Of the 107 Grammys handed out on February 13, only 11 or 12 will be presented during the 3-plus hour Awards-ceremony broadcast. We’ll see mainstream artists we all know tearfully accept trophies for Record, Album and Song of the Year. That’s what the Grammys are all about. But in a splintering music industry, the center of attention may not represent the most interesting music going on right now.
Away from the spotlight, in the categories awarded during the pre-show ceremony, may be some of the best music you haven’t heard all year. When it comes to music’s nether regions, does the Grammy board know what it’s talking about? Here’s a look at some of those other categories, and what the aficionados have to say about Grammy’s selections.
Ian Christe is author of “Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal” (HarperEntertainment). Check out his writing and more at www.soundofthebeast.com.
The nominees: It's a shock, but the nominations this year actually represent what metal kids are into — instead of the usual out-of-date record company executive’s misunderstanding of heavy metal. All five bands nominated began on indie-specialty labels, then worked their way to the mainstream over years. They've proven their mettle, I guess you could say. To me, this says that the business side of metal is very healthy, and there are huge prospects for the music to grow.
What they missed: Lamb of God, Satyricon, Converge, and of course Darkthrone would also have made good choices (for nominees) — then again, Darkthrone already refused their nomination for the Norwegian version of the awards. These back-slapping events are viewed by most metalheads with a lot of skepticism.
And the winner is: Normally, I’d hope in vain that Motorhead would win, just as an excuse to see Lemmy wearing a tuxedo. But it would really be a boon to heavy metal for any of the younger bands to take the prize. I’m leaning towards Slipknot — as the most vulgar and depraved act, they fought the hardest for this kind of acceptance. You have to root for their rags to riches story — Iowa convenience store clerks who struggled on the road for years before earning their gold and platinum awards. Plus they’re nominated in two categories (Hard Rock and Metal Performance), so the odds are with them. The question is will Slipknot accept the award dressed in their obscene stage costumes?
Contemporary Jazz Album
Dirk Sutro is author of Jazz for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide) and former host of the Lounge, an arts and culture program on KPBS-FM public radio in San Diego. He is publicity director in the Music Department at U.C. San Diego.
The nominees: Categories are a limiting, naïve way to think about music, but they do have a real upside: they facilitate the giving of awards for bland music that doesn’t fit the category. “Contemporary” implies modern, “Jazz” implies improvisation. Move Fourplay and Grusin to “Wallpaper” and Hargrove to “Nouveau Funk”. That leaves Frisell and Garbarek.
What they missed: Joe Lovano (“I’m All for You”), Jessica Williams (“Live at Yoshi’s), Tierney Sutton (“Dancing in the Dark”), Benny Golson (“Terminal 1”), and Wayne Shorter (“Footprints” — it’s a retrospective, but it’s still more “contemporary jazz” than most of these nominees).
And the winner is: Bill Frisell, “Unspeakable.” I’m a guitar-head and lover of music that nukes categories. Frisell is a genius composer, arranger, and improviser, and even those pieces that initially seem tame grow on you with their subtle nuances. Garbarek is a close second, carrying the ECM torch into a new millennium with surprising freshness.
Ras John Brodie is webmaster and owner of www.Reggae.com. Brodie was responsible for the creation of the Live From The Apollo national radio concert series on Westwood One, was Marketing Director for a Worldwide Satellite broadcast of Carnival from Trinidad and for Reggae SumFest in Jamaica, and is a Board Member for the annual ReggaeSoca Music Awards.
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The nominees: With the exception of “Def Jamaica” various artists, the nominees are all solid Reggae releases. “Def Jamaica” is a “reggafied” Def Jam release and because it is very much a hybrid of styles, it shouldn’t really be a contender in the specifically-reggae category.
What they missed: I would have liked to see Nasio Fontaine nominated for "Living In The Positive" or the various artists "Is it Rolling Bob? — A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan."
And the winner is: Jimmy Cliff is a nominee because of the importance of his career and the contributions to this album by some big music names. I would love to hear Jimmy do a really great album again but “Black Magic” ain't it. Toots and The Maytals are in the same category — important career and lot’s of big names in the supporting cast. “True Love” is a great disc and I would put it as my No. 2 pick because the material is mostly great remakes of his existing catalog. “The Dub Revolutionaries” is classic Sly and Robbie (two more very influential names in Reggae Music). It’s a great disc, but not accessible to the broad reggae audience who can only take dub music in small doses. I'd put it at No. 3. Nasio would take the third spot if he had been nominated and Sly & Robbie would move to No. 4. That leaves Steel Pulse (“African Holocaust”) as the name in the envelope. They also have a long and successful career and this is one of the best albums they have ever done — that doesn't often happen for a group that has been around for 30 years.
Bob Cherry, owner and editor of the online Bluegrass magazine and community, Cybergrass.
The nominees: I was surprised at the nominations, as they don't reflect what I believe the bluegrass music community would have nominated. Of the nominees, the ones I believe reflect the best in bluegrass would be in order of preference:
“Twenty Year Blues” by the Nashville Bluegrass Band illustrates the power and breadth of bluegrass music. This band has been around a long time and they understand the solid foundations of the music and how far they can push it.
“A Tribute to Jimmy Martin ‘The King of Bluegrass’” gives an answer to the question, "What is bluegrass?" Jimmy Martin knows bluegrass and every part of his being puts forth the soul of the music. The artists who perform on this album are every bit as artistic as “The King of Bluegrass” himself. Many played with Martin in the past and know his style.
“Brand New Strings,” Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. This band is just hard to beat no matter if they're performing live or in the studio — everything is a work of artistry with the music. The Lynn Anderson project was interesting and did an excellent job of bridging the country and bluegrass worlds, however, the material isn't really bluegrass. “Carrying On” by Ralph Stanley's son is a lot more bluegrass, but this album just isn't up there with the three listed above.
What they missed: “Can't You Hear Me Callin' — Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music.” This is the history of bluegrass in one complete package and is outstanding.
“Songs of the American Spirit” by Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen. Even though Charlie passed away just days before this album's release, he had such a unique voice in bluegrass music and this album is probably the best work that Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen ever produced.
“Force of Nature” by Mountain Heart is one of the highest rated albums by fans of bluegrass music. The album has power and drive, and is a refreshing sound of what bluegrass music is all about. If this is the sound of where bluegrass music is going, I'm all for it!
Alternative Music Album
Gerald Hammill plays in the band Burnside Project (Bar-None) and works at Other Music, a Manhattan-based record store specializing in underground, experimental, imported, and out-of-print music.
The nominees: I don't think the Grammys really are indicative of the year's best, regardless of category, but this year's "alternative" list isn't embarrassing at all. I've loved Bjork going way back to her days in the Sugar Cubes, and it seems with every release, she's exploring new grounds and pushing new boundaries. But while completely enchanting, I'm not sure “Medulla’s” appeal can win over a majority of the Academy.
I think newcomers Franz Ferdinand are the wild card. Right as the garage rock revolution went stale, along come four Scots who practically take what the Strokes and Hives were doing and bring it to a whole new level. They've got their own sound and their songs are some of the catchiest rock tunes that I've heard in a long, long time. Franz Ferdinand gave me hope for rock music this year.
PJ Harvey’s “Uh Huh Her” is a great album, one of her most personal. As far as being a contender for the top spot, it's one 2004's better records but not the best.
I wouldn't be surprised Modest Mouse takes it. They had a great year, coming out of a pretty tumultuous period that could easily be a “Behind the Music” episode. With “Good News for People Who Love bad News,” the band staged a come back with a rocking selection of songs that seemed refined and more accessible than anything they had ever done, yet still kept the quirky charm that they've been known for. I never really expected lead singer Isaac Brock to reach sex symbol status with high school girls, but I'm sure all the exposure they're getting on “The OC” isn't hurting.
And the winner is: I don't find Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" as groundbreaking as 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." While Jeff Tweedy is an amazing tunesmith, I think his songwriting on this one is a bit uneven. That said, Wilco has a lot of momentum behind them, a devoted fan base, lots of critical acclaim, and of course one of the best comeback stories in rock history. I give them the best chance of winning the Grammy.
What they missed: Animal Collective's "Sung Tongs" pulls from various international folk music, psychedelia and Brazilian pop. This album is super-inventive with soaring vocal melodies and harmonies, and some of the most unique uses of acoustic instruments and non-traditional arrangements.
Joanna Newsom is 22, but her folk-inspired "The Milk-Eyed Mender" feels timeless. Newsom is a virtuoso on the harp, and her voice has a childlike quality that makes her fairy tale-like lyrics downright enchanting.
Phoenix is a French band, but the songs on its album “Alphabetical” hail back to the good old days of AM/FM radio, when you could actually hum along to catchy, unpretentious pop. There's no irony here, just great melodies and catchy hooks.
This piece was compiled by MSNBC.com contributor Helen A.S. Popkin.
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