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What Makes an Award-Winning Country Instrumental?

February 18, 2008

This year's winner of the Best Country Instrumental Grammy was Brad Paisley - Hot Country, electric guitar playing Brad Paisley. Jim Blum was not impressed and said so during a special segment he did on the Grammys. A couple of listeners called him on his comments (he said judges might have been asleep to pass up The Time Jumpers, Russ Barenberg, The Greencards, and Andy Statman in favor of Paisley) and said that Paisley, one of the most respected instrumentalists in Country, deserved the honor. Jim's answer was that Paisley had the advantage of name recognition.

While that is most certainly true, I think he was also at a disadvantage because this award generally goes to a bluegrass performance (Since 2000, it's gone to Alison Krauss twice, Earl Scruggs & co. twice and Alison Brown & Bela Fleck. Last year, it went to Bryan Sutton & Doc Watson. In 2002, it went to the Dixie Chicks, which is closer to Hot Country, but they still have bluegrass cred). My opinion? The category is Best Country Instrumental, not best traditional country or best bluegrass. Why shouldn't Paisley be honored for excellence if he is genuinely producing stand-out work? NB, I don't have the album and had to listen to the song as a YouTube video made on someone's cell phone, so it's hard to tell. BTW, whoever writes Paisley's news section does a great job and has his/her own comments on the Grammys. And, you have to take any award with a grain of salt. What do you think?

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at February 18, 2008 1:59 PM



Posted by: John Wm Smith at February 20, 2008 7:47 PM

I think you can almost always make an argument for someone else when awards are handed out. Paisley is good and deserves it. I liked The Greencards for this one, but they will survive not getting it.

BTW, does anyone still think The Greencards are a bluegrass band?

Posted by: Doug Sligh at February 23, 2008 7:03 AM

I think the Greencards instrumental stuff is still surprisingly bluegrass - but it stands out now on the album because the other material not so much.

Posted by: Ann E VerWiebe at February 23, 2008 11:42 AM

I dunno, I mean, like Doug said, you can make a case for just about anyone to win one award or the other, but I have to admit, that is some pretty hot picking, even coming off of a cell phone video. Especially coming off a cell phone video! I think a lot of times the award might end up in the hands of a bluegrass picker because a good bluegrass musician is just so dammed impressive. You may have the prettiest cello/piano/sax/honky tonk/etc line in the world, but if you put it side by side with Ricky Skaggs or Tony Rice or Brian Sutton flying through "Red Haired Boy", it's hard to deny their technical ability and flair.


- Check out Berlin's only true Kentucky Bluegrass picker at! -

Posted by: Nathan Kentucky at February 25, 2008 5:03 AM

There are lots of hot pickers in bluegrass, but I like Kym Warner's ability to show of his virtuosity when not heating up the strings. He has perfect timing and can make the mandolin a truly beautiful instrument. I agree with Ann that they are still able to evoke bluegrass history when they play, but this is an evolving trio and they are almost a jazz band at times.

Posted by: Doug Sligh at February 25, 2008 7:46 AM

I'm a big admirer of Brad Paisley as a complete performer and a songwriter. My favorite instrumentation is what serves the song, not what showcases the pyrotechnics, so what works to my ear has much more to do with texture than with virtuosity. Paisley's playing serves the song, better than most session players' contributions can. The bluegrass players who burn a lot of rubber on their solos are impressive, they are hot, they are imitated, but they never take a good song in the direction I'd like it taken in. So which kind makes for a better record, and which kind should be singled out? I've got no heartburn with this award decision.

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at March 26, 2008 4:34 PM

Hoo-kay, I hadn't seen the video, I guess Brad can burn the rubber too. Which I guess points up the restraint he uses when he plays to support his vocals, though that's apparently not what got him the award.

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at March 26, 2008 10:46 PM

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