I spent February reviewing and discussing as many of the Blues Music Award-nominated albums, artists, and songs as I did research for my own ballot. While some of you will think I tipped my hand during that process, I never revealed who was getting my vote in any one category. With less than a month to go until awards night, I've decided to discuss some of my favorite BMA categories and give you a sneak peak at who I chose. We begin with the two acoustic categories: Acoustic Album Of The Year and Acoustic Artist Of The Year.
I don't plan to repeat this disclaimer in each of these articles, but this one is the first so I'll go ahead and give you the speech now. Under ideal circumstances, I would be able to spend unlimited time listening to each nominated album and artist. That's not practical and it's not what's happened here.
I got as many of the nominated works as was possible and in instances where it wasn't I did my best to use (legal) internet resources to familiarize myself with the nominees before casting my ballot.
Let's refresh our collective memory on the nominees in the two acoustic categories:
- David Maxwell & Louisiana Red – You Got To Move
- Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy – Good Time Music For Hard Times
- Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women – Havin' The Last Word
- Samuel James – For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen
- Various Artists – Things About Comin' My Way – A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks
- Annie Raines & Paul Rishell
- Doug MacLeod
- Guy Davis
- Louisiana Red
- Samuel James
It is easy to hear why Louisiana Red and Samuel James were nominated both as artists as well as for their respective records — the only two artists who can make that claim. The acoustic categories were once the "Country Blues" categories and as such honor the oldest of traditions within the blues idiom and the albums from these two are captivating exhibitions of that tradition, quickly becoming the frontrunners for my vote as Acoustic Album of The Year.
I spent a lot of time agonizing over these two categories. My initial plan was to vote for Louisiana Red in both categories. It's impossible to not be drawn in by him. I really didn't think any of the other albums would give me that same special feeling, but I was wrong. Samuel James' record educated me and made me think, smile, and feel. It may not be the bluesiest record in sound but if thinking, smiling, and feeling aren't at the heart of the idiom, what the hell is the point?
At that point I had crises of ballot and logic. I was running out of time and could only vote for one of them in each category. I was also fenced in by the idea the Acoustic Album of The Year would be made by the Acoustic Artist of The Year. I went back and forth. I have a gut feeling Louisiana Red is going to win, so I thought about going ahead and voting for him. Then I thought if he's going to win anyway, I might as well throw my support behind James. I wasn't satisfied with either of those outcomes, so I started looking for a way to reconcile defying "logic" and splitting my ticket.
The first break came when I realized there were no rules beyond one person, one vote per category. The only person following this imaginary rule was me. I don't like following actual rules. Why the hell should I follow fake ones? With that barrier removed, I spent a little more time considering both artists and albums and found a new paradigm that helped me resolve my conflict.
I chose For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen as my Acoustic Album of The Year because of my admiration for Samuel James as a songwriter. What is an album if not a collection of songs? James' writing is sharp and sophisticated. He is versatile as an instrumentalist but the main vehicle for his expression is his command of language.
I selected Louisiana Red as my Acoustic Artist of The Year. The songs on You Got To Move are great examples of the traditional mold but what makes them and the album special is Red himself. It's his inimitable vocal delivery and his charismatic touch as a guitarist that are special.
Not every category was as difficult as these two were for me. And that's why I'll be more interested in these two than I will some of the others on May 6 when the awards are presented.