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Prince tops Grammy possibles

September 12, 2004|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Prince almost stole the show as a performer at the Grammy Awards this year. Can he steal it again in the 47th edition of the prestigious music honors Feb. 13 at Staples Center -- but this time as an award winner?

His may be the most intriguing name surfacing in the early handicapping of the Grammys as the Sept. 30 cutoff for eligible releases approaches.

Longtime Grammy insiders and observers surveyed by Pop Eye consider Prince's "Musicology" to be among the favorites for album of the year consideration. The album was the centerpiece of an amazing comeback that included a new accessibility and one of the year's most successful concert tours.

Noah Callahan-Bever, senior editor of Vibe magazine, said Prince is likely to get attention "for delivering the kind of record people wanted him to make and for having launched the campaign on the Grammy show ... which can't hurt."

The album of the year nominees list could be dominated by African American urban music stars to an unprecedented extent, with R&B singer Usher's "Confessions," dominant rap rookie Kanye West's "College Dropout" and 2001 multi-Grammy-winner Alicia Keys' "Diary of Alicia Keys" among the top choices of those surveyed.

Singer Norah Jones -- the queen of the 2002 Grammys with best album and new artist among the awards won for her debut album, "Come Away With Me" -- may have the best chance of crashing the urban party, though support for her current album, "Feels Like Home," seems relatively lukewarm at this point.

"If it comes to pass that hip-hop and urban albums dominate the album of the year category, all you can say is it's a long time coming," says Joe Levy, deputy managing editor of Rolling Stone magazine. "Artistically it's the most important music and commercially one of the dominant musics for well over a decade. And it's music where new talent is constantly emerging and pushing the boundaries."

There's even a chance that Prince could get a nomination and not be the senior R&B figure on the album ballot. There's strong sentiment for Ray Charles, who died in June and whose duets album "Genius Loves Company" came out in August -- though the general feeling is that the record is not strong enough to gather the level of support that went to Warren Zevon's posthumous "The Wind" last year.

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No clear choice

Predicting nominations has become complicated in recent years, with the final selections in the top awards categories now made by a blue-ribbon panel, choosing from the 20 entries receiving the most votes from the general Recording Academy membership.

That gives an almost-anything-can-happen spin to the process, as when Radiohead's "OK Computer" got a 1998 album nomination when the English group was basically a hipster favorite rather than a mainstream name.

This year, though, there doesn't seem to be an obvious candidate to fill that role.

"There wasn't a Radiohead or Coldplay or White Stripes," says Vibe's Callahan-Bever. "There was nothing going on."

Franz Ferdinand is one band that could move into that slot, but the Scottish post-punk revivalists seem a longshot for album consideration, though a strong bet for a best new artist nomination. Other leading candidates in that category include the bands Maroon 5 and Los Lonely Boys, as well as country newcomer Gretchen Wilson and rapper West.

Both West and Usher have made great strides in reaching beyond the urban markets, but neither seems to have quite the cross-cultural appeal that swept OutKast to its album win for last year's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below."

"Usher has a really good chance," says Alan Light, editor in chief of Tracks magazine and a former editor of Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe. "He's put a decent career under his belt, getting strong on stage."

The tepid support for Jones is a bit of a surprise, considering that her second album has sold very well, if not quite to the phenomenal level of the debut.

"I expect it's the same picture that it was for her tour this summer -- scale down," says Rolling Stone's Levy. "She had to scale down the size of venues. I think she'll scale down on Grammy nominations. But she makes intimate records, so it's fine for her to scale down."

Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose," which saw the country veteran in a dynamic collaboration with Jack White of the White Stripes, seemed a strong candidate when it came out. But while the album received tremendous attention, it never built much momentum in mainstream consciousness.

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Rounding out the field

Other names expected to get serious consideration include Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott, Van Hunt, the Beastie Boys, the Shins and Modest Mouse. The last could wind up being this year's Shelby Lynne, who was best new artist in 2000 after eligibility rules were changed to allow consideration of artists who had made a leap from relative obscurity to mainstream recognition.

Modest Mouse has been making records for more than a decade, but is only now enjoying its first mainstream hit with its current album "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" and single "Float On."

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