By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006
Yesterday's Grammy nominations are further evidence that Mary J. Blige is having herself quite a year, with a best-selling, multiplatinum album ("The Breakthrough"), increasing critical acclaim and all manner of music-industry honors: Just this week, the swaggering hip-hop songstress took home nine Billboard Awards.
And Blige might want to clear additional space on her mantle. The Bronx-born singer received a leading eight nominations yesterday when finalists for the 49th Grammy Awards were announced. Her big day included nods in two of the biggest categories of all: Record of the year and song of the year, both for the emotional hit, "Be Without You." Blige also scored five nominations in the more specialized R&B field, including one for best album, and she's up for a pop collaboration award, for a duet with U2.
The awards will be presented Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers received the second-most nominations, six, including one for album of the year, the top Grammy prize. The group's sprawling double-album, "Stadium Arcadium," will compete against recordings by the Dixie Chicks ("Taking the Long Way"), Justin Timberlake ("FutureSex/LoveSounds"), Gnarls Barkley ("St. Elsewhere") and John Mayer ("Continuum") -- but, notably, not Bob Dylan's "Modern Times."
For some inexplicable reason, the Recording Academy dropped a "soy bomb" on Dylan's hopes to garner his third consecutive album of the year nod. "Modern Times" is one of the most celebrated albums of 2006, and it reached No. 1, to boot, a combination would seem to make "Modern Times" a shoo-in for a spot on the final ballot.
But the nominating committee left Dylan's name off the final list this year, so the craggy old rock poet will instead have to settle with nods in three lesser categories: Solo rock vocal and rock song, both for "Someday Baby," and contemporary folk/Americana album.
Mayer and the Dixie Chicks were among the eight artists who received five Grammy nods apiece, but you're bound to hear more chatter about the Chicks than Mayer -- and with good reason: Essentially excommunicated from the Church of Country Music in 2003, when singer Natalie Maines had the temerity to pop off about President Bush and the war in Iraq, the Texas trio has suddenly fallen into the warm embrace of the Recording Academy. The Chicks' tuneful tour de force, "Taking the Long Way," is nominated for album of the year, while their defiant single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," is up for record and song of the year. (The latter award honors the writers -- in this case, the Chicks plus Dan Wilson.)
After having received a grand total of zero nominations for the recent Country Music Association Awards, the Dixie Chicks also are nominated for two country Grammys: Best performance by a duo or group for "Not Ready to Make Nice," plus best album, a category that also includes Josh Turner ("Your Man"), Alan Jackson ("Like Red On a Rose"), Little Big Town ("The Road to Here") and yet another country rebel, Willie Nelson ("You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker"). Not invited to the Grammy party, however: The outspoken Toby Keith, who was shut out of the nominations.
Still, it could make for a most interesting telecast if the 12,000 Grammy voters decide to honor the increasingly feisty Dixie Chicks with multiple awards. Ditto Neil Young, whose howling anti-Bush screed, "Living With War," is up for best rock album, while the tune, "Lookin' For A Leader," is nominated for rock song and solo rock vocal.
The doe-eyed British singer James Blunt -- now singing falsetto on a mini-van stereo system near you -- is among the other artists up for five awards, and three of Blunt's nominations were biggies: His bereft celebration of high notes, "Beautiful Girl," is up for record and song of the year, and Blunt is also a leading contender to win best new artist.
He'll face some competition from back home in all three races: The rapturous British folk-soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae received a best new artist nomination, as expected; but she was also a surprise nominee in the record and song categories, for the shimmering "Put Your Records On."
The final song of the year entrant is "Jesus, Take the Wheel," performed by American Idol Carrie Underwood. The tune is also up for best country song and best female country vocal, while Underwood is a best new artist nominee. (So, too, are Imogen Heap and Chris Brown, a teenaged R&B singer from Virginia. Heap isn't exactly new, but in the view of the Recording Academy, you haven't really arrived until you've had a hit.)
Gnarls Barkley's ubiquitous ode to mental illness, "Crazy" is the final record of the year candidate, and deservedly so: It's the best single 2006, by a wide margin. But it defies categorization, which is how "Crazy" wound up as a nominee for urban/alternative performance, a repository for artists who don't fit any particular pop-music mold. (See: Prince, OutKast and Sergio Mendes collaborating with hip-hoppers.) And Gnarls Barkley's "St. Elsewhere" surfaced in the alternative album category, where the rap-centric duo joins a formidable field of alt-rockers: Thom Yorke, the Arctic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Flaming Lips.
Danger Mouse, the mad studio scientist behind Gnarls Barkley's sound, rightfully received a producer of the year nomination. But he faces stiff competition from Rick Rubin, the bearded wonder who helmed two different album of the year nominees ("Taking the Long Road" and "Stadium Arcadium"). Hard rock producer Howard Benson, Americana specialist T-Bone Burnett and pop-rap knob-twiddler will.i.am are also in the running.
But noticeable by his absence in the category is Timbaland, the Virginia Beach hip-hop ace who crafted three No. 1 singles in 2006: Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous" (up for just one award, pop collaboration with vocals) and Timberlake's "SexyBack" and "My Love." The latter Timberlake track is up for best dance recording, and the former, a duet with the rapper T.I., is nominated for rap/sung collaboration.
Yes, that's an actual category -- and it's one that apparently favors Eminem, who has two rap/sung songs nominated: "Smack That" (with Akon) and "Shake That" (with Nate Dogg).
Southern soul legend Sam Moore, 71, was nominated for traditional R&B vocal for his remake of "You Are So Beautiful."
It's not exactly a banner year for local nominees, as the field contains few artists with Washington ties. The short list includes Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley and Charlie Pilzer, up for traditional world music album with "Hambo In The Snow," which was released on Azalea City Recordings out of Takoma Park; Joe Bussard's Frederick-based label, Fonotone Records, best boxed set packaging, "The Cellar Door Sessions 1970"; and Thievery Corporation, best recording package, "Versions." OK Go -- whose frontman, Damian Kulash, grew up in Friendship Heights -- is nominated for best video with "Here It Goes Again."