Saturday, February 20, 2016

Encyclopedia of Me - S (Stacy)

Photos from:,,,,,,,

So many good ones for this letter! How to choose?!? I'll combine words and sneak more in, that's what I'll do. Because I'm smart and sneaky and sassy like that. And I'll be great at it or my name's not Stacy! Oh, speaking of names, I'll just go ahead and mention that two of my close friends' names begin with the letter 'S,' too (*waves at Sherri and Sam!*). Okay, here we go . . .

So, several of these are going to get grouped together under "geeky," because there are several geeky things I enjoy that begin with the letter 'S.' Like Star Wars. Oh my god, I was so excited to see the new one in the theaters. Even though I've loved Star Wars for nearly two decades, I must admit that I didn't see them in theaters growing up. I was introduced to the original 3 by my husband soon after getting married and I loved them! Then I learned to love the prequel 3 through my son's love of Star Wars. And now the whole family is enjoying the new movies together. Mark took each one of us to the theater individually (just the way it worked out - he saw it 3 times in the first 24 hours) and when he and I were watching and the scrolling words started, I squealed, "I've never done this before!" and then loved every minute of it. I also geek out on Sherlock and love to watch the show (big fan of both Benedict Cumberbatch *and* Martin Freeman). There's Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory," a show that celebrates geekdom (woot!). And just to keep it well-rounded, I also enjoy geeking out on Shakespeare. I took several different Shakespeare classes in college and have read and watched many plays since then for fun. And I'm happy that Mark and the kids love the Bard, too. For real. We even recently saw a presentation of "Hamlet" from London with Benedict Cumberbatch in a local theater near us. The very next week, we went to see a local college's presentation of "Macbeth." It was awesome.

An "Encyclopedia of Me" post wouldn't be complete without mentioning food if it fits and oh does it fit. This one is another two-fer: seafood and sushi go hand in hand. Sushi is my favorite food and most any day, I'm happy to choose seafood over just about any other selection. Our family enjoyed a seafood feast about a week ago to help us break up this cold, snowy winter - crab legs, lobster, shrimp, clams, stuffed quahogs, etc. It was fabulous. When we go to the beach every year, we always go to Claws and have a feast of shellfish - it's hours of cracking and dipping in butter and it's scrumptious. Mark is always so sweet to do a bunch of the cracking for us. The kids are getting older and do more of it, so that helps. :) And tonight, we had 3 different kinds of fish - trout, swordfish, and seared tuna. Even the sides were yummy! My very favorite date to go on with Mark is going out for sushi. It's one of the first dates we went on when we got back together again after being across the globe from each other for 3 and a half years. I loved it then. And I love it now. And sushi is how we ring in the new year, too. Yum!

How about some music references? I like so many different kinds of music - 80s, alternative rock, pop, jazz, classical. For the purposes of this post, I'll list Sinatra, because that crooner voice and swagger just makes me swoon and old blue eyes has some wonderful standards that I love to listen to whenever they come on. Also? Ed Sheeran has got to be one of my very favorite artists - what an incredible talent in singing, songwriting, and performing! He makes me all melty for sure. I'm so happy he won a Grammy, plus how adorable are his parents? I'll throw in the movie "Say Anything" here, too, because it just may be the movie that made me fall so hard for John Cusack and his sweet, geeky ways. That iconic boombox scene is actually a pretty short, passing one in the movie, but he's a gem throughout the entire film. Ahhhhhh, lots of swooning in this paragraph.

Now, places. I was raised in Swansea, MA. Yep, that's my hometown. One of my favorite cities in San Francisco, CA which to me is romantic since that's Mark's big city. The mantel in our room has two framed city skylines - San Francisco and Boston, our cities. And I'm completely in love with Stars Hollow, CT and would move there in a minute. In fact, a few seasons into my first time seeing Gilmore Girls, Mark and I started some serious research into small towns in Connecticut.

Some of my very favorite things I enjoy start with 'S,' like summer (oh, how I love the sun and wearing sandals!), and scrapbooking (though I haven't done much in years), and several games including Settlers of Catan, Splendor, and Sueca.

I've saved this paragraph for one very special creature and one of my very favorite 'S' words - Scout! I love this dog more than words can say. Her name, of course, comes from one of my very favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout brings us so much joy, so many smiles, so much laughter, so much love, so many kisses and cuddles and snuggles. She is an absolute bundle of joy in our home and we love her so much that we often SQUEEEEEEE all over the place. She gets so excited whenever she sees us. She licks our tears when we're sad. She snuggles with us every evening and all night long. She cracks us up with her sass and demands and general craziness. She has so much personality and is so protective of us and our home. I never, ever, ever could've guessed that I would ever, ever, ever feel this way about a dog. I positively adore her. She is my safe place and I'm so very grateful for her.

Encyclopedia of Me - S (Mark)

Photos from:,,,,
Stacy: How could the love of my life not be first? Big shocker, eh? I've been with Stacy for more than half of my life, and it feels like only yesterday that we met. She is my soulmate, my better half, my best friend, my one true love. She gets me more than anyone else gets me. She makes me laugh. She is the one person with whom I would always rather spend my time. And if it weren't for the cheesiness of "Jerry Maguire," I'd tell her that she completes me. Oh, would you look at that. I said it anyway.

Scout: This little fur ball is such a great joy in our home. From the day we got her, she's been my shadow. No matter what's going on, she wants to be a part. And if you're down, she'll cheer you up. She's spunky, ill-mannered, poorly trained, and 100% pure joy. And no, she doesn't mind one bit that I'd like to cuddle with my wife at night. She's fine right where she is between us.

Satire: I'm not talking cheesy, pun-laden satire. I'm talking well-crafted, intelligent, clever satire. I grew up on Weird Al and still love the guy. I think he's brilliant. And for the most part, Saturday Night Live really fits the bill. The writing can be uneven, but when they are on (especially with big political stories) there is nothing like it.

Sports: Yep, that's a picture of my letter jacket. I was good enough to play a number of sports, but not so outstanding that I was the best on the team. I like sports. I'm not a nut, and I can talk about a number of things without needing to bring it back to sports, but I do like them a lot. I like the competition. I like the strategy. I like the statistics (especially baseball). I like following my favorite teams. And it can honestly be any sport. As I've gotten older and more and more things are asking for my attention, I've had to scale back on how much I watch them, but there was a time when I could turn on ESPN and watch whatever was there.

San Francisco: Home of the Giants. I have a lot of fond memories of braving cold weather, shady neighborhoods, and lots more when we would go to Candlestick Park. But that's not all. It's home to some of the best seafood you'll ever find. The hills give the city a great feel. It has Lombard Street with its glorious curves. Cable cars. The Golden Gate Bridge. Seals and sea lions. So much history of social change. There is so much to love about the city, and I'm so grateful I could not only show Stacy, but also take the kids recently. It's one of those cities with a "feel," and I feel fortunate to have experienced it many times.

Scrubs: Not the comfortable hospital clothing, but the TV show. I remember when Stacy and I first saw the advertisements about the show. We both said it could be either really funny or really dumb. It was the first year of medical school, so a humorous look at medical education seemed worth it. We watched the pilot episode, laughed like crazy, and never looked back. I still say that "Scrubs," more than any show on TV, captures the emotion of being a doctor. It may be surreal at times and a little far-fetched, but really hits all the nerves with me. And the finale (the "real" one)? One of the best on TV ever.

Sting: For some unknown reason, I didn't really listen to Sting much until later in life. I was familiar with his music, and it was good enough, but I eventually starting really listening to all that he's done and I am blown away. His style evolves with each album, but his musical genius is the same. And Sting is fantastic live. There are not a lot of artists that can make it new every time, but he does. I feel really lucky that our family was able to see him live with Paul Simon. What a great memory and experience.

Sashimi: I bet sushi will be mentioned several times by our family, so as much as I love it, I'll go a different direction. I love the raw fish. In fact, if someone said you can only choose one, sushi or sashimi, I would first wonder why someone was being so cruel to me, but next I'd pick the sashimi. Raw fish is such a wonderful treat. Tuna is my favorite, but I'm not picky. I'll eat it all. I was just telling Stacy the other day that I had raw rainbow trout when I was in Japan, and that was incredible. It's not one you'll normally find in a restaurant here, but if you get the chance to try it, do.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 4

Here it is. My final Grammys post. After reviewing the Best New Artist, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year, here comes the Record of the Year. This award is given for the recording as a whole. It goes to the artist and the production team, including the producer and engineering team. In some ways I had the hardest time deciding on this category. I wonder if it's because I'm not really very knowledgeable about the production side of the musical world as compared to the songwriting. Who knows? Whatever the reason, here is my latest set of reviews.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Really Love"
D'Angelo And The Vanguard
Track from: Black Messiah

How have I missed D'Angelo? Somewhere along the way I've probably been vaguely aware of him, and I know he's had a very hit-or-miss career and life in general, so maybe that's why he was unfamiliar at this point. But, wow. This was a great recording. Apparently Neo Soul is what I've been looking for to satisfy my nostalgia for funk-infused R&B-Jazz fusion. How's that for a unique mash-up? D'Angelo's is actually the first song I consciously listened to when I started working on all of this music for the Grammys. My first thought was if this was just the beginning, I was in for a treat. Like I said earlier, I don't entirely understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into production, mixing, engineering, and whatever it takes to actually bring a record to the public. What I do know is that this track is seriously great.

"Uptown Funk"
Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars
Track from: Uptown Special

I think the first time I heard this song was when Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars were on SNL together. Stacy was scanning through the show to look for our favorite parts and I was in another room playing a game. When this song came on everything stopped. We had to watch and listen. Bruno Mars has one of those sounds that is classic. He takes the old and makes it modern and hip, and whatever he and Ronson did together here is pure gold. The song came out quite a while ago so I almost forgot about it when the nominations came out. This record captures all of the best of the R&B genre (with all of its sub-genre) and takes me back to all the music I listened to growing up. Loved it.

(Mark Ronson's TED Talk on music sampling is great, too. Give it a watch if you get the chance.)

And how much fun would it be to groove with these guys?

"Thinking Out Loud"
Ed Sheeran
Track from: X

On this one, I'm not sure how to tease out what makes it deserving of not only the Song of the Year but Record of the Year as well. I mean, it's a great song. His voice and guitar work are impeccable. The entire track is so easy on the ears it's ridiculous. I really don't know what else to say about it except that songs like this make me pre-order Sheeran's albums when they come out. I just know every album will have tracks this great.

Yes, this is the same video as the one from the Song of the Year category. And your point?

"Blank Space"
Taylor Swift
Track from: 1989

Can you tell that the nuance between Record and Song are difficult for me. I will say that Taylor Swift has captured the retro feel she was going for on this one. And this is one of those songs where we get a blend of great vocals and 80s-esque digital instrumentation. The whole thing works extremely well.

Did I hear this song many, many times since its release? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

"Can't Feel My Face"
The Weeknd
Track from: Beauty Behind the Madness

I heard so many people make fun of this song that it was hard to take it seriously when it was on the list of nominees. Honestly, I don't think I'd even heard the song at all before I undertook this Grammy goal. Maybe I heard a bit on the radio as one of the kids was flipping through and said something like, "Argh! Not this song again!" I really couldn't tell you. The record is smooth, that is for sure. Like Prince and Michael smooth. I've been harsh with my commentary on The Weeknd, and I am not going to back down, but this track is a nice surprise.

Ignore the hair and my previous panning of his album. This track is actually decent.

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: I'd love to see Ed Sheeran win here because I'm just a huge Sheeran fan, but if I'm being totally objective here, I think I have to go with "Uptown Funk." The overall sound Mars and Ronson achieve here are still my favorite of all the group. D'Angelo's "Really Love" is a close second.

My Prediction: I really don't know what to say here. Of all the categories, this is the one where I feel most lost. This is really stab in the dark, but I'm going with "Really Love" by D'Angelo.

* * * * * * * * * *

So there you have it. A few days until the Grammys and my predictions are in. All I need is to get credited on some album and the recording academy can ask me for my official opinion next year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 3

I've talked about the Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories. Now it's on to the Album of the Year. Obviously, this one took a little more time since there are a lot of songs to listen to. I could have just listened to samples and gone from there, but I feel like a really good album should be great from start to finish. Each track has a purpose and when you put them all together, the listening experience should transcend any one, single song you hear on the radio. There should be a reason that these five albums are in this category, and there should be a really good reason why one of these will take home the Grammy over the other four and all of the other albums released last year.

(Interesting thing I noticed--two albums have a very short list of people who worked on the album. Guess which ones they are.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes

OK. Stop what you're doing and find a way to listen to this album. Brittany Howard is one of the best songwriters we've got right now. When I saw that Alabama Shakes was nominated for a Grammy again this year, I was excited. Their debut album is so good. You will be hard pressed to find a singer and band with more soul and emotion than them. From the opening notes to the final refrain, this album was impressive. Seriously, impressive.

Blues rock, roots rock, southern rock, whatever. This is just good music. You can definitely hear their southern roots in every track, but it's not so heavy-handed as to make you feel like you have to love Country or Americana type music to enjoy the album. There are artists that just bring you great music, whatever the genre. In fact, they defy genre. Alabama Shakes is that kind of group. This was a fantastic album.

Favorite tracks: Where to start? How about the first three. "Sound and Color," "Don't Wanna Fight," "Dunes." And then you can keep going down the line.

Just one of the great songs on this album--seriously, could she be more soulful?

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

If you read my earlier post about the Song of the Year you probably won't be surprised to hear that this entire album was rough to listen to. There is the obvious language to contend with. I'm not a prude, and I can 100% appreciate why Lamar chooses the words he does. There is a meaning and feeling he is trying to convey, and that's the way he does it. I can live with it. It makes sense to me. I will say that I didn't find his album, as a whole, to be exploitative or demeaning, like a lot of hip hop can be. There was a definite social agenda with the work that comes through.

Mostly, this album was rough because I felt like I was intruding on a space not meant for me. There have been a lot of takes on the album, and I realize that my take is completely reliant on my own experiences, which differ from Lamar's in about every way conceivable. He takes the 16 tracks and weaves a story of Black America as seen through his eyes and experiences, and attempts to convey some sense of suffering, anger, and ultimately (I think) hope that things will get better. He is realistic, but still manages to give the listener a little bit of optimism.

There is a lot in the album musically that is appealing. The music of the rap and hip hop music I remember from my teen years was a lot simpler. Straightforward beats with simple background riffs dominated the albums. Lamar manages (along with a huge team of writers and producers) to incorporate jazz, funk, fusion, spoken word, old school hip hop, and a number of other styles into his music. I think the variety did a lot to bind the album together and make it more listenable for me, even if after listening to the album I feel a little bit like it was a work I wasn't meant to listen to.

Favorite tracks: Two stood out, probably because of the musicality of the songs. "Alright" and "i."

[Again, We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the album I decided not to embed any videos here.]

Traveller, Chris Stapleton

I had never heard of Chris Stapleton before his nomination, but apparently I should have known him before now. For one thing, he has literally hundreds of writing credits on big time albums. He is one of those artists that is finally getting his "moment." Anyone who has read anything I've written here about music knows by now that I'm not much of a country fan. I have a handful of artists that I enjoy, but I normally don't really get into the genre. I will say that Stapleton has managed to make the good ol' outlaw country cool. I'm not going to lie and say that he'll dominate my playlists anytime soon, or that I'm going to play his album on repeat. It's just not going to happen.

What I will say about Stapleton is that his songwriting is impeccable, whether its the lyrics or music. All of it hints at his immense talent. And "hints" is probably the wrong word for it. It proclaims it. It trumpets it. It makes it so obvious that no one can miss it. All in all, the album was deserving of its place here in the Album of the Year category.

Favorite tracks: "Nobody to Blame," "Tennessee Whiskey"

(If you want to see a real treat, find the video of Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performing together at the CMAs.)

The title track, one of many smooth and very good tracks

1989, Taylor Swift

From the time I heard she was doing an 80s concept album, to when I actually heard it from beginning to end, I thought this idea had a lot of potential. I think she pulled it off. For the moment, I'm going to ignore all of the controversy surrounding Swift's videos for "Wildest Dreams" and "Bad Blood." I'm not going to comment on my opinion on whether she is just a "white feminist" or embodies all that is good in the feminist movement at large. This is about the album and whether or not it's the best.

She did a great job capturing a lot of styles from the 1980s. That was a time when the music was fun and less serious in a lot of ways. It's not to say there wasn't any meaning behind the songs, but people didn't take themselves so seriously. Artists released albums with songs people wanted to dance to, or break up to, or cry to. Taylor Swift did it. This is a very good album with several excellent tracks. I think making a clean break with the country genre on this album was the right move. This is a pop album plain and simple, and it holds up against the many other pop albums released last year.

Favorite tracks: "Blank Space," "Wildest Dreams," "I Know Places"

There's something eerie and "not" Taylor Swift about this one

Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd

You know, I thought about spending some time actually discussing this album, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I was so disappointed that I didn't even finish listening. I got less than half of the way through and gave up. And I was a little bummed because Ed Sheeran is on there somewhere, but it just wasn't worth it. So many of his songs were filled with misogynistic, unnecessarily racy, oversexed lyrics that any musicality was lost. He has a great throwback voice, reminiscent of the R&B of the 80s that I love, but this album was awful as far as I'm concerned. Watch, he'll probably win now.

Favorite tracks: Yeah right.

[No video. I don't want to waste your time.]

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: Of all of the albums here, Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes was my favorite. Top to bottom, music and lyrics, it is the best of the five in my opinion.

My Prediction: This one is tough for me. I can see it going many different ways. Something in my gut says that 1989 by Taylor Swift will rise here. I could make a case for To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, but that would buck some serious trends since the album seems way too edgy for a mainstream win.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next Up, Record of the Year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 2

You've (hopefully) read my review of the Best New Artist category, and if not, please do. It's so great. There are SO many wonderful insights. You will feel smarter almost instantaneously! /facetiousness

Now it's time for my take on the Song of the Year category. To be honest, every year for a while now I find myself going back and trying to remember the difference between the song and record category. I feel like I finally get it, but even then, I found myself going back to the Grammy site to make sure I get it. Anyway, the Song of the Year goes to the songwriter or songwriters. It ignores (although, I'm not sure you can completely ignore it) the actual recording and production. For each of the nominees I've included the artist who recorded it and then the songwriters who would actually win the Grammy. Granted, most recording artists who achieve this level of success are probably contributing to the writing process (and for these five nominees, that's the case), but that's not always a given. I've also included the album where the track appears.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Alright," recorded by Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly

OK. I'm going to say right up front that this song is a tough one to listen to, if for no other reason than it's raw and honest about life in Black America, especially the poor urban population. It also makes liberal use of the n-word, which can be a bit rough to hear. It's a song of hope within a world that seems hellbent on holding people down. I have no personal experience that can even come close to what Lamar and his peers have been through, but I can certainly get a sense for what their experiences mean. It's like reading African-American poetry and literature that came out of the Harlem Renaissance. It comes as close as you can to explaining to a person of privilege what it means to be oppressed and what it means to look for hope. I can't say that I'm a particular fan of Lamar's specific style, but this guy is talented. He is a musician among wannabes, not just someone with an ax to grind.

[We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the song I decided not to embed a video here.]

"Blank Space," recorded by Taylor Swift
Songwriters: Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift
Album: 1989

Taylor Swift is a favorite around our house, and I am very familiar with this song, including the brilliant music video. Like her other great songs, this one tells a very clear story of tumultuous love, and it belongs right up there in the canon of Taylor Swift relationship songs. I'm not as enamored with the song as some people are, and it's not just because Swift is, as a rule, overexposed. For whatever reason it doesn't jump out as one of those "wow" kind of songs, and she has several others that do that for me. Maybe it isn't fair to compare this to her other works since it's being nominated this year in this category for what it is, but it's hard not to.

"Girl Crush," recorded by Little Big Town
Songwriters: Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
Album: Pain Killer

I had to actually go find the background on this song before I fully appreciated it. The title is misleading--it's really a jealousy/breakup song, not what it seems from the title. And honestly, even if the song is about a woman having a crush on another woman, who cares? As John Mayer said, you love "Who You Love." Anyway, the layers of meaning within the lyrics give the song some extra depth, and it's a pretty good song all in all.

"See You Again," recorded by Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth
Songwriters: Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth)
Album: Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

So, I see this is from a movie about dudes driving cars too fast and putting on airs of bravado and machismo, for the seventh time! But this is about the song and the songwriters, so I gave it an honest listen and looked at the lyrics. It's a very touching song about two friends who are like brothers and all that comes with losing someone like that. It's not the most lyrically complex song I've ever heard, but it's a really good song.

"Thinking Out Loud,"
recorded by Ed Sheeran
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge
Album: X

Ed Sheeran is brilliant. You could go grab just about anything he's done and put it in this category. His songwriting is that good. When I first listened to his album, which I had been anticipating for a while, this song is the one that I immediately said would be big. It wasn't the first single released, and I can see why not, but holy crap! This is the kind of song that defines an album. The nature of mainstream radio play these days is that stations play songs to death, to the point where we just wish they would go away and never come back to haunt us. This is a big reason I don't really like the radio that much. But "Thinking Out Loud" is one that I could listen to again and again and again, and so much of that is because of the lyrics Sheeran has strung together.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: In case it wasn't obvious from my commentary, "Thinking Out Loud" is my choice without hesitation. I don't think the others come close, except for maybe "Alright." Not to take anything away from the other songwriters, but I think this song is that good.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran has gotten the shaft, in my opinion, in past years. He has several nominations but no wins. He's been up against some pretty incredible talent, but I find it hard to believe he hasn't taken home even one Grammy. I think this year might be the year for him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next up, Album of the Year

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 1

The Grammys are coming up and most years I find that during the show I discover new artists and songs and albums and all sorts of great stuff, so I spend an inordinate amount of time "catching up" after the show. This year I thought I'd get ahead of things and try and learn a bit about all of the nominees before the actual awards air. Trying to familiarize myself with ALL of the categories is practically impossible for me, though. I have a family. I work. I don't get paid for listening to music and writing about it. So, I decided to listen to the nominees in the "big four" categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.

The 58th Annual Grammy Awards air on February 15th, so I have a little less than two weeks to get my thoughts out there. This post highlights the nominees for Best New Artist. I'll give a little information about the artist, my impressions, my choice, and my predictions for what will really happen. I'm not in the industry, but I love music, so I'm curious to see how my choices compare.

* * * * * * * * * *

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett is a singer-songwriter from Australia who released her first full-length solo album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, in 2015. She falls into the Indie Rock genre, which is sort of a catch-all for a wide variety of styles. I listened to the whole album and was immediately transported back to the world of 1980s alternative rock. At times it sounded like Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, and other times I thought I was listening to the B52s. It was well worth the listen.

If I'd known there was a clown in the video, I may not have finished the song.

James Bay

James Bay is an English singer-songwriter and I've seen videos of Ed Sheeran appearing on stage with him at a Bay concert. That's always a good sign. His album Chaos and the Calm is phenomenal from top to bottom. I first learned about Bay while watching "Jane the Virgin." The song I heard was so haunting and beautiful that I had to immediately look it up. And there he was.

My favorite from his album, even if the song is a bit melancholy.

Sam Hunt

When I first started listening to Sam Hunt's album, Montevallo, I wasn't sure if he was a country artist or just plain old folk rock. The line is definitely blurred recently, that's for sure. He's country. And honestly, some of his songs are just plain ol' ridiculous. I have learned to appreciate more and more country music through the years, but the glory of wild beer parties and "tenderness" of small-town break-ups just don't do it for me. That aside, it's a decent album. At times he reminded me of Keith Urban, but while I own a few Urban albums, I don't think Hunt will be added to the collection. Interestingly, Hunt was a college football player who ended up learning guitar and getting into the music industry after a professional football career didn't pan out.

If the trailer parks of the American South depress you, don't watch the video--just listen.

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly was an American Idol contestant, but it's not clear how far she actually made it. Based on the fact that there is no mention anywhere of her appearing in the live shows I'm guessing she was a Hollywood wash-out at best. She ended up doing covers on YouTube and caught the attention of the record industry. She's got a very current, pop sound, but her guitar work is far more interesting than the usual mainstream stuff you hear. I first heard Kelly when I heard a recording on the radio that I knew had Ed Sheeran on it. Yep, Sheeran and Tori Kelly. Pure gold. It's got to be the best track on her album, Unbreakable Smile.

Want to record a surefire hit? Ask Ed Sheran to sing with you.

Meghan Trainor

OK. Meghan Trainor is probably the most recognizable of the group at this point. She's been on the scene and quite honestly, I feel like I've heard too much of her for her to be in the new artist category. But hey, by the Grammy standards, this past year was the year she burst on the scene and really made a name for herself. "All About That Bass" and "Lips Are Movin'" really got under my skin and I pretty much want to vomit when I hear those songs. Then she recorded "Like I'm Gonna Lose You" with John Legend and my nausea subsided. When I go back and listen to some of her recordings I can now appreciate her retro sound, and while it's not my favorite, I see her talent and the reason she's nominated this year.

Yeah, this is the song that made me listen again--it's in our playlist.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: Honestly, I've got to go with James Bay. I think his album is the best track for track, and I just love that British singer-songwriter sound.

My prediction: I'm thinking Meghan Trainor, if for no other reason than she's been fortunate to have a lot of exposure, and I think that really helps. Looking back over the past 20 years, only Bon Iver and Esperanza Spalding bucked the trend, in my opinion.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next up, Song of the Year