In response to David Segal's Feb. 25 Style essay, it's no mystery how Norah Jones, Steely Dan or anyone else wins Grammys. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the recording, though good artists get lucky every now and then. Members of the recording industry get to vote but are not required to listen to the nominated albums beforehand. The more producers, engineers and guest artists you have on an album -- and, more important, the more connected they are -- the more votes the album will get.
How in the world did Britney Spears's last album get nominated this year? (Funny how no one batted an eye at that one.) She had a different producer on practically every track. This was the case on Sheryl Crow's first CD, Santana's big album, the "O Brother" soundtrack, etc. -- all major Grammy winners. Norah Jones's album was produced by Arif Mardin, who's been a heavy hitter in the music industry for years, with loads of connections and loyalties. Bruce Springsteen's album was produced by Pearl Jam's regular producer, a relative newcomer in the business. And though Springsteen has been in the business quite a while, it is unlikely he would call in favors for Grammy votes. He's not the type.
As for Steely Dan vs. Eminem, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, it was just more of the same. Steely Dan and the group's associates have been in the business much longer. The CD had three engineers and featured many session musicians. So the industry connections are much deeper. Unfortunately, that Steely Dan actually writes songs performed by real musicians -- and not just sample riffs that someone can shout belligerent nursery rhymes over -- had little to do with it.
-- Anthony Palmer