Grammy Committee Says Merle Haggard’s “The Bluegrass Sessions” Is Not Bluegrass

I came across this a few days back and I thought that after a few days the Grammy folks would do the right thing and allow Hag;s release to qualify as “bluegrass.” I guess I gave them too much credit.

Nashville, TN…McCoury Music, the artist-owned and operated label that released legendary singer/songwriter Merle Haggard’s The Bluegrass Sessions on October 2nd, expressed its shock today at a National Academy Of Recording Arts & Sciences committee’s decision to exclude the acclaimed album from consideration for nomination in its “Best Bluegrass Album” Grammy category. The label, created by legendary bluegrass artist Del McCoury in 2004, earned its first bluegrass Grammy in 2005 with the Del McCoury Band’s The Company We Keep.

“Anyone who knows the bluegrass community knows that its members like to debate definitions,” McCoury Music’s General Manager Chris Harris said. “But this is an album that Merle and Del decided to call The Bluegrass Sessions, produced by a bluegrass musician with bluegrass musicians, recorded at a bluegrass studio, released on a bluegrass label, racked under bluegrass in record stores, aired on bluegrass radio, covered by the bluegrass press, and it’s currently in it’s fourth consecutive week at # 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart. If that’s not enough, even The Washington Post wondered why ‘no one had thought to pair Merle and Bluegrass together before.’ ”

McCoury, who holds nine International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Entertainer of the Year awards, expressed his disappointment personally. “Merle did everything in his power to make this record authentic except remove that unique Haggard sound–and that’s something he’s brought to every genre of music he’s ever visited,” McCoury said. “Merle Haggard could make a polka record, and there’d be no mistaking it’s Merle Haggard.”

Album producer Ronnie Reno, a bluegrass veteran who earned his spurs performing with two Bluegrass Hall of Fame artists–father Don Reno’s Reno & Smiley and the legendary Osborne Brothers–before spending some eight years in Haggard’s band, reacted in a more down to earth fashion: “that’s pure bullshit.”

Recorded at Ricky Skaggs’ Hendersonville, TN studio, The Bluegrass Sessions features Haggard backed by an all-star–and all-bluegrass–cast of musicians that includes such IBMA award winners as fiddler Aubrey Haynie, dobro player Rob Ickes, guitarist and harmony singer Carl Jackson and Alison Krauss.

As veteran mandolin player Marty Stuart, who got his own youthful career start with Hall of Famer Lester Flatt (Flatt & Scruggs) in the 1970s, wrote following the recording sessions, “Merle Haggard has put the blues back into bluegrass. I was honored to be there alongside of him when he did it.”

On its release, The Bluegrass Sessions rocketed to the top of Billboard’s bluegrass album chart, racking up the legend’s highest first-week sales for a new release since 2000, and Merle’s first #1 on any of Billboard’s charts since 1984. Bluegrass Sessions is currently enjoying it’s 4th consecutive week at the top of the chart. There has been solid support from the Bluegrass media, from the monthly magazines to the increasingly popular Bluegrass Blog, the winner of this year’s IBMA Media Award, in addition to features in mainstream media such as TIME Magazine and major newspapers across the country,

“When I contacted NARAS, they would not identify the committee, their qualifications, or why they don’t classify this album as bluegrass. Their stance just doesn’t make sense. With that said, of course, we’re grateful that members can at least vote for The Bluegrass Sessions in other country categories, including Country Album of the Year,” Harris said. “But by every reasonable definition, this is a bluegrass album, and we–Merle, Ronnie, Del and everyone involved in the project–think that Academy voters ought to be able to consider it for Best Bluegrass Album.”

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