A ‘Smooth’ Santana wind

Vet's 'Supernatural' tops Grammy noms

Carlos Santana’s amazing comeback in 1999 continued Tuesday as his “Supernatural” album, his first for Arista, and its tracks were nominated for 10 Grammy Awards, including record of the year and album of the year.

TLC and composer/conductor Pierre Boulez picked up six nominations each for the 42nd annual Grammys. Texas swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel picked up five noms for the awards given out annually by the National Academy Recording Arts & Sciences to honor the best music of the year, spread out over 98 categories.

Backstreet Boys, which had the year’s top-selling album, “Millennium,” received four nominations as did the Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill (last year’s big winner, who took home five statuettes for her 1998 disc “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”). There were 23 artists with three noms each.

Standing out from a pack that accurately reflected the year in popular music, Santana’s all-star-laden “Supernatural” tripled the guitarist’s nom total since he was first put on a ballot in 1972. He has only won one of his previous five noms — in 1988 for his “Blues for Salvador” album.

The Santana noms did not simply focus on the record’s No. 1 hit, “Smooth,” but rather represented the album on a number of fronts.

“Smooth,” written by matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur, could pick up three wins for Thomas; Santana himself is nominated in seven categories, and two of his songs, “Love of My Life” and “Smooth,” are competing for pop collaboration with vocals.

Cher a believer

Cher, who had the year’s biggest-selling single, “Believe,” earned three nominations. The single is up for dance recording, where it will duke it out with two Latin pop stars (Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan), a disco diva also on the comeback trail (Donna Summer) and one of electronic music’s most talked-about stars (Fatboy Slim).

At a press conference in Beverly Hills Tuesday, the nominations were announced by performers Macy Gray, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Christina Aguilera, Tom Scott, Steven Curtis Chapman, TLC’s Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas, Martina McBride, Mary J. Blige and Sarah McLachlan, producer Dallas Austin and songwriter Diane Warren. NARAS CEO and president Michael Greene presided.

Among the major distributors, Universal Music Group, in its first year since acquiring Polygram, led the way with 125 nominations; Sony was second with 90, followed by BMG at 84, WEA with 73 and EMI with 36.

Since NARAS introduced its panel system in the nominating process in 1995, the Grammys have strayed from the middle-of-the-road favorites it had a tendency to honor and moved toward “hipper” artists. Across the board, this year’s class in rock, pop, rap and country reflects an assortment of critical and commercial successes.

In the coveted new artist category, for example, the critically acclaimed Macy Gray will go up against two teen stars, Aguilera and Britney Spears, 3 million-selling shock-rapper Kid Rock and, most surprisingly, the blues-rock guitarist and singer Susan Tedeschi, who records for the small Tone Cool label.

And as it has done for nearly two decades, the focal point of the Grammys is a long-established artist — in this case, Santana, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — who has not received his or her due from the Academy. (Most recently, Bob Dylan was the vet du jour).

Showing their endurance, Santana, Aretha Franklin (who is nominated for a gospel performance) and Wilson Pickett are the only nominees for current work this year who also have works in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

As strong a showing as Santana has made, there are no clear-cut signs that he’ll take home a half-dozen awards or so. Last year, Grammy voters swung toward R&B and pop music, anointing Lauryn Hill and Celine Dion’s “Titanic” warble “My Heart Will Go On.”

As much as that can be read as an advantage for TLC, Santana can find hope in the 1997 awards that went to Bob Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind” and singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home.” The year before was a mixed bag: Celine Dion, Eric Clapton — working with Babyface — and LeAnn Rimes won big.

Were the Dixie Chicks to win album of the year, it would be a big surprise — the last time a country album took home the top prize was 1968 when Glen Campbell won for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Depending on an individual’s definition of jazz, Diana Krall need only look back to 1994 for a similar album of the year win — Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged.” Purists, however, will say the last jazz winner was the collaboration of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto in 1964.

Latin pop

Grammy nominations also reflected some of the English-lingo “Latin pop” phenomenon of the year, honoring several bestselling songs from the new genre.

Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” picked up nods in record of the year and song of the year categories as well as male pop vocal, where it will battle Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of …)” and Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know.” Martin’s self-titled English debut disc is up for pop album.

NARAS, which has bulked up the Latin music field to seven categories, will announce soon its first Latin Grammys ceremony, which will be held in either Miami or Los Angeles.

The five nominees for song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media all come from films and feature five of Grammy’s favorite film songwriters. Ten songs that appeared on movie soundtracks were nominated in other categories. The new category of soundtrack album pits two DreamWorks projects against two Maverick discs and Disney’s “Tarzan.”

The musical show category features only one album of all new material, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The others are new recordings from revivals and “Footloose,” the musical based on the 1984 film. “Footloose” was the first album released by the year-old label Q.

Having so many high-profile albums and songs nominated across the board points up the weakness in categories lacking works that made any significant impact. Best rock song and traditional R&B vocal are prime examples.

NARAS has limited the curious nominations to only a handful this year. Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations” is up for the contemporary folk nod, an odd category for the eclectic performer who is also up for male rock vocal for “Hold On,” a song on that “folk” album. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Promise,” recorded for his 1978 album “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and released last year on the compilation “18 Tracks,” is up for rock song and male rock vocal, despite being an outtake.

And as the Grammy folks pat themselves on the back for reflecting the diversity in music between Oct. 1, 1998, and Sept. 30, 1999, nothing demonstrates that better than the competition for longform video: Asleep at the Wheel, Gloria Estefan, Radiohead, U2 and Jimi Hendrix will compete for the prize.

Ballots will be sent out to the 10,000 voting members on Jan. 12. Elton John will be honored as the MusiCares person of the year at a dinner Feb. 21.

John also will receive a Grammy Legend award at the Feb. 23 Grammy ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. CBS will air the kudofest live on the East Coast and tape-delayed in the West.

Follow these links for a complete list of Grammy nominees:

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