There were two Kentuckians contending for the Grammy Award for best country album in February, and our own Sturgill Simpson took it home, besting living legend Loretta Lynn.
When the Academy of Country Music Award nominations came out a few days later, neither Kentuckian was in the running. The question of why not could fuel a long chat about the current state of country music, especially considering Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” also was a nominee for the overall album of the year honor.
But we have a slate of nominees for Sunday night’s ACMs, and they include several artists from the Bluegrass State, so let’s consider some of the possibilities before us.
Entertainer of the year: Five dudes (counting Florida Georgia Line) and Carrie Underwood. The thing is, though they dominate charts and concert bills, male country artists are not putting out terribly interesting music lately. Even guys who don’t wear the “bro” label churn out a limited menu of subjects and pop-rock leaning music. So, yes, this is to say Underwood should win for her excellent and hit-making “Storyteller” album and leading a group thoughtful, entertaining women who aren’t quite getting their due.
Album of the year: Without Simpson’s Grammy winner or Lynn’s “Full Circle” to consider — had to make room for Florida Georgia Line, I guess — this should be between Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” and Maren Morris’ “Hero.” Lambert has won this award for her past four albums, and “Weight” has a lot going for it. But it’s time to break the streak. From the opening statement of “Sugar,” Morris put out a great artist-defining debut that is also the best record in this category.
Single record of the year: The fast rise of Morris was launched by “My Church,” a rousing, name-dropping statement of country music devotion that should bring Morris’ ACM total to three — she has already won best new female artist.
Song of the year: There’s a bunch of Kentucky in here. Lexington-born Chris Stapleton is a contender with Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” first made famous by George Jones. And Virgie’s Josh Osborne is a contender for co-writing Lambert’s “Vice” with Shane McAnally and Lambert. But — and maybe this is because I am at a point in life when I am sending two children out into the world — Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” kills me every time I hear it. It’s a timeless Lori McKenna song that deserves the win.
Songwriter of the year: Danville hitmaker Ashley Gorley had two No. 1 singles last year — Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song” and Cole Swindell’s “You Should be Here” — and we would love to see the honor go to him. But with McKenna and McAnally in contention, this is a tough field.
Male vocalist of the year: Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton won last year, and we’d be happy to see that turn into a streak. But all of the other contenders — Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban and Thomas Rhett — have newer albums. If it doesn’t go to Stapleton, Bentley should get it for the solid album “Black.”
Female vocalist of the year: Carrie Underwood is our pick here for entertainer of the year, but newcomer Morris and veteran Lambert are likely to duke it out for this prize. But Kacey Musgraves ought to get it for her terrific “Pageant Material” album (and she should have more nominations).
Vocal duo of the year: Please not Florida Georgia Line. Please not Florida Georgia Line. I’m sorry, FGL fans. I try. I don’t want to be a hater, but “Dig Your Roots” was borderline unlistenable. Brothers Osborne already won the award for new vocal duo, and they should get this one too.
Vocal group of the year: Little Big Town won last year, and they should keep it for another year.
Vocal event of the year: The Dierks Bentley and Elle King pairing on “Different for Girls” was one of the things that made “Black” Bentley’s best album – even if its not the one with “Bourbon in Kentucky” – and it should take the event title. This is one of two categories where the ACMs could end up handing the Country Music Association, the other big country awards, an award for its multi-artist “Forever Country” project celebrating the CMAs 50th anniversary.
Video of the year: This is the other category where “Forever Country” could win for the CMAs. But this is also the category where we will most vehemently argue for our guy Chris Stapleton and director Tim Mattia’s harrowing video for “Fire Away,” created to raise awareness for Changedirection.org, an organization geared to raising mental health awareness. It already won the CMA’s video award and should take this one home too.
Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @copiousnotes.
Academy of Country Music Awards
8 p.m. April 2 on WKYT-TV 27-1 (Spectrum Ch. 9)