Ultimately, the result will be the same this year as well. Rhonda Vincent has a lock on the award and took home her seventh straight title, even though the rest of the field was pretty substantial as well - Alison Krauss, Sonya Isaacs and Claire Lynch.
It's particularly meaningful to her to be considered in the same league as Lynch, one of her biggest inspirations, especially when it's suggested that she and Lynch share the same ability to mix vocal power with smooth, sweet phrasing and delivery.
"Claire Lynch is definitely one of the reasons I got interested in this music, the Front Porch String Band album that I listened to so much, was so encouraging to me, so if anybody hears Claire in my singing, I'm definitely honored by that."
The new album, her first for Alison Brown's Compass label is titled "Catch Tomorrow," from a line in her cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever." It's her fifth release since beginning her solo career following the breakup of the New Coon Creek Girls of which she was a part for several years. Her first two were on Pinecastle, followed by one on the late Doobie Shea label and a gospel disc on the Mountain Home label. Brown was not only the "label boss," she produced as well.
"I feel very blessed to be able to work with Alison Brown and Compass Records," says Bradley, "Very blessed. I feel like that's where I should be and need to be, and I'm very thankful they gave me the opportunity."
In her previous work, Bradley showed a knack for taking songs not generally thought of as bluegrass material and making them work in that format. Her Pinecastle albums featured covers of U2 ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For") and Stealer's Wheel ("Stuck In The Middle With You"), and on the Doobie Shea disc, she dipped into the '70s-era Gordon Lightfoot canon for "The Circle Is Small." "Catch Tomorrow" features a take on Kris Kristofferson's "Me And Bobbie McGee," and Bradley acknowledges that Janis Joplin's 1970 version was a touchstone of her growing up years.
"That's a song that I loved as a kid so much, and it was so isolated where I was from, that song let me be about as rebellious as I could get, you know. It talked about the traveling and the thumbing for a ride, and I thought that all was pretty interesting, so I loved the song for years. (The band and I were) at a festival...I guess it was about seven years ago. The crowd was into it, and we were too, and they were hollering out requests, and somebody hollered out 'Bobbie McGee,' and we just tore into it. We've included it in every set we've done since then, and so when it came time for the album, we'd had so many people that wanted to buy a recorded version of how we'd done it, so we talked it over with Alison (Brown) and she said, 'Yeah, if folks want to buy that, yeah, let's put it on there, 'cause that's part of what you do, you know?'"
Also of note is a re-recording of a longtime audience favorite among the songs Bradley and her longtime musical associate Vicki Simmons have co-written, "Grandma's Gift."
"All of my Pinecastle solo recordings are out of print...a lot of the people wanted to be able to purchase a recording of 'Grandma's Gift.' So we really thought about it, and thought, well, we'll just re-record it because the time limitation was up. So we just put it back in there because a lot of people had requested it, and we wanted to make sure that if they wanted to take the song with them that they would be able to do that."
Another new original by Bradley and Simmons is "Run, Rufus Run," a tale of running 'shine' to make a living that Bradley says comes from her own life growing up in eastern Kentucky.
"That was rampant in that part of the South, you know, in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee and Virginia, and parts of North Carolina, it's where it started, you know. That was, of course, a true story...that was my cousin, who is deceased now, but he did that. He ran moonshine. Actually, he did more walking than he did driving, when he was just a kid. He would go through the mountains and had ways of getting it to folks privately, you know? He died at an early age because of, well, because of alcoholism, but he had gotten a taste of that very young. My grandmother, who was his aunt, it just always bothered her. She'd say, 'Oh, they'd send him here and send him there, and him(being) just a kid.' She just felt like that was a rough way for a kid to have to do. But it was economics, (in those) days they just needed the money, and a lot of people would scrape up the money to buy a quart of moonshine."