Rhyme and reason

Times Staff Writer

INSTEAD of visiting a bounty on a single artist, the nominations announced Tuesday for the 45th Annual Grammy Awards were handed out in an unusually equitable manner -- eight artists tied for the most nominations with music as diverse as the elegiac rock of Bruce Springsteen, the gossamer, jazzy blends of newcomer Norah Jones and the whipsaw rhymes of Eminem.

In years past, a glut of nominations would push a single artist 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 earned fewer nods, but in marquee categories.

Only the music of one artist 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 who has worked 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 Jackson and "The Rising," the title song from the album by Springsteen.

"The Rising" collection has been hailed for addressing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their emotional aftermath in songs such as "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing." The disc is considered a favorite in the album category, especially considering the emotional context of the Grammys' return to New York with a February gala at Madison Square Garden. The Grammys have been staged in Los Angeles for the past four years.

"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 a year that saw them ascend to the title of bestselling female group ever with more than 19 million albums sold.

Natalie Maines of the Chicks was thrilled. "To be in there is great, specifically this year because the lineup is not always as tough as it is this year," Maines said. "I'd rather be nominated in a tough group instead of being there as a shoo-in. I love Norah Jones and the Bruce album. And Eminem, who I think is just this amazing, controversial, poetic rapper."

Indeed, no one in music is more white-hot than Eminem, who had the bestselling album of 2003 with "The Eminem Show" and saw the soundtrack to his film "8 Mile" finish as the fifth bestselling title. His taunting "Without Me" is also nominated for best record. The 14,000 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, "The Eminem Show" is probably the strongest competition to Springsteen's "The Rising."

The presence of two rap titles in the best album category is a victory of sorts for a genre that has struggled 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 have 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 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 on 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. 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 some of them in the race for the best new artist trophy. That field includes 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, Fat Joe and Jennifer Lopez. The lone male in the category is John Mayer, a singer-songwriter often compared to Dave Matthews for his stylized guitar songs.

The rush of youthful singer-songwriters with guitars and note pads follows a recent cycle of young pop stars who were more geared toward choreographed dance, harmonizing and spectacle in concert.

"In the last few years it was more about the way you looked and you sang other people's songs," said Lavigne, nominated in the song of the year category as co-writer of "Complicated." "It's great. I mean, I'm nominated in a category with Bruce Springsteen. I can't believe that."

The Grammys will air Feb. 23 on CBS.


The complete list

All the nominations, plus analyses of jazz and classical music offerings and assessments of Grammy trends. Pages 10-11


Record of the Year

"A Thousand Miles," Vanessa Carlton

"Without Me," Eminem

"Don't Know Why," Norah Jones

"Dilemma," Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland

"How You Remind Me," Nickelback


Best New Artist


Michelle Branch

Norah Jones

Avril Lavigne

John Mayer


Album of the Year

"Home," Dixie Chicks

"The Eminem Show," Eminem

"Come Away With Me," Norah Jones

"Nellyville," Nelly

"The Rising," Bruce Springsteen

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