Blunt, Dixie Chicks up for three of top four awards

This article was updated at 6:24 p.m.

Full list of nominations.

Mary J. Blige named her comeback album “The Breakthrough,” and it appears her peers agree: The queen of hip-hop soul led the way with eight nominations for the 49th annual Grammy Awards.

Blige, who has won three times, most recently for a 2003 collaboration with Sting, is up for record of the year; song of the year; five trophies in R&B categories; and pop collaboration for her recording of “One” with U2.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers grabbed the second most noms — six — followed by James Blunt, the Dixie Chicks, John Mayer, DJ-producer Danger Mouse, Prince, Rick Rubin, Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am and John Williams with five each.

Beyonce, songwriter-producer Bryan-Michael Cox, Gnarls Barkley, gospel performer Israel Houghton, rapper T.I. and Justin Timberlake received four apiece. The Recording Academy announced nominations Thursday at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood.

Field’s packed with artists who’ve had well-documented struggles (Dixie Chicks, Prince) and acts that exploded as hitmakers (Blunt, Gnarls Barkley, will.i.am, Timberlake). Certainly in the top categories, standard Grammy faves are largely absent.

As in recent years, record, album and song nominees are spread across several genres, but this year, rap has been shut out of the Big 4. The top four categories are full of overlap, however, as six acts secured at least two noms each.

Newcomers Corinne Bailey Rae and Blunt along with the Dixie Chicks, who have won eight Grammys, are the only acts up for three of the top four awards. Latter two were considerable newsmakers this year: Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” was an enormous success around the world before it debuted in the U.S. in November 2005 and instantly became a ubiquitous hit; the Chicks’ return to recording and touring three years after Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush statement in London was greeted with tepid ticket sales but a strong showing at retail. British singer-songwriter Bailey Rae has been a high-priority act for EMI, which has promoted her globally.

The Dixie Chicks’ song “Not Ready to Make Nice” is up for record and song plus country perf by a group; their 1.7 million-selling disc “Taking the Long Way” is up for album and country album. Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” is up for record and song; he is a new artist candidate as well and up for male pop vocal perf, pitted against the year’s other omnipresent hit, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.”

Contending in two of the major categories are Gnarls Barkley, the highly touted collaboration between rapper-singer Cee-Lo and DJ Danger Mouse that scored the first digital-only No. 1 single in the U.K. with “Crazy”; and “American Idol 4″ champ Carrie Underwood. Given Kelly Clarkson’s two wins at the last ceremony, Underwood arrives with no handicap based on the fact that she won a televised singing competition.

Producer Rick Rubin could also walk away with two of the top trophies: He produced the Dixie Chicks’ work and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Stadium Arcadium,” also an album nominee.

Not a single track or performance from the year’s top-selling album, Disney’s “High School Musical,” was nominated for a Grammy.

While the nominations reflect a cross-section of significant sellers, there is not a bona-fide legend among the multiple nominees. The Recording Academy feted U2 last and Ray Charles the year before that. Similarly, there’s no dominating force like Norah Jones, who swept the 2002 awards, nor a long overlooked act like Santana, 1999’s big winner.

Blige album “The Breakthrough,” which has sold 2.7 million copies since it was released five days before Christmas last year, marked a return to form for the thrush. Disc was widely praised for her use of several producers and its rhythmic base. It did not, however, secure an album nomination, and when all is said and done, that category is often looked upon as the top prize.

Oddly enough, Blige may have the edge in the pop category: Her performance of “One” with U2 was first done at a Hurricane Katrina benefit and reprised on the Grammycast, where it was one of the strongest moments at this year’s show. Blige wins would also mean success for her collaborator Bryan-Michael Cox.

Last year, Mariah Carey was one of the leaders in noms (eight), though her three wins all came in R&B categories. This year, Carey’s “Don’t Forget About Us” is up against Blige’s “Be Without You” for female R&B perf and R&B song; Blige has been nominated with Jamie Foxx for R&B perf by a duo or group and is competing against him for R&B album (her “The Breakthrough” vs. his “Unpredictable”).

Among those drawing five noms, composer John Williams finds himself in the situation he faced this year at the Oscars — twice. He is competing against himself in instrumental composition (“Prayer for Peace” vs. “Sayuri’s Theme”) and in score soundtrack (“Memoirs of a Geisha” vs. “Munich”).

Similarly, Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am is up twice for urban/alternative perf for his work with Sergio Mendes. All five of Prince’s noms come in the R&B categories, with “Black Sweat” up for song and male vocal perf and “3121” contending for album.

Mayer, whose “Continuum” is an album contender, is competing against young and old alike. His disc is up for pop vocal album against the work of Timberlake, Blunt and Christina Aguilera; his contribution to the “Cars” soundtrack, “Route 66,” is up against songs from Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Neil Young for solo rock vocal perf. “Try!,” from the John Mayer Trio, is vying for rock album as are songs from Petty, Young and the Red Hot Chili Peppers; Dylan and Young are also up against one another in the rock song category.

While Dylan received three nominations, it came as something of a surprise that his name was not called in the three general categories.

Timberlake’s noms are all for his work on his solo disc “FutureSex/Love Sounds.” Disc is up for the top album prize, but after that, he’s all over the map, vying for pop vocal album and in dance and rap categories.

There were no front-runners in the classical or historical categories. Snagging two nominations each for their participants were the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of Mahler’s 7th, “Martha Argerich and Friends: Live From the Lugano Festival 2005″ and Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears.”

Historical album contenders “One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found” (Rhino), Old Hat’s “Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-37″ and Archeophone’s “Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1891-1922″ also picked up noms in either the notes or package categories.

Awards will be given out in 108 categories on Feb. 11 at Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center. CBS will air the kudocast.

Full list of nominations.

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