An overlooked legend and one of Grammy’s most honored artists were golden at the 51st edition, as “Raising Sand,” the collaboration of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, took home all five awards for which they were nominated, including record and album of the year.
The Led Zeppelin lead singer previously had only one win, while bluegrass singer-fiddler Krauss has now won 26 trophies.
Among the many British acts that had an impact in 2008, Coldplay and Adele won the two other major awards: song and new artist, respectively.
Lil Wayne had the next largest haul, winning in four of the eight categories in which he was nominated.
“Raising Sand,” a low-key, adult-oriented project that was well received critically, falls in line sonically with recent big winners such as Herbie Hancock’s “River,” Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company” and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me.” It stood out from the pack as an opportunity to honor a rock legend, the 60-year-old Plant, whose groundbreaking work was ignored 30-40 years ago.
“Raising Sand” also won for contemporary folk/Americana album, and three different songs from the disc were honored with trophies. The first single, “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” was released in the eligibility period for the 50th awards and won the pop collaboration nod last year.
Eligibility period for the 51st Grammy Awards was Oct. 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2008.
Sunday, “Rich Woman” won Plant and Krauss a second pop collaboration trophy, and “Killing the Blues” nabbed the country collaboration nod. “Please Read the Letter,” which Plant wrote with Led Zep guitarist Jimmy Page and first released in 1998, was named record of the year.
“I’m bewildered,” Plant said in accepting the top album Grammy. “In the old days, we would have called it selling out. Now it seems like a nice way to spend a Sunday.”
He then thanked Krauss for “teaching me to sing in straight lines.”
Plant said they gave the project a three-day trial to determine whether the idea to collaborate on a collection of old blues and country songs would indeed bear fruit. Producer T Bone Burnett thanked the singers for “coming into the studio with courage and love and freedom.”
Unlike the works it was up against, “Raising Sand” has had a long steady life since indie imprint Rounder released the disc in late October 2007. It has topped 1.1 million units sold, but it was once Plant, Krauss and Burnett took the material on tour in early spring that the album clearly gained traction with an audience.
With 26 career wins, Krauss moves into a third-place tie with Pierre Boulez.
By voting in a pattern that has been seen many times over the years, the Grammys again kept hip-hop and rap out of the winner’s circle in the general categories. Rapper Lil Wayne had the biggest-selling album of 2008 (“Tha Carter III”) and led the field with eight noms; his four wins were for rap album, rap solo, rap perf by a duo or group and rap song for “Lollipop.”
Beyond that, though, multiple winners were in short supply. Besides Adele and Coldplay, those winning two each were John Mayer, Al Green, Kanye West, the team behind the L.A. Opera’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” Peter Gabriel, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, Thomas Newman, Daft Punk, Brad Paisley and classical producer David Frost.
Telecast featured 22 performances, opening with U2 performing their new single “Get on Your Boots.” Night’s most raucous perf came from the team of Lil Wayne and fellow New Orleans artists the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, pianist Allen Toussaint and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
Show seemed bent on demonstrating music’s cross-pollination, emphasizing the rock elements in modern country and the softer side of rock and rap. The early going was clearly an attempt to lure in younger viewers: The first 90 minutes included perfs by Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers and Jennifer Hudson. The top 40 smashes “I Kissed a Girl” and “American Boy” were also performed — something of a departure from recent telecasts in which the emphasis was on the partnering of star acts rather than production numbers for nominated hits.
Two other acts with younger followings, Rihanna and Chris Brown, canceled at the last minute, requiring a quick pairing of Al Green and Justin Timberlake performing “Let’s Stay Together” with a band that featured Boyz II Men singing and Keith Urban on guitar.
No reason was given for Rihanna’s absence, although Brown, her boyfriend, is under investigation for felony domestic battery, according to the Los Angeles Police Dept. Brown and Rihanna had attended the pre-Grammy Clive Davis party Saturday night. Brown turned himself in to police at about 7 p.m. Sunday.
On the telecast, Recording Academy prexy-CEO Neil Portnow used his airtime to implore President Obama to create a secretary of the arts cabinet position.
In the film and TV categories, Oscar-nominated “Down to Earth” from “Wall-E” won for Gabriel and Newman; James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer took home trophies for their Oscar-ignored score for “The Dark Knight”; and “Juno” was named the top compilation soundtrack album. John Williams won his 21st trophy, snaring the instrumental composition nod.
Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” won longform musicvideo. “We couldn’t make it any shorter,” Bogdanovich said, noting they sifted through 500 hours of archival footage and shot another 100 hours of new material for the film.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s team on “In the Heights” won the musical show trophy, beating out two revivals (“Gypsy,” “South Pacific”) and two big-budgeted tuners (“The Little Mermaid,” “Young Frankenstein”).
The Los Angeles classical community had reason to celebrate. The EuroArts recording of the L.A. Opera production of Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” drew the classical album and opera recording nod for conductor James Conlon, the producers and stars Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald and Anthony Dean Griffey. Esa-Pekka Salonen and violinist Hilary Hahn won the instrumental soloist with orch award; Gloria Cheng won instrumental soloist for an album that featured a Salonen composition.
Among other tidbits:
- Hudson continued her rookie winning streak. Having already won an Oscar for her first acting job, she nabbed the R&B album kudo for her self-titled debut.
- Jose Feliciano, named best new artist 40 years ago, won his first trophy in 18 years, taking home the tropical Latin album award for “Senor Bachata.”
- Octogenarians Pete Seeger, the Blind Boys of Alabama and B.B. King won in their genre categories. Al Green won his first award in an R&B category, having won in gospel and pop previously.
- For the third time in the last five years, Ricky Skaggs took the bluegrass album nod.
- Jimmy Sturr won his 18th Grammy in the polka category.
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