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Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music’s Unlikely Collaborations

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.

On the charts, that is.

In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger—and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards—was probably the one that nobody saw coming.

Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records—even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand—are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music’s Unlikely Collaborations’

Vocal Points: What Makes A Great Rock Voice?

There are plenty of components that make up an outstanding rock band. From a great guitar sound, to a killer bass line, there is so much rock greatness out there to grab your attention. But what makes a great rock vocalist? What kind of singer can produce a sound that shapes a generation and even other singers to come? And most of all, what does it to take to have a voice that flat-out ROCKS? Well, lets look at a few of the most well-known, respected voices in rock history.

Freddie Mercury, Queen‘s phenomenal frontman, is one of the rock voices that has always impressed me. The texture of his voice, his low growl, and the ease that he would glide from one vocal register to another are all truly remarkable. Unlike many rock singers, Freddie Mercury had an incredibly versatile voice which was raw and ferocious, while still being incredibly melodic and listenable to a wide array of music fans. His voice was  huge part of what made Queen such a huge success, as well as the reason why they’ll continue to be an important piece of rock history.

Continue reading ‘Vocal Points: What Makes A Great Rock Voice?’

Bidding Farewell To Bonnaroo 2011

Friday held performances from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Matt & Kim, Atmosphere, Ray LaMontagne and Florence and the Machine. Despite the temperatures peaking the mid-90′s, My Morning Jacket‘s frontman Jim James took the stage for their 8:00 PM set wearing a black coat and giant pair of white fake-fur boots, topped off with a red and white scarf. The Louisville rock band has had some legendary moments at Bonnaroo over the years, like the apocalyptic storm set in 2004 and a three-hour marathon of a show late-night in 2008. MMJ filled their first big stage set with a range of epic rock jams and mellower, down south tunes. Cellist Ben Sollee joined for “Smokin From Shootin” and the band expressed their appreciation, saying ” We’ve had our minds blown so many times at this festival, “and it’s an honor to be with you tonight.”

My Morning Jacket

Headliners Arcade Fire continued their homage to suburban slums with a stage set up mirroring a drive-in theater, complete with previews (the trailer of 1979 teen-exploitation flick Over the Edge). The crowd danced to all the hits, including “We Used to Wait”, “Ready to Start”, “Month of May” and “All Cars Go”. After the phenomenal balloon drop at Coachella during their encore of “Wake Up”, the anticipation for something spectacular was thick. They gave “Wake Up” a break, introducing it into the encore as having been “written for rooms of twenty people”.  While the party tricks were kept to a minimum, the ninety minute set was closed with “Sprawl II,” one of The Suburbs grooviest tracks, made for open air.

Arcade Fire

At 1:30 AM it was time to get gangster with a zebra pants and backpack clad Lil Wayne, who thanked fans for sticking by him. What started strong got a little weird in the middle when the set slowed down in order to plug some friends o’ Weezy. Still, I have never seen to many white kids get down, so a good time was had by all.

An hour later, Centerroo was just as packed as it had been at 6:00 PM, and people buzzed from tent to tent checking out LATE late night sets courtesy of Pretty Lights (“awesome”) Ratatat (“too crowded”) and Shpongle, a light show extravaganza who’s name had been on everyone’s tongue (presumably because of the name) but no one seemed to know anything about.

Saturday started out with some attitude as we went to cheer on OurStage artist Lelia Broussard as she competed for the cover of Rolling Stone. Decked out in face paint, she rocked songs about hipster bitches and sad robots to a slew of fans who showed their support with their own face paint.

Lelia Broussard

Chiddy Bang took the stage just as the sun really started beating down. The Guinness World Record holders (for longest freestyle rap—over nine hours!) took freestyle suggestions from the audience and closed with the anthemic “Opposite of Adults”. Alison Krauss‘ soothing voice brought some relief to a crowd relaxing on the lawn in the afternoon. Together with her bluegrass band Union Station, she lulled fans with songs “Restless” and “Miles to Go,” off the band’s 2011 Paper Airplane.

Portugal, the Man, Amos Lee and Wiz Khalifa brought the hip quotient to the afternoon, with one Wiz goer overheard saying that it was the best set so far. Current girlfriend(and Kanye ex) Amber Rose looked on from the side of the stage as he performed tracks like ”B.A.R.,” “Cabin Fever,” “The Race,” “Wake Up,” “In the Cut,” with eyes past the point of glassy.

Wiz Khalifa

Mumford and Sons stole the show Saturday afternoon, making the leap from afternoon tent to evening stage since last year. “There are so many more of you than there were last year” keyboardist Ben Lovett told the swelling crowd, which included Ron Jeremy, Zach Braff and American Idol cast-off David Archuletta—a very real truth when taking into account the fifty or so fans in attendance just last summer. Mumford performed all the hits off 2009′s triumphant Sigh No More, but also introduced three new songs inspired in part by Tennessee itself, and promised their new album would be done by year’s end. Joined by members of Old Crow Medicine Show (who Mumford joined onstage for their finale hours earlier) Harris and Jerry Douglas, the group encored with “Amazing Grace”. The stage resembled a back yard hill billy party as the Sons belted out all too relevant lyrics about being “found”.

 

Mumford and Sons... and friends

Tens of thousands of fans packed into the main stage for what would turn into one of the most memorable performances of the weekend. While The Black Keys put on a set comprised mostly of last year’s breakout Brothers, Daniel Kolitz (Prefix magazine) remarked “Bonnaroo could have easily been 1968: their proudly analog jams make almost no concessions to the last thirty years of music.” Described as “super sized and stunning” it was the perfect music to watch the sun set to.

Eminem took the stage for his first performance of the year in support of Recovery, but catered to his fans by playing tons of hits from years past including “Stan” and “The Real Slim Shady”. His performance was purely triumphant, pounding energy into the stage with determination and grit, proving that he does in fact have the steel to perform in a festival setting. Encoring with the mega hit “Lose Yourself”, Em humbly thanked his fans before walking off. “Everybody here tonight,” he said, “I just wanna say thank you for sticking by me and not giving up on me.”

 

Eminem

Late night dancing entertainment was provided by New York rockers Scissor Sisters, jam staples String Cheese Incident, DJ Girl Talk and traveling gypsies Gogol Bordello. Fans poured themselves into their tents well after the sun came up.

By Sunday the sheer exhaustion and reality of returning to real life set in. It was a day for chilling out with acts like Iron and Wine and Gregg Allman. Cold War Kids took the stage at 5:00 PM and those thousands that were lucky enough to make it under the tent welcomed both the shade and a set list made up of the very best CWK has to offer including oldies “We Used To Vacation” and “Hospital Beds” and tracks ”Royal Blue” “Louder Than Ever” and “Skip The Charade” off their latest Mine Is Yours . The LA rockers closed the set with a moving cover of CCR’s “Long As I Can See The Light”, then finished it all over with a very fitting “Goodnight Tennessee” and “St. John”.

 

Cold War Kids

Robert Plant & Band of Joy provided the soundtrack to Sunday’s sunset as fans milled about on the lawn of the main stage sipping lemonades and swaying to a folksy cover of Led Zeppelin‘s Black Dog”. Patty Griffin sang some perfect harmonies to Plant as they got in touch with their Americana roots.  ”Aside from two of us, we’re all from 40 miles of here, so [Bonnaroo's] an easy gig really.”

 

Robert Plant and Patty Griffin

The Strokes simply dominated Sunday with a stripped-back set. While this is not the band to personalize individual performances, the setting at Bonnaroo did provide a few moments that will be hard pressed to be recreated—such as Julian Casablancas wailing into the mic fully clad in black leather despite the 90 degree weather,  Albert Hammond Jr.’s haircut, and new material “Under Cover of Darkness” and “Taken for a Fool”. Classics like “Last Nite,” “Reptilia,” “Hard to Explain” and “Take It or Leave It” stayed faithful to their original studio cuts and were sang at full throttle by an audience thousands deep.

 

The Strokes

By Sunday evening we guessed that almost half of the 85+ thousand people had already departed. Eminem had brought a younger crowd to Bonnaroo this year, fans that may not have been so familiar with or interested in the festival’s tradition of closing with a jam band—this year being Widespread Panic. Those brave souls remaining took opportunity to relax during the last of the weekend’s live music and wander back to camp at a reasonably normal hour. Til next time….

 

The sky during Widespread Panic

 

 

Your Country’s Right Here: Lindi Ortega’s ‘Little Red Boots’ Jump On Roots Charts

For Lindi Ortega, the Little Red Boots tell it all.

Not only is this the title of Ortega’s debut album, released June 7 on Last Gang Records, but the term is a reminder of this phase of her career. The former Interscope artist, whose well-known for her work with The Killers’ Brandon Flowers and the UK band Keane, took a look at her art not long ago and realized her heart belongs to country.

“It was a metamorphosis,” Ortega said of the direction in which her songwriting traveled. “I was writing songs and they had [the flavor of] Nora Jones and k.d. lang, that vibe. And my favorite record [of late] is Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I love that warm, old school vibe and tried to capture that essence in this recording.”

The Toronto resident’s commitment to the sound was underscored on a trip to Nashville when she found real-life little red boots. Since her manager purchased them for her, they’vebeen her constant companion as she has recorded her new album and toured.

“I slipped them on and I could literally hear a chorus of angels,” she said. “It happened to be my birthday at the time, too. I’ve had them now for about two years and the soles are coming off but I’m keeping them always.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Ortega’s music sounds like a mix of sounds from Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Those and other traditional country performers made the music that Ortega was raised on.

“My mom was huge into country and that is what got me into country,” says Ortega who has “Bird on a Wire,” from a Leonard Cohen song, tattooed on her wrist. “I love Johnny [Cash], Willie [Nelson], and of course a lot of country people covered Leonard Cohen.”

Frequent trips to Nashville is just what Ortega needed to let the country flow into her own songs.

“I found awesome people there, friends who came to visit me in Toronto,” she said. “It was cool to hear how my music and styling fit in with the Nashville way of writing. My brand of country comes from the old school and it’s really, really cool to mesh it with new country ideas.”

“You know, it’s hard to refer to touring as a job because I love it so much.”

Clearly the love is there for roots fans, too, who put the new album at No. 10 on the roots chart, behind recent releases by Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and other major artists.

“The next part of my story is to tour,” said Ortega. “I’d love to be heavily touring across the United States and working on a new record. It’d also be amazing to do some collaborations. This is all just icing on the cake.”

Find out more about Lindi, her album and her upcoming concerts on her Web site.

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: When Rockers Go Bluegrass

It seems there’s a worrying trend these days wherein more and more veteran rockers seem to be turning to bluegrass. We’re using the term “turning to bluegrass” here in the interest of fairness, since the more popular “going bluegrass” bears too much pejorative potential, what with its evocations of “going ballistic,” “going rogue” or even “going postal.” At least for the moment, we’re trying our hardest to keep an open mind about this phenomenon, so bear with us on this.

The rock-to-bluegrass move isn’t a new idea—in terms of high-profile artists, you can trace it back at least as far as David Lee “I’ll try anything once” Roth, who may have had mandolin-shaped dollar signs dancing before his eyes ever since the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack made the mainstream start paying attention. Diamond Dave sang on a back-porch version of “Jump” for the Van Halen bluegrass tribute album Strummin’ With the Devil back in 2006. With the ice thus broken, others began following in Diamond Dave’s footsteps, even though it’s unlikely they were emboldened by the aforementioned VH reinvention itself. The following year, not only did patron saint of punk and last surviving (original) Ramones member Tommy Erdelyi unleash the self-titled debut album of his bluegrass duo Uncle Monk, the original shirtless wonder of stadium rock, Robert Plant himself, delivered Raising Sand in collaboration with Alison Krauss. Of course, in Plant’s case, the aesthetic and commercial rewards for this venture turned out to be enormous, and that probably proved to be the real turning point for this whole thing.

Suddenly, it seems as though we’re inundated with warhorses from the rocking side of the fence willing to dip a toe— if not an entire foot—into the Appalachian stream ofbluegrass music. To wit: some guy named Paul McCartney takes a vocal turn on Steve Martin’s new bluegrass outing (bluegrass-bound actors are a topic for a whole other column) Rare Bird Alert, singing on the Martin-penned “Best Love.” Guitar man Brian Setzer’s latest release, Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!, finds the former Stray Cat picking up a storm on the old Earl Scruggs tune “Earl’s Breakdown.” Elvis Costello’s recent acoustic, country-tinged National Ransom was cut in Nashville with a raft of hotshot bluegrass cats. Even the ultimate urbanite, Paul Simon, has collaborated with one of the biggest acts in contemporary bluegrass, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, on the former’s upcoming So Beautiful Or So What.

Okay, so most of these are relatively minor dalliances in the high-lonesome hinterlands—guest-spots, one-offs and the like. Perhaps in and of themselves, each one of these examples shouldn’t be enough to inspire concern in those who feel that rock/bluegrass mergers may not be the best thing for artists on either side of the fence in the long run. Like we said at the outset, we’re still attempting to keep an open mind, despite any initial misgivings. But then along comes the clincher, the one that makes all these other examples seem less like isolated incidents and more like a snowball slowly gathering steam as it rolls down a white, wintry hill.

It turns out that Tommy Shaw, longtime frontman for classic-rock kingpins Styx, has just released a full-on, Nashville-recorded bluegrass album, Great Divide, featuring contributions from Alison Krauss as well as legendary pickers Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and others. Now, even allowing for the relatively generous assumption that you accept such Shaw-penned Styx hits as “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Too Much Time On My Hands” as the arena-rock classics they are, does that mean you have any good reason to approach this project with great expectations? Again, we’re just posing the question here, not handing down any overt judgments about the bluegrass potential of Ted Nugent’s former Damn Yankees bandmate. We’ll simply say that the most convincing bit of mountain music we’ve heard thus far from Shaw has been a ‘grassed-up take on “Renegade,” which does not appear on the all-original Great Divide. Regardless, Shaw’s going whole-hog on this thing—hell, the guy’s playing the freakin’ Opry in a couple of days! One can only wonder which of Shaw’s fellow stadium-rockers will be the next one up on the hay bale. Say…has anybody been keeping an eye on Steve Perry lately?!

Q&A With Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association

Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the Americana Music Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating and cultivating the community of Americana artists across the country. The AMA works around the clock to host events, participate in conferences, conduct research and keep fans in the know. They also know how to put on some incredible concerts, which have featured such influential artists as Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller. We had the chance to catch up with Executive Director Jed Hilly to hear all about the exciting events and initiatives that the AMA has done in the past, as well as their plans for 2011.

OS: As Executive Director, what is your role in the AMA?

JH: My job was designed to shed light on those artists who otherwise would not be heard. The association was created in 1999 and the group of 30 some-odd folks who became our founding council created the organization pretty much in response to the commercialization of radio in the ’90s and how artists like Steve Earle and Roseanne Cash, these great artists of integrity, were pretty much shut out from airplay. So that’s where it started from. We’re a trade association, but I feel like I work for the artist. The beautiful and wonderful thing that seems to be happening in the last couple years is that there’s a tremendous momentum in the Americana world. Some of these artists that have embraced the Americana community and style and genre of music, they don’t need me to shed any light on them at all…artists like Elvis Costello and John Mellencamp and Robert Plant, and yet, I’m thrilled that they’ve embraced this style of music because my job is to raise the tide for all ships. The participation and support of artists like that really helps.

OS: What are the advantages to joining the AMA?

JH: Well, I tell people that we are a non-profit with a very small staff…there’s actually only 2 full-time employees. I wish we were larger…people think we’re a much bigger organization. Because of the passion of the volunteer efforts that we receive, we put on a festival and conference each year. It’s an exceptional event and an amazing volunteer effort. About 150 people join forces with me and Dana Strong, our Director of Operations, and make it this wonderful community gathering. The benefits [of becoming a member]…you get a discount on our community gathering, we keep you updated, we’ve joined forces with an independent insurance plan, which is really helpful for artists who are always on the go. I would encourage people to support what we’re doing because I truly believe that we’re changing the landscape of the music business and it’s long overdue.

OS: The AMA recently announced the Top 100 Americana albums of the year. How is this list compiled?

The Belleville Outfit performing at the 2009 AMA Awards

JH: We have about 75 radio stations that are sanctioned certified reports, what they call a “radio panel.” When somebody says to me, “How do you define Americana?” This is our tool. Through these stations, they report spin counts—the number of times they play a particular song from a particular record. When you add them all up across 75 stations, your Top 40 chart is going to look different from every station, unlike mainstream stations, where it’s 10-20 songs played over the course of a week in every city in the country. This is unique, it’s a cross-section of 75 stations and specialty shows and the like, where we’re getting their definition of what Americana is. As spin counts accumulate, they bubble up. When you look at that over the course of a year, there could be a debate about some of the artists that could be at 700 or 800, but when you get to the Top 100, there’s your definition. There’s your landscape of the Americana world. Our radio stations are our heatseeker chart, if you will.

OS: Every year, you have a showcase at the Americana Music Festival & Conference. What do you look for in acts that submit applications for this opportunity?

JH: Similar to the way you’ve got 75 stations who are putting forth what they perceive to be the songs most worthy of airplay on their stations, so too do we have a committee that both surveys online and physical product that is submitted to us. They go through it, and I love what they do. Last year we had over 800 acts submit to play our event. The worst month of my year is when the 700 letters of regret, as we call them, go out, because we’re a small organization. We can only invite between 85 and 100 artists to be a part of this and it’s not necessarily the best of the best. Sometimes artists’ schedules change and they can’t come, or vice versa. But the bottom line, musically, is that Americana music— as we define it—is contemporary music that honors or derives from American roots music. And after that, a number of factors come into it. We’re grateful because the venues extend to us their homes, for free. This is our annual fundraiser. One of our venues, for example, is the world famous Station Inn in Nashville, which is the mecca of bluegrass. What you’ll find in that particular venue are more singer-songwriter, bluegrass-oriented performances. The room holds about 200. By contrast, we use the Cannery Ballroom, which holds over a thousand. That’s where we put people like Dirks Bentley, who played our event last year. So in the case of some of these artists who we’ll put in the Cannery, it’s because they can put a thousand people in there, and that’s how we make some money to survive.

OS: The AMA endorses Sound Healthcare. What can you tell us about this initiative?

JH: That’s our insurance plan. Sound Healthcare is an organization that has gone to a number of nonprofits, like the AMA, or the Country Music Association or the Folk Alliance. It’s a managed healthcare plan by consolidating these non-profit groups. An organization like the CMA has anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 members. We have 1,000…but it’s great that we are all a part of the same plan that gives us the volume and numbers to support getting reasonable rates by being part of it. I think it’s a brilliant idea that the folks over there put together and we’re thrilled to be part of it as a benefit from our membership.

Buddy Miller performing at the 2009 AMA Awards

OS: What is your most memorable experience from an Americana Honors and Awards Show?

JH: It’s hard for me, because I’m working that day! (laughs) I’m a ball of stress, hoping everything goes well and it always does. But I remember a few years ago when Lyle Lovett came. He showed up at rehearsal and the great Buddy Miller is our band leader. We generally ask people to tell us what song they’re going to do and Buddy puts together this incredible all-star band. Last year, the band featured Buddy on guitar, Don Was on the upright bass, Greg Leisz on steel…just an amazing array of musicianship supporting the artists who perform in our show. Lyle didn’t deliver a song to me or Buddy, and quite honestly, I’m not going to push Lyle Lovett to a decision! So Lyle shows up and Tony Brown, the great producer, happened to be in the house. So Lyle’s standing there and he says, “What should I do?” Tony says, “If I Had a Boat!” and Lyle says, “Does anybody have a copy of ‘If I Had a Boat’ for the band to hear?” And they pulled it up off iTunes and there was dead silence. One by one, Buddy and the members of the band start playing along with it, halfway through the song. The song finished and Buddy said, “Can we hear that one more time?” And they ran it through, and it was amazing. Just watching this level of artists and musicians listening, thinking, absorbing…and about 45 seconds into it, They went and did this first take, not ever having played the song together. It really was an extraordinary moment, sitting there for the next four and a half minutes, and they stopped and Lyle said, “I think you got it!” (laughs) It was truly wonderful and the essence, I think, of what the Americana community is all about. It’s about the enjoyment, the passion and the love of music and it’s about the talent level. Man, they nailed it.

OS: You’ve said that, “The typical Americana act is in the music business for the long haul.” Why do you think this is?

JH: I think they’re artists. I heard Emmylou Harris talk a couple years ago…she had been presented with one of those big platinum awards, commemorating 15 million records sold or something. She looked around at the room and said “I’m honored and privileged to be able to do this, but I’m honored and privileged to play with all of you. Whether we made money on this or not, I think we still would have done it, and I think we still would have been playing music, because that’s what we do.” Living in Nashville can be so hard. There’s that old bus station story about Nashville, where you show up with your guitar and you leave without it to get the bus ticket out. But that’s not this community. This community is about telling a story through song in the best way they know how. It’s not about selling records. To me, it’s the difference between fine art and commercial.

OS: What are some events that the AMA has coming up in 2011?

JH: We will be back at SXSW and doing our annual showcase there. We’re thrilled that the organizers of that great event give us a pretty nice venue. We get to be at historic Antone’s every year and have had some wonderful performances. I’m not at liberty to say who will be performing this year, but what I can say is that it will be a cross-section of 5 or 6 artists, among them will be some newcomers and truly legendary figures from the American music world, which will be pretty special. We do a Bluebird series, which is a pretty nice little event. It’s a benefit. We’ve had artists from Nanci Griffith to Rodney Crowell put on shows for us. About 100 people fit in the room. We don’t make a ton of money on it but it’s a pretty magical event. We’re planning a little mini festival that will be a benefit to support the AMA that will take place at Blackberry Farm, which is truly one of the country’s finest inns. It’s a magnificent inn and spa and culinary experience.

The 12th Annual Americana Music Festival & Conference event dates are set for October 12th – October 15th 2011 in Nashville, TN. For more information on the AMA and to register for the conference, visit their official website!

Noms and Snubs: 2011 Grammy Awards

This year was a curious one in GRAMMY world, with some heavy hitters being shut out and some less popular acts finally getting a chance to shine. The ‘Record of the Year’ category is dominated by urban pop, with just one band—CMT Artist of the Year Lady Antebellum (nominated in six categories)—bringing up the rear with their country album Need You Now. Eminem leads the pack with ten nominations for his smash success Recovery, landing on the list for ‘Best Rap Album,’ and “Love The Way You Lie”, featuring Rihanna, scoring nominations for ‘Record of The Year,’ ‘Song of The Year,’ ‘Best Rap Song’ and ‘Best Rap Collaboration.’

Other hip hop standouts include Cee-Lo’s three nominations for “[Forget] You” for ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Song of The Year’ and ‘Best Urban Performance’.  Jay-Z made the list for ‘Best Rap Album’ with Blueprint 3 and again with newlyweds Alicia Keys (with “Empire State of Mind” up for ‘Best Rap Song’ and “Best Rap Collaboration”) and Swizz Beatz (with “Onto The Next One” contending for ‘Best Rap by Duo’ and ‘Best Rap Song’). Keys’ album, Elements of Freedom was shockingly snubbed from all categories, despite its heavy radio play.  Swizz Beats is also nominated for “Fancy,” his collaboration with Drake, whose debut album,  Thank Me Later earned him a nomination for ‘Best Rap Album,’ while his single “Over”scored him a bid for ‘Best Solo Rap Performance.’

On the pop front, Katy Perry is the front-runner with four nominations for her album, Teenage DreamKe$ha’s debut,  Animal, failed to garner any attention for the saucy newcomer and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” popped up on the shortlist for ‘Best Female Pop Vocal’ but was slighted in the categories of  ‘Song and Record of The Year.’  “Dance In The Dark” earned Gaga a ‘Best Dance Recording’ nom and “Telephone,” her duet with Beyoncé, earned her a nomination for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’

B.o.B fared well with his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, earning him five nominations including ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Best Rap Album’ while his single, “Nothin On You” featuring Bruno Mars is making a run for ‘Best Rap Song’,  ‘Best Rap Collaboration’ and ‘ Record of The Year’. B.o.B’s duet with Paramore front-woman, Hayley Williams is also up for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’ Meanwhile, Mars came in with seven nominations for his work with B.o.B., his single, “Just The Way You Are” and his work as producer with The Smeezingtons who are up for the ‘Producer of The Year’ title.

‘The ‘Best New Artist’ category seems the most diverse with contender Justin Beiber going head to head with Florence and the Machine, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Esperanza Spalding (who was curiously excluded for any noms in the Jazz category) for the honor. Usher’s, Raymond V Raymond will go against Chris Brown’s, Grafitti for ‘Best Contemporary R&B Album.’

This is the year of new beginnings. In addition to  Chris Brown’s nomination, fellow tabloid darlings Lee Ann Rimes and Fantasia, whose troubling private lives made very public headlines, end their year on a happier note with nods for the former in ‘Best Female Country Vocal Performance’ and the latter in ‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance’ and ‘Best R&B Song’ for “Bittersweet.”

There’s a good chance we’ll see last year’s ‘Best New Artist’ winner Zac Brown Band on stage again this year, this time sans stick puppet—2009 addition Clay Cook was unable to accept the award with the band for their win last year because he did not have a credit on their first album. They’re nominated for ‘Best Country Performance,’ ‘Best Country Song’ and ‘Best Country Album.’ Other country favorites Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Jewel also received nominations.

No huge surprises found among artists in the rock categories, with multiple nominations for veterans Jeff Beck (‘Best Rock Album,’ ‘Best Rock Performance’ with Joss Stone and ‘Best Rock Instrumental’) and Neil Young (‘Best Rock Song,’ ‘Best Rock Album’ and Best Solo Rock Performance’) while Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, John Mayer earning one nom each.  Hard rock and metal showcased no new artist nominations either: Ozzy Osborne, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Iron Maiden, Korn, Megadeth, Lamb of God and Slayer.

For the complete list of nominees across all 100 categories, visit Grammy.com

By Cortney Wills with additional reporting by Paula Gould

Cortney Wills is a pop culture journalist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has lived in LA, Chicago and NYC and enjoys all things entertainment.

Grace Potter Talks Robert Plant, Kenny Chesney, and Nocturnal Awakenings

The recent Americana Music Awards in Nashville may be over, but Grace Potter’s still savoring her memories of the event.Besides mingling with such country, bluegrass and Americana heavyweights as Rosanne Cash, The Avett Brothers, the Courtyard Hounds, and John Mellencamp, Potter had the chance to chat with Robert Plant, who has embraced Americana despite his long rock legacy.

by Adrien Broom

“It was so awesome. My life was changed forever,” said Potter. “Not only did I meet Robert Plant, but he knew who I was. I was completely bowled over….Normally I wouldn’t brag about that but in the whole world, he is my model. He’s graceful, serene and all about being the bad boy, too.”

The smart money bets that Potter will have plenty more household name artists seek her out in the coming months. Ever since Grace Potter & the Nocturnals burst onto the scene in 2007 after signing with Hollywood Records, they’ve caused a ruckus among music lovers.

Now that she’s done a duet with Kenny Chesney on the song “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” the title track of Chesney’s new album that was released September 28th, the buzz is louder than ever.

“It still feels really fresh to me,” said Potter of the song and her excitement at his request for her to join him in song. “When [Kenny] emailed and asked me to join him, I couldn’t stop thinking of [his] song ‘She Thinks my Tractor is Sexy.’”

Although she knew of Chesney’s talent, Potter said she was wasn’t prepared for the beauty of “Hemingway’s Whiskey.”

“It was stripped down and beautiful,” she said. “[I especially loved] the really nice, subtle drums. I thought the song was just magic as it was….[For the full version] they didn’t want it too fancy or over produced or polished. I felt it was the perfect song for me to be a part of and it was a bit of a departure for Kenny, something his voice fits perfectly into….He’s such an amazing vocalist.”

By Adrien Broom

Although her goal is to tour with Chesney, for right now Potter is focused on her own tours and promoting the band’s self-titled album that was released in June. The Vermont-based group’s new line up has made it more hard-charging and working with producer Mark Batson has finally propelled Grace Potter & the Nocturnals into a musical space they’ve always wanted to inhabit.

“This is just what I always wanted,” said Potter of the sound. “This album was almost 10 years in the making and it’s exciting to absorb it….The band is my focal point right now.”

And it’s on fire, with players grabbing sounds from each other and advancing them in certain ways, which gives the music elasticity. That’s why the music might take on more of a country vibe at a Nashville concert but add dollops of soul when they take a Memphis stage.

“We are very much a chameleon band,” said Potter. “I celebrate that we have this gray area. Our show has changed to [not just incorporate more] country but bringing around sexy style too. I’m not afraid to shake it and dance on stage.”

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals are on tour. For a complete list of dates and cities, check here.

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Check out Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ new video for Paris (Ooh La La) below, and see vintage Grace in a video interview on OurStage from 2008.

 


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