Byrd on the Beat: 57th Annual Grammy Nominations

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The Sunday after the Super Bowl has established itself most years as “Grammy Sunday,” when the Recording Academy gives out its Grammy Awards. Even though there are more than 80 categories’ worth of nominees for the 57th annual event that happens next February in Los Angeles, this column will serve to distinguish the “guitar girls” from the rest of those nominees. 

Let’s start with one of the Grammys’ top-line categories, Best New Artist, which features two unique guitar girl acts whose debut albums came out in the fall of 2013, and thus, within the qualifying period set by the Recording Academy. One of the guitar girl nominees is country singer-songwriter-acoustic guitar player Brandy Clark, originally out of rural Washington State, who has written songs for the like of Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes and Kacey Musgraves. Brandy’s debut album 12 Stories was released independently by Slate Creek Records out of Frisco, TX, so the fact that Brandy Clark managed to get a Grammy nod despite not quite being on a major label is proof of how the Grammys tend to sometimes avoid being a popularity contest. 

The other is the three-sister-fronted L.A.-based rock band Haim, whose debut album, entitled Days Are Gone, was a top 10 seller in the US, Britain, Australia and Canada. Last year, one of the Haim sisters, bassist Este, told the Fader website last year that when she took a drama course in middle school and tried to do a comedic interpretation of a play scene, her teacher told her up front that she would never go on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. And yet, Este and the rest of Haim ended up as musical guests on that show the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2013, so that, in a sense, proved the teacher wrong. 

The other nominees in this key category are Australian female rapper Iggy Azalea, male singer Sam Smith, and British male rock band Bastille. While Iggy A. and Mr. Smith have both been getting the most buzz, it wouldn’t surprise me if enough Recording Academy voters put the popularity matters aside and award it to either Brandy or Haim. 

As for Brandy’s 12 Stories, it’s also up for Best Country Album, along with Miranda Lambert’s Platinum. Both artists already shared a common bond:  At the 2013 Grammys, Brandy earned a nomination in the Best Country Songwriting category for “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which she wrote, interestingly, for Miranda, who herself has been nominated six times in the previous seven years, and was awarded a Grammy for “The House That Built Me” in  the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category back in 2011. While Miranda, on paper, might be the more likely of these two to be awarded a Grammy, she and Brandy will face competition from Riser by Dierks Bentley, Eric Church’s The Outsiders, and The Way I’m Livin’ from Lee Ann Womack. 

One of the tracks on Miranda’s Platinum album, a vocal collaboration with Carrie Underwood entitled “Somethin’ Bad,” is up for Best Country Duo or Group Performance, while another, “Automatic,” which she co-wrote with songwriters Nicolle Galyon and Natalie Hemby, was nominated for Best Country Song. 

Another country music veteran and acoustic guitarist, Rosanne Cash, who’s been nominated 12 times for Grammys over the last three decades, with one of those a Grammy for Best Country Female Vocal way back in 1985, earned herself another three nominations this time around, for Best American Roots Performance with her song “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” which was also nominated for Best American Roots Song [she co-wrote it with John Leventhal],  and Best Americana Album for The River & The Thread, on which that track was featured. 

Katy Perry’s played acoustic guitar ever since, well, at least the turn of this century, when she was a teenage Contemporary Christian singer who performed under her given name Katy Hudson. Though she’s been known to still play some acoustic guitar during her most recent live shows, Katy has been more of a pop spectacle in the last five years, as proven not only by her chart-topping songs and albums, but also by the elaborate staging of her aforementioned concerts.   

As Katy prepares to do the halftime show for Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix the week prior to the Grammys, her most recent album, Prism, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, competing against releases by Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and former-teen-sitcom-stars-turned-pop-idols Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus.  Though I wouldn’t mind if Katy gets this award, I would find it a travesty of sorts if that award were to end up in the hands of Ariana or Miley. 

Katy, who’s been nominated 10 previous times in the last six Grammy ceremonies without being awarded anything, is also up for Best Pop Duo or Group Recording, with “Dark Horse,” in which she collaborated with rapper Juicy J. 

Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor have each had some measure of guitar-playing ability in the past, particularly if you were to count Meghan’s occasional ukelele work that she did most recently on a few radio interviews.  Both are also responsible for two of the catchiest pop tunes to have topped the charts lately. Taylor’s “Shake it Off” and Meghan’s “All About That Bass” are two of the five nominees for one of the top Grammy categories, Record of the Year, along with Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” Sia’s “Chandelier,” and “Fancy,” the big hit from this past summer by Iggy Azalea and British female singer Charli XCX. I would think either Taylor or Meghan can win this, but then again, when it’s the Grammys, a “catchy” tune might not necessarily be a guarantee of it getting awarded. 

“Shake it Off”[also up for Best Pop Solo Performance], which Taylor co-wrote with producers Max Martin and Shellback, and “All About That Bass,” which Meghan co-wrote with producer Kevin Kadish, are also up for Song of the Year, another of the Grammys’ top-line categories that, as opposed to Record of the Year, is sometimes known as the Songwriter’s Award. 

And then, there’s Beyoncé. Granted, she’s a well-respected singer who’s not associated with guitar playing, but consider that her touring all-female backup band does include an excellent guitarist in Bibi McGill. Be that as it may, the five nominations Beyoncé received for the 2015 Grammys, including one in the top-line category of Album of the Year, gives her the lead as the female artist with the most career Grammy nominations, a total of 51, breaking a tie she had going in with singer-songwriter-guitarist Dolly Parton, who’s now second in that category with 46. 

Hayley Williams of Paramore has been known to play some guitar, although she’s more identified with being that band’s lead singer. In any case, Paramore’s foray into dance-pop from last summer, “Ain’t It Fun,” is up for Best Rock Song [a writer’s award, with the credits going to Hayley and Paramore guitarist Taylor York], against tunes by Beck, the Black Keys, Ryan Adams, and Jack White.  It’s Paramore’s fourth Grammy nomination in the last seven years, going back to 2008, when they lost out in the Best New Artist category to the late Amy Winehouse. Again, while “catchy” isn’t a sure sign of a Grammy-worthy tune, it would be fun to have Paramore get this particular award. 

Alternative rock guitarist/keyboardist St. Vincent, who’s never been nominated before, scored herself a Grammy nomination in the Best Alternative Album category for her self-titled album that came out last February. Another first-time Grammy nominee is veteran female bluegrass singer-guitarist-mandolinist Rhonda Vincent, whose album Only Me is up for Best Bluegrass Album. 

Guitar category at GuitarCenter.com

In some of the other categories, blues guitarist and singer Ruthie Foster got her second Grammy nomination for her album Promise of a Brand New Day, in the Best Blues Album category, while two female singer-guitarists are up for Best Folk Album:  Alice Gerrard’s Follow the Music, and Eliza Gilkyson’s The Nocturne Diaries.  The Magnolia Sisters, a female multi-instrumental quartet that specializes in Cajun and Zydeco music, got nominated for Best Regional Roots Album with Love’s Lies. And Anoushka Shankar, whose sitar work follows in the tradition of her late father, Ravi, scored her third Grammy nomination for her album Traces of You, in the Best World Music Album category.  

While the vast majority of Grammys to be handed out on Grammy Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, will be done in a ceremony that’s scheduled to be webcast live on grammy.com from the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles between about 4:30 and 7 pm Eastern time, the main Grammy Awards telecast, which features awards for the top-line categories, but is best known for presenting a whole host of live performances by many of the nominated acts, as well as a few old favorites, will take place next door at L.A.’s Staples Center, starting at 8 pm Eastern on CBS.

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