HDD faz suas previsões para "Best Country Solo Performance"

GRAMMY CHEW: BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE

If you want to set the bar, start—as always—with Chris Stapleton, who has unfailingly worked from a place of art first in the mainstream. Soulful, a songwriter who melts genres down in the same way Willie Nelson did to create something beyond genre, Stapleton’s wide-open performance on “White Horse” is blazing, the record builds in a way that his voice tangles with some Southern rock electric guitar thrust, which delivers to the breaking point.

It’s funny seeing streaming truly impact country, especially driving Grammy nominations. This year, as the genre has solidly tacked away from its hip-hop Bro-country leanings, we’re seeing more powerful breakthroughs—Luke Combs with “Fast Car” and “Love You Anyway,” Morgan Wallen with “Last Night,” Jelly Roll with “Need A Favor” and Bailey Zimmerman with the scorching “Rock and a Hard Place.”

Combs has proved to be the Everykid contender with songs that feel like country fans live—and this stadium-sized year has seen him continue with his common-ground writing voice and the lived-it-with-my-dad take on Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” A voice of believability, he understands working and making ends just meet, and that harkens back to an honesty for people who work overtime to survive.

Don’t discount industry momentum either. Lainey Wilson, who just topped the CMA Awards nominations with nine including Album, Female and Single of the Year, has built it the old-fashioned way in a 10-year town. Strong-voiced, she leans into a song like she means it—and “Heart Like A Truck” is the song from a strong woman who doesn’t back down or give in. A straight up country singer, she’s got people listening.

Wallen remains the lightning rod supernova guy who the girls want and the guys want to be. “Last Night” is the distillation of his chart-dominating appeal. The kid from East Tennessee delivers a performance that’s the reality of someone trying to figure out growing up, still having fun and sorting through the middle ground.

Jelly Roll has a soul-torn vocal peak that truly sounds like begging from the depths of despair. The Merle Haggard-esque character, who’s lived the rough side of what he sings about, writes and sings for all the stragglers and strugglers, and “Need A Favor” is a ragged tour de force that is a cry for help when there’s nowhere else to turn.

And Zimmerman, a mere 23-year-old pipe fitter with a voice that blisters, is more than a power singer. He has an ability to inhabit the turned-inside-out exhaustion of a much older human who’s hit the wall with the continual back-and-forth with someone they love. Newcomer yes, but also a contender.

With Kane Brown and wife Kaitlin seeming a lock for “Thank God,” it could be easy to overlook the throbbing “Bury Me in Georgia.” Mistake. Hypnotic, Brown brings a slow roll vocal that’s as much swagger as it is a declaration of who he is and where he comes from, showing a man fully possessed of self and unflinching in what he wants.

Ashley McBryde, a songwriter who blends Mary Chapin Carpenter’s looking into the human condition with Loretta Lynn’s how the lower half lives candor, tenderly serves up lessons for thriving in “Light On In The Kitchen.” The real truths of getting through this world let the Arkansas native’s twang season the gentle vocal that swerves up and wide open for emphasis.

Jordan Davis’ “Next Thing You Know” shares the songwriter’s gentler take on life with a warmth that’s palpable. Like Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams, Davis’ performance is never one of flex, but utter embrace through the denial. Reassuringly steady, his vocal embodies the old friend you want talking you through the tricky spots in life, trusting he not only knows, but understands the prize at the end of the trail.

Kelsea Ballerini stripped away the pop flourish for an EP mining the emotional fall-out from her divorce. The broken-hearted recognition that tempers “Penthouse,” balancing what you think you want, getting it and realizing how empty it is against the hollowness of being over, suggests a maturity that’s as velvety subtle as emotional naked. Always a Grammy favorite, this feels ordained.

From the fringe, Tyler Childers’ “In Your Love” is as straight-up from the hollers and as forthright a declaration of love as we’ve seen in years. Between the video—showing miners tentatively love against the odds before one’s death from Black Lung Disease—embracing two unlikely truths and Childer’s growing popularity in the rock, roots and alternative worlds, he’s a factor.

Texas’ Parker McCollum’s “Burn It Down” shows the power of a Lone Star songwriter who refuses to flinch. The power of the Texas chapter is strong, and McCollum is their guy.

And finally Zach Bryan, whose music defined the power of streaming and social media beyond Nashville or any other “scene” to connect, has the problem of too many tracks to choose from. Whether a solo track rises from his self-titled just released project or “Oklahoma Smokeshow” from his Summertime Blues emerges, he’s a favorite of pretty much everyone.