Chris Stapleton ("Traveller") is the only Grammy nominee for Best Country Artist who also contends for Album of the Year, so that should make him the clear frontrunner to win this award, right? Maybe, but maybe not.
It is true that Album of the Year nominees tend to have an advantage in genre categories, and Best Country Album is no exception. When this category has included a nominee for Album of the Year, that disc has won six out of eight times: Dixie Chicks ("Fly" in 1999, "Home" in 2002, "Taking the Long Way" in 2006), Vince Gill ("These Days," 2007), Taylor Swift ("Fearless," 2009) and Lady Antebellum ("Need You Now," 2010).
That gives Stapleton a strong statistical advantage, and we already saw how much the industry loves him when he was awarded Album of the Year at the CMA Awards in November.
However, there are two exceptions to this rule. In 1998, Shania Twain was nominated for Album of the Year for "Come on Over," but lost Best Country Album in an upset to the Dixie Chicks' breakthrough, "Wide Open Spaces." And in 2013, Taylor Swift was up for Album of the Year for "Red" but lost the country award to Kacey Musgraves ("Same Trailer, Different Park").
Musgraves is nominated again this year for her sophomore album, "Pageant Material," so Stapleton should watch his back. Can she pull off another upset?
They both face stiff competition from other artists recognized in the general field. Breakout star Sam Hunt is nominated for his debut album, "Montevallo." He only has one other bid this year, but it's a big one: Best New Artist. Keep in mind that both the Dixie Chicks and Kacey Musgraves were nominated for Best New Artist when they pulled off their upsets in this category.
Little Big Town aren't nominated in the general field, but the songwriters behind their hit "Girl Crush" contend for Song of the Year, and the band could ride that wave of support to a win here for their album "Pain Killer," which is the band's sixth album but only their second to compete in this category, following "The Road to Here" in 2006.
Rounding out the race is Ashley Monroe, who picks up her first nomination in this category for "The Blade." She has one other nomination this year: Best Country Duo/Group for "Lonely Tonight" with Blake Shelton.
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"Pageant Material" artwork credit: Mercury Nashville
"Traveller" artwork credit: Mercury Nashville