlile for her 2019 album, While I’m Livin’. She doesn’t mess with a good thing, reteaming with that duo for the follow-up, the more cinematic Sweet Western Sound. Voters will hear her paint a vivid picture of L.A. in “Waltz Across a Moment” and ruminate on mortality (like she did on “Bring My Flowers Now”) in “When the Rodeo Is Over (Where Does the Cowboy Go?).” “There’s always that one spot in this category that is a little out of the mainstream, that is often a legacy artist, and that doesn’t look at the charts at all,” says Brainard. Tucker could be the one to fill that slot.