When I wrote my list last year of what Grammy winners I’d like to see in a variety of categories, I would end up getting my way in 15 out of 22 categories, including all of the all-genre awards and all but two country trophies. In baseball terms, that’s a .681 batting average, and there’s no way that I’ll come close to matching it this year.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Here’s my preferences in 14 categories. Not as much interesting me this year as last, but I’ll be live-blogging anyway. Check back tomorrow at 4 p.m. EST for pre-telecast winners.
Record of the Year
- Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable”
- Foo Fighters, “The Pretender”
- Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, “Umbrella”
- Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around…Comes Around”
- Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
Many are predicting that “Umbrella” will win here, unless there’s a Winehouse sweep. All of these nominees have merit, but I think that “Irreplaceable” is a pop hit for the ages. The hook never gets old, and the record is superbly constructed. I think it’s the most worthy of the award.
Album of the Year
- Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
- Vince Gill, These Days
- Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters
- Kanye West, Graduation
- Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
One year after my favorite album of 2006 won the Grammy, another favorite of mine from the same year is in the running. I don’t think Vince Gill has much of a shot here. Kanye West is long overdue, Amy Winehouse is the hot new female type that Grammy voters love, and Herbie Hancock is the type of legend that Grammy gives a late-career shout-out to. It’s hard to make the case for an 18-time winner getting #19, especially when he’s likely to win his genre album award. Still, These Days is my favorite album of the five.
Song of the Year
- “Before He Cheats” – Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins
- “Hey There Delilah” – Tom Higgenson
- “Like a Star” – Corinne Bailey Rae
- “Rehab” – Amy Winehouse
- “Umbrella” – Shawn Carter, Kuk Harrell, Terius “Dream Nash” & Christopher Stewart
I think that “Rehab” will win this, but “Before He Cheats” is my favorite song nominated, edging out my guilty pleasure “Hey There Delilah” by a nose. The only thing that annoys me is that this is the second year in a row that a Carrie Underwood hit has been nominated for Song of the Year, but Underwood herself was overlooked in the Record of the Year race. It sends the message that these songs were hits in spite of Carrie Underwood, rather than because of her, and I think the opposite is true. Both “Cheats” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel” were solid songs, but they became mega-hits because of Underwood’s masterful performances of them.
Best New Artist
- Taylor Swift
- Amy Winehouse
It’s rare for me to not back the country nominee in a general race, but I think that Amy Winehouse actually is the best new artist of the five. No offense to Taylor Swift, but she’s simply not in the same league. She may be someday, but this award’s about now, so my pick is Winehouse.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
- Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
- Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
- LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
- Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
- Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
My preference here is ever so slight. I love all five of these records, four of which made the top ten of my singles lists the year they were released; “Small Town” didn’t, but Lambert was in there with a different song anyway. “Simple Love” is, in the end, my favorite performance, but I’d be happy with any winner here.
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
- Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
- Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
- Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
- George Strait, “Give it Away”
- Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”
Another race where I enjoy all the nominees, though the Jackson and Strait singles are a good notch below the other three, in my view. Bentley and Urban gave two of their best performances ever recorded, but Tim did his live, and still outdid most of his own best work. He deserves the Grammy.
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals
- Brooks & Dunn, “Proud of the House We Built”
- Eagles, “How Long”
- Emerson Drive, “Moments”
- Montgomery Gentry, “Lucky Man”
- The Time Jumpers, “Sweet Memories”
Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d write: Emerson Drive is easily the best nominee and deserves to win the Grammy. It’s nice to know that even a band that was written off can resurface on a small indie label and top the charts with a fantastic song.
Best Country Collaboration with Vocals
- Steve Earle & Allison Moorer, “Days Aren’t Long Enough”
- Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”
- Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “I Need You”
- Willie Nelson & Ray Price, “Lost Highway”
- Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood, “Oh Love”
“I Need You” is my favorite thing that McGraw & Hill have done together, and they sing the hell out of a song that was pretty darn good to begin with.
Best Country Instrumental Performance
- Russ Barenberg, “Little Monk”
- The Greendeck, “Mucky the Duck”
- Brad Paisley, “Throttleneck”
- Andy Statman, “Rawhide!”
- The Time Jumpers, “Fidoodlin’”
How wonderful that a Grammy category exists where Brad Paisley can be acknowledged for his greatest strength as an artist: his prowess as a guitar player. With no high-profile competition, Paisley may finally win that elusive first Grammy. He’ll certainly deserve it if he does.
Best Country Song
- “Before He Cheats” – Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins
- “Give it Away” – Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon & Jamey Johnson
- “I Need You” – Tony Lane & David Lee
- “If You’re Reading This” – Tim McGraw, Brad Warren & Brett Warren
- “Long Trip Alone” – Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Steve Bogard
This one’s a no-brainer for me. “If You’re Reading This” was my #1 single of 2007. As much as I like the other four nominees, there’s just no competition here.
Best Country Album
- Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
- Vince Gill, These Days
- Tim McGraw, Let it Go
- Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
- George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
Even though he’s won 18 Grammys, this is the major genre award that has eluded Vince Gill. However, before the category was reintroduced in 1995, albums were allowed to compete in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, where Gill won for his stellar I Still Believe in You album in 1993. Gill deserves to win this year and I suspect that he will.
Best Pop Vocal Collaboration
- Tony Bennett & Christina Aguilera, “Steppin’ Out”
- Beyoncé & Shakira, “Beautiful Liar”
- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Gone Gone Gone”
- Gwen Stefani & Akon, “The Sweet Escape”
- Timbaland, Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake, “Give it To Me”
I think Plant & Krauss have a shot here, but it’s going to be hard to overcome Bennett & Aguilera, who have both won multiple awards in this field.
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance
- Beck, “Timebomb”
- Paul McCartney, “Only Mama Knows”
- John Mellencamp, “Our Country”
- Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere”
- Lucinda Williams, “Come On”
A musical version of being told off by a drunk barfly at three in the morning, growling out of the corner of her cigarette-puffing mouth.
Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals
- Daughtry, “It’s Not Over”
- Green Day, “Working Class Hero”
- Nickelback, “If Everyone Cared”
- u2, “Instant Karma”
- The White Stripes, “Icky Thump”
My usual rule of thumb: Don’t cover John Lennon. Everybody who’s touched “Imagine” has made a trainwreck of it, for example. But Green Day is the perfect band to rework “Working Class Hero”, which feels very timely again. They build on the acoustic original to make it their own, and the end result wouldn’t sound out of place on American Idiot, but doesn’t sound like a retread of that project, either.