Vocal categories make for heated contests, but the most revealing awards in country music are usually for song and album.
Song of the Year: Alan Jackson should snag a deserved Grammy for his Sept. 11 homage "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," over the spirited "Three Days" by promising newcomer Pat Green, Darrell Scott's reflective Dixie Chicks hit "Long Time Gone" and "Mendocino County Line," Matt Serletic and Bernie Taupin's melancholy ballad for Willie Nelson.
Best Album: Jackson's "Drive" and newcomer Joe Nichols' "Man With a Memory" aren't in the same league with nominated albums by Nelson, Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks. It's a hands-down win for the Chicks' blockbuster "Home." Parton and Nelson, however, are deeper emotionally, with Parton deserving to win for her spiritually evocative "Halos & Horns."
Best Female Vocal: Parton and Lucinda Williams offer the most revealing performances. Voters, however, are likely to give this one to Faith Hill's overwrought "Cry."
Best Male Vocal: Johnny Cash and Pat Green aren't up for their strongest tracks, and Joe Nichols' "The Impossible" displays more promise than achievement. That leaves Brad Paisley deserving the win for "I'm Gonna Miss Her." Jackson's "Where Were You" is the likely winner, even though its strength is more the song than the singing.
-- Randy Lewis