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The Civil Wars: Folk and Country at the Same Time?

February 15, 2012

The+Civil+Wars.jpgby Kim Ruehl, folkalley.com

In case you've been under a rock or off the grid for some reason, you probably know by now - the Grammy Awards took place this past weekend, honoring a slew of popular musicians in a number of categories for the 54th time in the history of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

As much as I don't love admitting it, I kind of love the Grammy Awards. Because I'm so embroiled in the folk and Americana worlds, the Grammys give me an excuse and opportunity to bone up on mainstream music. I know the artists I love the most will probably never appear on the telecast.

Of course it troubles me that folk, metal, classical, jazz, and technical awards have been deemed by some higher power as "disinteresting" and "unimportant" to the average television watcher; thus those awards are presented in private, non-televised ceremonies. As if those styles don't have fans and communities holding their breath and cheering for them...

But, this year, I kept getting caught up on one very small and simple confusion: The Civil Wars were nominated for Best Folk Album for Barton Hollow and Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for the title track of that same album. Granted, the American Roots category is separate from the Country category, so perhaps those two committees weren't working in congress and both thought the Civil Wars were relevant to them.

Nonetheless, I shouldn't have to state this, but I do. Country music and folk music are different things. They share some common lineage, but lumping one band into both categories is kind of like saying "part man, part monkey." That's not even a thing.

Did the Civil Wars deserve attention, recognition, kudos, sales? Yes, absolutely. They're a terrifically talented couple of people. But, if we're going to get into the messy business of categorizing music, of all things (a thing which I personally believe defies definition, or should), we should be clear about those categories and stick to them.

One thing is not another. A bowl is not a fork. A chair is not a roller skate. A country singer is not a folksinger.

What do you think? Are the Civil Wars a band for whom it makes sense to consider them both Nashville darlings and children of Woody? Or are they a pop group influenced by the narrative structure of traditional music, but inclined to fashion it into something palatable on Music Row? Does it matter? Should the Grammy committees pay better attention to what, exactly, constitutes the categories of music they designate?

Or is it enough for us folk music enthusiasts to just see some people who sort of look like maybe folksingers being granted 60 seconds to sing on television?

Posted by Kim Ruehl at February 15, 2012 11:03 AM


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