Instead of visiting a bounty on any single artist, the nominations announced Tuesday for the 45th Annual Grammy Awards were sprinkled around in an unusually equitable manner-eight musicians tied for the most nominations with sounds as diverse the elegiac rock of Bruce Springsteen, the gossamer, jazzy blends of newcomer Norah Jones and the whipsaw rhymes of Eminem.
In year’s past, a glut of nominations would push as single artist such as Lauryn Hill or Carlos Santana above the fold, but this year the flattened field presented more subtle story lines amid the sprawl of 104 categories. Among those themes: The musical reverberations of Sept. 11, the solidifying of rap’s stature in top categories and the heralding of a new generation of young female stars in the closely watched category of best new artist.
The logjam list of quintuple nominees included R&B singers Ashanti and Raphael Saadiq, rock veteran Sheryl Crow, young singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne and superstar St. Louis rapper Nelly. Country veterans Alan Jackson and the Dixie Chicks and pop newcomer Vanessa Carlton, meanwhile, did not hear their names called as frequently but did earn nods in marquee categories.
Only one artist whose music had a presence in the four most prestigious categories-album, song, record and best new artist-and that was Jones, the 23-year-old Texas singer who was formally trained in jazz piano.
Her debut album “Come Away with Me” defies easy labeling with its crystalline, summer-day sound and interpretations of songs by Hank Williams, Hoagy Charmichael and John D. Loudermilk. Her bittersweet, breathy hit “Don’t Know Why” was nominated for both record and song of the year-the former honors the year’s best recorded single, while the latter is for songwriting. “Don’t Know Why” was written by Jesse Harris, a member of the Norah Jones band. “Come Away with Me” also earned a nomination for producer of the year for Arif Mardin, the industry veteran whose credits include celebrated work with Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and the Bee Gees.
In the category of song of the year, the Harris-penned “Don’t Know Why” will contend with “Complicated,” by Lavigne and the Matrix, a production team; “A Thousand Miles,” by Carlton; and two Sept. 11 songs, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” by country star Jackson and “The Rising,” the title song from the album by Springsteen.
“The Rising” collection has been hailed for its essaying of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their emotional aftermath in songs such as “Empty Sky” and “You’re Missing.” The disc is considered by most in the music industry as the clear favorite in the album category, especially considering the emotional context of the Grammys return to New York with the Feb. 23 gala at Madison Square Garden.
“The Rising” gives Springsteen his second career nod in the best album category. His landmark “Born in the U.S.A.” collection was nominated as best of 1984 but lost to “Can’t Slow Down” by Lionel Ritchie.
Springsteen and Jones will vie for best album honors against “Home,” by the Dixie Chicks, and two rap titles, “The Eminem Show” by Eminem and “Nellyville” by Nelly. For the Chicks, the nomination is the second in the category in three years and caps off a year that saw them ascend to the title of best-selling female group ever with more than 19 million albums sold.
Natalie Maines of the Chicks said she was up early Tuesday to see how the trio’s music would fare in nominations and she was thrilled not only to hear her group’s name but to see the competition in the best album category.
“That’s the category we cross our fingers for and to be in there is great, specifically this year because the line-up is not always as tough as it is this year,” Maines said. “I’d rather be nominated in tough group instead of being there as a shoo-in. It’s a great mix this year. I love Norah Jones and the Bruce album. And Eminem, who I think is just this amazing, controversial poetic rapper.”
Indeed, as good a year as the Chicks had, no one in music is more white-hot than Eminem, the rapper and freshly minted movie star who had the best-selling album of 2003 with “The Eminem Show” and saw the soundtrack to his film “8 Mile” finish as the fifth best-selling title. His taunting “Without Me” is also nominated for best record.
While the rapper is still an example of acidic culture to critics who decry his lyrical content and gleefully graphic language, the success of the “8 Mile” film has softened his persona somewhat.
The voting members within the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences who decide the Grammys turned their back on Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” when it was nominated for best album two years ago. Now, though, many Academy observers say “The Eminem Show” is the only album that may contend with Springsteen’s “The Rising.”
The presence of two rap titles in the best album category is a victory of sorts for a genre that struggled for years to get music industry acknowledgment to match its street sales. Eminem’s nomination for best album two years ago and the nod last year for Outkast has clearly turned the corner for the genre.
Album of the year is the category that seems most compelling to fans, but within the industry the record of the year category is equally as coveted. Showing the potency of mainstream radio-and the devotion of the Academy to that mainstream-three of the five nominees in the record of the year category were among the 10 most-played songs at U.S. radio, including the top airplay song of the year, “How You Remind Me,” by the Canadian melodic-rock band Nickelback.
Also nominated in the best record category is young pop singer-songwriter Carlton, a classically trained musician who just four years ago was working as a waitress in Hell’s Kitchen in lower Manhattan. Her song “A Thousand Miles” also has her in contention for song of the year.
Carlton has plenty of company in terms of young, female singers and singer-songwriters, although she did not join many of them in the race for the best new artist trophy. That field is crowded by Jones; Lavigne, a Canadian teen who scored with the hit “Sk8er Boi”; Michelle Branch, the guitar-playing pop singer; and Ashanti, the R&B and hip-hop performer who has emerged as a star after working as a collaborator with Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez. The lone male in the category is John Mayer, a singer-songwriter often compared to Dave Matthews in his stylized guitar songs.
The rush of youthful singer-songwriters with guitars and notepads follows a recent cycle of young pop stars that were more geared toward choreographed dance, harmonizing and elaborate spectacle in concert.
“It’s great, in the last few years it was more about the way you looked and you sang other people’s songs,” said Lavigne, who is nominated in the song of the year category as co-writer of “Complicated.” “It’s great. I mean, I’m nominated in category with Bruce Springsteen. I can’t believe that.”
The 45th Annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast on Feb. 23 on CBS. This year’s awards are for recordings released between Oct. 1, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2002.