The Boss and Mrs. Jones
Grammy nominee Norah Jones
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, February 17, 2003) – There are really only two names you need to keep in mind going into the Grammy Awards: Norah Jones and Bruce Springsteen.
While Jones and Springsteen are just two of eight artists nominated for five awards apiece, they are the odds-on favorites to walk away with the most awards at the 45th annual ceremony, which takes place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 23, at 8. The show will be telecast on the CBS network, broadcast on Westwood One radio, and available online at grammy.com.
Jones is the phenomenal success story of the past year. The total unknown released her debut album, Come Away with Me, featuring quiet, acoustic pop-jazz vocal arrangements, about a year ago on the jazz label Blue Note. The album slowly built up a head of steam, and by fall became a big seller. Then, after the Grammy nominees were announced last month, the album shot to the top of Billboard’s Pop Album chart.
Jones’s low-key, rootsy music could not be more unlike almost anything else on the pop charts. It bears virtually no relationship to teen-pop, hip-hop, rap-rock or even to the music made by the new wave of female rock singer-songwriters who garnered a good share of this year’s nominations. In fact, you’d be hard put to design a better anti-pop album than Jones’s, except for its utter blandness, which is all too familiar.
As for Springsteen, his album, The Rising, released last August, represented a return to form for the now-classic rocker, a long-overdue reunion with his former E Street Band-mates, and a well-timed look at life in a post-9/11 world. Just as Born in the U.S.A. came to symbolize for many the superficiality of Reagan America, so does The Rising mine the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers to create a myth of contemporary heroism in the lives of the rescuers, the victims, and those left behind.
Grammy’s gotta love both of them, especially Springsteen, who in spite of seven awards has yet to get his full due from the recording academy. Look for them both to clean up.
Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot of suspense and excitement surrounding this year’s awards. With five nominations, controversial white rapper Eminem did better than might be expected, but in the wake of his critically acclaimed film, “8 Mile,” he continues to find his way comfortably into the mainstream, and he should walk off with several of the rap awards for which he is nominated.
While academy voters recognized a talented slew of new, female pop-rockers, including Avril Lavigne, Pink, Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, they will probably find themselves pretty much shut out in the competition against Norah Jones and more established favorites like Sheryl Crow.
The Grammys are even pretty much absolved of its usual quirkiness this year. The only inscrutable bit of trivia is how newcomer Vanessa Carlton could be nominated for both best record and best song (for “A Thousand Miles”) while being overlooked for the best new artist award. Michelle Branch, who otherwise went lacking in any other major nominations, seemingly took Carlton’s place in that category.
Otherwise, the wholesale omission of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- which probably topped more critic’s best of 2002 lists than any other album -- from the nominations is the only other head-scratcher.
Performers on the broadcast will include Eminem, Sheryl Crow with Lenny Kravitz, Ashanti, Vanessa Carlton, Coldplay with members of the New York Philharmonic, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Norah Jones, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, No Doubt, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and James Taylor with Yo-Yo Ma.
The Bee Gees will be honored with the Grammy Legend Award in a presentation including a performance by NSYNC, and a special tribute to the late Joe Strummer and the Clash will feature a performance by Elvis Costello, Tony Kanal of No Doubt, Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt.
Here is a look at the races in some key categories. “W” indicates who I think will win; “SR” is who I’d like to see win.
Best Record: One of the only major categories in which Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” is not contending, the best record award will go to Norah Jones, defeating Vanessa Carlton, Eminem, Nelly and Nickelback, completing an evening that will see her take second place to Springsteen whenever she’s up against him. (W: Norah Jones. SR: Vanessa Carlton.)
Best Album: It’s possible that a hard-fought battle between Norah Jones and Bruce Springsteen could allow Nelly, the Dixie Chicks or even Enimen to squeeze out a win. Possible but unlikely. It’s between Jones and Springsteen, who has never won in this category, which typically goes as much for a career’s effort as for a single album. (W and SR: Springsteen.)
Best Song: The same argument in the best album category applies here, and the possible beneficiaries of the Jones-Springsteen duel are Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton and Alan Jackson, for his 9/11 anthem, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” Technically speaking, Jones isn’t even nominated in this category, but rather songwriter Jesse Harris (for “Don’t Know Why”). But if ever a song defined a moment, it’s Springsteen’s “The Rising.” (W and SR: Springsteen.)
Best New Artist: A strong lineup of nominees includes Ashanti, Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne and the lone male, John Mayer. Norah Jones in a cakewalk. (W and SR: Norah Jones.)
Best Female Pop Vocal: Jones might take this category, but the voters have always loved Sheryl Crow, who put out some great music this past year and has to have something to show for it. (W and SR: Sheryl Crow.)
Best Male Pop Vocal: A tough category to call. Sting is nominated for a live version of an old song in which he sounds like he lost his voice. Elton John and James Taylor are always sentimental favorites. But John Mayer is a new sensation and youth has to be acknowledged by voters at some point. (W: John Mayer. SR: James Taylor.)
Best Pop Vocal Album: A scheduled performance is usually a hint that a nominee has to win something, and so pop group No Doubt might pull off a win in this category, which is Jones’s to lose. The others, including Lavigne, Pink and the loathsome Britney Spears, aren’t even contenders. (W: Norah Jones. SR: Pink.)
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Tony Bennett is always the sentimental favorite in this category, but look for Rod Stewart to be welcomed into the pantheon of old geezers with an award for his execrable It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook. (W: Rod Stewart. SR: Bennett.)
Best Female Rock Vocal: Nominees are Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Avril Lavigne, Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. The battle is between Crow and Lavigne for two incredibly catchy pop hits (“Steve McQueen” and “Sk8er Boi,” respectively). Tough call. (W: Sheryl Crow. SR: Avril Lavigne.)
Best Male Rock Vocal: Doesn’t anyone under 50 sing rock music any more? The contenders – worthy to a man – are David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Springsteen. (W and SR: Springsteen.)
Best Rock Song: As if there’s any question that Chad Kroeger, Godsmack, 3 Doors Down or Foo Fighters could possibly beat Springsteen for “The Rising”? (W and SR: Springsteen.)
Best Rock Album: Springsteen beats Sheryl Crow, Robert Plant, Tonic and Elvis Costello. (W and SR: Springsteen.)
Best Alternative Music Album: Coldplay is performing at the ceremony, and therefore presumably has to win something. But so is Elvis Costello. Tough call. The other contenders are Clinic, Beck and The Soundtrack of Our Lives. (W: Coldplay. SR: Elvis Costello.)
Other predicted winners include Coldplay for Best Group Rock Performance, India Arie for Best Urban/Alternative Performance and Best R&B album, Ashanti for Best Contemporary R&B Album, Eminem for Best Rap Album and Best Male Rap Solo, and Nelly and Kelly Rowland for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Also, Faith Hill for Best Female Country Vocal, Alan Jackson for Best Male Country Vocal and Best Country Song, Dixie Chicks for Best Group Country Performance and Best Country Album and Ralph Stanley for Best Bluegrass Album.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 21, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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