When calendars flip from June to July, many music critics mark the occasion with a “best-of-the-year” discussion.  My favorite mid-year recap is from NPR’s All Songs Considered.

I’ll join the mid-year music foray with some premature Grammy predictions.  I’m only prognosticating for categories I care about (sorry).  Note: the eligibility period for the 54th Grammy Awards, to be held February 12, 2012, is October 1, 2010, through September 30, 2011.

Album of the Year:  Adele, 21.

I’m tempted to exaggerate this year’s Album of the Year competition as a battle for the soul of the music industry.  Lady Gaga’s Born this Way will garner some consideration; it’s had too much publicity and radio play to avoid a nomination.

But if Gaga can meat-dress her way to Album of the Year, it will be at the expense of a truly great album.  Adele (who happens to share my last name) has the voice of an old-soul, and 21 is a great production, with, imagine this, real instruments!

I’m hopeful that The Recording Academy will get this one right.  They were brave enough to give Album of the Year in 2009 to Allison Kraus and Robert Plant and in 2011 to Arcade Fire.  It will take less courage in 2012 to get it right. [More of Adele’s music at Amazon]

Alternative Rock Album of the Year:  My Morning Jacket, Circuital

It’s time to make things right.  MMJ has been making great records for years, and I cannot write coherently about Circuital without teenage-girl gushing.  Perhaps, some hometown karma (figuratively speaking) is what their Grammy candidacy needed.  Much of the album was recorded in a church gymnasium—air condition-less, mind you—in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Alternative Rock Album of the Year” is a strange Grammy category.  One would think that the moniker “Alternative” would imply experimentation or innovation in the music.  But, no, it essentially means “less well-known.”  So, I guess MMJ gets the nod for Alternative Rock Album of the Year and holds off competition from Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Lonely Forest.  I’m prepared to shrug my shoulders if All Time Low or Foo Fighters walks away with award.

My Morning Jacket’s Circuital deserves the token obscure-nomination for Album of the Year (e.g., Arcade Fire last year), but since the token obscure-nomination actually won last year, the Academy may discontinue that practice!  [More My Morning Jacket music at Amazon]

Awards that The Civil Wars Should Win:  Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album

Theoretically, I love The Civil Wars; in reality, I acknowledge and respect them.  I understand how so many aficionados gravitate toward their music, but they’re not for me.  It’s me, The Civil Wars, not you.  Caveat aside, they deserve some hardware.  If anything, we should all rally behind them to keep Bon Iver (pronounce that like your French) and their prating falsettos at bay in the Folk Album category. [More The Civil Wars music at Amazon]

Best Bluegrass Album:  Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest

Eight years have passed since Gillian Welch and musical partner Dave Rawlings released Soul Journey, and those eight years of sowing yielded one spectacular crop of songs.  The Harrow & the Harvest is ten tracks of minimalist, newgrass excellence.  What’s amazing about the album is that Welch and Rawlings left some good material on the cutting floor. For instance, this clever and catchy tune, presumably entitled, “Knuckleball Catcher” did not make the album.

Bluegrass Album of the Year is notoriously difficult to land.  The Academy has neither confirmed nor denied plans to rename the category the “Allison Kraus Award for Excellence in Bluegrass.”  And, each year, larger country acts like to swoop in with a bluegrass effort (this year:  Dierks Bentley).  My choice of Welch is probably less of a prediction and more of a prescription, but here’s to hoping![More Gillian Welch music on Amazon]

Lesser-knowns that I’m Pulling For

Here are some under-the-radar types that deserve the acknowledgement of a nomination.

  • The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  Just beautiful music.  It’s a reissued album, so I’m not sure if it will be eligible.  [More The Head and the Heart music at Amazon]
  • King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  This album is the best I’ve heard this year, but it certainly will not get a nomination for Album of the Year.  It would be an accomplishment to even get a Folk Album nomination.  But there’s no more significant album for me in 2011:  I will always associate it with my dad, who passed away in March.  [More King Creosote & Jon Hopkins music at Amazon]