Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ten on Tuesdays: Ten Lingering Questions About The Grammy Nominations

This year's list of Grammy nominees raised even more eyebrows than usual. With it being a weak year overall for sales and quality, there was the chance that anything would be up for grabs, and it most certainly was. This edition of Ten on Tuesdays is my attempt to make sense of it all

1. Herbie Hancock? Vince Gill? WTF?
I think that one of the biggest surprises announced last Thursday is that two lauded, but unexpected artists managed to get nominated in Album Of The Year, pulling one of the biggest surprises in a general category since Diana Krall got an AOTY nomination in 1999. With all due respect to Mr. Hancock and Mr. Gill, I never once thought that their albums would have a fighting chance in 2007. While a diluted field of contenders definitely paved the way for their nominations, their inclusion is not totally unexplainable.

They both received favorable reviews and also featured a bevy of quality artists on their work. The guest list for Vince Gill includes Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss and Gretchen Wilson while Herbie Hancock had Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to lend a hand. Not a bad way to get attention.

The other thing that helped them stand out above other artists of their caliber was the concepts behind their albums. Vince Gill's These Days is a 4-CD box set of original songs, with each disc focusing on a single one of his styles (country, rock, acoustic, etc.). Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters is a tribute to the works of Joni Mitchell. These weren't just 40 minute CDs with a simple all killer/no filler approach, but carefully constructed albums with unique ideas.

2. Will Kanye West finally win for Album Of The Year?
I believe so. His main competition in that category is Amy Winehouse, and with the kind of press she's been getting recently, she may not seem as much of a contender as she did five months ago. Kanye is the biggest name in the category this year. No Ray Charles. No pesky U2. I also think that he's the obvious sentimental favorite with all that's been going on in his life and that if he does win, he will likely give one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in Grammy history.

3. Who the hell is Ledisi?
She's an R&B singer who's been bubbling under the radar for quite some time. You might have heard her voice on one of the Naked Music compilations and on Raphael Saadiq's live album, but she finally made her major label debut this year. Her nominations in Best New Artist and Best R&B Album were another shock, but thanks to a duff year, a lot of people like her were able to benefit. If you haven't had a chance to listen to her, this is her first single, "Alright". It's a very comforting solid track.

4. Wait a minute, I see more names I don't recognize in the R&B categories. Can you tell me some more about them?
I'll try my best. Alice Smith's nomination for "Dream" in Best Urban/Alternative performance was definitely one of the most pleasant surprises since it's been one of my favorite tracks for almost a year. Her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers And Me was recently re-released on Epic, so it should be a lot easier to find and I'm so in love with one song right now that I smell a post about her in the future.

Emily King's nod for East Side Story in Best Contemporary R&B Album was another shock, not because of how unknown she is, but because I had no idea that the album had even dropped! I've had her sampler since last spring, which is a mix of urban R&B and singer-songwriter pop, and I thought that she would be another major label casualty who never got an album release. Hopefully her Grammy nomination will force J Records to shape up and do some promoting.

And Ryan Shaw, who I gushed about in my Lollapalooza recap, got a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Album. And traditional is the correct adjective. If you're a fan of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, he is definitely not to be missed if he is in your town. See for yourself in this clip. Just put in a search for him on YouTube to find more rockin' stuff.

5. Will Amy Winehouse actually win anything?

She should be able to win a few. India.Arie was shutout in her first year after receiving about six or seven nods, so it's not entirely impossible. But then again, Amy doesn't have to compete with the likes of someone like Alicia Keys in most of her categories. She's still the frontrunner for Best New Artist and Record Of The Year, but I don't think it's as sure a thing as it was when Back To Black was first released. I am confident that she can at least win Best Pop Vocal Album, if anything.

6. Why no Best New Artist nomination for Daughtry?

Hard to explain why one of the year's biggest sellers, who also got 4 nominations (equal to the combined tally of other New Artist nominees Paramore, Ledisi and Taylor Swift) got shut out in this category. I'm just going to take a wild guess say it's because the music is kinda shitty.

7. Why is Lily Allen nominated in Best Alternative Album in what has now decidedly become the indie rock category?

One listen to Alright, Still and it's obvious that it belongs in the pop category, but since Lily lacks the sales of Fergie and Amy Winehouse, she's gotta slum it with the rest of the cool kids, who include The Shins, Bjork, The White Stripes and Arcade Fire. They might as well just rename the category "Best Blog Endorsed Album".

8. I thought that Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" was eligible for last year. Why was it nominated this year?

"Before He Cheats" indeed was released as a single in August of 2006, which I guess would disqualify it from this year. One explanation is that "Before He Cheats" didn't really gain traction until this year's eligibility period, putting it in the eyes of most voters and the rest of America as a 2007 single. It was one of the biggest songs of the year by one of country's biggest stars, so there might have been even more of an uproar if they hadn't nominated it.

9. Foo Fighters got nominations for Album Of The Year and Record Of The Year? I'm confused.

You're not the only one. I consider Foo Fighters a pretty respectable band who've managed to stay relevant for more than a decade, but I never quite saw them battling with the big boys in the general categories. I thought the same thing about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day too. Both bands also received AOTY nods this decade as well. So what is the common thread here? Well, all three bands had commercial success throughout the 90's. They previously only received nominations in the rock categories. They've managed to stay relatively strong in this decade as well, which only adds to their name recognition. The Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters may not have released the best rock albums of their respective years, but they were the acts who were most familiar to Grammy voters. A new trend is taking place before our eyes where a a year that U2 doesn't release an album, another respected rock band with about 10-15 years in the business will take their place in AOTY. I believe that Green Day really opened the door for the Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters with their critically acclaimed American Idiot and proved that the alternative acts of the 90's can deliver something worthy of Album Of The Year. I don't think quality was the case with the Foo Fighters and Chili Peppers' nominations, but we could see more of this trend in the coming years as an attempt for the Grammys to stay fresh. It appears that the era of rewarding the token old fogey may be coming to an end.

10. So what did the NARAS get right?

Well, Best Rap Solo Performance actually lacks one embarassing nominee for once. UGK got a nod for the best single of the year "Int'l Player's Anthem". Best Music Video nominations for "1,2,3,4" and "D.A.N.C.E." The aformentioned Alice Smith and Ryan Shaw nods. Bebel Gilberto, Ceu and Konono No. 1 in the world music categories. It's also very rare that an album destined for my top 10 lands a Grammy nod, but LCD Soundsystem thankfully did in Best Electronic/Dance Album. Bettye Lavette also got some past due love in Best Contemporary Blues Album. So yes, they did get some things right.

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