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Chauncy Crandall's Breakdown 

Album of the Year

click to enlarge Chauncy Crandall's Breakdown
  • Chauncy Crandall's Breakdown

UPPER POVERTY

Unlike the legion of roots-revering singer-songwriters who hide their middle-class suburban youth, Chauncy Crandall's connection to the sound's origins is as genuine as it gets these days. "We would always butcher our own meat and grow our own gardens," recalls the singer-songwriter of his rural upbringing. "My mom always told us we were upper-poverty."

RANCH TO MANSION

click to enlarge Chauncy Crandall - TANYA SHAW JEFFREY
  • Tanya Shaw Jeffrey
  • Chauncy Crandall

Crandall grew up on his family's ranch in a southeast Colorado town with a population of 137, dutifully going to church in order to avoid the razor strap, and learning to play on a beat-up guitar with three broken machine heads. There's an authenticity that manifests on Breakdown, thanks to Crandall's disarmingly poetic songwriting and a clear, compelling voice that feels every bit as heartfelt and powerful as Levon Helm's. And while he doesn't wear his class consciousness on his sleeve, you can still detect it on Breakdown tracks like "Mansions to Heaven": "While you were running for fun, I've been running for my life," he sings in a clear, compelling voice. "While you were with your mistress, I've been caring for my wife."

BREAKDOWN

Shortly after Breakdown's release last October, Crandall relocated to Florida and gigs constantly throughout a four-state area. It's a big change from his early days in Colorado Springs, where he first got up the nerve to perform in public after stumbling into an open mic hosted by local singer-songwriter Joe Johnson, who himself grew up in a town with a population of 450. It's that more distraction-free, small-town environment, Crandall figures, that can make all the difference. "I think the simplicity of it — and doing it just because it's something that makes you feel good and makes the people around you feel good — that's important."

Second place: Chuck Snow, Death Comes for Ella Mae Pixley

Third place: Modern Suspects, Told You So

  • Album of the Year

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