Sunday, February 18, 2001

Larry Nager's Grammy picks

No clear favorite in weak year

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Where's Carlos Santana when we need him?

        Last year's Grammy Awards were smooth sailing for handicappers. Long-overdue honors for Mr. Santana, combined with commercial success, generation-spanning guest artists, the Latin music craze and a relentlessly catchy single (“Smooth”) to make the venerable guitarist unbeatable.

Audio clips from Associated Press
        But the 43rd Grammys (8 p.m. Wednesday, Channels 12, 7) come after a pretty lame year. With no one dominating the music scene, commercially or artistically, this year's winners are anybody's guess.

        So here are some of my mine:

        Record of the year: It's likely the older guard of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) will reward “Beautiful Day,” U2's return to form. But no single record dominated 2000. Other nominees: “Say My Name,” Destiny's Child; “I Try,” Macy Gray; “Music,” Madonna; “Bye Bye Bye,” 'NSync.

        Album of the year: This category is even more of a crapshoot. The controversial Eminem is the only sure loser. Paul Simon and Steely Dan seem likely to split the old-guard vote. Beck's Midnite Vultures wasn't his best, and Radiohead's Kid A seems too alternative to win. But, since NARAS tends to be Cali-centric and includes lots of gear-head recording engineers, the winner will be studio wizards Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan.

        Song of the year: Winners tend to be inspirational, the “Wind Beneath My Wings” Syndrome. In that, country pop's “I Hope You Dance” and “Breathe” both have a decent shot at this songwriter's award. But again, inspirational comeback band U2 is the favorite.

        Other nominees: “I Try,” recorded by Macy Gray and “Say My Name,” the hit from Destiny's Child.

        New artist: This category's a strange one, with 10-year country music survivor heading a pack that includes Dru Hill's frontman Sisqo, R&B singer Jill Scott, country boy Brad Paisley and rap-metal band Papa Roach. But the stunning pop debut, I Am Shelby Lynne, will win it for the ex-country girl.

        Female vocal: There's a changing of the guard at this year's Grammys and the generation gap is clear cut here — Christina and Britney on one side, Madonna, Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann (of Magnolia fame) on the other. It comes down to Madonna or Joni, with Madonna the likely winner. Unless of course, NARAS anoints Ms. Mitchell a la Santana.

        Male vocal: It's hunks vs. geezers, with Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony going up against Don Henley and Sting. Brian McKnight is also in the running, but doesn't have the voting base. The ex-Eagle has a shot, but if the Grammys are true to form, it's Sting for the win.

        Pop duo or group: Backstreet Boys and 'NSync are both here, but the latter has the edge with the bigger hit (“Bye Bye Bye”). 'NSync's biggest worry is Steely Dan. But 'NSync seems the likely winner, because the Grammys have to acknowledge the teen-pop phenomenon.

        Other nominees: Barenaked Ladies, the Corrs

        Pop collaboration: Local boys 98 degrees sing with Mariah Carey and Joe, but the most likely winner is Grammy fave Sheryl Crow and Lilith Fair queen Sarah McLachlan. Look for a possible upset by two other Grammy perennials, Lauryn Hill (with Bob Marley) and B.B. King (with Dr. John).

        Traditional pop vocal: This is the best example of the changing times. No Tony Bennett; no Rosemary Clooney. Instead, it's the Linda Ronstadt Effect — pop stars going trad, with nominees George Michael, Bryan Ferry, Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell vying against Barbra Streisand's Live in Concert swan song.

        Joni and Barbra have the best shot. But here's where it gets tricky. Trad pop is a Grammy “field” unto itself. After the major awards, voters can only cast ballots in eight other fields. So trad-pop voters tend to be a more specialized lot. This critic picks La Streisand to take it.

        Female rock: Unfortunately, most of the records in this category were commercial flops, so look for Grammy fave Ms. Crow to beat Alanis and Fiona and vets Patti Smith and Melissa Etheridge.

        Male rock vocal: Bob Dylan is the easy pick for “Things Have Changed,” which also should win him best song written for TV or film in next month's Oscar ceremonies. Other nominees: David Bowie, Don Henley, Lenny Kravitz and Trent Reznor.

        Rock duo or group: This category will come down to U2 (“Beautiful Day”) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Californication”); U2's comeback gives the band the edge.

        Other nominees: Bon Jovi, Creed, Foo Fighters.

        Rock instrumental: Comeback kid Peter Frampton has a strong chance, but the winner looks like Metallica with Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony.

        Rock album: If the Grammy voters' love of a comeback holds true, look for Bon Jovi's Crush to take the award.

        Other nominees: There is Nothing Left to Lose, Foo Fighters; Mad Season, Matchbox Twenty; Return of Saturn, No Doubt; The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine.

        Alternative: With a support base strong enough to get his Midnite Vultures nominated as overall album of the year, Beck looks like a shoo-in. (I voted for Radiohead's Kid A.)

        Other nominees: When the Pawn, Fiona Apple; Bloodflowers, the Cure; Liverpool Sound Collage, Paul McCartney.

        Female R&B: Erykah Badu's “Bag Lady” will beat a field including Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, Kelly Price and Jill Scott.

        Male R&B: On sheer sales clout, Sisqo's “Thong Song” will take the prize.

        Other nominees: D'Angelo, Joe, R. Kelly and Brian McKnight.

        R&B duo or group: Boyz II Men's comeback makes them a contender, but this is Destiny's Child's category. Other nominees: Wyclef Jean with Mary J. Blige, Lucy Pearl and Brian McKnight with Joe.

        Rap: Here's where the Eminem controversy goes moot. Nelly's “Country Grammar” offers rap solo competition, but Eminem looks to sweep, with “The Real Slim Shady” taking solo; The Marshall Mathers LP winning rap album and his “Forgot About Dre” collaboration with Dr. Dre taking rap duo or group. And for his work with Eminem, Snoop Dogg and just about every other major rap act, Dr. Dre will win non-classical producer of the year.

        Female country: Faith Hill's “Breathe” looks to be the winner, though Lee Ann Womack's “I Hope You Dance” has a shot.

        Male vocal: Johnny Cash, ailing but feisty as ever, looks like the winner, trouncing upstart Billy Gilman and a strong field of Vince Gill, Tim McGraw and Dwight Yoakam.

        Collaboration: “Strong Enough,” with the girl power of Sheryl Crow and Dixie Chicks, could well live up to its title, but the hard-country message of “Murder on Music Row” by George Strait and Alan Jackson will emerge the victor.

        Bluegrass album: Dolly Parton's bluegrass debut, The Grass Is Blue, could win, but Ricky Skaggs' all-star, genre-busting tribute, Big Mon — The Songs of Bill Monroe, will win.

        Blues: The traditional award goes to the unbeatable team of B.B. King and Eric Clapton for Riding with the King. Contemporary honors go to Memphis jam band the North Mississippi Allstars.

        Folk: The traditional award goes to Dave Alvin's Public Domain — Songs From the Wild Land. Contemporary honors go to Johnny Cash's American IIISolitary Man.

        World music: Honors will go to the Chieftains' Water From the Well.

        And finally, in the hotly competitive polka category, the winner will be Jimmy Sturr's Touched by a Polka.

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