- - Monday, February 9, 2015

“Demand that they change this system and truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art.”

That’s the last line in an essay by Steve Stout published in 2011 by The Huffington Post. That essay — a rallying cry to musicians in which Mr. Stout prods them to rise up against the Grammy Awards’ culture of “hypocrisies and contradictions” — could easily be published today. (Indeed, variants, including a thoughtful 10-point op-ed by Jason Lipshutz of Billboard, were.)

After sitting through another brain-numbing Grammy Awards show Sunday, the reinvent-the-Grammys cause seems hopeless.

Enter Scott B. Murphy, an Australian music industry veteran who wondered why the U.S. doesn’t have anything akin to the United Kingdom’s Mercury Music Prize or his country’s own Australian Music Prize.

Those awards, of course, are heralded because they are free of the commercialism and politics that seemingly hijack other awards. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Murphy researched and analyzed the American music system to develop what is now The American Music Prize.

A key component is the panel of 50 independent judges who will choose the best debut albums — across all genres — released by U.S. artists.

For this prize, debut is not defined as a first-time release by an artist. Rather, the album must be the first produced and released in the time frame in the U.S. by the particular artist or group of artists.

There are various criteria, of course, including release dates from Aug. 1, 2014, to July 31, 2015. There are no entry fees, and the grand prize winner will receive a “significant” cash award.

“No record companies, publicists or others that could show favoritism for artists they work with,” Mr. Murphy said of some of the criteria used to choose judges. Others include a selection of journalists, independent record store owners and other music tastemakers. “Nobody knows what judges listen to which records though they do email the other judges, but, at the same time, don’t spread negativity.”

Those of us who know some of the judges either personally or by reputation — including David Fricke of Rolling Stone, musician Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, producer Steve Lillywhite and Craig Shelburne of CMT — believe the prize has a real chance of offering music lovers a chance to discover some of the best new artists who otherwise might go undiscovered.

Because of Grammy Award pressures, the judges weren’t available to talk about the award for this article. But stay tuned for more news as a short list is announced in August and the winner is named in late September.

The Return of Eilen Jewell

Speaking of short lists of extraordinary artists, Eilen Jewell is back on tour. Miss Jewell may be an Idaho resident, but the D.C. area welcomes the old-school country cowgirl as warmly as if she were a native.

This week Miss Jewell, who has taken time off the road since last year’s birth of her daughter Mavis (named after the legendary Mavis Staples, who played the recent Emmylou Harris Tribute here), begins a tour behind her just-released live double album “Live at the Narrows” as she finalizes her 12-track album “Sundown Over Ghost Town,” which will be released May 26.

Like the songs on her much-lauded album “Queen of the Minor Key,” Miss Jewell promises the songs on the new album are full of Western imagery.

“There’s such beauty in the West,” she said from her home prior to the tour. “The images always inspire some of my best songs.”


WHAT: Eilen Jewell on the second stop of her tour

WHERE: Jammin’ Java, 227 Maple Ave. E., Vienna, Virginia

WHEN: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

INFO: Tickets $15 to $20; 703/255-1566; JamminJava.com

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