Mac McAnally has been told that he’s “entering some rarefied air” with his fifth straight nomination for County Music Association Musician of the Year.
Rarefied, which is defined as “esoteric or elite” and “seemingly distinct or remote from ordinary reality and common people,” can certainly be applied to the CMA achievements of McAnally, who splits his time between homes in Nashville and the Shoals.
A prolific studio guitarist, songwriter and producer, McAnally has the chance to join one of his biggest supporters, the legendary guitarist Chet Atkins, as a consecutive five-time Musician of the Year recipient.
In familiar McAnally fashion, he questioned the reason for being nominated and heaped praise on his fellow nominees.
“I’m grateful and certainly honored,” McAnally said during a telephone interview while taking a break in a recording session Wednesday. “I’ve never felt worthy of it, but I’ve always felt honored by it.”
McAnally was not the only artist with Shoals connections to receive a CMA nomination Wednesday.
The Civil Wars are nominated in two categories — Vocal Duo of the Year and Musical Event of the Year for a collaboration with country superstar Taylor Swift.
The popular duo includes Florence singer/songwriter John Paul White and Nashville vocalist Joy Williams.
The CMA nomination is The Civil Wars’ third. The group has won two Grammy Awards.
McAnally’s four consecutive Musician of the Year awards is second only to the five straight Atkins won between 1981 and 1985 when the award was known as Instrumentalist of the Year. Atkins was the first recipient of the award in 1967 and won the award the next two years.
McAnally said Atkins has won the award nine times.
“There are quite a few guys, several, who have won three,” McAnally said. “I somehow got my fourth last year.”
McAnally said Atkins was his father’s hero.
“When dad would listen to me practice, he’s said ‘stick with it and you’ll be as good as Chet Atkins,’ ” McAnally said. “I knew I couldn’t, and he knew I couldn’t. Chet was a great friend to me and a great supporter. He encouraged me over the years. To be under him is an honor.”
He called fellow nominee mandolin player Sam Bush, “a miracle of nature.”
“He’s a better drummer than three-quarters of the drummers out there,” McAnally said.
“Paul Franklin is the best steel guitar player alive and Brent Mason could play guitar in circles around me in his sleep and do his taxes at the same time,” McAnally said.
McAnally said Dann Huff is similar to him in that he’s not only a studio musician, but a singer, songwriter and producer.
The Musician of the Year award is often tied to an artist’s work in the studio, but McAnally can’t put his finger on a particular project that could have led to another nomination.
The past year he’s collaborated with Lionel Richie, Lee Ann Womack and Jamey Johnson to name a few.
“I got to write some and got to play some with Zac Brown and his guys this year,” McAnally said. “ So much of what I do is fun, I don’t remember it as work.”
The Civil Wars were nominated for the CMA award for Vocal Duo of the Year in 2011 but did not win.
They received two Grammy Awards earlier this year for Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “Barton Hollow,” the title track of their debut album.
“We’re honored and flattered by our nominations,” White said in an email response. “To be recognized by the Country Music Association - not only as a duo, but also for our collaborative work with Taylor on the “Hunger Games” soundtrack - is an accomplishment of which we’re very proud.”
White acknowledged his music doesn’t fit into a genre box.
“Honestly, it’s more surprising to me that anyone’s music fits neatly into one box,” he said. “What we do reflects where we’re from, how we were raised, etc. ... so it is hard to pinpoint where it ‘belongs.’ We take a degree of satisfaction in being able to appeal to listeners of multiple genres.”
The 46th CMA awards show airs at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 on ABC.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.