India.Arie, Alicia Keys, Pierre Boulez also atop tune list

See list of nominationsU2 has already been dubbed band of the year in critical circles and the concert promotion world, and now NARAS is joining in, nominating the Irish quartet for a leading eight Grammy awards.

While honoring the veteran rock act, Grammy also put the spotlight on the burgeoning neo-soul movement that brings classic R&B touches to modern hip-hop and R&B, rewarding India.Arie with seven noms, Alicia Keys with six, Brian McKnight with five and Nelly Furtado with four.

U2′s eight nominations were spread out to three of their songs and the album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (Interscope), which is up for album and rock album of the year. U2′s “Beautiful Day” won last year’s song and record trophies as the single was released on the last day of eligibility for the 43rd annual Grammys. The album, however, was released just days into the eligibility period for the 44th awards, which covers Oct. 1, 2000 through Sept. 30, 2001.

The Irish band’s song nominations are record and rock song for “Walk On”; song and pop performance by a group for “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get out Of”; and rock performance by a group and rock song for “Elevation.”

In most years, a veteran act or solo performer is usually embraced by the Grammy nominating committee, and although U2 seems a little young for that distinction — and they have won 10 Grammys over the last 14 years — they are fitting the bill for this year’s awards.

India.Arie, whose debut album “Acoustic Soul” on Motown was overshadowed most of the year by Keys’ million-selling “Songs in A Minor,” nabbed a sweep of the top four categories: Record, album and song of the year plus best new artist. Paula Cole, in 1997, was the last artist to get noms in the four top categories.

Also a best new artist nominee, Keys pulled in six — her song “Fallin’” is up for record, song, female R&B vocal and R&B song. While the albums from Arie and Keys were critical successes, Keys was the champ at retail, selling 4.1 million copies of “Songs in A Minor” (J Records) vs. less than 1 million for Arie’s “Acoustic Soul” on Motown. And while Keys’ “Fallin’” was a radio mainstay throughout the second half of the year, Arie’s biggest single, “Video,” failed to enter the top 20.

The top-selling soundtrack and country album of 2001, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” which moved 3.5 million units in 2001 for Mercury Nashville, will compete for best album, although it was not nominated for country album. Tracks from the album of bluegrass and mountain music, “O Death” by Ralph Stanley and the perfs of “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” and “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow” are up for country performance awards. The Ryman Hall concert version of the soundtrack, “Down From Mountain,” is up for the traditional folk trophy.

“O Brother,” a 2000 release eligible this year because of the cut-off dates, is up for the compilation soundtrack nod. A number of works that received other honors last year are competing now, among them the scores for three of last year’s best picture Oscar nominees, “Traffic,” “Chocolat” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Outkast, which is up for record and album of the year, was in the upper reaches of several critical polls last year for its nominated album “Stankonia” and the single “Ms. Jackson.”

Pierre Boulez is also up for six awards in classical categories, three as a composer and three as a conductor, for his album of Varese music on Deutsche Grammophon, the Schoenberg piano concerto on Philips and a Deutsche Grammophon disc of his own music. Bluegrasser Alison Krauss, a key component in the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” phenomenon, plucked five noms.

Nabbing four noms each besides Furtado were T-Bone Burnett, who produced the “O Brother” disc, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Train and Lucinda Williams. With three each were Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Coldplay, Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Linkin Park, Tim McGraw, Jamie O’Neal (two of her tunes are up for country song), ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake and Trisha Yearwood.

In announcing the nominees Friday at the Beverly Hilton, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences prexy and CEO Michael Greene said the “most stunning” aspect of the nominations was that there were “a lot of singer-songwriters.” Much of that certainly owes to the ascendancy of R&B artists such as Arie, Furtado and Keys, who write their own material as well as the broader inclusion of artists such as Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams.

In the new artist category, India.Arie, Keys and Furtado compete with the left-field success story of 2000, David Gray, who has been making albums for nearly a decade, and L.A. hard-rockers Linkin Park,” whose “Hybrid Nation” (Warner Bros.) was the biggest-selling album of the year.

The pop categories, which were expanded last year, feel particularly broad this time out as a country singer (Faith Hill), an alt-country singer (Lucinda Williams), an R&B singer (Janet Jackson), a folk-hip-hopper (Nelly Furtado) and a jazz soul chanteuse (Sade) compete for female pop vocal perf.

Pop by a duo or group finds a battle of the ages: U2 and R.E.M. vs. Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. In the pop instrumental categories, the nominees — acts such as Kirk Whalum, Acoustic Alchemy and Dave Koz — fit the definition far better.

And for the first time since the category’s inception, a television track will compete in the category of best song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media. Oddly enough, it is They Might Be Giants’ “Boss of Me” from “Malcolm in the Middle,” a show that is now in its third season and has used the theme since its inception.

In the most dominating sweep for a label, Rhino Records took three of the five nominations in the boxed recording package.

Most years, categories are a balance between the critically lauded and the commercially successful but this year’s female and male rock vocal categories are full of new-comers, under-achievers and Bob Dylan, whose “Love and Theft” (Columbia) is also up for album of the year.

Toughest category may well be female R&B vocal, which features four of the year’s best singles — “Video,” Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair,” Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” and “Rock the Boat” by Aaliyah — as well as the catchy “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops).”

Clearly it was tough year for male country artists recording new tunes. Vying for the trophy consists of Ryan Adams and Johnny Cash singing Hank Williams numbers, Ralph Stanley’s “O Death” from “O Brother,” Willie Nelson warbling “Marie” by the late Townes van Zandt, and Lyle Lovett’s version of Steve Earle’s “San Antonio Girl.” The Williams tracks hail from “Timeless,” a tribute album issued by Lost Highway, that is up for country album.

“The Producers,” which swept the most recent Tony Awards, is up for musical show album against the Broadway cast recordings of “The Full Monty,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Seussical the Musical” as well as a New York Philharmonic recording of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

Perhaps the oddest nomination comes this year in the Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album category in which the actress Ann-Margret’s “God is Love: The Gospel Sessions” is up against stalwarts of the genre. It’s not all that unreasonable a project, though, as she used Elvis Presley’s backup singers, the Jordanaires, on the album and Margret and the King made the memorable duet “You’re the Boss” way back in ’64.

The one new category this year, which brings the total to 101, is best rap/sung collaboration. Awards will be given out Feb. 27 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. CBS will again broadcast the ceremony. Michael Melvoin, whose trio performed at Friday’s press conference, will be the new music director of the Grammy awards ceremony, replacing the late Jack Elliott.

To make the announcements Friday, Greene was accompanied by nominees India.Arie, Furtado, Ja Rule, O’Neal, Stevie Nicks, Pat Monahan of Train, Usher, Jimmy Jam, Carl Reiner, David Foster and the members of Destiny’s Child.

Click for complete list of nominations.

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