How can I be so sure? The album has a lot in common with two recent winners in that category. Raising Sand is an unlikely collaboration by artists from different genres, united by their love of music. That's the same basic formula that produced last year's winner, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, in which the jazz veteran and six featured artists took on the music of pop legend Joni Mitchell. The album is also a rootsy slice of contemporary folk music, produced by T Bone Burnett. Sound familiar? Burnett produced the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the 2001 album winner, which kick-started the Americana scene.
Here's the ultimate tip-off that Raising Sand will win: A track from the album, "Please Read The Letter," was unexpectedly nominated for Record of the Year. Raising Sand was an album project from start to finish, and not in any way a collection of hit songs. Even O Brother didn't garner a Record of the Year nomination.Coldplay will likely win the other top awards, Record and Song of the Year, for their majestic "Viva La Vida." Coldplay won Record of the Year five years ago for "Clocks." Only one other rock group, U2, has won twice in this category. Other artists likely to pick up multiple awards include Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne and Kanye West.
Among the key questions that will be answered on Grammy night: Will voters rally behind Jennifer Hudson, after the tragedy in which three members of her family were killed? Will George Strait, who has, inexplicably, never won a Grammy, finally take home his first award? Will British "neo-soul" stars Adele and Duffy split the vote in the Best New Artist race, giving Jonas Brothers a chance to walk off with the award?
(The likely answers: Yes, Yes and Yes.)
Here's a look at the Grammy competition in key categories.
Record of the Year-Nominees: Adele's "Chasing Pavements," Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love," M.I.A's "Paper Planes," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Please Read The Letter." For much of the year, I thought "Bleeding Love" would win this award. The stately ballad, the year's #1 song, has the drama and elegance of such past winners as Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." But "Viva La Vida," the year's #5 hit, has the exhilarating power of U2's "Beautiful Day," also a past winner. (Brian Eno co-produced both the U2 and Coldplay tracks.) The surprising failure of "Bleeding Love" to receive a Song of the Year nomination may tell us something. The pick: Coldplay.
Song of the Year-Nominees: "American Boy" (written by Estelle Swaray, Kanye West, William Adams, Keith Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Speir, John Stephens), "Chasing Pavements" (written by Adele Adkins, Eg White), "I'm Yours" (written by Jason Mraz), "Love Song" (written by Sara Bareilles), "Viva La Vida" (written by Coldplay). Without "Bleeding Love" in the race, this is an easy call. The pick: Coldplay.Jazmine Sullivan. Adele and Duffy are both strong candidates. The select committee that finalizes the nominations in the top four categories preferred Adele, as seen by her nods for Record and Song of the Year. But there's evidence that rank-and-file voters preferred Duffy. The Welsh singer/songwriter is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album, while Adele was passed over. Either artist could win, or they could split the vote and allow Jonas Brothers to sneak off with the award. In addition to being a commercial powerhouse, the JoBros have received a surprising degree of critical support. The brothers, who range in age from 16 to 21, stand to become the youngest winners in this category since Christina Aguilera, who was 19 when she won nine years ago. The pick: Jonas Brothers. Sheryl Crow's Detours, Duffy's Rockferry, Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden, Leona Lewis' Spirit, James Taylor's Covers. This may be the hardest category to predict this year. Lewis' album is the only one of the five that doesn't seem to have a chance. Taylor is the only nominee who has won in this category before. He took the prize with his 1997 album, Hourglass. But voters may view this collection of cover versions as a second-tier release. Crow, who won twice for Best Rock Album, is widely-liked. But her album wasn't a big seller. Eagles' album was a monster hit when it came out in late 2007, but it seems like old news now. That leaves Duffy, who stands to take the award which was one of five won last year by fellow British "neo-soul" star Amy Winehouse. The pick: Duffy. Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," Pink's "So What." Lewis and Duffy are the front-runners in this newcomer-dominated field. As a Record of the Year finalist, Lewis has the edge. The pick: Leona Lewis.
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance-Nominees: Kid Rock's "All Summer Long," John Mayer's "Say," Paul McCartney's "That Was Me," Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," Ne-Yo's "Closer," James Taylor's "Wichita Lineman." Taylor and Mayer are both three-time winners in this category. Mraz had the biggest hit of the bunch. But I'm betting on Ne-Yo, for his fine job of channeling Michael Jackson in his prime. The pick: Ne-Yo.
Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals-Nominees: Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," Eagles' "Waiting In The Weeds," Gnarls Barkley's "Going On," Maroon5's "Won't Go Home Without You," OneRepublic's "Apologize." Maroon5 has won in this category twice in the past three years. But this year they've met their match. The pick: Coldplay.
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals-Nominees: Alicia Keys & John Mayer's "Lesson Learned," Madonna, Justin Timberlake & Timbaland's "4 Minutes," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Rich Woman," Rihanna & Maroon 5's "If I Never See Your Face Again," Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown's "No Air." Plant & Krauss won here last year with "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)." They'll become the first pairing ever to win twice in this category. (They have a chance to pick up a second award in the equivalent country category with "Killing The Blues.") The pick: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss.Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger," Hot Chip's "Ready For The Floor," Lady GaGa & Colby O'Donis' "Just Dance," Madonna's "Give It 2 Me," Rihanna's "Disturbia," Sam Sparro's "Black & Gold." Madonna won in this category for 1998's "Ray Of Light," but this time it's between the #1 crossover hits by Rihanna and Lady GaGa featuring Colby O'Donis. Rihanna's long run of hits over the past few years gives her the edge. The pick: Rihanna. Natalie Cole's Still Unforgettable, Michael Feinstein's The Sinatra Project, Josh Groban's Noel, Barry Manilow's In The Swing Of Christmas, Rufus Wainwright's Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall. Cole's 1991 album, Unforgettable With Love, won in this category (and many others). This long-awaited sequel has the edge here. Cole has been a Grammy favorite since she was voted Best New Artist of 1975. Her recent health issues, which limited her ability to promote the album, put her back on voters' minds. (But don't count out Noel, the best-selling album released in the past two years.) The pick: Natalie Cole. Kings Of Leon's Only By The Night, Metallica's Death Magnetic, The Raconteurs' Consolers Of The Lonely. Coldplay's Album of the Year nomination gives it away. Coldplay won back-to-back awards for Best Alternative Music Album with Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head, but the group is now thoroughly in the mainstream. The pick: Coldplay.
Bruce Springsteen's "Girls In Their Summer Clothes," Eddie Vedder's "Rise," Neil Young's "No Hidden Path." This is between McCartney's remake of a Beatles classic and Springsteen's key song from Magic. Springsteen has won this award in three of the last four years. Once Grammy voters settle on a favorite in a category, you'd be a fool to pick anyone else. The pick: Bruce Springsteen.
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals-Nominees: AC/DC's "Rock N Roll Train," Coldplay's "Violet Hill," Eagles' "Long Road Out Of Eden," Kings Of Leon's "Sex On Fire," Radiohead's "House Of Cards." Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Radiohead are all nominated for Best Rock Song and also for Best Rock (or Alternative Music) Album. Here's the tie-breaker: Coldplay won in this category in 2002 with "In My Place." The pick: Coldplay.Disturbed's "Inside The Fire," Judas Priest's "Visions," The Mars Volta's "Was Simulacra," Motley Crue's "Saints Of Los Angeles," Rob Zombie's "Lords Of Salem." This race is wide open. But Judas Priest's nomination in the next category on the list, Best Metal Performance, may give them an edge here. Voters will want to give them something. The pick: Judas Priest. DragonForce's "Heroes Of Our Time," Judas Priest's "Nostradamus," Metallica's "My Apocalypse," Ministry's "Under My Thumb," Slipknot's "Psychosocial." Metallica has won in this category five times. No other act has won more than twice. Need I say more? The pick: Metallica. Beck's Modern Guilt, Death Cab For Cutie's Narrow Stairs, Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple, My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges, Radiohead's In Rainbows. Again, the Album of the Year nomination tells the story. This will be Radiohead's third win for Best Alternative Music Album, matching the White Stripes for most wins in the history of the category. The pick: Radiohead. Eric Benet's Love & Life, Boyz II Men's Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, Al Green's Lay It Down, Jennifer Hudson's Jennifer Hudson, Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It. This will be close between Green, an R&B legend (and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner), and Hudson, who experienced a horrific family tragedy shortly after the release of her long-awaited debut album. It could go either way, but I'll go with the legend. The pick: Al Green. Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains, J. Holiday's Back Of My Lac', Karina's First Love, Ne-Yo's Year Of The Gentleman, Jazmine Sullivan's Fearless. Grammy voters love Blige and have their eye on Sullivan, but Ne-Yo has the edge here because of his Album of the Year nomination. This will be his second win in a row in this category. He took the prize last year for Because Of You. (Beyonce has won twice in this category, but not consecutively.) The pick: Ne-Yo. Beyonce's "Me, Myself And I," Keyshia Cole's "Heaven Sent," Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight," Alicia Keys' "Superwoman," Jazmine Sullivan's "Need U Bad." Keys has won in this category three times in the last seven years, so betting against her is risky. Sullivan's old-school R&B ballad is also a potent entry, but voters will want to wrap their arms around Hudson. The pick: Jennifer Hudson.
Best Male R&B Vocal Performance-Nominees: Eric Benet's "You're The Only One," Chris Brown's "Take You Down," Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent," Trey Songz's "Can't Help But Wait," Usher's "Here I Stand." The gentlemanly Ne-Yo has the right image for the Grammys. And voters will respond to the positive lyric about female empowerment. The pick: Ne-Yo.Anthony David featuring India.Arie's "Words," Al Green featuring John Legend's "Stay With Me (By The Sea)," Jennifer Hudson featuring Fantasia's "I'm His Only Woman," Raphael Saadiq featuring Stevie Wonder & CJ Hilton's "Never Give You Up." This will probably be a replay of the R&B Album contest. It will be close between Al Green featuring John Legend and Jennifer Hudson featuring Fantasia. The pick: Al Green featuring John Legend. Jay-Z's American Gangster, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, Nas' Nas, T.I.'s Paper Trail. T.I. and Lupe Fiasco are strong challengers, but Lil Wayne's Album of the Year nomination gives him an edge. The pick: Lil Wayne.
Best Rap Solo Performance-Nominees: Jay-Z's Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)..., Lil Wayne's "A Milli," Lupe Fiasco's "Paris, Tokyo," Nas' "N.I.*.*.E.R. (The Slave And The Master)," Snoop Dogg's "Sexual Eruption." Jay-Z won in this category four years ago, but this was Lil Wayne's year. The pick: Lil Wayne.Big Boi Featuring Raekwon And Andre 3000's "Royal Flush," Jay-Z & T.I. Featuring Kanye West & Lil Wayne's "Swagga Like Us," Lil Wayne featuring T.I.'s "Mr. Carter," Ludacris featuring T.I.'s "Wish You Would," Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West's "Put On." The opportunity to salute four hot rap stars in one fell swoop will prove irresistible. The pick: Jay-Z & T.I. Featuring Kanye West & Lil Wayne. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain's "Low," John Legend & Andre 3000's "Green Light," Lil Wayne featuring T-Pain's "Got Money," Lupe Fiasco featuring Matthew Santos' "Superstar." "Low" has sold more downloads than any song in history, but the poppish "American Boy" and the classy "Superstar" are more Grammy-friendly. The pick: Estelle featuring Kanye West. Jamey Johnson's That Lonesome Song, Patty Loveless' Sleepless Nights, George Strait's Troubadour, Randy Travis' Around The Bend, Trisha Yearwood's Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love. Strait has won 22 Country Music Awards, but he has never won a Grammy. With four nominations, this should finally be his year. Troubadour was a #1 album on The Billboard 200. The pick: George Strait. Martina McBride's "For These Times," LeAnn Rimes' "What I Cannot Change," Carrie Underwood's "Last Name," Lee Ann Womack's "Last Call," Trisha Yearwood's "This Is Me You're Talking To." Underwood has won in this category the last two years in a row. Rimes and Yearwood both won here once, but not in more than a decade. If Underwood wins, she'll become the first artist to take this award three years running since Mary Chapin Carpenter in the '90s. The pick: Carrie Underwood.
Best Male Country Vocal Performance-Nominees: Trace Adkins' "You're Gonna Miss This," Jamey Johnson's "In Color," James Otto's "Just Got Started Lovin' You," Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me," George Strait's "Troubadour." Paisley is hot, but Strait has been turning out hits (and waiting for a Grammy) since Paisley was eight years old. The pick: George Strait.
Brooks & Dunn's "God Must Be Busy," Lady Antebellum's "Love Don't Live Here," Rascal Flatts' "Every Day," The SteelDrivers' "Blue Side Of The Mountain," Sugarland's "Stay." Brooks & Dunn have won twice in this category, but not in more than a decade. The pick: Sugarland
Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album-Nominees: Joan Baez's Day After Tomorrow, Ry Cooder's I, Flathead, Rodney Crowell's Sex & Gasoline, Emmylou Harris' All I Intended To Be, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' Raising Sand. Harris has won twice in this category, but won't repeat this year. The pick: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss.
Grein writes the weekly Chart Watch blog which appears on the site each Wednesday. He has been forecasting, analyzing and covering the Grammys since Andy Williams was still hosting the show.
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