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.

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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.

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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.

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Next up, Song of the Year


Jimmy said...

Good stuff! I've heard somewhere that winning best new artist is kind of a curse. Not sure exactly why. I think maybe past winners failed to achieve commercial success after that? The best new artist I was introduced to this year (by NPR) was Son Little. "O Mother"

Looking forward to your next post!

Dr. Mark said...

Looking back over the list of winners, most of the artists have gone on to pretty decent careers, but there are some people I don't recognize at all. I wonder if some of the artists that don't achieve large-scale commercial success would never have been known in the first place without the Grammy mention. Take Esperanza Spalding. She totally deserved the Grammy. She's phenomenal, but would anyone have known her otherwise since she is from the jazz world? Her career may have not looked any different if she hadn't won the Grammy. It's hard to say, but there is probably some merit to that curse theory.

I'm going to have to check out Son Little. NPR does a great job of highlighting lesser known, but fantastic artists. They did a great piece a while back on Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Really deep southern folk, bluegrass, roots music wouldn't always be on my radar, but it was really fun to hear something totally different but so musically fantastic.

The Magic Violinist said...

This is a pretty good list of nominees! I downloaded James Bay's album recently and loved all of the songs, but "Let it Go" is my favorite, too. Anything Ed Sheeran is featured on is fantastic. Even though most of Meghan Trainor's songs get on my nerves, I really liked her and John Legend together. She has a cool voice.

Boquinha said...

Cool story about that Sam Hunt guy. Weird that the first part of his song sounded very R&B. (And yes, I totally scrolled down so I wouldn't have to watch the Southern trailer park setting - thanks for the warning).

James Bay sounds great. And Ed Sheeran's voice makes me all melty. It's almost difficult to focus on her voice when I hear him. :) This is a nice way to prepare for the Grammy's - thanks for these posts!

(Now to see about 10 movies by the time the Oscars begin) . . .

Dr. Mark said...

Jimmy -- I checked out the Tiny Desk Concert by Son Little. You weren't kidding. He's a great talent and a nice find.

Kate -- I think the unfortunate thing for Meghan Trainor is that the worst of her songs got big really fast. The rest of her catalog is a lot better.

Stacy -- You're welcome for the trigger warning. I had you in mind when I wrote that. 10 movies? We can pull it off! ;)